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Romanesque: A Research Seminar in Religious and Secular Iconography, the Language of Artistic Forms, and Medieval History

Intermediate, Advanced—Spring

Romanesque: Mont-St-Michel and Chartres; Durham Cathedral; Cluny, Autun and Vezelay; Conques and Moissac; Cistercian “architecture of silence”; the Royal Abbey of St-Denis. How Roman was Romanesque? How different is Gothic? Iconography as a language, the language of Romanesque forms, and medieval history: All three religions of the book have rich traditions of verbal exegesis; but unlike Judaism and Islam, only Christianity created and sustained an elaborate visual language to represent and interpret its sacred texts. If the study of the subject matter in art is iconography, what such an investigation might mean in practice can vary widely from identification of personages, episodes, and symbols to the more challenging, historically-oriented examination of which text is the basis for the imagery (if indeed the imagery is grounded in a text); why that imagery or architectural form was chosen in a particular time and place; and what such choices might have meant to a patron, an artist, and their community. In short, iconography is about human beings making choices. Thus, one might need to consider biblical exegesis, theology, legends, and historical context (including society, politics, heresies, psychology, and climates of opinion), in addition to possible artistic models—indeed, all the tools of history. Our goal in this course are to strive for a more inclusive study of iconography while investigating one of the most creative ages in European art and culture: the Romanesque (usually dated from 1000 to 1200). To move toward this goal, we will engage in critical analyses of interpretations by some of art history’s past masters—Emile Mâle, Erwin Panofsky, and Meyer Schapiro—scholars who sought the relationships of words to images, of art to historical context, and of scholars working today. Student research projects are the core of this research seminar. We will learn how to use the library and online research tools and refine skills to better use images in doing research and making presentations. Students will present findings orally and in written drafts to the class for help and criticism. We will take advantage of our proximity to three of the world’s greatest collections of medieval art at The Met, The Cloisters, and the Morgan Library. Previous college study in some aspect of ancient, medieval, or Renaissance/Reformation culture, though not necessarily in art history, is a prerequisite.