Author Archives: tomnickson2013

Medieval Touch: Handling session at the British Museum on scientific instruments in medieval and Renaissance Europe

On Weds 21st November 2018, Lloyd de Beer, Naomi Speakman, and Oliver Cooke kindly allowed students and staff from the Courtauld Institute of Art and elsewhere into the horological storerooms of the British Museum, the latest in a series of handling sessions organised by Medieval Touch. Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein of the University of York led the group in a joint examination of a series of mostly sixteenth-century scientific instruments, including replicas from her own collection.horology

We began by looking together at an astrolabe. Astrolabes were observational and calculating instruments and allowed users to tell the time through the position of the stars in relation to the astral map on the astrolabe itself, however your ability to do so was contingent upon any number of factors, not least the environmental conditions.

 

As well as explaining their purpose, Jeanne attempted to instruct us all in their use and as each of us tried and frequently failed to grasp the fundamentals of astrolabe reading, it became apparent that astrolabes are not intuitive instruments. Their use implies and demands significant technical experience and knowledge. We questioned whether this knowledge was simply more widespread in the early modern world or whether utility was not their only value. Even when we consider astrolabes purely in practical use, several limiting factors would have dictated how and by whom they were employed. Astrolabes are geographically specific instruments, each backplate designed for a set latitude – the mobile user would have required multiple plates. Moreover, larger instruments were more easily legible and produced more accurate readings.

Certain instruments that survive like this column shaped sundial were too elaborately shaped to be of any functional use. Their design seems to effect other concerns, perhaps commemorative (was this the model of a larger monumental sundial?) or aesthetic.

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However, other instruments were clearly more useable. Ivory diptych sundials like these 16th-century examples from Nuremberg, appear to have been designed for the Early Modern traveller. Handy and conveniently pocket sized, they also offered a range of adjustable settings depending on location.

 

London to Naples, Portugal to Constantinople: the lists of cities on these objects, clustering around the cities of Mitteleuropa and Northern Italy, Bremen, Königsberg, Venice and Genoa, spoke to some of us of a now lost trading geography of Europe. However, made of ivory and not unelaborately decorated, these objects were demonstrably prestige items and must have elicited viewing as much as reading.

A glance at the range of sundials in the cabinets of the horological department reveals the complex interplay of aesthetic and practical motives at work in these objects.

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Here’s what we saw, all visible on the British Museum’s website:

Sundial/horary quadrant, England 14th c., 1972,0104.1
Sundial etc., Hans Dorn 1492, 1894,0615.1
Astrolabe, Georg Hartmann 1532, 1871,1115.3
Crucifix polyhedral sundial, Georg Hartmann 1541, 1894,0722.1
Astronomical compendium/wind-vane, Christopher Schissler c. 1550, 1855,0904.1
Sundial in the form of dividers, Christopher Schissler 1558, 1888,1201.283
Universal equinoctial dial with case, Christopher Schissler c. 1570, 1922,0705.3
Regiomontanus-style sundial, Caspar Vopel 1551, 1895,0319.1
Crucifix sundial, Melchior Reichle 1569, 1874,0727.3
Standing cup in the form of a celestial globe, French, 1569, AF.3060
Pillar dial in the form of a Corinthian column, Germany, 1593, 1888,1201.282
Scaphe sundial, Germany late 16th c., 1922,0705.6
Sundial etc., Netherlands late 16th c.?, 1871,1115.5
European celestial globe from 1659, 1896,0322.1
17c armillary sphere, 1855,1201.221
Diptych dial, Hartmann, 1562, 1900,1017.1

Many thanks again to Jeanne for a fascinating session!

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Call for Papers: ‘Light and darkness in pre-modern visual cultures’, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, Friday 23rd November 2018

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Courtauld Institute of Art, London
Deadline: 15 September 2018

Organisers: Stefania Gerevini and Tom Nickson

The staged lighting of modern galleries, heritage sites and publications has significantly altered understanding of the roles of light and darkness in the design and reception of pre-modern objects and spaces. Despite sophisticated systems to manage artificial and natural light, pre-modern experiences of the visual were shaped greatly by daily and seasonal rituals and contingencies. In turn, those experiences informed, and were informed by, diverse theories about vision, light and illumination.

This one-day workshop of lightning talks offers participants opportunities to explore their own encounters with issues of light and darkness in pre-modern cultures, and set them within broader scholarly frameworks. How did pre-modern cultures conceptualise, respond to, and manipulate light and darkness and their interactions in urban, domestic and religious settings? How were natural and artificial light managed? What role did they play in the design of individual artworks, architectural spaces, ephemera and rituals, and to what extent did different light levels affect perceptions of objects and spaces? What vocabulary was used to think about light and darkness, and how was this language transformed by the advent of new technologies of illumination? How did pre-modern cultures deploy light/dark, day/night, to cogitate on God and the cosmos, and to visualise them?

Lightning talks should be no more than 5 minutes and 5 slides, and will be ‘curated’ for maximum variety and visual interest. They may relate to any region or culture, and ‘pre-modern’ is here very broadly defined as the period before the adoption of gas or electric lighting. Papers might focus on single objects, rituals or spaces, or on groups thereof. All disciplinary perspectives are welcome, provided they focus predominantly on visual culture.

Papers might consider:

  • The language of light and darkness: science, theology, literature and daily life
  • Light, darkness and the senses
  • Rituals, objects and spaces by night
  • Science, technologies and visual culture
  • Theologies of light/darkness
  • Daily/annual cycles of light and dark
  • Street life and the experience of urban spaces and architectures by day and night
  • Natural ‘spotlights’ on objects or buildings
  • Provision for lighting of various kinds
  • The agency of patrons or creators in shaping lighting conditions
  • Reconstructions of original lighting conditions
  • Restaging of medieval objects in early modern contexts
  • Deliberate darkness or blinding light
  • Refraction and reflection
  • Materiality and immateriality

Abstracts of 200 words should be sent to lightanddarkness2311@gmail.com together with 100-word participant biographies. The deadline is Saturday 15th September 2018. Please note that given the brevity of papers and large number of participants, The Courtauld cannot cover travel or accommodation costs (though lunch, refreshments and a subsidised supper will be provided).

Organised by:

Stefania Gerevini (Bocconi University, Milan)

Tom Nickson (Courtauld Institute of Art, London)

Job: Lecturer in Medieval Art and Architecture, History of Art, University of York (UK), deadline 23rd July 2018

Department: History of Art
Based at University of York – Heslington Campus
Hours of work: Full-time
Contract status:  Open
Salary £38,832 – £41,212 a year
Apply by 23/07/2018

The Department of History of Art at York is one of the largest and most dynamic communities of art historians in the UK with an international reputation for research and teaching over a chronological span from late antiquity to the present. Particular strengths include Architectural History and Theory, British Art, Medieval Art, Sculpture, and Stained Glass. We now wish to appoint a Lecturer in Medieval Art and Architecture, and invite applications from those working on Europe (East or West), or the Byzantine, Islamic, Judaic, or Russian worlds.

You will have a strong research profile in this area, complementing existing areas of staff expertise and bringing new perspectives to the Department’s medieval coverage. You will contribute to the department’s profile through high-quality publications, by seeking external research funding, and by demonstrating the impact of your research. You will develop and maintain relationships with museums, galleries, and other organisations involved in medieval art and architecture at local, regional, national, and international levels. You will contribute to the department’s teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, including specialist, research-led teaching and supervision of MA and PhD students. You will undertake an appropriate share of administrative responsibilities.

You will have a PhD in History of Art or relevant area, and appropriate academic professional and teaching qualifications or a willingness to complete the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice.

You will have knowledge of a range of research techniques and methodologies and a range of teaching techniques to enthuse and engage students. You will possess advanced and relevant IT knowledge and research expertise in an area that will complement and enhance the department’s research strategy and goals.

You will be expected to demonstrate your ability to contribute to high quality research which has been publicly evidenced, for example, by the presentation of papers at conferences and workshops; participation in public engagement events to disseminate research; the publishing of chapters in text books; the publishing of papers; articles or reviews in academic journals or elsewhere. You will be expected to show evidence of successful course planning, design and delivery across a range of modules, with exemplification of teaching materials.

You will have the ability to develop research objectives, projects and proposals, highly developed oral and written communication skills, including the ability to write and/or contribute to publications and/or to disseminate research findings using other appropriate media; to deliver presentations at conferences or exhibit work at other appropriate events internally and externally; to extend, transform, and apply knowledge from scholarship; to design teaching material and deliver either across a range of modules or within a subject area; and to supervise the work of others, for example in research teams or projects or as an MA, PhD or postdoctoral supervisor.

Enquiries to Professor Michael White (michael.white@york.ac.uk), telephone 01904 322978.

Interviews will be held on 14 September 2018 and the expected start date is 1 January 2019. The post is full time and permanent (salary range £38,832 – £41,212 a year).

Vacancy at The Courtauld: Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Art History c.300-1450. Deadline 20 April 2018

COURTAULD INSTITUTE OF ART

Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Art History c.300-1450

Courtauld-exterior

The Courtauld Institute of Art is the UK’s leading institution for teaching and research in Art History and the conservation of paintings; it is also home to one of the finest small art museums in the world. The Art History department has an outstanding research and teaching record from Late Antiquity to the Contemporary with an increasingly global outlook, and embraces its diversity of theoretical approaches and methodologies.

The Courtauld wishes to appoint a full-time Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Art History, to begin on 1 September 2018. The successful candidate will complement the existing teaching strengths of the Department and will have a research focus in any region or period from c.300-1450. We seek an art historian who situates their research in a wider, international context, and who can work across traditional geographic, linguistic and chronological boundaries. An ideal candidate would be able to teach across at least one other field in a way directed by concepts of exchange and interaction, and to build bridges with other areas of art historical investigation. The candidate is expected to be able to situate their work in the theoretical and historiographical debates in their specialised research area and also engage with current issues in global Art History.

The appointee will research and publish to the highest quality and will actively pursue and apply for appropriate research grants; will provide inspiring teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels; and will play an active role in the life and administration of The Courtauld.

PAY:       Grade 6 (£36,644 to £41,958) or

Grade 7 (£43,117 to £49,461), depending on experience

DEADLINE FOR APPLICATIONS:    20 April 2018 23:59 GMT

INTERVIEW DATE:    15 May 2018

British Museum Handling Session: The Trinity

GodwinOn Wednesday 24 January 2018 Lloyd de Beer and Naomi Speakman once again welcomed a group of staff and students from The Courtauld and elsewhere, as well as Sophie Kelly, PhD student from the University of Kent. The focus of our session was objects in the British Museum collection with links to the Trinity.

We looked at eleven objects with Trinitarian iconography, the earliest of which was the walrus ivory seal die of Godwin the Thane, dating from the early eleventh century. Beautifully carved with iconography inspired by Psalm 109 (110), ‘The Lord said unto my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand and I will make thine enemies thy footstool’. The decoration on the handle consists of God the Father and Son in relief, enthroned over a prostrate human figure. We were very interested to investigate the evidence of damage above the two figures which, we agreed, was likely to have once included a symbol of the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove.

The Trinity also features on a fourteenth-century circular bronze seal-matrix (with wax impression) with a loop at top. Here the Trinity is depicted as three near-identical figures with an inscription ‘SCA TRINITAS.VHVS.DEVS’. The third seal which we saw was the fifteenth-century circular bronze seal-matrix (with wax impression) of the Friars of the Holy Trinity, Hounslow. Under a Gothic canopy with side-tabernacles the Trinity is depicted in a manner which allowed us to discuss different ways of representing the Trinity in the Middle Ages. Here, the iconography known as the Throne of Grace (Gnadenstuhl), is used. In these depictions of the Trinity, God the Father is seated and holds the cross upon which Jesus Christ is crucified in front of his lap, with the dove of the Holy Spirit alongside. This iconography became popular from the thirteenth century and is seen across a wide range of artistic media, including manuscripts, stained glass and stone carving. The Trinity depicted as the Throne of Grace also appeared on a late Medieval gold finger ring. With the help of a magnifying glass we were able to appreciate the detailed depiction of the Trinity on the oval bezel of the ring, which included the dove which is shown between Christ’s right arm and God the Father.

 

Black Prince badgeWe discussed Plantagenet devotion to the Trinity evidenced through the lead Badge of the Black Prince of c.1376 which shows the Black Prince kneeling before Trinity (although the dove is missing). The Black Prince wears a tabard with Arms of England and has thrown down his gauntlet before him; above him is an angel in clouds holding his shield. We also looked at two Anglo-Saxon ivory plaques depicting the Crucifixion. Above the head of Christ, the Hand of God is depicted, thereby alerting us to the presence of two persons of the Trinity. This led to discussion related to how we might understand images where one of the member of the Trinity is ‘missing’; can the presence of the other person be implied?

 

An object which we all found challenging was a wood-carved relief representing the Trinity (also in the Throne of Mercy composition) dated 1450-1500 and including depictions of the Annunciation, St Francis of Assisi, St Bernardino and St Sebastian. The largest object encountered was a late Medieval alabaster Coronation of the Virgin which still shows traces of painting and gilding. Here the Virgin is surrounded by the persons of the Trinity represented as three crowned figures.

close looking

In preparation for the handling session we read the following texts and discussed them at a reading group the night before:

 

Bernard McGinn, ‘Theologians as Trinitarian Iconographers’, In: Jeffrey Hamburger and Anne-Marie Bouché The Mind’s Eye. Art and Theological Argument in the Middle Ages, Princeton, 2006, 186-207

André Grabar, ‘Dogmas Expressed in a Single Image’, In: Christian Iconography. A Study of its Origins, London, 1969, 112-127

Jacobus De Voragine, ‘The Holy Spirit’, In: The Golden Legend, Princeton, 1993, 299-306

We looked at the definition of the Trinity in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford, 1997), and were interested to explore the tension between theology and iconography. In particular, how can dogma such as the Trinity be represented? Grabar and McGinn have contrasting views on what constitutes ‘successful’ iconography; McGinn sees artistic experimentation and lack of iconographic stability as positives, whereas Grabar suggests that the fact an image appears in limited or isolated circumstances makes it a failure. To aid our discussions, we looked at some manuscript images of the Trinity. These included: British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius C vi (Tiberius Psalter); British Library, MS Cotton Titus D. xxvii (Ælfwine’s Prayerbook); British Library, MS Add. 34890 (Grimbald Gospels); British Library MS Cotton B IV (Aelfric’s Hexateuch); British Library, MS Harley 603 (Harley Psalter); MS Lansdowne 383 (the Shaftesbury Psalter); Winchester Bible, Winchester Cathedral; and St John’s College, Cambridge, MS K 26 (St John’s Psalter). We discussed the experimental nature of Trinitarian iconography and how this might help us understand the chancel wall painting of the Throne of Grace at the Church of St Mary, Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk which is unique, and the earliest known appearance of this motif.

Lecture: Felipe Pereda, ‘Images’ Oblivious Memory: Funerary Laments from Ancient Greece to El Greco’. Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 4pm, Thursday 25th January, 2018

Pereda

Felipe Pereda (Harvard), will give the inaugural lecture for the 2018-19 Coll & Cortes Medieval Spain Seminar Series at 4pm on Thursday 25th January in the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre of the Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

An old narrative tradition going back to Ancient Egypt but documented across the Mediterranean – from the Middle East to Greece — shows women attending funerals performing theatrical, but also highly ritualized gestures that express unbearable pain. This visual trope corresponds to a practice that was surveyed and prosecuted in this part of the world well before the arrival of Christianity. The practice continued in Iberia throughout the Middle Ages, producing from the 12th century onwards an extraordinary tradition of painting and monumental sculpture. This lecture will explore the persistence, survival and repression of this practice and discuss the contribution of the visual arts to the production of cultural memory.

 

Felipe Pereda is Fernando Zóbel de Ayala Professor of Spanish Art at Harvard University. Born in Madrid, he studied at the Universidad Complutense, and the Autónoma University where he received his PhD (1995) and taught until 2011. In more recent years, he has also taught at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas (Universidad Autónoma de México), and Johns Hopkins University (2011-15). He has worked on Spanish late medieval and early modern art, art theory, image theory and history of architecture.

His books include, La arquitectura elocuente (1999), El atlas del Rey Planeta (3rd. ed. 2003), and Images of Discord. Poetics and Politics of the Sacred Image in 15th century Spain (Spanish ed. 2007; English translation, Harvey Miller, forthcoming). He has recently published on artists such as Luis de Morales, Ribera, or Zurbarán.