Symposium in Princeton – May 18, 2019

Announcing the first outcome of our joint project: a one-day symposium, “Abstraction before the Age of Abstract Art,” which will be held at the Index of Medieval Art at Princeton University on May 18, 2019 and feature European and American scholars. We will convene a graduate student workshop in advance of the symposium, on Monday, May 13, at the Baker-Nord Humanities Center, Case Western Reserve University. For more information, please see below!

On May 18, 2019, the Index will host “Abstraction Before the Age of Abstract Art,” a symposium co-sponsored with the Kress Foundation, the French American Cultural Foundation, Case Western Reserve University, and the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. Focusing on the long and rich tradition of nonfigurative art, which remains virtually unacknowledged by our field, the symposium will explore the inception and transformation of abstraction(s) at various historical pivot points between the advent of Christianity and the interrogation of epistemological queries in the later Middle Ages.

Rooted in the questioning of primacy of figuration, the symposium aims to introduce the concept of abstraction to the field of pre-modern art and redefine it as a visual structure that predicates the very nature of image-making. With “Abstraction Before the Age of Abstract Art,” we seek to interrogate non-figurative forms in medieval material culture; to contextualize these forms within the contemporaneous cultural, philosophical, and epistemological discourses; to identify the common features that favor the emergence of abstraction specifically in the long Middle Ages; and to determine how abstraction has been used to make visible what is beyond any kind of representation.

Click on the poster below to be connected to the symposium page:


Elina Gertsman (Case Western Reserve University)
Vincent Debiais (École des hautes études en sciences sociales)


Jean-Claude Bonne (École des hautes études en sciences sociales), “Decorative Abstraction: Matisse and Medieval Art”

Licia Buttà (Universitat Rovira i Virgili), “Geometry, Inscriptions, Abstraction in Medieval Painted Ceilings.”

Vincent Debiais (ÉHESS), “Color as Subject”

Thomas Golsenne (Université de Lille), “The Non-Organic Vitality of the Ornamental or Tranformations of the Mandorla”

Herbert Kessler (Johns Hopkins University), “Blur”

Robert Mills (University College London), “Back-to-Front: Abstraction and Figuration in Bosch’s Visions of the Hereafter”

Cécile Voyer (Université de Poitiers), “Imaginare: Incipit Letters and the Elevation in the Gospels Book (9th-11th cc.)”

With the participation of Charles Barber (Princeton University) and Beatrice Kitzinger (Princeton University)

Registration opens in early April at

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
elina (February 8, 2019). Symposium in Princeton – May 18, 2019. Abstraction Before the Age of Abstract Art. Retrieved July 12, 2024 from

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About elina

ELINA GERTSMAN is Professor of Medieval Art at Case Western Reserve University. She is the author of The Dance of Death in the Middle Ages: Image, Text, Performance (2010), which won the John Nicholas Brown Prize from the Medieval Academy of America for the best first book in medieval studies, and of Worlds Within: Opening the Medieval Shrine Madonna (2015), the winner of the inaugural Karen Gould Prize in Art History from the Medieval Academy, awarded to a book in medieval art history, judged by the selection committee to be of outstanding quality. Worlds Within was also shortlisted for the Charles Rufus Morey Prize, which honors an especially distinguished book in the history of art, published in the English language. Her most recent book, The Middle Ages in 50 Objects (2018), was co-authored with Barbara Rosenwein. Prof. Gertsman is the editor of Visualizing Medieval Performance: Perspectives, Histories, Contexts (2008), Crying in the Middle Ages: Tears of History (2011), and “Animating Medieval Art” (2015), a guest-edited issue of the journal Preternature; and co-editor of Thresholds of Medieval Visual Culture Liminal Spaces (2012). With Stephen Fliegel, she published a catalogue that accompanies the focus exhibition they co-curated, "Myth and Mystique: Cleveland's Gothic Table Fountain" (2016). Her work has been supported by the Kress and Mellon Foundations as well as by the American Council for Learned Societies. Among her current projects are a monograph on emptiness in late medieval art and a collection of essays on medieval abstraction.

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  1. Pingback: L’abstraction avant l’art abstrait

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