CFP: Imagery in Medieval Herbals (Kalamazoo 2015)

Call for Papers
Imagery in Medieval Herbals
International Congress on Medieval Studies,
Kalamazoo, 14-17 May 2015
Deadline: 15 September 2014

Medieval herbals have attracted interesting investigations in the last decades, but are a still scarcely analyzed topic. However, investigations focused on printed herbals produced at the end of the 15th century and onwards (The interesting herbals catalogue by Minta Collins, Medieval Herbals). The Illustrative Traditions should be understood as an excellent departing point for further examinations. Many and new efforts have been made for the digitization of herbals thus allowing a better understanding of the worldwide corpus of herbal imagery.

shamrock-egerton-747-wood-sorrel-001Herbal images must be perceived as symptoms of new visualizing methods of botanic knowledge, situated within a wider context of “scientific” preoccupations. “Natural science” may not be the right term to designate the domain of these activities, as research of the history of sciences has repeatedly pointed out over the last decades. The disciplines of natural sciences do crystallize from the 16th century onwards. However, the purpose of exchanging common data inside a scholar community of specialists as well as the effort of data systemizing become obvious as early as the 15th century. In the transitional period from medieval manuscripts to printed books herbals employ visualizing techniques used before in older herbal imagery: for instance choosing details in order to represent the whole plant, emphasizing the profile and frontal view, organizing the herb around a central axis. Simultaneously, concerns of depicting recognizable features and lifelikeness become increasingly manifest. Several methods are employed in order to ensure proximity to the actual plants: copying pictures supposed to represent the reality, dressing sketches in front of the plant, distancing oneself from plants of alchemistic or legendary traditions, including nature prints. These aspects raise questions concerning the capacity of artists: Was an artist really capable of “objectively” depicting a herb? Therefore it is a productive research method to compare herbals produced in the period after Antiquity and before the New Modern Period.

In later medieval times, naturalistic paintings in herbals as well as aesthetically motivated efforts stress the involvement of the herbals’ producers with nature studies and theories on realistic painting. Hence a mutual influence between the pictures inside herbals and plant pictures belonging to the artistic domain outside plant books is plausible. Situated at the threshold of nature studies, like the aquarelles produced in Dürer’s sphere of influence, and next to herbal imagery of the Italian Middle Ages, the plant pictures in herbals show diverse ways of encompassing reality, facts and art. Older herbal imagery is more closely linked to traditional schemes of representation. However not much is known on how these herbals have been used and if the employed imagery did help the readers in identifying the plants.

In addition, herbal imagery is part of the medical world of the Middle Ages, since herbals were intended to list the curative effects of the mentioned plants. The pictures must therefore be understood as being related to pharmacological and medical practices. Although the focus of the session is on the period of the later Middle Ages, it aims to bring together scholars specialized on diverse time periods and examining herbal imagery from perspectives of diverse disciplines.

Paper proposals are still accepted for the Special Session: “Imagery in Medieval Herbals“ at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies (May 14-17, 2015), The Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo MI 49008-5432 USA.

Please send your one page proposal together with a completed Participant Information Form until September 15, 2014, to

You may download the Participant Information Form on the Congress website:

Dr. Dominic Olariu
Kunstgeschichtliches Institut
Philipps-Universität Marburg
Biegenstrasse 11
Marburg 35037

Phone: +49-6421-28-24323
Fax: +49-6421-28-24286

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