Online Lecture Series: ICMA at the Courtauld Institute of Fine Art

While this year’s ICMA lecture at The Courtauld Institute of Art was unfortunately cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis, recordings of past events (from 2014-2019) can be found here or below.

This lecture series, established in 1999, is sponsored by the International Center of Medieval Art, New York.  ICMA promotes the study of the visual arts of the Middle Ages.  Its worldwide membership includes academics, museum professionals, students, and other enthusiasts.  ICMA publishes a scholarly journal Gesta, a newsletter, sponsors lectures and conference sessions and maintains the website

Previous lecturers and their topics (which can be viewed on YouTube)

2018/19, Dr Elizabeth Morrison (Senior Curator of Manuscripts, J. Paul Getty Museum)

A Beast of a Project: Curating an Exhibition on Bestiaries at the Getty

The prospect of curating a major international loan exhibition is equal parts thrilling and intimidating. After eight years of intense research, loan negotiation, design development, and thousands of emails, Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World will open at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles on May 14, 2019. This presentation will look at the behind-the-scenes planning necessary by the lead curator, from the intellectual origins of the concept to some of the major challenges faced along the way. It will explore the exhibition’s major themes, including how the vivid images of the bestiary created an influential visual language that endured for centuries and became so popular that the animals escaped from the pages of books into other types of art objects ranging from massive tapestries to diminutive ivories. The exhibition will feature 115 objects from 45 lenders across the United States and Europe, including one third of the world’s surviving Latin illuminated bestiaries.

Elizabeth Morrison is Senior Curator of Manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum. She received her PhD in the History of Art from Cornell University and began work at the Getty in 1996. During her tenure there, she has curated numerous exhibitions including the 2010 co-curated exhibition Imagining the Past in France, 1250-1500, which was a finalist for the College Arts Association award for outstanding exhibition catalogue. She has published on both Flemish and French illumination and has served on the boards of the International Center of Medieval Art and the Medieval Academy of America.

2017/18, Professor Nancy Sevcenko (Visiting Scholar, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC)

All in the Family: The Byzantine imperial family of the Comnenians as patrons in the first half of the 12th century

The Comnenian imperial family dominated the later 11th and 12th centuries in Byzantium: Emperor Alexios I, and his son and successor John II, ruled for a combined total of 62 years (1081-1143).  And the family was large: Alexios had nine children and John had eight, and most of these children were adults, with children of their own, by the death of John II in 1143.  Given that the administration of the empire in this period centered around membership in the imperial family, the relative proximity of each family member to the emperor himself, whether by blood or by marriage, became key. 

The works of art associated with this famille nombreuse consist of everything from grand monastic foundations to illuminated manuscripts to small metal reliquary crosses.  Some of these works, large and small, have survived; for others, there is ample written evidence.  This paper will look at the many works of art and literature commissioned by, or associated with, specific members of the family in these decades, tracking issues such as how proximity to the throne of the individual may have affected the nature and general perception of the work and its place on a spectrum between public and private. 

Nancy Patterson Ševčenko is a Byzantine art historian whose work has focused primarily on illustrated lives of the saints, and on the intersection of art and liturgy.  She is the author of The Life of Saint Nicholas in Byzantine Art (1983), of Illustrated Manuscripts of the Metaphrastian Menologion (1990), and of Greek Manuscripts at Princeton, Sixth to Nineteenth Century: A Descriptive Catalogue (2010) with S. Kotzabassi and D. Skemer); she is currently preparing a catalogue of the Byzantine illuminated manuscripts of the monastery of St. John on Patmos.  A selection of her articles have been reprinted in her Variorum volume, The Celebration of the Saints in Byzantine Art and Liturgy (2013).  She recently completed a term as the President of the International Center of Medieval Art, and is currently Visiting Scholar at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC.  She lives in South Woodstock, Vermont.

2016/17, Dr Adam Cohen (University of Toronto)

Local and Global: Medieval Art in an Age of New Nationalisms

In light of recent world events, this talk addresses some of the disciplinary questions about methodology and classification that underlie the study and teaching of medieval art today. It focuses on the tension between working intellectually and practically in an ever-expanding global environment and attending at the same time to the particulars of specific historical contexts.

The consideration of borders ranges from the geographic to the temporal and from cultural to confessional. Among the specific topics to be treated are the role and implications of Jewish art, both in the medieval world and in modern scholarship; the practice of art history in the European and Chinese academies; and the challenges of writing a new survey of medieval art.

2015/6, Professor Lawrence Nees (Professor of Medieval Art & Department Chair, Department of Art History, University of Delaware)

Reading and Seeing: the beginnings of book illumination and the modern discourse on ethnicity

Much attention has been paid to the change of books from roll to codex form, largely accomplished by the fourth and fifth centuries, and the impact of this change on the illustration of books.  However, for some centuries the form of writing in the new codex format changed relatively little, and another change, arguably as significant, is associated with the seventh and eighth centuries, with books beginning to adopt multiple scripts displaying a hierarchy, spaces between words, punctuation, and decorative embellishment with illuminations of various sorts. The new kind of books, and readers, are strongly associated with monasticism, as has of course been noted before, but for a variety of reasons scholars have not explored the interactions between writing, illumination, and reading in depth.  Instead, a powerful strand of scholarly tradition, especially in the Anglophone world, has linked illumination with “barbarian” traditions, an approach that deserves challenge and reconsideration.

2014/2015, Professor Holger A Klein (Professor of Art History and Archaeology & Department Chair, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University)

Art, Faith, and Politics in Late Medieval Venice

Following the Crusader conquest of Constantinople in 1204 and the subsequent looting of its churches, chapels and palaces, Venice became a key repository of sacred relics imported from Byzantium and the Eastern Mediterranean. Some of the most treasured relics were soon incorporated into the liturgical and ceremonial rituals of the city and its most distinguished churches. While Venetian efforts to acquire new relics slowed down considerably after the end of the Latin domination of Constantinople in 1261, several prominent Eastern relics entered the city during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and enriched the city with their spiritual and miracle-working power. This lecture will explore how two prominent donations of relics of the True Cross, one to the confraternity of San Giovanni Evangelista the other to the Scuola di Santa Maria della Carità, impacted religious, public, and artistic life in Venice from the mid-fourteenth through the early sixteenth century.


Published by Roisin Astell

Roisin Astell received a First Class Honours in History of Art at the University of York (2014), under the supervision of Dr Emanuele Lugli. After spending a year learning French in Paris, Roisin then completed an MSt. in Medieval Studies at the University of Oxford (2016), where she was supervised by Professor Gervase Rosser and Professor Martin Kauffmann. In 2017, Roisin was awarded a CHASE AHRC studentship as a doctoral candidate at the University of Kent’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, under the supervision of Dr Emily Guerry.

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