CFP: ‘Sinne / Senses’, VIth Forum Kunst des Mittelalters (Frankfurt am Main, 29 Sep – 2 Oct 2021), deadline 15 October 2020

(Please note that due to the COVID-19 pandemic it is not decided yet whether the Forum can take place ‘live’, partially virtually, entirely virtually, or whether it will be postponed.)

Organisation: Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft e.V. with the Institute for Art History, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main (Kristin Böse / Joanna Olchawa)

On the conference topic “Senses”: The arts and the senses have always been reciprocally related to one another. In the Middle Ages, sensual encounters with art and architecture offered a variety of ways to perceive, comprehend and structure the world. Pledging to relics enclosed in precious reliquaries, incorporating color from Byzantine icons, distinguishing the holy space by swinging polished golden censers, wearing inwardly decorated jewelry on the body or ringing the church bells to make audible the presence of God – such actions leave no doubts about the significance of the senses in the Middle Ages, and furthermore bring to light the role of art within such operations.

For the 6th Forum Kunst des Mittelalters we would like to invite discussions on the role of sensual perception and the interplay of senses in medieval image and object cultures as well as in architecture, including topics from interreligious and cross-cultural perspectives. The Call for Sessions, which has closed, yielded a large number of proposals concerning the individual senses, as well as proposals which privilege a multisensory and synesthetic approach to art and architecture.

We now invite applicants to submit paper proposals (preferably in German or English) to these individual sessions. Presentations usually last 20–30 minutes.

Please apply with an abstract (max. one page) to one of the sessions at mail@mittelalterkongress.de by 15th October 2020. The results of the selection and the programme will be published in the first quarter of 2021 at www.dvfk-berlin.de and though other relevant online channels.


Session 1: The Range and Reciprocity of Touch in the Byzantine World

Session organisers: Anthony Cutler (University Park) / Glenn Peers (Syracuse) (Sponsored session: Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture, Brookline)

Unexamined, touch may strike one as a single directional sensation when human meets object. It makes only the human, who receives the sensation and explains it. Naturally, objects cannot feel or embody tactility in themselves. As Aristotle taught us so long ago, every animated body is tactile, and touch is the evidence of soul. Touch makes the human subject, in ways articulated by Jean-Louis Chrétien, “…far from making the living organism into a mere spectator, [touch] pledges it to the world through and through, exposes it to the world and protects it from it” (The Call and the Response, 85-6).

Moreover, museums, where many of our Byzantine objects reside, keep us exiled from the regime of touch that was deeply embedded in perception and consciousness of all these participants in that historical culture. In these settings, “the contagious magic of touch is replaced by the sympathetic magic of visual representation” (Susan Stewart in Material Memories, 30) and discrete entities circulate in those museum settings, formed and inoculated by vision.

Touch activates and forms feeling subjects on both sides. For example, when tokens of St. Symeon Stylite the Elder were formed from soil that had been in contact with his column and person, the chain of touch linked saint, soil, imprint and distant devotee, each activated by their mutualizing touch across those entities. Makers knew (and know) this mutualizing of touch, too, in the ways working with materials is always a responsive, reciprocal making. The woodworker and basket-maker are each touched by their materials, and each entity is made by and in touch, “through and through.”

Such objects also make meaning for humans through reciprocal touch that expands and extends meanings from other senses. For example, in the eleventh century, Michael Psellus writes that touch bridges worlds and merges matter, as paint and flesh are touched as one, “For the image in no way differs from its model, so it seems to me at any rate. Hence, I have often touched the paint, as I would the body.” Touch ranges and makes relation across matter. Objects, such as ivories and paintings, and buildings and their furnishings, invited touch and made their subjects in the reciprocity of their touch. This is the haptic of the more-than-human totality of touch that this session explores.

This session welcomes proposals that privilege the sense of touch in art-historical analyses of Byzantine objects and that attempt to free it from the limited life such analyses conventionally impose. For touch extends through the human and beyond, to encompass all entities in the world, including that special class of historical objects now consigned to museum lives.


Session 2: The City, the Senses, and the Arts – The Cleveland Table Fountain and Multisensory Experience in the 13th and 14th Centuries

Session organisers: Phillipe Cordez (Paris) / Gerhard Lutz (Cleveland) (Sponsored session: Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte Paris)

With ca. 200.000 inhabitants, Paris around the year 1300 was the most populous city of the Western world. It was home to an important episcopal see, an increasingly centralized and professional royal administration, a large university community, and a vibrant artistic and commercial life. This unique constellation of institutions, communities, and activities was distributed within a circumscribed space on the Île de la Cité and on either side of the Seine, allowing for everyday interactions among them. Actors and visitors—be they on the streets or the river, in the workshops and markets, the churches, or the royal palace—were thus presented with a rich sensorial landscape.

Parallel to this, Paris was also a hotspot for reflections on and discussions of the senses. Most famous are the theoretical debates surrounding the 1277 condemnation of Aristotelian theses, but it was also in Paris that Peter of Limoges wrote his “Moral Treatise on the Eye”, that Étienne Boileau regulated trade and crafts in his “Book of Trades”, and that Jean de Jandun praised in elaborate Latin the overwhelming feelings aroused by the city. It can be assumed that such experiences and discussions in medieval Paris opened the path for major evolutions in the cultural history of sensory systems and their related social value.

Our point of departure for this session is the hydraulic and musical fountain in the Cleveland Museum of Art. This device of gilt and enameled silver, made in Paris ca. 1320-1340, is a challenging unicum with no recorded history before the 20th century. One possible interpretation is that it was a multisensorial evocation of the Parisian royal palace, with its crenelated walls and towers, in the form of a divine Fountain of Youth rejuvenating the French Kingdom. Seeking to deepen understandings of this major work and its broader cultural context by staging a variety of comparisons and confrontations, we welcome contributions on the social diffusion of Aristotelianism and its reception in all arts, urban experiences and arts and their reflection in intellectual culture, urbanism and cityscapes, the art of commodities, goldsmith’s art, court and royal art, multi- and intersensorial art, and all related subjects from Paris and beyond.


Session 3: Textiles and Trompe-l’œil

Session organiser: Evelin Wetter (Riggisberg) (Sponsored session: Abegg-Stiftung, Riggisberg)

As a late medieval phenomenon, textiles – woven fabrics, tapestry, and especially embroidery – relate to other media in numerous ways. Embroidered or woven altarpieces and devotional images, for instance, create their own distinct technical effects of material illusionism that were similar to those of paintings but even more extraordinary. At the same time, painters of the 15th century eagerly competed to make the most faithful depictions of precious textiles. The page-design of late medieval books of hours must have aimed for the stimulation of all senses when illuminators illustrated jewels, pomanders etc. on gold-figured silks, which invited the beholder to visually touch and smell all of these items. The intention to evoke a multi-sensual experience through optical illusion is obvious. Next to the sheer display of splendour, artists sought to bring their subjects to life: protagonists on large-scale wall hangings seem to step down directly from the depicted story into the contemporary world of the observer. Similarly, a gold-embroidered raised crucifix on the chasuble of the priest celebrating at the altar appears in front of a sculptured altarpiece with golden depictions of the passion of Christ. Both media belong to the same sphere of perception. Except on the pragmatic level of production, the differences between these artistic genres seems to be unimportant.

Beginning with the ‘Grapes of Zeuxis’, art history often prioritized the painted image when studying the art of trompe-l’œil. Within the textile arts, however, this topic has gained far less attention, even though historical discussions on the potentials of trompe- l’œil can be traced back as far as to the story of the poor Arachne in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This might be a new starting point.

This call for papers asks for contributions focusing on the aims of trompe-l’œil effects. Starting with descriptions of the phenomenon in various textile techniques, as well as with the representation of textiles in other pictorial arts, this discussion should reveal specific motivations for creating optical illusions. Do such effects aim solely for technical mastery, or do they rather seek to confound the surprised eye? What was the functional context of such effects in the culture of noble representation in a secular space, or in the interior of a church? Do these effects mainly serve to visualize luxury, or do they lead to specific perceptions, or even evoke an inner view?


Session 4: Scent and Sense: Olfaction and Memory in Medieval Material Culture

Session organiser: Elina Gertsman (Cleveland) (Sponsored session: International Center of Medieval Art [ICMA], New York)

Although we are used to thinking that the sense of sight reigned supreme in the Middle Ages, medieval scholars of all stripes were quite obsessively preoccupied with questions of olfaction. Ephemeral and fleeting but emotionally, spiritually, and physiologically impactful, the sense of smell was tightly tethered to the humoral, anatomical, and cognitive theories. Memories, in particular, could be affected by smells: a fetid odor, it was gleaned from Avicenna, induced such illness that could make one forget the names of his own children, while sweet-smelling perfumes could strengthen memory and increase devotion.

This session will explore the multivalent relationships between objects, smells, and memory, especially as they existed in the later Middle Ages. We seek to explore two distinct aspects of this relationship. On the one hand, we welcome papers that focus on visual representations of smell, as found in a broad range of manuscripts and printed texts, from medical treatises to romance literature, from tracts on philosophy to encyclopedias. On the other hand, we hope to see contributions that focus on objects whose function is predicated on the sense of smell: among them censers and thuribles used during Christian liturgical services; Jewish Havdalah spice containers, or besamim, used in a ceremony that concluded the Sabbath; incense burners used at receptions, events, and in places of worship throughout Islamic world.

Papers may focus on specific case studies or else broadly thematize the intertwinement of smell, memory, and image within the vast sensory landscape of the Middle Ages.


Session 5: Culturally Defined Space as a Place of the Performative – Are There Specifics of “East-Central Europe”?

Session organisers: Jiří Fajt (Leipzig / Prague) / Markus Hörsch (Leipzig) (Sponsored session: Leibniz-Institut für Geschichte und Kultur des östlichen Europa [GWZO], Leipzig)

The ‘Forum Kunst des Mittelalters’ emphasizes the importance of all senses for medieval art, not just seeing. This refers above all, and justifiably, to ritual and performative aspects, for which buildings and their furnishings often “only” formed the framework. A church without liturgy, a palace without courtly ceremonies, are ultimately only representative rudiments, testimonies of past action. In this space olfactory (especially incense and spices), acoustic (singing and music, sermon and speech, etc.) as well as optical aspects (changing equipment and fixed wall decorations, retables, and tomb monuments) played their respective roles. This interaction of architecture, the activities before and within it, and the creation and integration of movable equipment in its conceivable breadth should be the topic of our session. For the Middle Ages, the secular and the sacred spheres can hardly be separated.

Subjects can be chosen from the entire research area of East Central Europe (Baltic States, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Austria and eastern parts of the historical Holy Roman Empire, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, etc.) and from the entire period of the Middle Ages. It would be of special interest to draw attention to specific local or regional traditions that can be described in comparison with other regions of Europe.

The following aspects are may be understood as suggestions, especially their combination:

  • Reconstruction of processes based on documents such as chronicles, libri ordinarii, consuetudines or inventories
  • Reconstruction of processes based on traces of use in profane and / or sacred buildings, or on the basis of archaeological finds
  • Visual documentation of performative acts, e.g. in contemporary works of art, especially in the late Middle Ages
  • The role of equipment in the context of performative acts (for example, knowledge of the concrete use of altar retables in the context of the liturgy is still a desideratum)
  • Evaluation of performative acts of a sacred and / or profane nature by visitors, chroniclers, etc. and the resulting statements on the question of representative necessities, cultural norms, appropriateness, and much more
  • Differences and mutual influences between neighbouring cultural areas, e.g. the closeness of Catholic and Orthodox churches with regard to liturgy and equipment
  • Specifics, social roles, and evaluations of the ritual traditions of Judaism and Islam in East Central Europe
  • Proclamation of the word: the nature, role, and place of the sermon in monasteries, cathedrals, and parish churches, not least with regard to church reform efforts
  • Types and roles of (church) music
  • Processions and other activities in the “open air”, enclosure and marking of action areas, e.g. by wayside shrines or heraldic settings
  • Exequia and funeral rituals inside and outside the church

Session 6: (this session will not be publicly announced): Medieval Sacred and Stately Profane Spaces as Places of Multi-Sensory and Physical-Sensual Borderline Experiences

Session organisers: Michael Grünbart (Münster) / Franz Körndle (Augsburg) / Matthias Müller (Mainz) / Klaus Oschema (Bochum) (Sponsored session: Mediävistenverband e.V., Münster)


Session 7: Experientia and ars. Sensual Perception, Reflexion and Imagination in the Art of the British Isles

Session organisers: Ute Engel (Halle) / Andrea Worm (Tübingen)

In recent years, there has been a remarkable increase in scholarly interest in the complex interrelations between medieval theories of sensory perception and artistic imagination. In this session we would like to focus on these developments in England during the High and Late Middle Ages.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, scholars such as Robert Grosseteste, Bartholomaeus Anglicus, Roger Bacon, and William of Ockham, influenced by Aristotle’s writings, explored new intellectual concepts of a perception of the world based on ‘experientia’, and of the cohesion of the cosmos. The University of Oxford emerged as the centre of this ‘scientia experimentalis’, but scholars analysed and classified the mode of operation of the various senses not only there, but also in the cathedral schools. They paid particular attention to the effects of light and the composition of colours: striking examples are the studies on natural phenomena such as the rainbow. Notably, these seminal developments on visual perception, i.e. optics, were closely related to mysticism and concepts of inner vision, which demonstrates that the physical and metaphysical were still understood as related modes of perception.

In this session we would like to address questions on the interdependencies between these new theories and their possible manifestations in images, artefacts, and architecture. In which ways can these theoretical concepts of sensual perception be traced in, for example, illustrations of corresponding treatises? How are these concepts reflected in works such as the Hereford world map, which implicitly or explicitly deal with the nature of vision between ‘visio’ and ‘speculatio’? To what extent does the observation and visual rendering of nature in English art, noticeable from the 11th century and revived in the 13th, tie in with changing ideas in philosophy and in the ways in which the world was conceived? Is the innovative power of English architectural and visual arts from the second half of the 13th century encompassed by the idea of ‘Gothic Wonder’ (Paul Binski) – or does Robert Grosseteste’s new geometry of light also play a part, as John Shannon Hendrix has recently argued for the architecture of Lincoln Cathedral?

We would like to encourage discussion, and invite papers on different aspects of the various interrelations between medieval theories of sensory perception, artistic imagination, and the arts. Our focus is on developments in the British Isles, but we would also welcome contributions that explore its impact on continental Europe.


Session 8: Deceived Senses. Simulacra and Synesthesia in the Perception of Medieval Art

Session organisers: Gregory Bryda (New York) / Joris Corin Heyder (Bielefeld)

Medieval art offers many instances in which the deception of senses forms a crucial part of the artifact or its reception process. In our session, we are interested in all phenomena which can be connected to the closely entangled terms of simulacrum and synesthesia. The simulacrum, which has been understood as a “false claimant to being” since Plato (Camille 2003, 36), was increasingly rehabilitated in the 13th century under the influence of Aristotelian ‘materialism’. Simulacra are referential, and, in most cases, those referential ties operate on the assumption of deceived senses. Whether the manipulation of senses in copies of the Holy Sepulchure, the olfactory evidence for true or fake but optically naturalistic amber, the deceptive lifelikeness of sculptures, or the countless other examples of visual simulacra in medieval art—both the material, spatial, or temporal qualities of the art work and the interplay of our sensual experiences appear to always be affected. At such an interplay, our senses collaborate to identify a picture of something seen, heard, tasted, felt, or smelled. Even if we think of specific practices normally associated with particular senses, the apprehension process has to be understood as a holistic performance of them all. This synesthesia or simultaneous perception of multiple stimuli, can, however, be deceived or enticed.

Our primary concern is therefore dedicated to simulacra whose as-if-character and ineluctable imitational potential are motivated by challenges and obstacles to or consequences of the overlapping of sensual experiences. We are thus interested in how synesthetic experiences, in their varied combinations of sensory stimuli, have even inspired the production of simulacra. A first hypothesis is that simulacra that exploit synesthetic dynamics may help us better understand the nature of representation and mimesis in medieval art, more broadly. Papers in English and German may discuss but are not limited to the relationship between simulacra and synesthesia as substitutional, playful, metaphorical, re-mediated, trompe l’œil-like, or skeuomorphic phenomena in medieval artifacts and architecture.


Session 9: Ephemeral for the Senses – Dimensions of Meaning of Medieval Art in the Context of Ephemeral Actions and Stagings

Session organisers: Julia von Ditfurth (Kiel) / Hanna Christine Jacobs (Bonn)

The perception of the senses becomes particularly apparent once we realize its temporality. Ephemera enhance one’s focus on the moment itself. In the Middle Ages, architecture and artworks were embedded in temporally limited singular or repeated actions, which were especially highlighted in textiles, superstructures, or elusive elements such as light, sound, smell, smoke, or movement. This took place within ecclesiastic as well as courtly or municipal ceremonies. The feel or movement of certain objects could constitute an essential part of ceremonial actions, thereby making the action effectual and thus legally binding and/or potent. In consultation with surviving objects and written sources, the aim of this session is to consider the possible ways in which ephemeral actions or certain stagings could change the perception of medieval works of art. Possible questions could be:

  • What influence did the ephemeral have on the sensory perception of objects, actions, and settings, as perceived by the observer in the Middle Ages?
  • Did the multisensory combination of several ephemeral elements lead to increased sensorial perception or an overlapping of sensations?
  • Are the issues of ambivalence or hierarchy in human sensation being addressed?
  • Do the transitions from this life to the afterlife, from one sphere to another, or the rise from one rank to another play any particular role?
  • (How) Is the ephemeral visualized beyond the event itself? Are there self-implicating or commemorated references?
  • Can the objects themselves reflect ephemeral actions? (keyword: affordance)
  • To what extent do artefacts in ephemeral actions and stagings possess a potential to be animated or embodied? (keyword: agency)

We welcome single case studies, general surveys of object groups or events, as well as methodological reflections. Papers could, for instance, reflect on phenomena of natural or artificial light that can only be perceived once, or only on certain days of the year. Another topic could examine the use of textiles to disguise interior architectural compartments or certain works of art. The movement of people and mobile objects, or the immersion of a room or object by means of sound and smoke could also be considered. Papers on methodology could examine the challenges that arise from the study of ephemeral experiences, which can be complicated or (almost) impossible to grasp. In addition to art historical research, submissions of historical, liturgical, or musicological research are more than welcome.


Session 10: Mysticism and Image Generation

Session organiser: Gia Toussaint (Wolfenbüttel)

Nowhere is it more evident than in mysticism that inner images can arise through hearing. The auditive perception of reading, prayer, and liturgical singing, for example, can trigger a whole cosmos of inner sensory experiences in a mystically gifted person. The same applies to the visual perception of images and pictorial works, which, as research has already shown, serve as stimulants to an inner vision. The descriptions of the complex inner sensory experiences triggered in this way are most tangible in texts. Less common are pictorial testimonies resulting from these experiences. The writings of Henry Suso, for example, contain explanations of multisensory inner processes that often describe closely interwoven visual, auditory, haptic, gustatory and olfactory experiences. These messages are conveyed to the later recipient much more often in the medium of text than in the medium of images. In general, the mystical tradition of images seems to be characterized by extraordinarily individual representations that largely elude common iconography.

The question must be raised as to whether or not, and to what extent, these images can succeed in depicting a complex inner process of perception. Can a multi-sensorially generated inner world of images evoke external representations that make these inner perceptions visible? Is a pictorial representation not always associated with a reduction of all non-visual senses? Are images created from mystical experience therefore dependent on explanatory texts? Or is it just the other way around: are external images that originate from mystical experience understandable independent of the text? Can they even open up new possibilities of multisensory mystical experience?

The session will be devoted to this interplay, which has only been explored initially in previous research.


Double Session 11: Pain – Representation and Experience

Session 11a: Conceptions of Representing Pain in Image and Text

Session organiser: Iris Grötecke (Frechen)

Being in pain renders the entire human body an organ of sensual perception, which can feel pain in localized areas, but also throughout the whole. Injuring the body, experiencing pain, and expressing pain are basic anthropological manifestations whose understanding changes with the cultural context.

In the Middle Ages pain was ever-present: The Passion of Christ and the martyrdoms of many saints interpreted the infliction of pain as a sanctification of the victims, with rituals of repentance that followed this idea. Pain could be understood as proof of faith (e.g. Job) or as punishment (torments of hell). Secular criminal courts used the wounding of the body as means to find out truth, to punish, to mark one with signs of shame, or to humiliate. Knightly fights and war caused pain, and apart from this, hunger, disease, as well as medical interventions were connected with pain.

Session 11a asks: what function did corresponding representations of pain have in these instances? The display of intense physical pain and the concealment of pain, which in this case could only be deduced from relevant narration or from signs of an earlier torture, represent different concepts of pain. In the same way, suffering without any emotional utterance, or the absence of pain in situations where one expected it (e.g. the birth of Christ in the visions of St. Brigida), creates very different interpretations of the same sensual experience. Papers which treat the strategies of display, of hiding, sublimation, or of denial of pain in various medieval themes are welcome, as well as those which present new criteria for the analysis of representations of pain. The centre of attention of this session is the cognitive interpretation of physical pain.

Session 11b: Pain – From the Senses to Body Memory

Session organisers: Daniela Mondini (Mendrisio) / Vladimir Ivanovici (Brno)

Session 11b invites papers that consider the use of pain from an embodied perspective. Visual and aural narratives of human suffering were applied to elicit a visceral response which resulted in the audience’s physical identification with their subject. The artefact / performance, the physical senses, affect, and the body thus are brought together in a chain reaction that instills power in the artefact/performance and establishes an intimate relation between the suffering subject and the audience. Rather than introducing instances in which human suffering was depicted, described, or performed, papers should focus on their mise-en-scène. From late antique martyr homilies detailing every wound, to audiences physically exhausted by travel and vigils, to manuscripts decorated with images of suffering that were read as part of specific private or public rituals, to witnessing self-flagellation on the streets of medieval Spanish cities as the emotional apex of Lent on Holy Thursday, assuring that pain did not only catch one’s eye, but that it left a long-lasting impression on onlookers required careful orchestration of the experience.

Papers that consider the secular aspects of this phenomenon by discussing how images of physical suffering and punishment were used to deter criminality—thus attesting to the use of the same visual strategy to repel rather than to attract—are equally welcome.


Session 12: The Sense of Water: Perception and Representation of Water in Medieval Art

Session organisers: David Ganz / Sophie Schweinfurth (Zürich)

Across all cultures, water plays a vital part for the wellbeing and prosperity of societies. In times of climate change and record high temperatures, the worth of water has returned to the centre of attention. Yet, in the Middle Ages water was also recognized as precious resource of outstanding importance.

As one of the four elements, water addressed the human senses in a comprehensive and multifaceted manner: the sense of sight by color and reflection, the sense of hearing by the ability to produce different types of noise, the sense of taste by drinking, and finally the sense of touch by immersion of the human body or swimming. This panel wants to examine how sensual experience triggered by water is reflected within medieval art.

In medieval cultures, the perception of water was intimately linked to a wide range of symbolic values. For example, the life-giving character of water gave shape to the imagination of Paradise as garden-like place, irrigated by fountains and rivers, an idea which was present in all three Abrahamic religions. Water could also be used as a medium for performing rituals of purification and initiation. Numerous medieval legends refer to the healing quality of holy water. With regard to sovereign representation, the display of the wealth of water through fountains, wells, and water gardens could be used as a powerful tool to demonstrate absolute rule and to mark social differences. Yet water could also cause death by flooding and drowning, as the Old Testament story of the deluge exemplifies.

This panel wants to elaborate on how these different relations of meaning were incorporated into medieval artistic representations of water. Following a recent line of research within medieval art history, we aim to contribute to the exploration of materiality in a specific way, by bringing the medieval perception of materiality – in this case water – into the focus of discussion. This call for papers explicitly invites researchers of all fields of medieval art history (Western, Islamic, Jewish, Byzantine etc) to unfold the variety of artistic representations and displays of water in medieval culture.


Double Session 13: Sensuality in the 3D Reconstruction of Medieval City Topographies, Objects and Spaces

Session organisers: Andrea von Hülsen-Esch (Düsseldorf) / Tanja Michalsky (Rome) / Julia Trinkert (Düsseldorf) / Gerhard Weilandt (Greifswald)

3D digitisation projects in historical urban space research (e.g. Naples Digital Archive / MPI for Art History, Rome or the joint project TOPORAZ and TRANSRAZ at the University of Greifswald, University of Cologne, TU Darmstadt, FIZ Karlsruhe) and monument preservation (e.g. the virtual reconstruction project The Cologne Council District around 1600; TU Darmstadt and HHU Düsseldorf) as well as in object-based research (e.g. the project Cenobium, MPI for Art History, Florence) show that the digital representation of urban topographies, objects, and spaces is being established as a serious, novel tool for scientific research. The materiality of objects and carriers of architecture and art, spatial effects, as well as contextual references are being visualized. Complex topographical and interior topographical structures can thus be captured more acccurately and more precisely than was possible with conventional means. Furthermore, virtual models also offer the opportunity to integrate databases that bring together comprehensive sources of information.

The big challenge here is to keep in mind that this creates virtual spaces and realities that did not exist in this way, since all reconstructions reflect the assumptions and the state of knowledge of a snapshot of the current state of research. Moreover, an almost perfect technical implementation leads to the assumption that the instrument of digital reconstruction is a method for verifying the correctness or ‘truth’ of research results – comparable to the measurements and diagrams in the so-called exact sciences.

Nevertheless, digital reconstructions are not only fundamental for the further development of conservation and restoration of objects and architecture, or essential as an additional ubiquitously available illustrative material in research. Going beyond the aspect of visual mediation to a wider audience, the potential of digital reconstructions and animations can also be used to explore synaesthetic relations at specific times: for example, the visual and acoustic effects of objects in varying time and space conditions could be simulated in order to explore the interplay between objects and viewers, and to make the viewer’s sensual perception describable to a certain extent.

In this session, innovative approaches to complex space and object research will be presented as part of a research infrastructure that is to be newly established.

Contributions within this session can, for example, address the following questions:

  • to what extent is an approach to synaesthetic perception in the Middle Ages only possible through digital reconstructions?
  • In which way do levels of interpretation of spaces and objects shift by taking into account their sensual (contemporary and historical) perception?
  • What influence do rites and actions have on the (sensual) appearance of rooms and objects?
  • To what extent does the cross-disciplinary cooperation of researchers pose challenges, for example with regard to field-specific terminologies and thesauri?
  • How can the necessary cooperation between computer scientists and humanities scholars be shaped appropriately?
  • What are the standards, and where are the deficits that should definitely be compensated for?

We are looking for contributions that use 3D reconstructions as a medium for scientific, especially transdisciplinary, research. We need robust standards as guidelines for future-oriented research. This session would like to make a contribution to this.


Double Session 14: Sound and Listening

Session 14a: Sound and Sacred Spaces, 12th – 15th Centuries

Session organisers: Antje Fehrmann (Hamburg) / Christian Freigang (Berlin)

For some years now, sound studies has been an innovative field of interdisciplinary research into synaesthetically induced meaning, especially in the fields of liturgy and ritual. Singing, music, and the sounds of bells present a strong contrast to the disparate and noisy aural landscape of the medieval city. They create and structure temporally transitional acoustic spaces that hierarchize both the inside and outside of sacred topographies. Sound emissions are framed, directed, and amplified in different ways by architectural arrangements, and are often supplemented and elucidated by other media. Barriers, sound openings, belfry designs or iconographic programs are just some of the architectural and visual effects which only attain significant layers of meaning through a multi-sensory charge of space, image, and sound. This function relates to, for example, the spatial disposition of choirs and galleries, the function of vaults, the iconography of steeples, and much more.

Contributions at the intersections between the disciplines of architectural history, music, and liturgical sciences are welcomed which aim to explore the acoustic performance of sacred spaces. The term ‘sacred buildings’ is to be understood in a broad sense, and includes non-Catholic churches, synagogues, and mosques. Explorations of questions on the perception and discursiveness of sounds and music in relation to sacred spaces and architectures are also welcomed.

Session 14b: Listening in Sacred Space

Session organisers: Rebecca Müller (Heidelberg) / Joanna Olchawa (Frankfurt am Main)

Eagle lecterns that emit a screech, sculptures of figures that appear to be listening from pillars, organs with ‘pretzel men’ that sing mocking songs and crack rough jokes – in its multi-sensory conception and perception the art of the Middle Ages combines visual and acoustic dimensions. Enclosed sacred spaces, sophisticated automata, elaborately designed sculptures, and complex instruments as well as interior elements were created with the intention of producing sound for the structuring and hierarchization of rituals, ceremonies, and festivities. Furthermore, they often prioritized hearing itself over seeing as an invitation addressed to those who were present, in order to emphasize the acoustic experience of sermons, songs, and spoken words. This is not trivial. Hearing could make a more corporeal experience of the liturgy possible, offer mnemonic aids for further memory training, and provide guidance. In this way ‘resonance’ should also be generated in a figurative sense.

Against the background of current sound studies, the lively debates on soundscapes and the long proclaimed ‘auditory turn’, as well as the concepts of aurality, auditory knowledge and, of course, audiovisuality, this session is dedicated to this phenomenon and its relationships to works of art. Given the ephemeral nature of sound, as well as its cultural specificity, ‘objective listening’ will always evade historical reconstruction. It is thus important to analyze and discuss its cultural relevance, especially on the basis of preserved objects and sculptures. We also welcome contributions that deal with non-European spaces, or that are dedicated to the digital reconstruction of auditory spaces, as well as proposals that reflect on the contribution of art historical medieval studies to the broader field of sound studies.


Session 15: Sound and Listening

Session organisers: Melis Avkiran / Ulrich Rehm (Bochum)

To what extent are the practices of late medieval religiosity shaped by haptic experience? What statements about the kinesthetic experiential offerings can be made about the corresponding artifacts, their materials, and forms of design? And how were these reflected artistically? Under these questions the session invites submissions on the aesthetics of touch.

The sensory attraction of late medieval devotional objects is highlighted by recent case studies on the interactive mediation of objects of material culture such as the so-called “Multi-Sensory Prayer Nuts,” which demonstrate the interdisciplinary interest in the mediation of knowledge via the senses. In such a case study, the multi-sensory act of praying the rosary combines haptic experience with auditory recitation, and it can also offer attractive visual and olfactory aspects. If we think of representations of the rosary in paintings, the temporal sequence of haptic practice is suspended and the three-dimensional experience of touch is withdrawn. However, it is precisely in this context that paintings can emphasize their ability to evoke three-dimensionality and haptic perceptibility, and possibly also an action’s associated temporality. The assumption of ancient authors that all senses are modifications of the sense of touch is reflected in Aristotle’s theory of rays of sight. The idea that the eye ‘grasps’ its object of perception by means of an emitted visual ray can be directly linked to artistic attempts to translate the material nature of the world into an image. To what extent is a faithfulness to nature in detail, for example as is seen in a Jan van Eyck, less a product of visual mimesis, but rather the equivalent of a haptic exploration of the world?


Session 16: Objects Within Rituals of Touch: Provocation, Negation and Substitutes of Tactile Experience of Salvation

Session organiser: Jochen Hermann Vennebusch (Hamburg)

Ancient pre-Christian as well as biblical texts reveal a tradition of ritualized encounters between people and objects that center on touch, through which especially sacred rites like ordination and veneration could be articulated. Therefore, rituals of touch became a constitutive element of Christian liturgy. This session asks whether and how objects and liturgical utensils, which were involved in these rituals of touch during the Middle Ages, were adapted in different ways and for different interpretations of touch. Furthermore, the session seeks to investigate how these objects as well as their contexts provoke, negate, regulate, ward, depict, or interpret a tactile encounter.

In the case of numerous sacral and liturgically used objects, the fact that they would be touched within ritual performances was taken for granted during their conception and shaping. While sometimes practical reasons were taken into consideration, the faithful’s need for physical closeness and salvation had an outsized impact on an object’s formation and use. Thus, potential contact points were highlighted in order to provoke haptic veneration or corporeal participation in the sacred. In this context, the materiality of reliquaries, images, and statues, as well as their “framing” played an important role, either by potentially inviting believers to a sensual experience of salvation or, on the contrary, by fending them off.

In cases when the direct access of the faithful to objects or to holy places was limited or even prohibited, alternative practices and substitutes often emerged, staging a certain closeness and granting a kind of tactile gaze without providing any direct contact to the image or the relic. Therefore, this session also wants to explore the different ways of compensating for factual touch of the sacred and the particular objects and substitutes being used for a haptic experience of salvation, if the immediate encounter with the sacred was restricted.


Session 17: Sensing the Devine: Relics, Remains and Traces in Medieval Islam

Session organiser: Sara Kuehn (Aix-en-Provence / Tübingen)

Since the time of the Prophet Muhammad, the sensory experience of physical relics and artifacts of the Prophet and his followers has been cultivated in Islamic culture. In addition to the various ‘traces’ (athar) left by Muhammad, such as hairs, fingernails, teeth, clothing, sandals, utensils, accoutrements, weapons, and especially footprints, the veneration of saintly remains, which were often enshrined, were considered an integral part of medieval Islamic worship and popular piety.

Deriving their meaning from sensory engagement involving diverse practices of consumption (ingestion, touching, viewing, smelling), such relics and artifacts invoked bodily as well as spiritual, and individual as well as communal, sensory experiences. Highlighting the effects and consequences of these religious sensations, this panel aims to bring together papers that explore the sensory role of prophetic and saintly relics in medieval Islam. Addressing the role of relics in the various ways in which the senses were instrumentalized in the performance of Islamic piety, miraculous healing, socio-political events, and the creation of new centers of sacrality (thereby serving to extend and establish the territorial boundaries of Islam), enables us to access not only contextual atmospheres and human representations but also motivations of action. Seen as materials that directly contributed to and were conditioned by their ‘staging’, these harbingers of spiritual power and authority permit a reconstruction of medieval Sunni and Shiʿi sensorial experiences across time, space, and cultures. Studying such powerful sites of intercession and transformation in different contexts can provide further inroads into a multisensory understanding of prophetic and saintly relics in medieval Islam.

Discussions of these material ‘mediators’ of the human-divine dyad at pilgrimage places that ‘shared the sacred’ between the three Abrahamic religions, as well as cross-cultural perspectives are particularly welcome. The panel further aims to open up discussion around how sensory experiences of medieval Islamic relics and artifacts can be captured and reproduced in a contemporary museum context, offering insights into diverse understandings of the senses as ‘knowledge forming’


Session 18: The Sensorial Experience of Saints’ Tombs in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages

Session organisers: Sabine Feist (Halle) / Patricia Strohmaier (Düsseldorf)

The sensuous experience of martyrs was a precondition for and an integral part of their veneration in early Christianity, as is evident from probably the earliest known martyrological report about Bishop Polycarp. After his death at the stake, the parish of Smyrna collected his remains, as they considered them “more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more pure than gold” and wanted them to be buried “in a fitting place”. In the martyrological report, these passages about the treatment the bishop’s body received are of particular interest, as the veneration of the saint’s remains, his relics, became central for the veneration of Christian saints in the centuries to follow. Thanks to religious freedom, Christians were henceforth allowed to exercise their belief publicly, without the danger of being persecuted or even killed for their faith. Thus, apart from the few so-called Holy Men, found only in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, and early medieval missionaries on the periphery and beyond the Empire’s borders, an immediate experience of saints and sainthood was no longer possible the way it was in Polycarp’s time. As a consequence, new modes of perception and new strategies for the sensuous experience of martyrs and saints had to be found.

One possibility was offered by the lavish adornment of saints’ tombs that were made accessible to the reverent crowds. Although this was happening in Rome already during the reign of Constantine, the pontificate of Damasus I is considered to be the crucial turning point for the staging of venerated tombs. His actions can be traced through many funereal epigrams he had inscribed at the martyrs’ burial sites. Furthermore, the Roman bishop had the tombs architecturally framed, adorned with images, and had their lighting changed. According to Gregory of Tours, tombs such as that of Saint Martin received visual emphasis through marble plates, screens, candles, and textiles. Clerics washed the tombs and read the saint’s vita on their feast day. Pilgrims touched and kissed the tombs, cried, called on the saints, and spread fragrant herbs.

Such insights about the staging of saints’ tombs offered by archaeological and textual sources reveal how multisensory experiences were offered around the sacred tombs that were not limited to visual stimulation alone. This panel will focus on this broad and multifaceted range of sensuous experiences of saints’ tombs. Among other things the following questions will be addressed:

  • How did pilgrims prepare for a tomb that was accessible?
  • What do archaeological findings tell us, e.g. about sign-posting indicating the tombs’ locations, or about their lighting and funereal epigrams (to be read aloud?)? What can be learned about all of this from early pilgrims’ reports?
  • Are there further decorative elements of the tombs that can be reconstructed, e.g. textile covers, censers, votive offerings, or ephemeral mise-en-scène from special occasions?
  • How is the ambivalence of the saint’s presence and absence in their grave made palpable?
  • What sensory practices do believers carry out at the saints’ tombs?
  • What happens when tombs themselves remain invisible? What strategies are then used to offer a sensuous experience of the saint?
  • How are relics staged and displayed during translation?

Session 19: Sensual Encounters with the Medieval Coin

Session organisers: Jacqueline Marie Lombard (Pittsburgh) / Luke A. Fidler (Chicago)

Small sculptures that circulate through networks of power and exchange, coins are also material and ritual objects that solicit, and are in turn activated by, the five senses. For instance, medieval beholders attended to the optic and haptic qualities of coinage when they authenticated specie, the sounds of jingling pennies accompanied the offertory portion of the Mass, obols were buried in corpses’ mouths, and mints generated all the smells and sounds associated with spectacular metal production. Art historians, archaeologists, and numismatists have long recognized the significance of coins for dating finds and have carefully scrutinized their appearance for iconographic and epigraphic clues. This panel, however, seeks to follow the lead set recently by numismatists in examining the material, and by extension sensual, qualities of coins. How did these qualities reinforce or undermine money’s economic and social functions? How were these functions activated or altered by specific bodily encounters with the coin?

Acknowledging the fundamentally interdisciplinary enterprise of studying medieval coins, we invite papers that attend to coinage’s capaciously sensual properties and performative modes. Proposals might discuss (but are not limited to) the following topics:

  • Material properties of coins (color, conductivity, weight, etc.)
  • Journeys, biographies, and transformations of specific coins
  • The abstraction and materialization of labor
  • Relations between value and sensory tokens
  • Ritual and performative uses of coins (e.g. the Royal Touch, burial practices, offerings)
  • Strategic modification of coins through procedures of bending, cutting, folding, and melting
  • Metaphoric uses of coinage in fiction, sermons, and vitae
  • Coins as sites of artistic experimentation
  • Religious and social boundaries on money-handling

Session 20: (This session takes place within the accompanying programme) Actually, It Could Only Have Been Like This – Dating and Reconstruction in Carolingian and Ottonian Architecture and Its Church Furnishings

Session organiser: Guido Faccani (Basel)

The eminent role that dating and reconstruction play in the fields of archaeology, architectural research, art history, and other historical research disciplines, especially when it comes to studying the early Middle Ages, might be best described as ‘carrying water into the Main’. Dating and Reconstruction are essential for contextualization, functional understanding, and for comparative analyses. In the worst cases, they are also starting points for circular reasoning. It has always been a self-evident principle in critical research that temporal approaches and supplementary proposals of the individual disciplines should be developed first on their own and only then combined for evaluation and further interpretation. But is that really always the case? Are the disciplines in sufficiently direct exchange? Do mutual perceptions and understandings of the disciplines really exist?

The region around Frankfurt offers a density of early medieval buildings where the above-mentioned research concerns can be addressed. Historical sites that have already been researched are being considered in new ways, such as St. Justin’s Church in Frankfurt-Höchst or the Palatinate of Frankfurt. Long-term projects such as the research on the Palatinate of Ingelheim are being made accessible in on-going reports from the excavation team, and the architectural sculpture there has been discussed in monographic form. In the ongoing excavation at St. John’s Church in Mainz, older results are being supplemented and corrected by new research, and the city’s history is being enriched in essential ways, but there are still serious gaps in the architectural material.

In these works mentioned as representative examples, there is, as is elsewhere also the case, the claim that the proposed reconstructions can be traced back and that the datings have a secure foundation. Is this so? How far may a preliminary report go in interpreting findings that have not yet been examined? How does it make sense to profitably compare supra-regional technical and material features – or is that not possible at all? Can liturgical or courtly ceremonial events be seen in archaeological findings? What do written sources tell us about builders and their artistic, formal, and functional intentions? Can linear developments be proven? Where can discontinuities be found?

These questions will be investigated using case studies from the Carolingian and Ottonian periods. Sacred and profane architecture, architectural sculpture, stucco and architectural ceramics will provide the basis for discussion. Gaps are to be detected and named, and limits of evidence are to be drawn. The role of the (no longer) new media with their virtual spaces and animations as well as related scientific disciplines (AMS / C14 etc.) should also be given space.


Papers (preferably in German or English) for the individual sections are now welcome . The lectures usually last 20-30 minutes. Please apply by October 15, 2020 with an abstract (max. One page) for one of the sections at mail@mittelalterkongress.de . The results of the selection and the program are expected to be published in the first quarter of 2021 at www.dvfk-berlin.de and in the relevant portals.

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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