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.

Rebecca Levitan (UoCalifornia, Berkeley, USA)

Winyan Soo Hoo

Rebecca Levitan is a Ph.D. student studying the art and architecture of the ancient Mediterranean world at the University of California, Berkeley. She received her B.A. in Art History from Emory University and her M.Litt in Ancient History from the University of St Andrews. She has excavated in Belgium, Greece, and Italy. Her research interests include polychromy, numismatics, and the reception of antiquity in Europe and the United States.


Unburied Treasures: Re-Use of Precious Classical Stone Vessels in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods

At the peak of Classical decadence, Hellenistic Kings and Roman Emperors cast aside their painted ceramic tableware and gold and silver vessels in favor of an even more luxurious and rare option: bowls and cups shaped from giant precious stones. Using cameo-cutting techniques, agates, chalcedonies, and jaspers were masterfully carved into vessels reserved for only the upper-most echelons of society.
After the split and eventual decline of the Roman Empire, these objects made their way across the continent, from Antwerp to Samarkand, switching hands in crusades, wars, and at auction. Preserved above ground for millennia through the processes of reuse and cultural re-adaptation, many of the stone vessels were transformed into reliquaries or chalices used for performing the Eucharist. Christian retrofittings disguised or transformed pagan imagery to suit new religious and social contexts. A list of the recorded owners of these precious stone vessels reads as a ‘Who’s Who’ of collecting history: Cleopatra, Augustus, Charlemagne, the Abbot of Saint Denis, the Persian King at Herat, Lorenzo the Magnificent, and even Rubens all collected these highly-prized adapted classical cameo-cut vessels.
By presenting case studies of three of these cameo vessels, created in the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods, and now residing in Naples, Paris, and Washington DC, the proposed paper will seek to examine how the materiality and portability of these remarkable objects have allowed them to serve as transcultural topoi: singular amalgams of the sacred and profane, the pagan and Christian, the showcased and sequestered.

Ingrid Lunnan Nødseth (NTNU, Norway)

Nodseth own imageIngrid Lunnan Nødseth is in her first year of her PhD studies in medieval art at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Working in the old centre of medieval Norway, Ingrid is looking at how textiles were valued and used in churches at the fringes of western Christianity during the Middle Ages. She will spend Summer Term as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Victoria and Albert museum exploring their wonderful collection of medieval embroideries. The provisional title of her PhD thesis is: “Why Textiles Matter: Materiality and Aesthetics of liturgical textiles from the Nidaros Province, c. 1200 – 1550”.


Stiches in time: reusing medieval ecclesiastical embroideries


Liturgical textiles were among the most precious and valued objects of a church’s ornatus. Medieval vestments were often beautiful and complex assemblages made of a wide range of materials, from metals to pearls and precious stones, from velvet and silk to wool. As material objects they call attention to themselves and their explicit materiality (to borrow Caroline Walker Bynum’s phrase). My PhD research examines the materiality and aesthetics of such textiles (chasubles, antependia, dalmatics) from medieval Norway, looking at this expressive textile materiality as a mechanism for constructing sacred space. This object-oriented approach has revealed a frequent reuse and alteration of medieval embroideries in the late- or post-Middle Ages.

In most cases, the embroideries were sewn onto newer chasubles or antependia, while the rest of the textile was discarded. This paper will specifically look at how ecclesiastical embroidery is reused/ repurposed in a number of late medieval/ post medieval chasubles preserved in Norwegian museum collections. In the case of Lyngdal, 16th century embroideries are “restored” with an additional layer of newer embroidery, and repurposed as an antependium in 1681. Many 15th and 16th century embroideries were at some point removed from the original vestments and appliqued on post-medieval chasubles, as is the case for the Bremnes chasuble. This paper asks, whether the materiality and aesthetic value of these medieval embroideries held a special position in late medieval/ post medieval culture? In other words, was this specific textile materiality the reason for repurposing and reusing medieval ecclesiastical embroideries?