Miniature to Monumental: Encounters with Medieval Art - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Miniature to Monumental: Encounters with Medieval Art

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MA History of Art Special Option

Miniature to Monumental: Encounters with Medieval Art

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Detail of ivory panel, England, c. 1325—1350. British Museum 1861,0416.2 Photo © Jessica Barker.
Stellar lantern vault, c. 1387–1438. Founder’s Chapel, monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória, Batalha, Portugal. Photo: © Jessica Barker
Detail of ivory panel, England, c. 1325—1350. British Museum 1861,0416.2 Photo © Jessica Barker.
Stellar lantern vault, c. 1387–1438. Founder’s Chapel, monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória, Batalha, Portugal. Photo: © Jessica Barker

DR JESSICA BARKER

By what means did medieval artworks delight and persuade their viewers? With a particular focus on scale, from imposing monumental sculpture to intricate manuscript miniatures, this MA Special Option explores the embodied experience of medieval art. Encompassing a chronology from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries and a broad geographic area, this course aims to ask new questions of old objects, reconsidering some of the most famous artworks of the Middle Ages as well as discovering others long overlooked.

It is easy to overlook the importance of scale in understanding how people in the Middle Ages experienced the intricate microarchitecture of royal seals, the monumental pillars of Gothic cathedrals, the diminutive figures lurking in the borders of icons, or the nested domes of a muqarnas ceiling. Photographs and illustrations often represent objects of vastly differing dimensions as equivalent in size, but this was a period in which size was weighted with social, religious, even legal significance. Documentary evidence reveals that patrons placed as much—and sometimes more—emphasis on the size of their commission as its iconography. Medieval artists experimented with scale in the design of objects and buildings, both as a demonstration of their technical skill and as a strategy to provoke particular modes of interaction between the viewer and the artwork. 

The autumn term is themed around diminutive artworks, to be held in the hand and worn on the body (rings, reliquaries, microarchitecture, seals, books of hours), while the spring term focuses on monumental projects (towers, tombs, giants, portals, cathedrals).  Each week an “object in focus” provides an opportunity to hone skills in visual and archival research.  Responding to exhibitions and events as they arise, this course privileges first-hand contact with medieval art and architecture, while also reflecting on how these objects and buildings have been transformed in drawings, engravings and reproduction.  Literary texts provide us with another avenue for understanding how artworks were experienced, from the admonitions of preachers against worldly beauty in medieval sermons, to the miraculous and animate objects described in saint’s lives, and the opulent buildings and textiles that form the backdrop of chivalric romance and chronicles. 

Monument to Barnim IV von Wolgast, c. 1405. Church of St Mary, Kenz, Mecklenburg. Video © Jessica Barker.

Courtauld Course Lecturer

About the lecturer

Jessica Barker

Jessica Barker is a specialist in medieval art, with a particular emphasis on sculpture. She studied at the University of Oxford and the Courtauld Institute of Art, where she was subsequently Henry Moore Postdoctoral Fellow. She joined the Courtauld in 2018, after two years teaching at the University of East Anglia.

Jessica’s research ranges across northern Europe and the Iberian peninsular, addressing questions of the macabre, gender, concealment and the body. Her forthcoming monograph, Stone Fidelity: Gender, Society and Tomb Sculpture in the Middle Ages, based on work from her doctoral thesis, explores the intersection of love and death in funerary art. She is the co-editor of Revisiting the Monument. Fifty Years Since Panofsky’s Tomb Sculpture, a collection of essays addressing Erwin Panofsky’s scholarship on tomb sculpture. She has published widely on death and commemoration, with articles in journals including Art History, Gesta, and The Sculpture Journal. Jessica is currently thinking about the lives and afterlives of the padrão, columns erected on the coast of West Africa by Portuguese navigators.

Jessica is one of the conveners of the Sculptural Processes Group, a network for art historians, curators, conservators and artists interested in processes of making across all periods and geographies.

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