Courses Past

Last Things: Death, Apocalypse and the Afterlife in Medieval Art

Undergraduate lecture: HSAR 278a

This course explores changing attitudes toward death and the afterlife as they were expressed in art of various media, from the catacombs of early Christian Rome (3rd-4th century) to the cadaver tombs of late Gothic France (15th century). We will examine arts associated with the deaths of ordinary individuals (mausoleum architecture, tomb sculpture, manuscript paintings showing Last Rites and burials, paintings featuring judicial executions), those produced in honor of the “very special dead,” the saints (reliquaries, icons, altarpieces, and shrines), and those concerned with the fate of all humanity at the end of time (depictions, in various media and contexts, of the Last Judgment, Apocalypse, and other-world journeys). Among the questions we’ll consider are: What, for medieval people, was the status of the human body after death? What were the changing ways in which the afterlife was imagined? What do death-related images and arts tell us about how people of the past imagined themselves as individuals and as members of groups? How were death-related arts used to forge a sense of community among the living? Weekly readings include works by Paul Binski, Peter Brown, Caroline Walker Bynum, Ellert Dahl, Aron Gurevich, Mitchell Merback, and Harvey Stahl, as well as numerous primary sources.

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