Courses Past

The Dynamic Art of Medieval Sculpture, 900-1500

Graduate seminar: 588B

For much of the period known as 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, accessible and powerful to men and women of all social stations and ranks. For much of the history of art history, medieval figural sculpture was the field on which the greatest practitioners of the discipline, from Panofsky to Shapiro to Baxandall, trained their sights. Yet over the past fifty years, in the wake of the impact of iconographical and social historical methods of inquiry, serious studies of medieval sculpture have all but disappeared from North American art history. Through a series of case studies of important sculptural objects and monuments, principally from France and Germany – including reliquary statues, tomb effigies, crucifixes, altarpieces, and the great sculpture programs of Romanesque and Gothic buildings – this seminar seeks to reexamine the place of medieval sculpture both in the larger history of figural arts and in the history of our discipline. Although we will pay close attention to the formal and iconographical peculiarities of the respective works, special emphasis will be placed on their mediating function for distinct audiences and their shifting conditions of production and reception. Readings will include classic texts by Hans Belting, Michael Baxandall, Ilene Forsyth, Emile Mâle, Erwin Panosfsky, Meyer Schapiro, and Wilhelm Vöge, as well as more recent literature. Reading knowledge of French and German is essential.

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