A Tomb for All Seasons: The Cenotaph of St Audomarus at Saint-Omer and the Performative Mutability of Art in the Late Middle Ages

In his Das handelnde Bildwerk in der Gotik (1998; revised edition 2000), Johannes Tripps made a compelling case for what he called ‘active images’ in the context of late medieval ecclesiastical art and their period-specific metamorphoses in response to the changing needs of the liturgical year. Riding the wave of the recent ‘functionalist’ turn in medieval art history, subsequent scholarship has endeavoured to flesh out Tripps’ arguments by treating objects such as winged altarpieces as temporally mutable, opening and closing to mark specific feasts and ceremonial occasions.

The present talk will come at the topic of the seasonal performative mutability of late medieval art from a different angle, by examining an intriguing yet little-studied work, the cenotaph of St Audomarus at the collegiate church of Saint-Omer (Pas-de-Calais). Although every bit as susceptible to the exigencies of the liturgical calendar as the winged altarpiece, this funerary monument did not wear its mutability openly. The study of the abundant archival evidence extant for the collégiale reveals a major functional shift during Easter Week, when a remarkable succession of precious textiles, the attachment of timber microarchitectural elements and an active part in (para)liturgical celebrations brought to the fore a facet of the life of this object that would have remained unknown without the crutch of textual testimony.

Michalis Olympios is Assistant Professor in the History of Western Art at the University of Cyprus. His research interests revolve around medieval art and architecture in France and the Latin East. He has published on various topics related to Gothic architecture in Lusignan Cyprus, Hospitaller Rhodes, Venetian Crete and French Flanders. His current projects include a reassessment of the documentary and architectural evidence for the chronology of the papal collegiate church of Saint-Urbain at Troyes and the coordination of an A.G. Leventis-funded programme on the history and architecture of the medieval Greek cathedral of the Panagia Hodegetria in Nicosia, Cyprus.

5:00pm, 23 May 2018

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