Towards an Art History of the Parish Church, 1200-1399 - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Towards an Art History of the Parish Church, 1200-1399

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Call for Papers, Conference

Towards an Art History of the Parish Church, 1200-1399

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London

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St John's, Winchester. North chancel aisle north window, second half of thirteenth century
Sutterton (Lincolnshire). Nave, first quarter of thirteenth century.
Heckington (Lincolnshire). Chancel and vestry from NE. Late 1320s.
Nantwich (Cheshire). Chancel SE. Dado 1330s, resumed 1380s. Choir stalls 1380s.

Speakers include

  • Prof. Paul Binski: University of Cambridge

Organised by

  • Dr James Alexander Cameron: The Courtauld Institute of Art
  • Meg Bernstein: University of California, Los Angeles / The Courtauld Institute Kress Fellow, 2015-2017

Paul Binski, in his 1999 Studies in Iconography article, “The English Parish Church and its Art in the Later Middle Ages,” asked “how, and in what ways, we might place the imagery of the parish church at the centre of the study of medieval visual culture rather than seeing it as some unfathomable, and perhaps embarrassing, epiphenomenon of something that was ‘really’ going on elsewhere.”  Though some 8,000 parish churches in England can be said to consist largely of medieval fabric, no overarching study of English medieval church architecture is available. Instead, scholarship is generally limited to descriptions of single buildings and their furnishings, and the broader historical significance of this building type has largely gone unaddressed.

Towards an Art History of the Parish Church, 1200-1399, to be held on 2-3 June, 2017 at The Courtauld Institute of Art, will gather scholars to revisit the question of the parish church and its relationship to medieval visual culture. Participants will contribute to a vibrant discussion of the Gothic parish church, its utility as an object of study, and the insights offered on the subject by diverse methodologies. In particular, the conference will prioritise ways in which scholars might think about Gothic parish churches collectively, profiting from the rapidly expanding technologies of the digital age.  We are pleased to announce that Professor Paul Binski has agreed to give the closing remarks for the conference, and reflect upon how scholarship has progressed since his Studies in Iconography article.

The conference draws its temporal focus from the most notable lacuna in scholarship, which concerns the introduction and flowering of Gothic architecture across the English parish church in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The thirteenth century saw a broadly Gothic style replace the Romanesque across England; although this has been studied with regard to great church architecture, the mechanics of what amounts to a major stylistic shift at parish level remain largely uninvestigated. Likewise, the quantity of fourteenth-century work in parish churches further shaped the manifestation of the Gothic style, particularly in features such as sedilia which were originally developed in outside of cathedrals and great monasteries. Given the impact of the English Decorated Style on Late Gothic architectural developments across Europe, the parish church promises to illuminate art historical questions beyond the borders of England. These lacunae are in stark contrast to the smaller corpus of the Romanesque period, which has had a large amount of attention via resources such as CRSBI; and the late medieval church after 1400, which draws on greater availability of documentary evidence.

The organisers invite postgraduate, early-career and established researchers to propose papers representing a revitalised approach to the study of parish churches of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and strategies for dealing with the vast amount of material evidence in tandem with a paucity of written records. They welcome contributions especially regarding architecture but also elements of sculpture, painting and glass, as well as their internal (and external) fittings and furnishings. Papers must be foremost concerned with buildings that are primarily parochial, as distinct from abbeys and cathedrals. Possible areas of inquiry include but are not limited to:

  • Big data and the understanding of artistic processes through comprehensive regional surveys and categorisation, including the use of online crowd-sourcing techniques
  • The intersection of liturgical function and architectural form, perhaps through innovative strategies such as practical re-enactment
  • Understanding architectural spaces through visual and other sensory perception
  • Aesthetics and allegory: the ’period eye’ approach to understanding medieval art through contemporary literature
  • Formal analysis, and its use in understanding the operation of architectural workshops
  • Archaeology and structural investigation
  • Interactions or distinctions between rural and urban parish churches
  • The geography and topography of the parish church in relation to its surroundings
  • The effect of funerary monuments and individual commemoration.
  • Lay sponsorship and creative involvement in parochial architecture
  • Replacement, retention or adaption of older fabric
  • Comparisons of English parochial architecture with that of the Continent

The deadline for abstracts has now passed. Information on the programme and ticket information will be posted here soon. The organisers can be contacted at TAAHOTPC@gmail.com.

We are grateful to the Paul Mellon Centre for funding student and ECR travel places.

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