Materials mattered in the Middle Ages. Only with the right materials could artists produce works of art of the highest quality, from jewel-encrusted crosses, gilded and enamelled chalices and ivory plaques to large-scale tapestries, wooden stave churches and stone cathedrals. This conference seeks to explore the qualities and properties of materials for the people who sourced, crafted and used them.
A critical examination of the physical aspect of materials, including stone, wood, metal, jewels, and textiles, can lead art historians to a deeper understanding of objects and their context. Medieval materials did not function as frictionless vehicles for immaterial meaning: materials, their sourcing, trade and manufacture all contributed to the reception and value of the object. In the vein of scholars like Michael Baxandall (The Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany, 1980) and more recently Paul Binski (Gothic Sculpture, 2019), this conference asks participants to ground their papers in the messy realities of crafting materials, and to situate the object and its materials within a network of social, political and economic factors.
The Courtauld Institute of Art’s 25th Annual Medieval Postgraduate Colloquium invites speakers to build out from the object and consider the ways in which physical materials were used, manipulated and interpreted by craftspeople, patrons and audiences throughout the medieval world (understood in its broadest geographical and chronological terms). The colloquium encourages contributions from a range of backgrounds including but not limited to the art historical, technical, scientific and economic. Speakers are invited to consider the following and related questions:
Sourcing and Trade
- What economic factors determined the value of medieval materials?
- How did geography and trade impact the availability and use of materials?
- How and in what quantities were materials sourced and did that affect the form and function of the art object?
- How was the quality of materials determined and controlled?
- Was trade in certain materials restricted to certain classes or groups of people?
Crafting and Making
- How did the physical and technical requirements of working with different media shape objects for artists and how attuned were viewers to those requirements?
- What technical virtuosity and experience did different materials demand and how did craftspeople learn and pass on these skills?
- Did technical virtuosity affect the value of the object?
- What do we know of the tools craftspeople used? Were the same tools used in different places and in different periods? What effect does this have on the use and shape of materials?
- Medieval craftsmen occasionally manipulated certain materials to resemble others. Was this process of imitation always obvious to medieval viewers and how did they interpret this?
Function and Manipulation
- How did the spaces or locations for which objects were intended shape the choice of materials?
- Did the function of an object determine the materials of which it was made?
- Were certain materials more attractive to certain patrons than others and why?
- Do some medieval objects reveal deliberate references to their facture?
- How did different materials cater to each of the senses?
- Did materials always matter – is there a competitive/contested relationship between material reality and immaterial imagination?
The colloquium offers an opportunity for research students at all levels from universities across the United Kingdom and abroad to present, discuss and promote their research. To apply, please send a proposal of up to 250 words for a twenty-minute paper, together with a CV, to Harry.Prance@courtauld.ac.uk, Nicholas.Flory@courtauld.ac.uk and Charlotte.Wytema@courtauld.ac.uk no later than 22 November 2019.