ICMA at the Courtauld

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ICMA at the Courtauld

ICMA at the Courtauld

ICMA logoThis lecture series, established in 1999, is sponsored by the International Center of Medieval Art, New York.  ICMA promotes the study of the visual arts of the Middle Ages.  Its worldwide membership includes academics, museum professionals, students, and other enthusiasts.  ICMA publishes a scholarly journal Gesta, a newsletter, sponsors lectures and conference sessions and maintains the website www.medievalart.org

The annual lecture is delivered at The Courtauld by a scholar based in North America, strengthening transatlantic contacts among medievalists from the university and museum worlds.

A generous benefaction secured the continuation of the lecture series.  Dr. William M. Voelkle, Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts at the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, supports the travel and accommodation costs of the speaker.

The 2015-2016 speaker will be announced in due course.

Previous lecturers and their topics



2014/2015, Professor Holger A Klein (Professor of Art History and Archaeology & Department Chair, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University)

Art, Faith, and Politics in Late Medieval Venice

Following the Crusader conquest of Constantinople in 1204 and the subsequent looting of its churches, chapels and palaces, Venice became a key repository of sacred relics imported from Byzantium and the Eastern Mediterranean. Some of the most treasured relics were soon incorporated into the liturgical and ceremonial rituals of the city and its most distinguished churches. While Venetian efforts to acquire new relics slowed down considerably after the end of the Latin domination of Constantinople in 1261, several prominent Eastern relics entered the city during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and enriched the city with their spiritual and miracle-working power. This lecture will explore how two prominent donations of relics of the True Cross, one to the confraternity of San Giovanni Evangelista the other to the Scuola di Santa Maria della Carità, impacted religious, public, and artistic life in Venice from the mid-fourteenth through the early sixteenth century.

2013/2014, Professor Robert Nelson (Robert Lehman Professor, Department of the History of Art, Yale University)

Patriarchal Lectionaries of Constantinople

The Greek Gospel lectionary, containing those passages read during the liturgy and arranged according to the church calendar, has long been of interest to art historians. Earlier attempts to study it did not produce lasting results until the basic text of these manuscripts began to be explored. That research has gathered momentum in recent years, thanks especially to the work of Professor John Lowden, and has coalesced around the concept of the Patriarchal lectionary, created for the use of Hagia Sophia during the eleventh century. This lecture will look further into history of that lectionary before, during, and after this period.

2012/2013, Dr Helen C. Evans (Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator for Byzantine Art, The Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

“Sailing to Byzantium”: Understanding a Lost Empire

Since The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s founding in 1870 its collection of Byzantine Art has been presented in dramatically differing ways. The changes reflected, or led, the interest of scholars and the public in the arts of an empire whose state ended more than half a millennium ago. This paper considers the Metropolitan Museum’s installations and exhibitions as they relate to the evolution of our understanding of Byzantium and its periphery and possible future areas of exploration and installation.

2011/2012, Professor Henry Maguire (Department of the History of Art, Johns Hopkins University)

Meadows of Delight: Metaphor and Denial in Byzantine and Western Mediaeval Art

After the eighth century, motifs from nature, such as animals and plants, were more prominently displayed in Western churches than in those of the Byzantines, sometimes even appearing in the principal apses, in direct imitation of early Christian models.  In Byzantium, there was a rich literary tradition of constantly repeated verbal and written metaphors drawn from nature, especially addressed to the Virgin.  On the other hand, the art of Byzantine churches, while evoking the pleasures and powers of nature in certain contexts, often excluded all reference to it from holy images, including those of the Virgin.   The root cause of this division between Eastern and Western art lay in contrasting attitudes toward the sacred image.  In Byzantium, after iconoclasm, a fear of venerating nature lingered, complicating the visualization of metaphor and creating a constant tension between acceptance and denial.  In the West, animals and plants lost much of their association with idolatry, becoming, instead, a language for understanding the divine.

2010/2011, Prof. Lucy Freeman Sandler (Helen Gould Sheppard Professor of Art History Emerita, New York University.)

The Bohuns and their Books: Illuminated Manuscripts for Aristocrats in Fourteenth-Century England

Lichtenthal Psalter, Baden-Baden, Lichtenthal Abbey Archiv MS 2, Psalm 119, fol. 124v
Lichtenthal Psalter, Baden-Baden, Lichtenthal Abbey Archiv MS 2, Psalm 119, fol. 124v
2009/2010, Barbara Drake Boehm (Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

2009-10[1]The Count of Clermont and the Case of Conques: Unravelling Some Mysteries of Medieval Enamelling

2008/2009, Prof. Madeline Caviness  (Mary Richardson Professor Emeritus, Tufts University)

The Sachsenspiegel Picture Books:
Working to put Women and Jews “in their Place.”

ICMA 2008-9The topic of the lecture is the representation of women and Jews in four picture books of German law dating from the 1300s: That is, representation under the law as stated in it, and also the visual and textual representations in the manuscripts.  One might equally say, the treatment of women and Jews in cultural production. The lecture is concerned with the unstable position of “girls and women, and Jews” to whom Saxon law states that imperial protection accords “immunity of their person and property”.  Rather than asserting anything like equality under the law, it seems the main thrust of the Sachsenspiegel law book is to naturalize peaceful settlements in areas of potential social conflict. In so doing, it constructs hierarchical difference as the mainstay of harmony.  Women and Jews occupied a grey zone in which they were extremely vulnerable to the political changes that diminished the authority of the emperors a few decades after the death of the author of the Saxon law book, Eike von Repgow, but before the earliest extant illustrated manuscripts of his text.

2007/2008, Prof. Ilene H. Forsyth (Professor Emerita, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)
Abbey Church of St. Pierre, Moissac: Prophet Jeremiah (or Isaiah?) detail from trumeau of S. portal (orig. W. portal), view from R., ca. 1115-1135 Courtesy: Minneapolis College of Art and Design
Abbey Church of St. Pierre, Moissac: Prophet Jeremiah (or Isaiah?) detail from trumeau of S. portal (orig. W. portal), view from R., ca. 1115-1135 Courtesy: Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Moissac:  The Sacred and the Secular in the Sculpture of the South Portal

This presentation questioned earlier interpretations of the sculpture program at Moissac’s south portal that have tended to claim oversimplified moralizations of good versus evil and to overlook many subtleties that issue from the layered ambiguities lodging in complex, often intertwining visual metaphors.  In this analysis, mundane objects, such as beds, tables, bulging money bags and fulsome breasts, were seen to convey commingled but often antithetical and various secular and sacred references, the antitheses sometimes alluding to changeling, chiasmic content.  Formal features in the sculptures, such as slenderness and attenuation, for example, were seen as relevant to expressions of heightened spirituality or moral deprivation, sometimes with simultaneous implications of both selfless generosity and self-indulgent greed.

Focusing on the rarely discussed trumeau–in relation to the adjoining figures of the doorway-jambs, the long narratives of the adjacent, lateral walls of the porch, and the Apocalyptic Vision of the tympanum above–this study dwelt on this central feature as key to the inter-relatedness of all parts of the portal’s sophisticated design.  The lionesses and lions, rather than being thought of as merely conventional, apotropaic beast-imagery or regarded as making up a sylized tau-motif (without consideration for the elongated figures of Paul and “Jeremiah” pressing against them), were claimed here to have been carefully selected and to hold multiple valences critical to a more deeply engaging reading.  All forms were seen as attuned to the experience of entering and exiting the church, in the transition from the public viewing space without to the more intimate, reverential ritual space within.  The subjects enabled visual linkages with the broader themes of nurture and neglect, charity and parsimony—of material and immaterial as well as individual and collective sort—that dominate the porch narratives and form a foundation for the transformative leap to the acclaiming elders above.  The elders’ gestures, which are unfettered gifts of homage and acclamation, trumpet the culminating transcendence of the tympanum’s vision of Christ in Majesty.

Also a structural innovation, the trumeau can be thought of as facilitating unprecedented breadth for a Romanesque portal program.   Its scope ranges from the deploring of bestial, sexual, sensual, leprous, and avaricious inclinations (at the left wall of the porch with allusions to selfish denying and profligate giving via the Lazarus and Dives narratives) to the lauding of selfless donations through offering and sacrifice (at the right wall with the Magi and the Presentation of the Child at the altar). While exploring these secular and sacred realms of the familiar, yet incorporating relevance to both testaments of biblical history, the design’s metaphors could extol gifts of tribute on levels that moved from mundane vulgarity to magnificent majesty and inspire a viewing public to feudal beneficence like that portrayed in stone.

2006/2007, Prof. Anne D. Hedeman (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
The Death of Sardanapalus, De cas des nobles hommes et femmes, Geneva, Bibliotheque publique et universitaire Ms 190/I, fol. 63
The Death of Sardanapalus, De cas des nobles hommes et femmes, Geneva, Bibliotheque publique et universitaire Ms 190/I, fol. 63

Visual Translation in Fifteenth-century France:
Laurent de Premierfait and Boccaccio

This ICMA lecture examined the role of visual translation in shaping reception of the earliest twinned manuscripts of Laurent de Premierfait’s translation of Boccaccio’s De casibus.  Laurent collaborated with a libraire and with the Cité des Dames and Luçon Illuminators to produce a visual cycle of over 150 pictures that served as a guide to reading his translation of 1409.  Many of the visual messages that Laurent devised and his artists constructed work independently of their texts.  In designing and revising these dense programs of decoration, Laurent employed a visual analogue to the rhetorical practice of amplificatio in order to structure the cycles through image doubling by stretching illustrations of selected narratives, such as the examples of virtue and vice offered by Dido and Sardanapalus,  in order to create visual markers within the text.  He employed other images indexically, using them to reinforce textual revisions that he had introduced in his translation of Boccaccio.  Most radically, he broke with the long-standing medieval tradition of placing a large introductory frontispiece at the beginning of the volume.  Instead, he chose to feature the Destruction of Jerusalem, a story and its amplification buried in the eighth and ninth chapters of Book VII to frame interpretation of the entire text.  Laurent must have intended the large scale of the Destruction to capture the dukes’ attention and to encourage them to dip into that section of the book.  If they did, their first encounter with Laurent’s Boccaccio would involve an event central to contemporary political rhetoric about the French civil war.  Though idiosyncratic, this displaced “frontispiece” offered an effective introduction to reading Laurent’s translation as one of the “masterly fair and polished works” that Christine de Pizan said the Duke of Berry enjoyed.  Not only did this unusual frontispiece make explicit the presentness of past things and their resonance with contemporary France, it also encouraged readers to follow amplifications and digressions in the kind of non-sequential reading and discussion practiced in both fifteenth-century humanist and educational circles and in public reading at the courts of France and Burgundy.

2005/2006, Prof. Annemarie Weyl Carr (Southern Methodist University)

Cyprus and Jerusalem’s Long Shadow: Building Holy Sepulchres in the Holy Isle


The ICMA lecture used one mural cycle as a way of probing the cultural role of Greek monasteries during Cyprus’ rule by Catholic, Crusader kings.  It was devoted to the thirteenth-century frescoes in the church of St. Herakleidios in the monastery of St. John Lampadistes, Kalopanagiotis.  Though marginally earlier and adorning a far more ancient and imposing institution, the cycle at St. Herakleidios has never drawn the scholarly attention given to the cycle of 1280 at Moutoullas in the same mountain valley.  This lecture endeavored to give the site the attention that its age and magnitude would seem to demand.  It did so by focusing on the frescoes of the western arm, and offering three arguments about it.  1) What look like senselessly divergent styles and iconographic choices are in fact a deliberately composed program designed to link the church with the sites of the Passion in Jerusalem and so to place the viewer in them.  This may be because St. Herakleidios was itself a “holy sepulchre,” housing the tomb of St. John Lampadistes; it may be because the Holy Land sites exercised a powerful hold on the imagination of a community as close to Jerusalem as Cyprus was.  2) The institution was unquestionably Orthodox, but its imagery includes elements surely belonging to the art of the Frankish nobility and clearly bespeaking contacts with it.  Thus it shows that the monastery was a site of cultural mediation, meaningfully using in an Orthodox setting elements of Frankish as well as of Orthodox expression.  3) The reason for the monastery’s efflorescence in the 1270s when the cycle seems to have been painted might be linked to the impact of Bulla Cypria, which made the see to which Kalopanagiotis belonged the seat of the Orthodox bishop of Nicosia and the head of the Church of Cyprus.  Thus, it was both prominent and in regular contact with the powerful of the land.

Photo credit Gerald L. Carr

2004/2005, Prof. Dorothy Glass (Richard Krautheimer Guest Professor, Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome)
Fabrication and Self-Representation: The Benedictine Abbey at Nonantola in ca. 1100

2003/2004, Prof. Elizabeth Sears (University of Michigan)
‘False Work’: Craft Ethics and the Critical Eye in Medieval Paris

2001/2002, Prof. Paula Gerson (Florida State University)
Reconsidering Abbot Suger’s Great Cross

2000/2001, Prof. Dale Kinney (Bryn Mawr)
The Horse and the Cuckoo: Narrating Marcus Aurelius

1999/2000, Dr. Charles Little (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Kingship and Justice: Reflections on some rediscovered sculptures from the circle of Frederick II Hohenstaufen

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