Out with the old, in with the new old!

Hello everybody!

Due to the success the first edition of the conference had this year, we have created a Medieval Materialities ‘study group’ in St Andrews. This means we had to port all the information from the first edition into the new website, Medieval Materialities. If you want to keep up to date with the second edition of the conference, and maybe other events, please follow the link to the new homepage.

The current homepage will stay active, so no worries about that. If you just want to peruse the information about first edition attendants, this blog is your guy.

Thanks to everybody who expressed interest in the conference series, and see on you the other side!

Getting here from (and to) Leuchars

Hello everybody,

I hope you are as excited about coming to St Andrews as we are about welcoming you here. Just a reminder that you can find detailed information on how to get here by clicking on the ‘GETTING HERE’ tab in the left-side menu.

If you come via Leuchars (the closes train station to St Andrews), you should follow everyone up and over the rail bridge that takes you down to the parking lot. There you will find a bus shelter alongside a taxi rank. People will probably be queueing there for the bus to St Andrews and there is a display board showing the next bus times at the far end of the shelter. You should take the next 99 (A, B, C, or D) bus to St Andrews (NOT DUNDEE). They run every 10 minutes and a single will cost under £3.

The bus journey will take about 10 minutes and it will drop you at the St Andrews bus station. From there, you should cross the street at the roundabout and then take a left on South Street through the old city gate. The walk down South Street to St John’s House should take about 10 minutes. It will be on your left and there will be signs to welcome you inside. The header image is a detailed map on how to get to the registration/conference venue.
Looking forward to meeting all of you.
Emily and Ioana
As Sunday bus times can be peculiar, we’ve also attached here the bus timetable from St Andrews to Leuchars train station for anybody who needs to leave on Sunday evening.
99 bus Leuchars Sunday

Your organizers

Hello all,


With a little more than two weeks to go, we are looking forward to meeting you all in St Andrews. Here you have a bit of info about ourselves, so you can get familiar with your hosts before your arrival.


Emily Savage is a third year PhD candidate in the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews. She holds previous degrees from New York University and the University of York, England. Her thesis re-examines theories of margins and marginality, focusing on the relationship(s) between gender, viewership, and experience in late medieval English art. In addition to her research, she is a cataloguer for the University Library in their Special Collections division, where she occasionally stumbles across bits of recycled books.


Ioana Coman is an AHRC-funded first year PhD candidate in Medieval Studies at the University of St Andrews. His previous degrees are from University of Nottingham (History and Art History BA) and University of St Andrews (Medieval Studies, MLitt). His thesis, exploring pain, blood, sex and truth in late medieval crucifixions, is a continuation of his masters’ work, based on Ioana’s long-time interest in gender, sexuality and the medieval body.

Sophie Rigby (Courtauld Institute, UK)

Rigby, casketSophie Rigby is a graduate student of the Courtauld Institute of Art. She graduated top-in-class from the Courtauld with her Masters degree and worked under the supervision of Dr. Anthony Eastmond. She worked in the Netherlands for Vereniging Rembrandt for a year before taking up her Masters studies. She secured her first travel scholarship as an undergraduate to undertake research across Sicily and the Veneto, and has since won a conference grant to present a portion of her thesis at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, as well as the Rice Honorarium Travel Award. Spring 2016 will see her first publications on work on ninth-century Bulgarian tile icons and carved figural tympana in Armenia.


Another chip off the ivory block?


It has long been known that ivory’s soft sheen and exquisite capacity for subtle craftsmanship charmed the Medieval eye. That some of the most precious objects surviving from the Middle Ages are made in ivory is testament to this. Ivory is that most unique of materials, its purpose supposed by not only its rarity but its form determined by the tusk’s curvature. Unlike precious metals that might be melted down, or cabochons looted and redistributed, ivory was an end in itself. It is on the premise of these qualities that the painted ivory box at the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. no. 603-1903) is an unusual object for study.

The box is presumed to be one of many made én serie for the twelfth-century Palermitan court. Though crafted in ivory, it is expensive in the cheapest way, and draws attention to the disconnect between the under-studied production and use of these boxes. The V & A box pieces together a jigsaw-like arrangement of ivory fragments, and offers an intriguing notion of ivory cut-offs finding an economical, salvaged end-point. The box opens a wider enquiry into its material that considers medieval constructions of economy, materiality and facture. This paper will consider the recycling of a craftsman’s cut-offs in light of material constitution and character. Furthermore, the box addresses notions of status relative to the way in which its material is worked, and offers an intriguing case of Medieval “waste not want not.”

Hannah Iterbeke (UoLeuven, Belgium)

Iterbecke, garden.JPGHannah Iterbeke is currently working on a doctoral dissertation entitled ‘Multiplied Sculpture, Multifarious Devotion: The Enclosed Gardens and the Production, Circulation and Function of ‘Moderate’ Images in the Low Countries (1450-1600)’ under the supervision of Prof. dr. Barbara Baert (Illuminare – Centre for the Study of Medieval Art | University of Leuven). In the summer of 2015, she completed her Master in Art History at the University of Leuven with a thesis entitled ‘Devotion to the Silk Flower: The Making and Meaning of Silk Flowers in Sixteenth-Century Enclosed Gardens of Northern Europe’ (magna cum laude), publishing pending.


Enclosing and Reframing Past Devotion: The Sixteenth-Century Enclosed Gardens as Redefining Structures


The Enclosed Gardens of Mechelen are extraordinary sixteenth-century reliquaries that frame not only relics but even wax seals, jewellery, poupées de Malines, glass beads and pilgrim badges against a background of silk vegetation. Together, these objects compose a garden enclosed by a gate as praised in the Song of Songs. These mixed-media shrines seem to be religious wunderkammers assembled and organised by the nuns of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw Gasthuis of Mechelen around 1500-1520. However, many of the objects framed in these wooden boxes previously functioned in different devotional circumstances. One of the Enclosed Gardens for instance, houses a tiny, framed print behind glass depicting the Temptation of Saint Anthony. Several ornamental elements indicate that this ensemble previously functioned as a scapular. Consequently, this piece does not only represent the virtues of the depicted saint but it also embodies the meditation of its previous owner.

This case is just a small example and many others can be given. Therefore, this paper will focus on the unique quality of the Enclosed Gardens to recycle objects with previous owners and uses, and to recontextualise devotional and artistic remnants in a mixed media setting that longs to recreate earthly paradise. Not only were these objects able to adapt and acquire new meanings beyond their original production circumstances, they could even be recharged with different spiritual and sacred powers.

Laura Veneskey (Wake Forest U, USA)


Veneskey, relic.jpg

Laura Veneskey received her Ph.D. in Art History at Northwestern University in 2012 and is now an assistant professor in the Department of Art at Wake Forest University. Her research explores the visual culture of the Late Antique and Byzantine Mediterranean, with special focus on issues of materiality, sacred geography, image theory, pilgrimage, and the cult of relics. Her current project is a book manuscript, entitled Earthly Icons: Between Matter and Figuration in Early Byzantine Art, which investigates the material aspects visual culture in the medieval Mediterranean. Veneskey has been awarded grants by the Mellon Foundation, the Max-Planck-Institut, the Kress Foundation, the Graham Foundation, and the Warburg Institute.


Everything New is Old Again: The Long History of a Byzantine Icon at Sassoferato


In the collection of the Museo Civico in Sassaferrato, Italy, there is an icon with an abnormally convoluted material history. Though significantly damaged in a 19th-century heist, the work at one time combined an array of elements from different eras: a c.14th-century Constantinopolitan micromosaic of Saint Demetrios, a 13th-century pilgrim flask filled with oil (myron) from Demetrios’s shrine in Thessaloniki, two ancient gemstones, and a gilt-silver frame of 15th-century Italian manufacture, but designed to look both archaic and Byzantine. Although such a hybrid work could have fit comfortably into any medieval church treasury, this particular example was evidently assembled by Renaissance Humanists in the circle of Cardinal Bessarion, whose imaginative reuse of Byzantine artifacts and motifs produced what Franz Alto Bauer has called a “hyper-Byzantine collage.”

Much of the literature on this icon-cum-reliquary has focused on determining the provenance of its constituent elements, while Bauer’s more recent analysis has outlined its symbolic value as generally indicative of Byzantium’s cultural superiority, even in the waning years of its political fortunes. This paper pursues these questions in a new direction by considering the significance and signification of the reliquary’s material presentations, from the gilt frame to the myron enclosed by the lead flask. It is argued that the juxtaposition of opposites – old and new elements; humble and lavish substances – not only mirrored the contradictions of an empire whose cultural superiority and protracted despoliation endured concurrently, but also made a fitting proxy for Demetrios himself, a paradoxical figure whose physical absence only increased his saintly power.

Rachel Hiser (UoNorth Texas, USA)

Hiser, PietaRachel Hiser is currently researching monastic communities in eleventh-century Italy for her graduate degree in art history at the University of North Texas.  Rachel’s focus is environmental fresco programs, with an emphasis on their materiality, use and significance in a worship space.  She is also studying how medieval artists’ renderings of paintings in an architectural space encouraged viewers, both monks and lay brothers, to attribute specific theological and anagogical importance to their narratives.  Rachel relies heavily on medieval scholarship focused on the spiritual abilities of sight to create connections between carnal things observed and spiritual things beyond the image.


Inheritance of Process: Materialities of the Fourteenth-century Pieta and their reimagined presence in the prints of Kathe Kollwitz


Two of the earliest, extant examples of the Pieta, the Rottgen Pieta and the Rhenish Pieta, as roughly carved vesperbild sculptures from present day Germany.  Scholars attribute their sorrowful intensity and temporal isolation from the Gospel narrative to the development of a Mystic mentality prevalent among fourteenth-century theologians who emphasized the Virgin Mary’s sorrow in the moment she held her dead child.  The carved wooden aspect enhances the intentional markings of Christ’s sores in the Rottgen Pieta and contrasts the smooth, alabaster French Pieta sculptures of the following fifteenth-century.  Of importance are transitions in the materials used to render subsequent re-imaginings of the Pieta motif along with surprising continuities in the ways artists treated them.  I analyze in this paper the medieval uses of wood as part of a history of the material process and appearance of the carved Pietas, showing its relevance in the twentieth century.  To be sure, scholars have discussed German Expressionist Kathe Kollwitz’s treatment of Pieta subject matter in her etchings.  I prefer to link Kollwitz’s process to medieval artists’ manipulation of the materiality of wood.  In particular, I highlight her connection to German Expressionist writings, which discuss the aesthetic significance of wood and carving in contexts of a longstanding German identity. The combination of Kollwitz’s material practices and the work of her contemporary writers constitute a post-medieval trajectory for practices of carving and omitting material that warrants attention to how it facilitates affects associated with the medieval Pieta’s narrative of mother, death and child.