First, a bit of levity:
Some thoughts to get the conversation started: 1. Why were relics so important in the Middle Ages? 2. Were contact relics as effective as body parts? 3. What is the relationship between the container and the contents in body-part reliquaries and does it shift over time? 4. Have you ever seen a relic? If so, what was the context and what was the effect of this experience?
The vierge ouvrante is one of the most interesting categories of sculpture produced in the Middle Ages. 1. Why does the author stress the importance of both the haptic and optic dimensions of the worshiper’s experience of this sculpture? 2. In what way is the Virgin the door for Christ and for the saved through his sacrifice? 3. What are the theological implications of lodging the whole Trinity within the Virgin’s womb? 4. In the narrative interiors of the vierge ouvrante, what subject matter was found and how was it disposed? 5. What are some of the differences in types of sculpture north and south of the Pyrenees? 6. What is the symbolic meaning of the doors that open the womb of the Virgin and how does the statue’s capacity to move affect the viewer’s experience? 7. What is the paradox embodied by the vierge ouvrante? What occurs in her corporeal erasure?
Alexis and Maria will be our guides for tomorrow’s class, but here are just a few questions to think about for our discussion.
In the tympanum at Conques, do you agree with the author’s reading of the facial expressions of the damned? Isn’t it interesting to think about our expressions and gestures as culturally contingent?! In what way was Augustine’s conception of hell different from other Early Christian Church Fathers? How did the Byzantine notion of the Resurrection differ from that of the West? Did the sketch of Ste.-Foi’s actions surprise you? Does the restraint of the elect at Conques weaken the author’s theory of attunement with the damned?
In the construction of sanctity, what role does architecture play? What role does the shrine play in devotion? What does the author mean by the “voice or tone of the shrine”? What “conspires” at Golgotha to make the religious experience so powerful? What role do the ampullae of holy oil play in the pilgrims’ experience of the sacred? What function did the icon fulfill in the Eastern shrine? What guided the medieval viewer in his devotions? In other words, was there a “proper form” of worship of these images? West versus East: discuss! When Hahn says that the shrines (or the saint’s presence therein) join the past and the present, how do they also join the devotee to the Heavenly Jerusalem?
I will take a backseat to our discussion leaders, but here are just a few queries to get the ball started!
1. According to Kingsley, what is the connection between gift giving and memory in the Middle Ages?
2. What are some of the ideas we discussed in the bronze doors at Hildesheim reflected in the frontispiece of the Bernward Gospels?
3. In what ways is Mary the door to Paradise?
4. Think of any one of the images “deconstructed” in this article (the curtain, for example) and explain how it functions as a mnemonic device.
5. What do all of Bernward’s gifts signify? What are the fate of these gifts after Bernward’s death?
In the article on portraiture:
1. Why wasn’t mimetic likeness as important in the Middle Ages as it was in the Renaissance?
2. What was the significance of The Secret of Secrets? The lesson learned from Hippocrates’ physiognomy?
3. How did medieval authors speak about portraits? Why do you think they had a devotional quality that almost rivaled religious images?
4. What were some of the “alternative” methods of portraiture in the medieval period? (We now know where “worth his weight in gold” comes from….) Does mimetic likeness replace heraldic codes of identity?
5. Can you draw any parallels between Bernward and Christine de Pizan and Isabeau of Bavaria?