After several attempts to schedule and reschedule the final workshop of the program Abstraction before the Age of Abstract Art in Paris, this event will finally be happening very soon. On June 16th, several scholars from France and the USA will virtually gather to present some case studies on the notion of abstraction in medieval visual culture. Conceived as a real workshop, with short presentations and time to discuss, this event will conclude the program sponsored by the foundation FACE since September ’18.
15.00 – Vincent Debiais (EHESS, Paris) & Elina Gertsman (CWRU, Cleveland) : Introduction
15.15 – Jean-Claude Schmitt (EHESS, Paris) : « Figure » ou « image » ? Le cas du Bréviaire de Belleville / “Figure” or “Image”? The Case of the Breviaire de Belleville
15.40 – Daniel Russo (Université de Bourgogne) : La couleur du manuscrit 1 de Semur-en-Auxois / Color in Semur-en-Auxois, mss. 1
16.05 – Élise Haddad (EHESS, Paris) : Les étoiles de Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne / The Stars of Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne
16.30 – discussion
17.00 – Herbert Kessler (Johns Hopkins University) : Plato’s Planetary Plant / Les plantes planétaires de Platon
17.25 – Elina Gertsman (CWRU, Cleveland) : Faithful Abstraction: Withdrawals and Simulacra in Late Medieval Nacre / Abstraction dans la foi : effacement et simulacre de la nacre
17.50 – Isabelle Marchesin (INHA) : La lumière du lectionnaire d’Hildesheim / Light in Hildesheim lectionary
18.20 – discussion
The workshop will be held online on Zoom; please contact Elina Gertsman or Vincent Debiais to receive the connection link.
During the reception hosted by the Index of Medieval Art after the symposium in Princeton last spring, Angela Black (Stanford University) conducted three shorts interviews with Herbert Kessler, Pamela Patton, and Cécile Voyer. They kindly offered some thoughts on our project on abstraction thatwe are happy to share here.
Prof. Kessler, what excites you most about this project?
It totally decenters traditional art history, which is focused primarily on sacred figuration. And it considers largely ignored aspects of the field and ground ornament, the relationship between architecture and imagery, and of course the basics of image-making, of the materials themselves.
In your paper entitled “Blur”, you spoke a lot about the impact an artwork has on the viewer, or how the viewer impacts the experience of the artwork, particularly when it brings with it a blurring effect. I was hoping you could speak a little bit more about that. When there is abstraction in a work of art, how does that impact the viewer’s experience?
I guess my fundamental argument is that we tend to look at images as concrete circumscribed elements, and yet we know from lots of evidence that the image itself was understood to be failing, failing to represent what cannot be represented, which in Christianity especially was the essence. What I argue in the paper, is that the blurring effect reminds the viewer about the inadequacy of the physical image alone.
Do you think there was knowledge among medieval artists that blur was a way to portray the essence of what we cannot really see as humans?
I introduced a number of medieval texts. I try to keep them as close to the points at which the objects were made in time and place. Our idea of the autonomous artist, as an isolated maker of images, is anachronistic for the Middle Ages. I think it never happened. The integration of theological advisors within the making of medieval art is critical there. We have to think of teamwork, and in that context we could find evidence of such a knowledge about blur and other “abstract” effects.
We are always inclined to host innovative events promoting scholarship. Nationally, or internationally. Anytime someone has a great idea, we are interested in talking about it. I have to be a little cautious at times about overtaxing the staff because we have so much going on with the new database, and we have our own annual conference in the Fall which takes a lot of time and energy. But when someone comes to you with an idea as good as this one, and especially because Elina and Vincent have been so dynamic about getting in touch with the speakers, that we really could not say no to something like that! It is a great chance to bring people together on campus and see a lot of different scholars who work on similar topics.
anything specific about the project that excites you?
I like the idea that abstraction is being studied for its own meaning, for its own inherent values, because one of the things we are trying to do in the Index is to think more carefully about what subjects are. What is “significant” iconography? The Angel Gabriel talking to the Virgin Marry, of course, in the Annunciation, but it can be a plant, it can be an ornament…
Or a color!
And it can be a color! And this is something very new. In fact, we were under orders not to describe color back in the old days of the Index. We have begun in our new cataloguing to include color, because it can be quite important as an attribute, not to mention on its own. This whole idea that we could be cataloguing abstract forms part of the active iconography is really exciting.
consider this new perspective as a way to expand the boundaries of medieval art
I think there is a change in the way people think about art historical scholarship at large really since the 80s and the New Art History movement. It reminds people that iconography is not just matching images and texts. I like the idea that iconography is fluid, that its meaning changes according to its context and viewer. The real opening up of how images and visual things speak to people has been truly exciting in the last 5 or 10 years, and this symposium is very much a part of this movement.
Prof. Voyer, qu’est-ce qui vous intéresse personnellement dans le projet de recherche qui nous réunit ici à Princeton ?
Je trouve ce sujet très
stimulant d’un point de vue intellectuel. Il nous oblige à mettre en discussion
de très nombreuses notions, comme l’abstraction ou la figuration, et leur
pertinence dans l’analyse des œuvres d’art médiévales. On doit ainsi se concentrer
sur des objets, des images, mais aussi des démarches artistiques originales, généralement
peu abordées par l’histoire de l’art médiéval.
Selon vous, comment penser la connexion entre l’abstraction
au Moyen Âge et l’art contemporain ?
Je ne sais pas si l’art
contemporain est influencé ou a pu être influencé par l’art médiéval. On sait
que Matisse s’est beaucoup intéressé à la question des couleurs au Moyen Âge ; on
sait aussi que Picasso était extrêmement sensible au langage des Beatus. En
revanche, je pense que ce serait plutôt à l’art contemporain de questionner
l’art médiéval sur un certain nombre de choses : sur la matérialité, sur la
performance, sur le concept de couleur, sur le langage des formes. Il y a en réalité
une convergence des questionnements sur les possibilités ou les limites du
langage formel, et le Moyen Âge a sur ce sujet énormément à apporter, car c’est
précisément là que beaucoup de choses se passent dans cette réflexion sur la