We’ve now had a week to digest the photos, the fashion, and the inevitable memes of Met Gala 2018. Hopefully a week has been enough time to take in the weird, wonderful, and worshipful experience that was this year’s annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute. Each year the gala’s theme is based on the Institute’s summer exhibition, and on 10 May Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination opened at both the Met’s 5th Avenue and Cloisters locations. Kim Kardashian was compared to a Eucharist chalice, haloes abounded, and ‘Rihanna going full pope’ is now a phrase.
The end of term is in sight and the days are getting longer. And that means we’re all daydreaming of summer. Whether your summer plans call for research or relaxation, take advantage of some stellar temporary exhibitions happening around the globe that are highlighting the production, context, and craftsmanship of medieval art. These exhibitions are pushing boundaries, considering new contexts, and boasting bold feats—several of these exhibitions present artworks on view in North America and Europe for the first time. Let us know your favourites by sharing your thoughts in the comments below. Happy Summer!
Florence, Opificio delle Pietre Dure / Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut, February 1 – 02, 2018
Il Pallio di San Lorenzo: Dopo il restauro e prima del suo ritorno a Genova
This workshop focuses on the so-called ‘Pallio di San Lorenzo’, a thirteenth-century Byzantine textile given to the Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Genoa within the framework of diplomatic relations between Genoa and the Byzantine court. The bright red samite embroidered with various coloured silk threads, as well threads in silver and gold, represents the Lives of St. Lawrence, St. Sixtus, and St. Hippolytus, accompanied by Latin inscriptions, and a depiction of Michael VIII Palaiologos visiting the cathedral of Genoa. The textile’s actual state of preservation after many years of meticulous restoration and the results of the recent analyses of the dye, the stitching technique, and the precious metal threads provides insight into its unique materiality. Furthermore, its specific iconography, Latin paleography, and possible functions offer various points of departure for a comprehensive reconsideration of the Pallio. This work epitomizes the transcultural encounters in the Mediterranean. This interdisciplinary workshop, organized in collaboration with the textile restoration experts of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure and the Museo Sant’Agostino, Genoa, is an extraordinary occasion to discuss the results of the restoration of the ‘Pallio di San Lorenzo’ before its return to Genoa.
A collaboration between the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Firenze, the Museo di Sant’Agostino, Genova and the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut
Madrid, Museo del Traje. CIPE, 25-27 September 2018
Deadline: 15 March 2018
This conference aims to analyse medieval textile production from a cross-sectoral approach, focusing on the Mediterranean as an area of confluences that gave rise to varied manufactures with common links. This meeting, which will be attended by international specialists on textile research, proposes to re-examine assumptions on the production, functionality and circulation of these luxury objects. The collecting of these works, with regard to their archaeological and artistic value, as well as textile conservation, will also be under consideration.
Islamic Art Circle @ SOAS, London: Lecture Programme, 2017/2018
All lectures begin at 7.00 p.m. in the Khalili Lecture Theatre (Main School Lecture Theatre) – unless indicated otherwise – Philips Building, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London, WC1H 0XG
- 11 October 2017: The Palace of Pedro I in Seville, ‘very much like the residence of the Muslim kings,’ Dr Tom Nickson, Lecturer in Medieval Art and Architecture, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London
- 15 November 2017: Reviving Islamic Architecture in Khedivial Cairo, and Beyond: a Collector’s Passion, Dr Mercedes Volait, CRNS Research Professor at INHA, Paris
- 6 December 2017: Takht-e Soleyman/Iran – From Sasanian Fire Temple to Ilkhanid Summer Palace. New Evidence from Old Excavations, Dr Ute Franke, Deputy Director, Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin
- 10 January 2018: The Hadassah and Daniel Khalili Memorial Lecture in Islamic Art and Culture: The Calligrapher, the Painter, and the Patron: A New Perspective on the Freer Khusraw u Shirin, Dr Simon Rettig, Assistant Curator of Islamic Art, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
- 21 February 2018: In the service of religion? The display of ‘science from the Islamic world’ in the museum, Dr Silke Ackermann, Director, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford
- 14 March 2018: The Seventh Bahari Foundation Lecture in Iranian Art and Culture: Decagonal and Quasicrystalline Geometry in the Architecture of Medieval Persia and Its Influence in the Greater Islamic World, Dr Peter J. Lu, Department of Physics and SEAS, Harvard University, USA
- 25 April 2018: Islamic Textiles from Iberia: Re-evaluating Their Role in the Mediterranean Context, Dr Ana Cabrera-Lafuente, Marie S.-Curie Fellow, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
- 9 May 2018: Ilse Sturkenboom
- 13 June 2018: Ahmet Ersoy
For further information please contact Rosalind Wade Haddon: 07714087480 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Reflections on the Thomas Becket Study Day, 7th June 2017, Canterbury Cathedral
There could scarcely be a more appropriate setting for a study day on the theme of Thomas Becket than Canterbury Cathedral, the location of the archbishop’s martyrdom nearly 850 years ago on the 29th December 1170. In the Cathedral Library and Archives, just metres from the site of Becket’s murder in the North West Transept, experts from universities, museums and Canterbury heritage organisations gathered to discuss the saint’s life and cult.
The day began with a series of ‘quick fire’ presentations, each focusing on one theme or object related to Thomas Becket. The range of material gave an immediate sense of the scale and popularity of Becket’s cult in the Middle Ages and beyond. Some objects discussed have likely existed in the vicinity of Canterbury since they were produced, including a fragmentary sandstone ampulla mould discovered in the garden of 16 Watling Street (Dr Paul Bennett, Canterbury Archaeological Trust), a thirteenth-century cartulary made for Christ Church containing charters for the shrine of Thomas Becket (Professor Louise Wilkinson, Canterbury Christ Church University), the seal of Archbishop Simon Sudbury showing Becket’s martyrdom (Dr Sheila Sweetinburgh, University of Kent), and the spectacular miracle windows in the Trinity Chapel of the Cathedral itself (Professor Michael A. Michael, Christie’s Education).
Thomas Becket ampulla (or vessel), now in the British Museum, similar to the kind that would have been produced by the Watling Street mould discussed by Dr Paul Bennet. See more 3D models of pilgrim souvenirs here
Other delegates discussed geographically dispersed objects which originated or were believed to have originated in Canterbury. For instance, pilgrim souvenirs depicting Becket were bought by visitors to Canterbury and, it would seem, lost on the way home. These badges, with their intricate and compelling imagery, would have been worn on the bags, hats and garments of pilgrims as signs of their visit to Becket’s shrine and are now excavated from sites across Britain and Europe (Amy Jeffs and Dr Gabriel Byng, University of Cambridge and convenors of The Digital Pilgrim Project). Likewise, Dr Emily Guerry (University of Kent) discussed a series of vestments owned by Sens Cathedral that were reputedly worn by Becket and possibly used at Sens as contact relics.
A number of significant objects pertaining to Becket originated from further afield, both geographically and chronologically. Dr Tom Nickson (Courtauld Institute of Art), for example, presented on a c. 1200 altar frontal depicting Becket’s martyrdom found in the church of San Miguel in Almazán, which bears early witness to the popularity of Becket’s cult in Spain.
Becket’s later legacy was then examined. Lloyd De Beer (British Museum) assessed the sixteenth-century political and religious connotations of the saint’s martyrdom through the lens of Alberti’s The Martyr’s Picture (1581), displayed in the Venerable English College in Rome, and Naomi Speakman (British Museum) discussed Becket’s memory in post-Reformation England and his representation as an anti-martyr.
These evocative objects and themes provoked a lively concluding discussion that centred on the international nature of Becket’s cult and the extent to which the art associated with it imitated and/or innovated in order promote the saint and potency of his cult as a political tool.
This discussion was followed by an opportunity to see first-hand some of the extraordinary items associated with Becket. Cressida Williams, head of the Cathedral Archives and Library, had organised for an array of Becket-themed documents and objects from the Cathedral collections and various heritage organisations in Canterbury to be displayed together in the reading room of the Cathedral Archives. Among this impressive collection were two fragments of pink Tournai marble, discovered during excavations in the Cathedral grounds, which are thought to have come from the shrine of St Thomas himself. Also on display were a number of medieval seals from the Cathedral’s collections, including those of Archbishops Hubert Walter and Stephen Langton, which both depict Becket’s martyrdom. Dr Helen Gittos from the University of Kent discussed a particular treasure of the Cathedral Archive, the Professions of Obedience, a series of 170 documents now bound into a single volume that record the vows made by bishops during their consecration. These small vellum statements, which would have originally been sewn together in a continuous roll, contain the dates of bishops’ consecrations, and are thus immensely helpful in dating other contemporary documents based on a comparison of their palaeography. Becket’s entry is especially marked in the Professions by a statement in red noting his archiepiscopal status.
The later half of the afternoon saw the group move to the Cathedral stained glass studio, where Leonie Seliger, Head of the Stained Glass Conservation Department, led us in a discussion of the representation of Becket in the Cathedral glass. Notably, only three original thirteenth-century panels depicting Becket’s head survive, which Leonie encouraged us to find among her printed reproductions – a task that proved surprisingly difficult. We also had the opportunity to see some of medieval stained glass currently under restoration in the studio, and to hear from Leonie about the techniques that would have gone in to making these panels. A particular highlight was seeing how the colour of nine hundred year old stained glass was still bright and vivid when held up to the light.
A subsequent tour of the Cathedral offered a chance to see the miracle windows we had discussed in the glass studio in situ, along with the site of Becket’s shrine and several archiepiscopal and royal tombs. The tombs of Archbishops Sudbury and Mepham in the south aisle of the Choir afforded a particularly interactive experience; kneeling down at one of the vaulted prayer niches carved into the tombs’ exterior, penitents (or indeed academics) can experience an amplification not only of the music performed in the nearby Choir, but also their own whispered prayers and thoughts.
Professor Paul Binski (University of Cambridge) brought the study day to a close with a public lecture entitled ‘Thomas Becket and the Medieval Cult of Personality’. Drawing on many of the objects seen and discussed throughout the day, Professor Binski reflected on the idea of Becket’s ‘persona’ (as opposed to the modern notion of ‘personality’) and its importance in the formation and development of his cult. Much like a mask that can be put on or taken off, the medieval concept of an individual’s persona was related to their outer countenance, and formed by certain archetypal characteristics – both good and bad – often rooted in character types in biblical stories or saint’s lives. Becket’s persona and outer image, Professor Binski argued, was imitated in the art and architecture produced in response to his martyrdom, an aspect that was vital to the rapid dissemination and spread of the cult. Due in part to the accessibility of this image through objects made both for the elite and for the ordinary person, Becket’s persona transcended social as well as geographical boundaries, transforming his cult into a widespread, international phenomenon. Professor Binski’s concluding remarks on the appeal of the Becket’s cult in the Middle Ages had a particular resonance amidst of the full lecture theatre where the lasting legacy of Thomas Becket’s life and death was still very much felt.
PhD Candidate, University of Kent
Nearness | Rift: Art and Time in the Textiles of Medieval Britain will gather a multidisciplinary group of scholars to address a range of historiographical and methodological problems implicit in the study of textiles, and to discuss new case studies from medieval Britain.
The colloquium will take place during the morning and afternoon of April 16, 2016 in Cochrane-Woods 157 on the University of Chicago campus. (Please enter the building through the north doors rather than through the Smart Museum courtyard.)
9:30 – 10:00 AM: Coffee.
10:00 – 10:15 AM: Introduction by Luke A. Fidler (Doctoral Student, Department of Art History, University of Chicago).
10:15 – 11:15 AM: Keynote lecture by Thomas E. A. Dale (Professor of Art History, University of Wisconsin-Madison): “Materiality, Metaphor and the Senses: Elite Textile Cultures of Medieval England in their Global Contexts.”
11:30 AM – 12:15 PM: Valerie Garver (Associate Professor of History, Northern Illinois University): “Garments as Means of Communication Between Anglo-Saxon England and the Carolingian World.”
Respondent: Tristan Sharp (Doctoral Student, Department of History, University of Chicago).
12:15 – 1:30 PM: Lunch.
1:30 – 2:15 PM: Christina Normore (Assistant Professor of Art History, Northwestern University): “The Outlier as Exemplar: The ‘Bayeux Tapestry’ in English Textile History.”
Respondent: Carly B. Boxer (Doctoral Student, Department of Art History, University of Chicago).
2:30 – 3:15 PM: Claire Jenson (Doctoral Candidate, Department of Art History, University of Chicago): “Exeter’s Vesture: John Grandisson on Vestments in the Liturgy.”
Respondent: Karin Krause (Assistant Professor of Byzantine Theology and Visual Culture, University of Chicago).
3:15 – 3:30 PM: Coffee.
3:45 – 4:15 PM: Nancy Feldman (Lecturer in Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago): “Cultural Politics and the Term Opus Anglicanum in Late Medieval England.”
Respondent: Julie Orlemanski (Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature, University of Chicago).
4:15 – 5:00 PM: Closing remarks by Aden Kumler (Associate Professor of Art History, University of Chicago) and final discussion.