CFP: ‘Shades of Purple: Purple Ornament in Medieval Manuscripts’, University of Zurich (25-26 November 2021), deadline 30 April 2021

“Textures of Sacred Scripture. Materials and Semantics of Sacred Book Ornament in the Western Middle Ages, 780-1300 (” is a research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation at the Chair of Medieval Art History at the University of Zurich. We invite paper proposals for a two-day workshop on purple ornament in medieval manuscripts, scheduled to take place in Zurich on 25 and 26 November 2021.

Recent advances in the technical analysis of purple colorants have spurred new interest in the aesthetics of purple ornament in medieval manuscripts. This most prestigious embellishment associated with imperial splendor underwent stunning transformations between the 8th and the 11th century. Purple dyes (mostly produced from lichens) were not only used to color the entire parchment surfaces of sacred books, but purple colorants were also used selectively to highlight specific texts, pages and miniatures corresponding to the content, topology, imagery, and script of individual manuscripts. Various techniques and methods were employed to create multi-sensory purple textures, combining shades of purple from red to dark blue and evoking different purple-colored materials such as silks and porphyry.

The workshop welcomes proposals that consider the whole range of these aesthetic possibilities and analyze their specific contexts and semantics throughout the Middle Ages, with a special focus on Carolingian and Ottonian manuscripts. Broader theoretical approaches are also welcome. Topics of particular interest are:

  • Shades of purple: techniques, aesthetics and semantics of different purple hues
  • Purple-ground: images on, in or framed by purple
  • Purple ornament and script
  • The topology of purple ornament in manuscripts
  • Transcultural comparisons and exchange processes (i.e. Byzantine purple manuscripts, documents and silks as well as southern Italian and Spanish purple-colored manuscripts)
  • Material evocations: imitating purple textiles and stones
  • Purple topoi in rhetoric and poetry and their relationship to material ornament
  • Interactions between liturgical use and purple-colored manuscripts
  • Purple manuscripts as gifts: patronage and donations

Speaking time for each paper is 30 minutes (followed by 20 minutes for discussion). The conference languages are English, German, French and Italian. Submissions should include the title and an abstract (max. 300 words) as well as the name, contact information and short CV of the speaker. Proposals should be submitted to by 30 April 2021.

The confirmation of accepted papers will be announced by 15 May 2021. The workshop is currently planned as an in-person meeting. Travel expenses and on-site accommodation of all speakers will be covered.


Published by Lydia McCutcheon

Lydia McCutcheon graduated from the University of Kent with a First Class Honours in History in 2019. She also holds an MSt in Medieval Studies from the University of Oxford. Her dissertation on the twelfth-century miracle collections for St Thomas Becket and the stained-glass 'miracle windows' at Canterbury Cathedral explored the presentation of children and familial relationships in textual and visual narratives. Her research interests include the visual and material cultures of saints and sanctity, pilgrimage, and childhood and the family.

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