Ambre Vilain, Imago urbis. Les sceaux de villes au Moyen Âge, Paris, Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 2018 (L’Art et l’essai, 18). 360 p. | 16,5 × 22 cm | ill. | br. ISBN : ISBN 978-2-7355-0860-0. Prix : 38 euros.
Lorsque, dans la seconde moitié du XIIe siècle, les villes d’Europe septentrionale acquièrent un statut juridique, elles se dotent d’un sceau et doivent choisir une image pour définir leur identité. Parmi les nombreuses représentations auxquelles les villes ont recours, l’architecture tient une place majeure. Le vocabulaire formel utilisé remonte parfois à l’Antiquité, mais dans certains cas les graveurs sont capables de mettre au point des portraits urbains singuliers répondant efficacement à un programme. Ce dernier met en images des concepts comme l’identité collective, les rapports d’autorité ou même la liberté communale. L’auteur entreprend ici de replacer le sceau de ville dans le contexte de sa création, qu’il soit politique, artistique ou sociologique.
In November 2015 Lloyd de Beer and Naomi Speakman of the British Museum treated Courtauld staff and students to another handling session, this time of a diverse range of objects with the iconography of the Agnus Dei. The session was kindly led by Irene Galandra Cooper, who is studying the Agnus Dei as part of her PhD, which forms part of the Domestic Devotions project at Cambridge: Domestic Devotions: The Place of Piety in the Italian Renaissance Home, 1400-1600.
Throughout the Middle Ages and Early Modern period the Agnus Dei iconography was closely associated with the wax discs made from the remains of the Paschal candles at St Peter’s, stamped with the Lamb of God, and distributed by the Papacy as gifts. This 16c print gives a sense of the near-industrial scale of this operation, while a number of Agnus Dei medallions and pendants testify to the apotropaic associations these objects soon acquired. We also looked at this niello plate medallion inscribed with the YHS, a late medieval pilgrim badge, an Agnus Dei seal impression, a reliquary case and 14c signet ring. As ever, it was the moulds that provoked particular discussion:
The lower of these two, apparently cast in bronze, appears to have a number of low relief moulds in which soft lead could be pressed, presumably to make brooches and badges to be pinned to clothes and hats. This record of the kinds of ephemeral objects that rarely survive raised lots of questions: who would use a mould like this, and what market does it attest to? Did these badges signal political and social affiliations, religious beliefs, or something more superficial? The wonderful fragment of a Wheel of Fortune was thought particularly intriguing.
In preparation for this session we read the following texts:
Lightbown, Chapter 22, ‘Pendants: II’, Medieval European Jewellery, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1992
Cherry, ‘Containers for Agnus Dei’, Through a Glass Brightly: Studies in Byzantine and Medieval Art and Archaeology Presented to David Buckton, ed. C. Entwistle, Oxford, 2003, 171-84
S. Bertelli, Chapter 1, The King’s body : the sacred rituals of power in medieval and early modern Europe; translated by R. Burr Litchfield, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.
In January 2016 Courtauld staff and students enjoyed another chance to see some of the BM’s hidden treasures thanks to the kind help of Lloyd de Beer and Naomi Speakman of the BM. This time the theme was the cult of Thomas Becket and other objects associated with pilgrimage
The BM has dozens of Becket pilgrims’ badges, produced in astonishing variety and throughout the Middle Ages. Most of these examples were dredged up from the river Thames:
This was partly an exploratory session for a series of workshops and conferences planned by Lloyd de Beer (UEA/British Museum), Tom Nickson (Courtauld Institute of Art) and Emily Guerry (University of Kent) in the lead up to the anniversary of Becket’s death and translation in 2020.
In preparation for the handling session we read the following texts for a reading group the night before:
Sarah Blick, ‘Votives, Images, Interaction and Pilgrimage to the Tomb and Shrine of St. Thomas Becket, Canterbury Cathedral’, In: Sarah Blick and Laura Deborah Gelfand, eds, Push me, pull you. Imaginative, emotional, physical, and spatial interaction in late medieval and Renaissance art, Leiden, 2011, 21-58
Martina Bagnoli, Holger A. Klein, C. Griffith Mann and James Robinson, eds, Treasures of heaven: saints, relics, and devotion in medieval Europe, Cleveland, Ohio, 2010, pp. 148-61 and catalogue nos 97-102
William D. Wixom, ‘In quinto scrinio de Cupro. A Copper Reliquary Chest Attributed to Canterbury: Style, Iconography, and Patronage’, In: Elizabeth C. Parker and Mary B. Shepard, eds, The Cloisters: studies in honor of the fiftieth anniversary, New York, 1992, 195-228
Jennifer Lee, ‘Searching for Signs: Pilgrims’ Identity and Experience made visible in the Miracula Sancti Thomae Cantuariensis’, In: Sarah Blick and Laura Deborah Gelfand, eds, Push me, pull you. Imaginative, emotional, physical, and spatial interaction in late medieval and Renaissance art, Leiden, 2011, 473-491.
From December 4-6, the British Museum was host to Seals and Status 800-1700. Though most topics were centered on the European Middle Ages, the program included speakers on Byzantium who broadened the European context and one each on Southeast Asia and China who provided global breadth. Likewise, the central focus temporally was medieval, but the early modern period was well represented with talks on sixteenth century Brussels, and the seals of female patrons in Renaissance Italy, among others. I was invited to attend on behalf of Medieval Art Research, and though unable to be present for the duration of the conference, was able to join for some exciting highlights (and still make time for plenty of jokes about the aquatic marine mammals of the same name—by the way, if that’s more your bag, here are some places they’ve been spotted in London.)
I joined the conference on Friday a complete novice to the field of seals. Fortunately the morning began with an enthusiastic introduction from Jonathan Williams, Deputy Director of the British Museum, who stressed the historical centrality of seals in the BM’s collections. He noted that matrices were some of the first objects in the collections thanks to Soane, and that records show strong interest in them: in the 18th century, one needed to apply weeks in advance to study the seals. This historical introduction the study of seals was incredibly useful for setting the scene about how these objects have been viewed and studied within the academy.
The conference officially began with a keynote delivered by Brigitte Bedos-Rezak of New York University, who provided an introduction to seals as status symbols, arguing that the processes of producing seals were imbued with potency and significance. She discussed the agency of seals, the ways that a victor might incorporate part of his opponent’s seal in his, and the lives of seal matrices after the death of their owner, since the device is capable of outliving their possessor. Bedos-Rezak also considered the forgery and theft of matrices, their use by people other than their owners, and the complexity of detecting this sort of replication. Finally, she addressed the concept of a person’s presence within a seal— in fingerprints found on the wax, but also more ephemerally in the heat given to wax by the human hand, and as a proxy for the individual, putting them comfortably within conversations about portraiture and representations of humans. While the majority of papers that followed examined a particular case study, Bedos-Rezak’s talk opened up some of the larger questions that would be discussed throughout the three days. Her talk was instrumental in aiding the non-specialist author to understand the wider applicability of these objects and practices, and relate them to territories more known.
Following Bedos-Rezak were papers that dealt with particular temporal, geographical, or iconographical cases, like Simon Keynes’ contribution on which examined style and use of Anglo-Saxon seal matrices, picked up on some of the themes of the first keynote. For examine, Keynes identified the personal seal of Adelphe, daughter of Edgar, as it was used in her lifetime, and how it was coopted after her death as the conventual seal of Wilton Abbey. There are many questions about these objects that haven’t yet been answered, including how prevalent they were; though there must have been many at one time, only about five survive. They were clearly significant, since Keynes cites an example of a king sending his seal matrix as a proxy for himself at a shire meeting. Laura Whatley considered seals in their capacities of transmitting visual information over long distances between the Latin Kingdom and Western Europe. Annabel Gallop picked up on the theme of transmission, arguing that the shape of Islamic seals in the Malay world in the 16th century come from the form of European heraldic shields. Markus Späth’s paper brought us to the Upper Rhine to compare city seals, and Jonathan Shea discussed seals in the context of Middle Byzantine government administration.
The final session of the day began with Mei Xin Wang’s fascinating talk about seals on Chinese paintings, where each successive owner of a work of art would stamp his personal seal on the painting itself, often in prominent places within the image field, and frequently many times. Tim Pestell discussed papal bullae found in Norfolk, and finally Marc Libert delivered a paper on 16th century matrix production in Brussels.
On the second day, I dropped in for TA Heslop’s evening keynote address, “English Medieval Seals as Works of Art.” Heslop’s publications on English art and architecture are amazingly diverse, making him an ideal candidate to discuss the art of these objects specifically, looking at questions of form and style, as opposed to many of the previous talks which focused on diplomatic sources, use, and archaeology. Woven into his discussion of the objects themselves was an interesting commentary on historiography and changing approaches to this material. In particular, he discussed his struggles with traditional stylistic analysis, which, as he showed, was unable to be used to date matrices in the way that the same techniques have been effective for other types of objects.
After Heslop’s keynote, the attendees celebrated recent publications of interest to the seals and sealing community. These are Susan Solway’s Medieval Coins and Seals: Constructing Identity, Signifying Power (Brepols 2015), and Art of Documentation: Documents and Visual Culture in Medieval England by Jessica Berenbeim (University of Toronto/PIMS 2015).
The conference, though primarily focused on medieval Europe, encompassed broad enough topics to suggest to its attendees the wide uses and characteristics of seals in diverse temporal and geographic climes. This is a welcome contribution, and is a noteworthy attempt to defy the rampant geographical limitations and periodization within the academy. Additionally, although the impressive program and erudite question and answer sessions made it clear that a great number of specialists were in attendance, there was much to be gained for the author, whose prior ignorance of seals has begun to be eroded.
Quo asserente se sigillum habere, subridens vir illustris, ‘Moris’, inquit, ‘antiquitus non erat quemlibet militulum sigillum habere, quod regibus et precipuis tantum competit personis…’
He answered that he had a seal. The great man smiled. ‘It was not the custom in the past’, he said, ‘for every petty knight to have a seal. They are appropriate for kings and great men only’.
—Chronicle of Battle Abbey, 1180s or 1190s, ed. and trans. Eleanor Searle (1980)
The aim of this conference is to foster discussions about seals and status, concentrating on three principal themes:
I. Seals and social status
II. Seals and institutional status
III. The status of seals as objects
The famous exchange quoted on the left captures in a few biting words the close and significant connections between seals and status. It evokes the perception that sealing related to social status, that this relationship changed over time, and that such historical developments were both recognized and highly charged. Finally—and perhaps one reason why the Battle anecdote has been so often quoted—these words suggest an important status for seals themselves within the medieval world of objects. If anything, this importance increased with their proliferation: seals eventually belonged to all kinds of people and institutions, and many individuals, corporations, and chanceries had several. Ultimately, seals’ forms and functions came both to articulate and to construct social as well as institutional and administrative hierarchies.
Possible topics for papers include: Seals and heraldry; seals and inequality; seals and villeinage; seals of institutional office; seals and gender; non-heraldic personal seals; seals and status as represented in medieval and early modern texts; corporate seals and the status of institutions; the historiography of seals; the organization of chanceries; the development of sealing practices within and across social groups; relationships of seals to other works of art.
Proposals are welcomed from a wide range of perspectives, such as: archaeology, history, art history, archival studies, literature. Submissions will be accepted in English, French, and German and should be no more than 300 words in length. Send to Lloyd de Beer (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 30th January 2015.
The conference will be held at the British Museum from the 4th – 6th December 2015.
This conference is co-organised with John Cherry and Jessica Berenbeim in collaboration with Sigillvm, a network for the study of medieval European seals and sealing practices.
Decoding Medieval Sources (Brill’s Companions to Medieval Sources) A Companion to Seals in the Middle Ages
Medieval seals were material and visual statements of identity, power, agency, and legitimacy that could operate locally or traverse great geographic expanses to assert individual or corporate authority. The importance of the seal in medieval culture cannot be underestimated. This inter-disciplinary, edited volume seeks essays analyzing seal design, production, meaning, usage and reception in the Middle Ages. As a whole, the volume will critically engage with the historiography of seals as well as highlight new approaches to understanding seals across time and space with emphasis on Europe, the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and Byzantium c. 1100-1500. Essays therefore must include historiographical, regional and thematic explorations of medieval seals. Scholars from a range of disciplines, such as but not limited to History, Art History,Numismatics, Archaeology, Cultural and Visual Studies, are invited to contribute new and innovative examinations of select seals or seal types in context. Essays should appeal to the specialist as well as students of medieval history. Submissions are especially welcome from scholars whose work locates seals within broader developments in medieval social codes and visual or material culture.
Topics of Interest: The Production of Seals Ownership, Access and Usage Authority, Ritual and the Practice of Sealing Seals and their Documents Sign Theory and Seals Heraldry and Seals The Body and the Seal Gendering the Seal Identity (individual or corporate) and the Seal Seals and Foundations or Networks Place and the Seal The Seal and Visual Culture
Please submit a 250-word abstract for an article-length study and a CV to Laura Whatley (email@example.com) and Charlotte Bauer (firstname.lastname@example.org) by October 31, 2014. The essays in the volume will be in English, but Brill can fund some translations of contributions from continental scholars.
Call for Papers: Microarchitecture and Miniaturized Representations of Buildings: Different Scales for Different Materials?
Paris, Institut national d’histoire de l’art, 8-10 December 2014 Deadline: May 1, 2014
For more than forty years, since the publication of François Bucher’s work, historians and art historians have taken an interest in miniaturized representations of architecture. These microarchitectures, staged in actual buildings and incorporated into metalwork, have been
at the center of numerous noteworthy studies, which have resulted in the creation of reliable typologies and an accepted chronology for the architectural syntax of these miniature buildings. For example, Peter Kurmann highlighted the 1240s as a turning point in the Île-de-France, noting the importance of the façades of Notre-Dame’s transept for a contemporary architectural syntax that began to spread in microarchitecture constructions. For her part, Marie-Thérèse Gousset demonstrated how the miniaturized architectural decoration of Romanesque censers referred to heavenly Jerusalem, thus bearing symbolic value and religious significance. Following the work of
Richard Krautheimer, several studies of more recent periods have begun to draw the outlines of what can be called an architectural iconology. This diversity of issues and interests were not only raised during a major symposium in Nuremberg in 2005, but also addressed by recent and
current PhD dissertations and several established researchers, such as Achim Timmermann and Ethan Matt Kavaler.
Most recently, Paul Binski has begun to criticize Bucher’s definition of microarchitecture, instead focusing on associations with monumental architecture (whether ancient, contemporary, or imagined). This symposium aims to engage with this shifting of the field, focusing on the examination of new corpuses of material and, therefore, new issues. For example, the production of seals will be highlighted, since they constitute a considerable body of objects that art historians have generally disregarded, ignoring their visual language that often includes architecture and sheltered figures. The shifting of scale involved in production of microarchitectural artifacts in metal, glass, stone, wood or ivory also constitutes an important point of investigation, these technical challenges belonging to Alfred Gell’s notion of “technologies of enchantment.” To understand these virtuoso pieces of microarchitecture, one should not only consider their relationship to monumental syntax, but also realize the part they
played as a captatio benevolentiae meant to capture and bewitch the spectator with their minifiscence.
The symposium, co-organized by the Institut national d’histoire de l’art, the Université de Nantes, the Institut Universitaire de France, and the Archives nationales, aims to deal with issues related to the representation of miniaturized architecture through new approaches and
perspectives. Art historians have already underlined the phenomenon of “architecturation,” wherein architectural vocabulary spread and proliferated during the Middle Ages in different artistic media. This phenomenon, however, can only be fully understood if we take into
account the transformations that changes in scale forced on production and reception of these artifacts.
Proposals should deal directly with the questions raised by the representation of architecture. While they need to interrogate the relevance of the concept of microarchitecture, equally important is a focus on the practical consequences of miniaturization, and how the choice of materials could affect this process. Papers should take this opportunity to raise questions about the spatiality of small-scale objects and the status of figures in these spaces. By expanding the
field beyond the types of artistic production the discipline usually deals with, we hope to ameliorate our understanding of how medieval craftsmen and artists succeeded in building spatial coherence for these miniature buildings. It is our hope that these observations could lead to a reevaluation of how forms and significations were transferred from actual monumental buildings to small-scale constructions, a series of transmissions that could have consequences for spiritual and symbolic meaning. By considering microarchitecturized artifacts, this symposium aims to understand the miniaturization process itself, its constraints and its consequences.
Papers proposals must not exceed 3.000 characters and should be sent by
May 1st, 2014 with a short CV (less than 2 pages) to: