Detail of manuscript open i Ivrea, Biblioteca Capitolare, cod.1, fols.3v-4r, Gregory Pastoral Rule, Luxueil, later 7th century

ICMA at the Courtauld

This 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

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 Emeritus of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts at the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, supports the travel and accommodation costs of the speaker.

Previous lecturers and their topics

2021/22, Professor Stephen G. Perkinson (Bowdoin College)

Memento mori Imagery and the Limits of the Self in Late Medieval Europe

Objects bearing memento mori themes were abundant in Europe in the decades immediately around the year 1500. The material properties of these objects – the matter from which they were formed, the apparent care or negligence with which they were fashioned, and the ways their physical condition betrays signs of heavy use or careful conservation – can point us toward a better understanding of the diversity of interests that inspired their creation and use. These motivations range from pious apprehensions about the fate of one’s soul to arguably less anxious ruminations on the nature of image-making and the role of an emerging sense of aesthetic engagement. Taken together, they encapsulate one of the central fascinations and anxieties of their age: in an era committed to the notion that deep truths could be conveyed through surface appearances and that individual identity could be captured, communicated, and preserved through static imagery, memento mori objects resisted the notion of a stable self, reminding their viewers of the anonymity that awaits us all in the grave. Stephen Perkinson’s scholarship focuses on Medieval and Renaissance art of Northern Europe. He has published on topics ranging from the 13th to the 16th centuries. His 2009 study of the origins of portraiture (The Likeness of the King, Univ. of Chicago Press) was the recipient of the 2009 Morris D. Forkosch Prize for Best Book in Intellectual History. He has also collaborated extensively with art museums. Most recently, he was curator of The Ivory Mirror: The Art of Mortality in Renaissance Europe (Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 2017; catalogue distributed by Yale University Press), a major loan exhibition that shed new light on memento mori imagery and ivory carving in Northern Europe around the year 1500. Prior to that project, he produced work in conjunction with exhibitions of material from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (Object of Devotion, 2010) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Set in Stone, 2006). He is also the author of essays that have appeared in The Art Bulletin, Speculum, Gesta, and elsewhere. At Bowdoin, he teaches courses that cover material ranging from the late antique world of the Mediterranean to the Renaissance in Northern Europe, and addressing the artistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Organised by Dr Jessica Barker (The Courtauld) and Dr Tom Nickson (The Courtauld).


2020/21, Professor Kathryn A. Smith (New York University)

Scripture Transformed in Late Medieval England: The Religious, Artistic, and Social Worlds of the Welles-Ros Bible (Paris, BNF FR. 1)

My talk brings together my early and more recent research on the manuscript that I call the Welles-Ros Bible (Paris Bibliothèque nationale de France MS fr. 1) — the most complete surviving witness and sole extant illuminated copy of the Anglo-Norman Bible, the “earliest full prose vernacular Bible produced in England” (Russell). Building on the work of biblical and literary scholars, I argue that this grand multilingual manuscript and the revised translation that it contains were produced in the later fourteenth century on the order of one or more matriarchs of the baronial Welles family of Lincolnshire. I discuss the circumstances of the commission and the volume’s functions and intended audience; and show how the Bible’s rich pictorial and heraldic program reframes Christian salvation history as Welles family history. Moreover, the manuscript’s main artist clearly read the scriptural text assiduously, adapting or even rejecting his wide-ranging, trans-regional models in order to visualize for his noble clients both the sense of the vernacular translation and its very words. My talk sheds new light on lay literate and religious aspiration and pedagogy; women’s cultural patronage; artists’ literacy and working methods; the history of bible translation and reception; medieval ideas about gender, sexuality, health, memory, and the emotions; and English art, society, and culture after the Black Death.”



2018/19, Dr Elizabeth Morrison (Senior Curator of Manuscripts, J. Paul Getty Museum)

A Beast of a Project: Curating an Exhibition on Bestiaries at the Getty

The prospect of curating a major international loan exhibition is equal parts thrilling and intimidating. After eight years of intense research, loan negotiation, design development, and thousands of emails, Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World will open at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles on May 14, 2019. This presentation will look at the behind-the-scenes planning necessary by the lead curator, from the intellectual origins of the concept to some of the major challenges faced along the way. It will explore the exhibition’s major themes, including how the vivid images of the bestiary created an influential visual language that endured for centuries and became so popular that the animals escaped from the pages of books into other types of art objects ranging from massive tapestries to diminutive ivories. The exhibition will feature 115 objects from 45 lenders across the United States and Europe, including one third of the world’s surviving Latin illuminated bestiaries.

watch the lecture here:

Elizabeth Morrison is Senior Curator of Manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum. She received her PhD in the History of Art from Cornell University and began work at the Getty in 1996. During her tenure there, she has curated numerous exhibitions including the 2010 co-curated exhibition Imagining the Past in France, 1250-1500, which was a finalist for the College Arts Association award for outstanding exhibition catalogue. She has published on both Flemish and French illumination and has served on the boards of the International Center of Medieval Art and the Medieval Academy of America.

2017/18, Professor Nancy Sevcenko (Visiting Scholar, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC)

All in the Family: The Byzantine imperial family of the Comnenians as patrons in the first half of the 12th century

The Comnenian imperial family dominated the later 11th and 12th centuries in Byzantium: Emperor Alexios I, and his son and successor John II, ruled for a combined total of 62 years (1081-1143).  And the family was large: Alexios had nine children and John had eight, and most of these children were adults, with children of their own, by the death of John II in 1143.  Given that the administration of the empire in this period centered around membership in the imperial family, the relative proximity of each family member to the emperor himself, whether by blood or by marriage, became key.

The works of art associated with this famille nombreuse consist of everything from grand monastic foundations to illuminated manuscripts to small metal reliquary crosses.  Some of these works, large and small, have survived; for others, there is ample written evidence.  This paper will look at the many works of art and literature commissioned by, or associated with, specific members of the family in these decades, tracking issues such as how proximity to the throne of the individual may have affected the nature and general perception of the work and its place on a spectrum between public and private.

watch the lecture here:

Nancy Patterson Ševčenko is a Byzantine art historian whose work has focused primarily on illustrated lives of the saints, and on the intersection of art and liturgy.  She is the author of The Life of Saint Nicholas in Byzantine Art (1983), of Illustrated Manuscripts of the Metaphrastian Menologion (1990), and of Greek Manuscripts at Princeton, Sixth to Nineteenth Century: A Descriptive Catalogue (2010) with S. Kotzabassi and D. Skemer); she is currently preparing a catalogue of the Byzantine illuminated manuscripts of the monastery of St. John on Patmos.  A selection of her articles have been reprinted in her Variorum volume, The Celebration of the Saints in Byzantine Art and Liturgy (2013).  She recently completed a term as the President of the International Center of Medieval Art, and is currently Visiting Scholar at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC.  She lives in South Woodstock, Vermont.

2016/17, Dr Adam Cohen (University of Toronto)

Local and Global: Medieval Art in an Age of New Nationalisms

In light of recent world events, this talk addresses some of the disciplinary questions about methodology and classification that underlie the study and teaching of medieval art today. It focuses on the tension between working intellectually and practically in an ever-expanding global environment and attending at the same time to the particulars of specific historical contexts.

The consideration of borders ranges from the geographic to the temporal and from cultural to confessional. Among the specific topics to be treated are the role and implications of Jewish art, both in the medieval world and in modern scholarship; the practice of art history in the European and Chinese academies; and the challenges of writing a new survey of medieval art.

2015/6, Professor Lawrence Nees (Professor of Medieval Art & Department Chair, Department of Art History, University of Delaware)

Reading and Seeing: the beginnings of book illumination and the modern discourse on ethnicity

Much attention has been paid to the change of books from roll to codex form, largely accomplished by the fourth and fifth centuries, and the impact of this change on the illustration of books.  However, for some centuries the form of writing in the new codex format changed relatively little, and another change, arguably as significant, is associated with the seventh and eighth centuries, with books beginning to adopt multiple scripts displaying a hierarchy, spaces between words, punctuation, and decorative embellishment with illuminations of various sorts. The new kind of books, and readers, are strongly associated with monasticism, as has of course been noted before, but for a variety of reasons scholars have not explored the interactions between writing, illumination, and reading in depth.  Instead, a powerful strand of scholarly tradition, especially in the Anglophone world, has linked illumination with “barbarian” traditions, an approach that deserves challenge and reconsideration.

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

2009/2010, Barbara Drake Boehm (Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

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.”

The 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)

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)

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.

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