Tag Archives: Performativity

Speaking Sculpture: Images and their potency (Kalamazoo 2016 session)

IMG_1913CFP: Session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies
University of Western Michigan, Kalamazoo, May 12 – 15, 2016

Deadline: September 15, 2015

Speaking Sculpture: Images and their Potency

Lloyd de Beer, British Museum
Julia Perratore, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Do sculptures speak? Can they listen? Are they able to read, sing, and engage with other sculptures, or the architecture of their surroundings? If so, is this connected to their context and placement? How do these questions affect the way in which we view sculpture and its performativity?

In seeking to answer these and related questions, this session will address the manifold ways in which sculpture could potentially address its viewers, and, by extension, listen. The interactive nature of much medieval art, and particularly sculpture, suggests that viewers’ engagement with mute three-dimensional images could extend to an imagined oral/aural exchange. Sculptural evocations of speech were carved onto the body, in the parted lips of the Virgin or the emphatic gesture of a saint. They could also be engraved across the unfurled banderole of a prophet or in the titulus of a capital. In other instances, a sculpture might seem to take part within a multisensory experience of space or ritual, as the figures of a narrative frieze might be activated by music. Alternatively, an image may simply stay silent and listen, as a cult statue might amid the prayers of the faithful. Impressions of speech in medieval sculpture have even carried over into historiography, as attested by the “speaking reliquaries” of the German tradition. The papers of this session may approach issues of speech and listening in a variety of ways, considering a wide range of sculptural forms, materials and techniques across the medieval period as a whole.

Overall, this session aims to contribute to the many lively scholarly discussions on the interactivity and performativity of sculpture current in the field of medieval art. It also responds to a number of recent studies on the role of the body in medieval experiences of art and architecture, particularly with respect to ritual and devotion. More broadly, the topic’s inherent interdisciplinarity aims to draw new perspectives and methodologies to the study of a body of material that has long been approached solely through traditional art-historical methods. It is hoped that by presenting this session at Kalamazoo, which attracts scholars from many disciplines and periods, a number of presenters from different backgrounds may be gathered, igniting a dynamic discussion on the nature and power of images in the medieval world.

Please send a one-page abstract and completed Participant Information Form to Julia Perratore (Julia.Perratore@metmuseum.org) and Lloyd de Beer (ldebeer@thebritishmuseum.ac.uk) by 15 September.


Call for papers: The Transept and its Upper Levels in the High Medieval Church (Lausanne, 20-21 April 2015)

Winchester Cathedral transept

Winchester Cathedral transept

The Transept and its Upper Levels in the High Medieval Church: Towards a New Functional Approach (Architecture, Decor, Liturgy and Sound)

International and Interdisciplinary Conference – Lausanne, 20th-21st of April 2015


This conference is jointly organized by the Catholic University of Angers (Faculty of Humanities) and the University of Lausanne (Department of History of Art). It aims to analyse in greater detail the spaces of the transept and to explore their relation(s) with the choir/heart of the church. This two-day international and interdisciplinary symposium will work towards bringing together and assessing the results, often dispersed, of past and present research, building upon debates involving specialists from multiple backgrounds and finishing with a round table which will propose a summary of the papers and explore further insights into new research directions.


The studies of Carol Heitz on Carolingian westworks have shown that this specific space, the upper level of which communicates with the nave through large tribunes, used to have a liturgical function, generally associated with the feast of Easter. Similarily, from the second quarter of the 10th Century onwards, the Gorze and Fleury reform initiated liturgical innovations necessitating the reconstruction or transformation of churches, which entailed rearranging or enlarging chapels at the eastern or western part of the building.

The fact that, in the reformed churches, these renovated liturgical spaces opened on the nave or the choir from a tribune, allowed for some categories of celebrations – the nature of which is not always clearly identified – to provide the occasion for part of the choir monks to stand in these upper levels and respond by their singing to the rest of the community gathered lower down. This architectural typology was shared by many monastic churches as well as cathedral churches in the wake of the reform, without being ubiquitous: for example, clunisian churches usually lacked tribunes overlooking the transept.

As to the upper levels of the transept, their function is not necessarily cultual (e.g. Cuxà), and if they sometimes communicate with the rest of the church (e.g. Saint-Chef), they are also likely to remain separate (Aoste). In some cases, where these upper levels are especially elaborate and open (e.g. Bayeux), the possibility of their use by the laity for a show of power cannot be discarded.

Throughout the High Middle Ages, the development of the East end of churches – enlarged choir with long transepts and a flowering of lateral chapels, sometimes with matching upper level – coincides with the partial or total abandonment of the West end. Occasionally, as at Saint-Remi of Reims or at the cathedral of Rouen, the East even assumes some of the functions devolved to the West. This reflects a process of hyper-sacralisation of the East end of the church, which was already noticeable in the 10th Century but was encouraged to grow under the Gregorian Reform, because it allowed a unification of the ecclesial space, a valorisation of the eucharistic celebration by concentrating the liturgy around the main altar, as well as a more distinct spatial separation of clergy and laity. A rood screen separates the celebrants in the choir from the assembly in the nave. A barrier or differences in levels may prolong, in the transepts, the limit of the area reserved for the clergy.

In a similar way to the architecture and the liturgy, the painted and/or sculpted decoration of the church reinforces the axial West-East dynamic across the ecclesiastical building, and serves to showcase the most sacred parts of the building: the richly decorated East frequently offers a contrast to the nakedness of the nave. At the same time, the decorative elements of the transept may function as the revealing agent for other paths of circulation, for example a transversal pathway uniting both ends of the transept (e.g. Château-Gontier).

In this spirit, we would like to interrogate the manner in which the transept and its upper levels contribute to the valorisation of the sanctuary, valorisation which can be made apparent by the visual effects of the decor as well as by the sound of singing from the upper levels, and which is embodied in the architecture of the tribunes for all to see.

Frame and directions of research

Papers should deal with the origins of this phenomenon in the Carolingian period and its development throughout the High Middle Ages. No geographical limits have been set for this international conference: if upper levels in the transept appear more frequently in some areas than in others, their absence in some contexts or locations may also be a source of interest.

In order to ensure an interdisciplinary dimension to this conference, we appeal to every domain of Medieval studies: historians, art historians, specialists of liturgy, construction specialists, archæologists, musicologists, etc., are invited to contribute to a better understanding of the function of tribunes, and of the modalities of interaction between central liturgical spaces, peripherical spaces and the ecclesial building.

Papers may deal with this central topic following a wide range of approaches, which may belong, but are not limited, to the following:

  • Typology of building rearrangements in the space of the transept
  • Place of the laity and the clergy in the use of the transept and its upper levels
  • Customary liturgy and ceremonies associated with these spaces
  • Consequences of reform(s) and of their specific liturgy on the architecture of churches
  • Role of the decor in revealing the function of these spaces
  • Decor, ritual and sound as performative factors involved in the defining of relations between spaces within the church on the one hand, and of relations between the coexisting communities, the observing and the observed, on the other hand.

Practical details for paper proposal

Proposals are for 20-minute papers and should not exceed 300 words, either in French or English. They will be accompanied by a short curriculum vitæ. Both documents should be sent jointly to barbara.franze@unil.ch and nathalie.leluel@uco.fr before the 15th of December 2014.

The conference will take place at the University of Lausanne on Monday, the 20th of April and Tuesday, the 21st of April 2015.

Results of the CFP will be announced on the 19th of January 2015 at the latest.

Scientific committee
Barbara Franzé, University of Lausanne (Switzerland)
Nathalie Le Luel, Catholic University of Angers (France)