Online Lecture: Art in Cathedrals: Norwich Cathedral – New Perspectives in Medieval Sculpture, Rob Hawkins (Zoom, 15th April 2021 7pm)

This is the first in a new series of online lectures, Art in Cathedrals, organised by Art+Christianity. Please follow this link to book your tickets.

All talks are fully illustrated and begin at 7pm fortnightly on Thursday evenings, beginning on April 15th. A full programme of events is listed below.

Rob Hawkin’s will discuss the 15th-century bosses from Norwich Cathedral cloister, posing big questions concerning pictorial space, point of view, and the assumptions we make when we approach pre-modern sculpture.

The elaborately sculpted vault bosses of Norwich Cathedral Cloister (built 1297-1430) are one of the glories of English medieval sculpture. The later bosses (1410-1430) are particularly virtuosic in their distortion of pictorial space: straight lines are rendered as curves; cuboids are radically warped; figures twist through crazy angles, each boss forming a bulbous hemisphere of intricate narrative. Visiting the cloister it becomes obvious that no single viewing position will suffice to make any one boss comprehensible: their curved surfaces demand that the viewer move in iterative orbits, gradually compiling an image of the whole scene in the mind’s eye.  

Most of our art-historical language for discussing ‘perspective’ and ‘pictorial space’ comes from our study of the Italian Renaissance, and is bound up with the supposed norm of rigid, geometric perspective. This paradigm assumes an ideal static observer. We are much less well equipped to discuss sculptural style, which tends to assume an embodied viewer moving in real space. Medieval theologians who discussed point of view and perspective, however, may offer some cognate concepts as we try to engage with these sculptures in less anachronistic ways. 

This talk presents some findings from new research into these fascinating pieces of sculpture. It makes use of photogrammetric modelling undertaken in the cloisters, which offers a way of reproducing the bosses in all their three-dimensionality in order to better communicate the complexity of their forms. We will also consider some theological connections both medieval and modern, using the bosses as a prompt to think about perspective theologically, asking what it might mean to have a notion of perspective fit for discussing our lived experience of the world.  

Rob Hawkins is an ordinand at Westcott House, reading the theology Tripos. Before training for ordination he studied and wrote about art history, completing an MPhil and PhD at King’s College, Cambridge under the supervision of Paul Binski, on questions of sculptural space and style in medieval craftsmanship. He enjoys making things, gardening, and thinking and writing about the place where theology, art, and matter meet.

For information about other events in this cycle, click here.


Norwich Cathedral: New perspectives in medieval sculpture
by Rob Hawkins, art historian and ordinand, 15 April, 7pm 
A discussion of the 15th-century bosses from Norwich Cathedral cloister looking closely at sculptural space, point of view and style in medieval craftsmanship.

Coventry Cathedral: Icon and Inspiration 
by Alexandra Epps, art guide and lecturer, 29 April, 7pm 
The extraordinary story of the rebuilding of the Cathedral as a symbol of peace and reconciliation and its inspiring commitment to the modern.

Salford RC Cathedral: A Hidden Identity
by James Crowley, architectural historian, 13 May, 7pm 
How modern conservation and a traditional approach to re-ordering might re-establish the splendour of this highly significant building and the identity of the Catholic community.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral: conceived in the round 
by Dominic Wilkinson, Principal Lecturer in Architect at Liverpool John Moores University, 27 May, 7pm 
Exploring the integrated conception of art and architecture envisaged by Sir Frederick Gibberd and the artists he worked with.

St David’s Cathedral: Teiliau Tyddewi – The Tiles of St Davids
by Martin Crampin, artist and art historian, 10 June, 7pm
A journey from the pattern and imagery of the late medieval ceramic tiles at St Davids Cathedral into Gothic Revival reproduction, interpretation and abstraction.


Published by Ellie Wilson

Ellie Wilson holds a First Class Honours in the History of Art from the University of Bristol, with a particular focus on Medieval Florence. In 2020 she achieved a Distinction in her MA at The Courtauld Institute of Art, where she specialised in the art and architecture of Medieval England under the supervision of Dr Tom Nickson. Her dissertation focussed on an alabaster altarpiece, and its relationship with the cult of St Thomas Becket in France and the Chartreuse de Vauvert. Her current research focusses on the artistic patronage of London’s Livery Companies immediately pre and post-Reformation. Ellie will begin a PhD at the University of York in Autumn 2021 with a WRoCAH studentship, under the supervision of Professor Tim Ayers and Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein.

3 thoughts on “Online Lecture: Art in Cathedrals: Norwich Cathedral – New Perspectives in Medieval Sculpture, Rob Hawkins (Zoom, 15th April 2021 7pm)

  1. Yes, please, though Medieval ArtResearch may have a conflict that day, whose hour I failed to record. Best, Carla Lord

    Sent from my iPad


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