Courses Fall 2012

Studies in Medieval Sculpture, ca. 800-1400

HSAR 588, Graduate Seminar
Tuesdays, 1:30-3:20

For much of the Middle Ages, figural sculpture – both monumental works affixed to buildings and independent pieces displayed on altars and shrines – was the artistic medium most familiar, most accessible and, it seems, most powerful to men and women of all social stations and ranks. Although sculptural works could communicate theological precepts with the same clarity as images in two dimensions, the artistic and material properties peculiar to sculpture, above all its existence in real space and its ability to simulate the volumes and textures of real human bodies, imbued it with mimetic qualities impossible to achieve in other media, and thus allowed it to generate a range of meanings, responses, and behaviors peculiar to itself. Through a series of case studies of important works of sculpture, principally from France and Germany, this seminar explores the place of this medium in the larger history of medieval art. For us, as for medieval sculptors and viewers, the human body will take center stage, both as a subject of representation and as a vehicle of perception. Throughout the course we will consider the extent to which medieval sculpture, despite its frequent adherence to architectural frames, might be viewed as a dynamic art, one that places special demands on embodied, mobile viewers and that reveals its full significance only in the course of transient activities. At the same time, we will attend to the ways the dynamism of sculpture changed over time and space, and according to function, placement and audience.

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