Tag Archives: Alabaster

Seminar and Book Launch: Speaking Sculptures, Research Forum, The Courtauld Institute of Art (Vernon Square), Wednesday 23 January 2019, 5:00 pm–6:00 pm

2019.01.23_image-600x600Many statues and works of sculpture made in the late Gothic and Renaissance period are represented with mouth open, as if caught in a mid-utterance. These ‘speaking sculptures’ have received remarkably little comment from art historians. What are these speaking statues meant to be saying? And what, as viewers, are we meant to ‘hear’ and respond? The aim of this paper is to begin to unravel this illusion of speech and the agency it implies.

It would be a mistake to dismiss the phenomenon of the ‘speaking sculpture’ as just another virtuoso feature that enhanced the illusion of life and, with it, the persuasive character of a late Gothic art or Renaissance work of art. The illusion of speech creates a different level of engagement and interaction with the viewer: faced with such an image we not only look but ‘strain to hear’. Does this suggest a sort of animation that demands a living presence response? Or does the illusion of speech enhance the potential surrogacy of the statue, ‘enacting’ the hopes of the viewer? Or could it be that a speaking statue is actually ‘saying’ something quite specific that the viewer in some sense might have ‘heard’ as part of their viewing experience. If so, how do we recover the ‘period ear’ to listen in? These are some of the questions that will be addressed.k.-wood-book-cover

Kim Woods is a senior lecturer in Art History at the Open University, and a specialist in northern European late Gothic sculpture. She combines an object-based approach with an interest in materials and cultural exchange. Her single-authored book, Imported Images (Donington, 2007), focussed on wood sculpture. Since then she has been working on alabaster. Her Open University distance learning materials include the Renaissance Art Reconsidered volumes (Yale, 2007) and Medieval to Renaissance (Tate publishing, 2012).

The seminar will be followed by the launch of ‘Cut in Alabaster: a Material of Sculpture and its European Traditions 1330-1530′

Click here to book a free ticket for this seminar.


Call for Contributions: English Alabaster Sculptures in Context: Art, History and Historiography (edited volume)

english_-_resurrection_-_walters_27308The book aims at challenging the current limits within the field of research related to English alabasters, in order to establish a new model of study. Over the last century many studies on English alabasters have been published, including exhibition catalogues, list of documents and archival sources, catalogues raisonnés of the most important collections. All these studies have marked key points in the scholarly approach to English alabaster carvings, but they have also imposed a stubbornly curt historiographical perspective. Indeed, these publications have mainly been focused on specific collections -e.g. Frances Cheetham’s Medieval English alabaster carvings in the Castle Museum of Nottingham (Nottingham, 1973)-, and have thus provided only a partial view on that artistic phenomenon. They ended up isolating English alabasters from their historical and cultural context. In addition, as Susan Ward has pointed out in her review to Frances Cheetham’s Alabaster Images of Medieval England (Speculum, 2006), these publications’ main focus was often traditional: their bulks describe the standard subject matters found in the alabasters (e.g. the Passion of Christ, the Life of the Virgin and the saints) and explain the literary sources of that subject matter in a sometime too basic way. The authors tend to isolate the pieces from their wider historical framework, lacking to consider the character of piety in late-medieval England, and failing to consider the sculptures from a comprehensive historiographical point of view.

The book aims at setting the study of English alabasters on a new footing, which results from the influence of previous scholarship but, at the same time, reacts against it and is finally capable to establish a different approach.

Possible themes and subjects could address, but are not limited to one of the following topics

  • Alabaster altarpieces: function and design
  • Alabasters in pre/post Reformation England
  • Centres of productions, Trade routes
  • Workshop practices (Collaborations and Co-creations; Process and Method; Marks and Inscriptions; Archival records)
  • Reception of alabasters abroad; Possible adaption to local practices/taste
  • Patronage
  • Paraliturgical Dramas
  • Distinctions between rural/urban churches
  • Alabaster tombs

Papers will be collected in a volume to be published by the end of next year (2018), entitled English Alabaster Sculptures in Context: Art, History and Historiography. Submission: Please send an abstract of your proposed contribution (ca. 300 words) and a short CV to the editor: zuleika.murat@unipd.it.

Deadline: April 1, 2017.

Upcoming Event: Art and Attention: Alabaster and Ivory Sculpture in the Middle Ages

Seminar at the Anatomy Museum, King’s College, London.
24.03.2014, 18.30-20.30.


A Seminar Series and Cross-Period Investigation

Attention is an intense concentration enacted in the body and mind. It is something to be attracted or something we give, generously and with due consideration. In theatre and performance, it is that which unites an audience, who are, with PA Skantze, ‘bound in their attention’ (2003) even as it drifts and returns or might ignite dissent. Our attention can be selective, divided; it occupies space and time; it has breadth and span. We draw attention, and desire it. We, and our productions, are attention-seeking, attention-grabbing. We suffer from an attention deficit.

FAO brings together thinkers from across the fields of theatre and performance studies, literary history, psychotherapy and essay writing to give attention to attention in all its forms. We will ask how attention is cultivated and distributed in criticism and performance. For critics such as Frank Kermode (1985) and Jonathan Crary (1999) and historians like Lorraine Daston (2010) its various conditions powerfully index their historical times: attention determines value and the forms through which we ‘attend’ to works of art and the social world.

Art and Attention: Alabaster and Ivory sculpture in the Middle Ages

This talk will investigate the common ground between two materials widely employed as luxury goods in the later Middle Ages. Focusing on periods of manufacture from the 14th to 16th century, these materials were coveted, fought over, and used for objects which would aid their owners in the most private of devotions, or the most public of spectacles. This talk will address the carving of sculpture, the painting of sculpture and the location, or lack of location for sculpture.

Lloyd de Beer is jointly responsible for the late medieval collections (alongside lead curator Naomi Speakman). His academic background is in English art and literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and he is currently working on the museum’s collection of alabaster sculptures, pilgrim badges and seal matrices. He has a particular interest in medieval architecture, and the role it plays in framing the visual reception of objects and ritual. Prior to joining the department Lloyd held a curatorial internship at the Victoria and Albert Museum and a curatorial fellowship at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. He has recently published on English alabaster sculpture, and has a forthcoming book on the Lacock Cup, co-authored with Naomi Speakman out in 2013.

Naomi Speakman is the curator for Late Medieval Europe at the British Museum. Her current research interests are gothic ivory carving, late medieval metalwork and collecting history. Prior to joining the British Museum Naomi has worked at Bonhams and the V&A, and is currently undertaking a PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art on the British Museum’s Gothic Ivory collection. She has contributed to the catalogue for the British Museum exhibition, ‘Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in medieval Europe’ and has a forthcoming publication on the Lacock Cup jco-authored authored with Lloyd de Beer.

Hosted by the Performance Research Group.  FAO is convened by Georgina Guy, Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Studies, and David Russell, Lecturer in English Literature.