2016 International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo
IAS-Sponsored Session

New Perspectives on Medieval Rome II

Fetzer 2020
Friday, May 13, 2016, 3:30-5:00pm

Organizers: Marius B. Hauknes, Johns Hopkins University, and Alison Locke Perchuk, California State University Channel Islands

Presider: Marius B. Hauknes, Johns Hopkins University

Digital, environmental, material, Mediterranean, sensory, spatial: these are among the recent “turns” taken by the medieval humanities, including art history. The new perspectives on the past opened by these approaches, many of which are informed by interdisciplinary research and contemporary cultural interests in the natural and built world, are fundamentally reshaping how we conceive of and study medieval art and architecture. In the field of medieval art, the city of Rome has traditionally been a key site for the formulation of innovative avenues of approach, but what are its current status and its potential in relation to the discipline’s new discourses? These two linked sessions seek to assess the impact of recent methodological developments on the study of the art, architecture, and urban forms of Rome during the long middle ages, ca. 300–1500.


Giuseppa Zanichelli, Università di Salerno
“Female Patronage in Rome in the Eleventh Century”

Although the role of the Roman matrons was crucial for the affirmation of Christianity, for a long time its importance has been denied. The only image accepted in a male-dominated society, as was Rome from the fifth century onward, was Jerome teaching Paula and Eustochio, that is a relationship between a male teacher and a female audience. In the legal documents Roman women appear only under tutelage of men, and, consequently, every woman who reclaimed an autonomous position in the society, as Theodora episcopa or Marotia senatrix or Rofreda iudex, was subjected to misogynist criticism. In the eleventh century the changes in Roman society, thoroughly analysed by Chris Wickham in a recent monograph (2015), created a new “medium élite”, with a new program of legitimization expressed through images of the donor’s family. By comparing four different cycles of images, Santa Maria in Pallara, Santa Balbina, San Clemente and its Baptistry, and the frontispice of ms. 3210, preserved in Cesena, Biblioteca Piana, I shall try to point out the differences between attitudes, dresses, votive offerings and internal references in diachronic and synchronic perspective. To place these images in their performative contexts, I shall relate them to information that can be drawn from written documents, such as wills and memories of donations of gifts, particularly manuscripts, to churches and monasteries. If the lay patrons follow a model whose origins lie in the Roman tradition and in its legal continuity, quite different are the images from the few nunneries documented in a sporadic way and with features difficult to interpret; in fact it is not always is clear to which monastic order these female houses belonged and, consequently, what kind of rule was in place. These female houses also often had contested relations with papal authorities. A final element is the presence of foreign noblewomen in the city, as vistors and as inhabitants of Rome’s nunneries. I shall try to demonstrate how exchanges and gifts among foreign noblewomen and Roman women helped shape female monastic patronage in this very challenging time.

Angelica Federici, Cambridge University
“Female Religious Patronage in Late Medieval Rome, ca. 1200–1400”

Although the past two decades have witnessed a substantial rise in the study of women as patrons of art, no comprehensive, in depth study has ever been devoted to the area circumscribed by the Patrimonium Petri. Yet, evidence of female religious patronage in Rome during the Late Medieval period is conspicuous. This paper will present a general survey of artistic commissions from Roman nunneries during the Late Medieval period, with particular focus on three convents; Sant’Agnese fuori le mura, SS. Cosma e Damiano and San Sisto Vecchio. The surviving evidence present in these nunneries provides us with a tantalizing glimpse of patronage in Rome by nuns on a large scale. Indeed, by ensuring that their own conventual spaces were decorated by leading painters in the latest style these high quality decorative programs confirm the nuns’ role as catalysts for a significant operation of artistic renewal in the city of Rome

Christiane Elster, Bibliotheca Hertziana
“Papal Textile Gifts in the Late Thirteenth Century—Objects, Actors, Functions”

In the late thirteenth century, popes commonly gave precious textiles, liturgical instruments and manuscripts to clerical institutions both inside and outside Rome. In their new locations, these artifacts became agents of a memorial and political culture focused on the Roman papacy, as the gifts were closely associated with the donor’s person, office and, in the case of the textile medium (used vestments) even with his body. Using an anthropological approach (Marcel Mauss’ gift theory and its lineage), this paper investigates papal donations of the late thirteenth century as acts that bore complex and multilayered messages. Within the rich material culture of the papal gift politics of the time, it concentrates on the textile medium and, in particular, on donations of liturgical vestments. Case studies of two copes, each from a different region of Western Europe and the Mediterranean basin, will demonstrate the diversity of material, techniques, and figurative languages employed. The “reference-function” of the donated textiles manifested itself variously, influenced both by the specific liturgical and spatial context of the new location and by the appearance of the donated objects.

Erik Inglis, Oberlin College
“Art Historical Experience in Medieval Rome”

The notion of a medieval art historical imagination may appear oxymoronic. Belting has defined the Middle Ages as the era of the image in contrast to the era of art, and Elsner claims that art historical questions of style, attribution, and provenance are modern, not medieval. Indeed, the invention of art history in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries often looks like an index of the end of the Middle Ages. However, several practices demonstrate that even in the absence of a discipline of art history, medieval Romans cared about the kind of information we regard as art historical. These practices include attribution, historicist appreciation and emulation, interpretation, and the use of art as historical evidence. For example, when Peter Damian studied the placement of Peter and Paul in mosaics, he accounted for their the age, patronage and location in order to determine their orthodoxy and significance. Taken together, these behaviors indicate that the era of the image was not ahistorical. Crediting them with an art historical imagination gives us a better sense of how they approached old objects, and how those objects communicated in different ways as they aged.

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