Questions on everything from Depositions to Flagellation to Sacral Presence to Performance!

Questions about Depositions, Sacral Presence, the Crucifix, Quick Images, Performance, and Flagellation!


  1. In what way do Northern paintings of the Deposition both present and withdraw the image of Christ from the viewer?


  1. Why are icons always in the business of presenting absence?


  1. Do you agree that the movable images of Christ are more lifelike, yet also assert their inert character?


  1. Consider the ritual of Dead Sunday in light of the Deposition and iconoclasm.


  1. Powell asserts that the Incarnation is the central defense of sacred images. Do you agree or disagree?


  1. Would Paoletti and Powell get into an argument about lifelike images at a cocktail party?


  1. Would Paoletti and Lipton agree on the function of art in the medieval period? Did art function as an efficacious agent of the sacral?


  1. Why do you think liturgical drama bypassed the Crucifixion? Do you feel that wood is the only medium that blurs the boundaries between viewer and devotional object?


  1. Do Lipton’s ideas mirror Bynum’s thoughts about Christian materiality regarding the paradoxes inherent in the devotional object?


  1. How does Rupert of Deutz’s text reflect both the power of art as well as art’s limitations?


  1. Do the crucifixes described in the texts cited by Lipton embody the stylistic changes that occurred in the art of the successive periods?


  1. What does Lipton mean by describing the process of looking at a crucifix as dialogic?


  1. “Preaching…..developed its own peculiar way of using art, one that exploited the power of the glance rather than the power of the gaze to provide a sudden and visceral visual jolt.” Discuss.


  1. What does Lerud mean by “quick images?”


  1. What are the parallels between images and miracles?


  1. In what ways do the Pauper’s view of images echo those of Thomas Aquinas?


  1. What was the role of dialogue in medieval plays? Do you agree with the author?


  1. How does Van der Weyden manipulate space/the viewer in his Deposition according to Gertsman? Would Powell agree with this analysis?


  1. What does the viewer experience before an image of the Arma Christi?


  1. How does the sacramental gaze work in viewing the Man of Sorrows?


  1. Will we ever leave stop reacting to Mel Gibson? What was the purpose of violence in medieval plays?


  1. Do you agree that the medieval period is inherently theatrical?


  1. What was the effect of kinesthetic perception on the mystery plays?


  1. Why did the successive outbreaks of the plague stimulate the practice of flagellation?


  1. How does flagellation differ from Passion mysticism?


  1. How does the sympathetic magical salvation effect come into play according to Kreuder?


  1. Do you agree with the author’s interpretation of the flagellation as a case of intercorporeal participation?

13 responses

  1. Question 18: According to Gerstman, Van der Weyden manipulates space and the viewer by forging emotional connections. The figures “gathered at the foot of the cross…carefully guide the viewers’ responses of lament through facial and bodily gestures” (120). Even more, the viewer becomes part of this crowd of spectators as the three Maries cannot be contained by the panel—they enter the viewer’s space. This speaks to the power of the platea, the transitional zone that often blurs the lines between actors and audience, by showing how it fosters a deeper and more emotional relationship between the viewer and the viewed.
    Powell contends that deposition images “simultaneously present and withdraw an image” (22). In Gertsman’s view, Van der Weyden does present an image of Christ. The viewer experiences this image emotionally and perhaps even viscerally because of the surrounding figures. If Gertsman’s theory plays out the way it is intended, the viewer’s attention is ultimately on Christ—his image is not withdrawn. Yet, if the viewer becomes lost or distracted in the surrounding figures, the loci, then the image of Christ would withdraw into the background. Thus, Powell and Gerstman’s ideas share some overlap, but are not entirely similar.

  2. Did you find Gertsman’s theory of loci and platea useful in apprehending the meaning of the Deposition? And what about Powell’s lens for viewing Van der Weyden’s masterpiece? Does theory cloud the viewer’s eye? I think both of these authors contribute something valuable to the dialogue, however, we must never lose sight of direct vision in this game.

    • I think Gertsman’s theory of loci and platea is helpful, especially in that the platea can be a place of connection between the viewer and the viewed, as well as a place for action.

      I think that theory can become cumbersome if one becomes so bogged down in it as to lose sight of the image. Theory is useful as a lens, but should be used to support characteristics observed in the image. I like how Gertsman uses visual evidence, especially the Evangelist Mark from the Ars memorandi blockbook, to support her analysis.

  3. Question 18: Kreuder discusses how the plague was seen as punishment, and that the only way many medieval persons thought that they could appease the wrath of God was to participate in self-flagellation, flagellation rituals, etc. From a modern eye this seems like a bit of a jump in reasoning, but I can see how, with the chaos and brutality around a medieval person, the misery might make more sense if there were a scapegoat. Kreuder doesn’t go into scapegoats, but I wonder how many people thought that *just* self flagellation would appease God’s anger if all of humanity (or at least Europe) was at fault.

    How intrinsic was this guilt (and scapegoating) in Passion Plays, if we’re agreeing with Kreuder that the Plays weren’t that different from flagellation rituals in effect? Were the criminal “actors” who were tortured as Christ scapegoats for the wrath of God?

  4. I find Kreuder’s thinking on this issue a little questionable. Self-flagellation seems very different than the Passion Plays to me and it boils down to blood vs. ketchup (or the medieval equivalent). Though both are mimetic exercises reflecting Christ’s Passion, did they really serve as equally potent scapegoats for God’s wrath? What do others think?

  5. Question 14: What does Lerud mean by “quick images?” I am not entirely sure but for what I inferred it’s living or performed images and/or visual. Maybe it’s any religious image that causes sensibillia (stimulates the sensitive part of the soul).

  6. Question 22 Do you agree that the medieval period is inherently theatrical? Yes. People got indulgences for participating (or acting) in processionals. Priest, mystics, and other religious figures could be seen as actors. Elisabeth of Spalbeek was a performer, people who showed stigmata; their bodies we used for a performance. The religion ‘worked’ because there was an audience. That audience is the believers.

  7. Yes, it is not abundantly clear from his article, however, you did a splendid job in illuminating his ideas. Basically I think he meant images that are “alive….” but that is wildly open to interpretation!

  8. Question 10:

    Rupert’s text is interesting because it acknowledges the power of art, thus defending the use of images during devotion. He discusses in this commentary that “it had long been a habit to gaze at the altar cross” (1177). The crucifix was a source of “comfort” because it was a 3-dimensional object in which he was able to find Christ in. This image expresses even more power to Rupert when moving him to experience this vision and interaction with Christ on the cross. However, Lipton does discuss the limitations of art. Rupert describes the overwhelming distance between him and the altar and how this might hinder one’s ability to elicit an intellectual experience with the object. Rupert also expresses that one cannot achieve a complete connect with divine grace until they “move out of the realm of human will”. This can be achieved by first gazing upon the crucifix but not achieved all at once.

  9. Rupert’s interaction with the Crucifix seems key here, yet the caveat issued is the necessity of moving out of the realm of human will. The desire to leave human will in the narthex is a powerful one, but not always obtainable! Many of our readings have suggested that a “disembodied gaze” does not even exist. Where to turn?!!

  10. Do you feel that wood is the only medium that blurs the boundaries between viewer and devotional object?

    When looking at Paoletti’s article, I struggle to accept his argument that wood is the only medium that blurs the boundaries between viewer and devotional object. Paoletti begins his article by describing these death masks of kings and queens. He details how they were made of real human hair and glass eyes. As we commented in class, this, in some way, feels less authentic. When he applies this argument to wooden sculpture, he argues that this creates sacral presence. He says on page 85 that the “collapse of time into a realistic image which denies a linear chronology or discrete events creates a sacral experience which is the very raison d’être of devotional art.” I don’t believe that wooden sculpture is the only medium that can elicit this type of sacral experience and collapse of time. The bronze crucifix attributed to Donatello has all the potential of a wooden crucifix to be a sacral presence. Wood does allow for greater interaction with the work, such as employing moveable arms to reenact the passion. I find that the lamentation scene that incorporates the donor is a much more convincing argument. It has true sacral presence and a connection to the viewer that causes this transcendent collapse in time.

  11. I totally agree. I feel that Paoletti avoids the issue of good vs. bad art—-for the former has the capacity to eradicate time and space in conveying its message. It reminds me of the Paragone arguments that were conducted during the Renaissance where artists would pit their media against other media as the gold medal winner! It is not the medium it is the motion!

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