2008-09 Catalog

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Program Description

Medieval and Renaissance Studies: Materiality and the Religious Impulse

Last Updated: 11/17/2008

Fall and Winter quarters

Faculty: Lisa Sweet visual art, Elizabeth Williamson Reformation-era literature, theater history

Faculty Signature Required: Winter quarter

Major areas of study include visual arts, art history, European history (with a focus on the history of Christianity), and medieval/renaissance studies.

Class Standing: This all-level program accepts up to 25% freshmen as well as supporting and encouraging those ready for advanced work.

Accepts Winter Enrollment: This program will accept new students who have appropriate background. Contact faculty at Academic Fair or by email. New students should expect to complete some catch-up work during the December break.

Christian faith expresses itself as an impulse toward the transcendent, and the history of Christian art in Europe reflects the complexity of this spiritual exercise. In order to engage with an invisible God, the faithful of the Middle Ages established personal relationships with intercessors – celestial angels, martyrs, and saints, but most importantly the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ – via practices, performances, literature, and objects that gave concrete form to the ephemeral entities of the spiritual realm. The leaders of the protestant reformation, which took hold in Europe in the 16th century, saw these practices as superstitious and sought to eliminate the threat of idolatry by shifting the focus away from images and talismans to vernacular Bibles and black letter prayer books. But this shift was in some sense a mirage: the human instinct toward visual representation and ritual was no more detachable from the act of reading than Christianity was from the image of Christ on the cross.

This program will investigate Christian devotional art forms, both Protestant and Catholic, produced in England, France, Germany and the Netherlands from 1350 to 1650. In our readings, critical writings, and lectures, we will focus on how reading practices, ritual practices, visual culture and craft intersect in the use of religious objects by examining book forms, diptych images, and early modern play scripts. Through a variety of creative projects, students will also engage with the technologies and forms that were central to making material that was spiritual. Specifically, we'll pursue three artistic modes important to the evolution of Christian visual culture during this period: bookmaking, painting diptychs, and dramatic performance. Students will gain the basic skills required to approach each of these media, with the aim of understanding on a first-hand basis the relationship each form establishes between the material and the transcendent.

Fall quarter will provide students with an historical framework for understanding the major tenets of Christianity, medieval social structures, and the context and technologies for the creation of devotional objects such as books of hours, indulgences, reliquaries, bibles, plays and paintings (both ecclesiastical and personal). We'll explore medieval devotional sensibilities and gain an understanding of the distinctions between Protestant and Catholic theologies. Winter quarter will represent a deeper interrogation of the place of the image in an increasingly fragmented Christian culture. Students will learn that Protestant practices were never entirely unproblematic – in any Christian context, the danger was always that one would mistake objects (statues of saints, glorious stained glass windows, towering crucifixes and paintings, for example) for the divinity they were designed to represent.

This program is designed for students with a balanced interest in European medieval and renaissance history, art history, religion, studio art and performance. About 40% of students' time will be devoted to artistic practice, including both visual and performing arts exercises, and 60% to rigorous reading, writing, and discussion of religion and history.

Credits: 16 per quarter

Enrollment: 44

Books: www.tescbookstore.com

Program is preparatory for careers and future studies in the arts and humanities, including the visual and performing arts, literature, history and religious studies.

Planning Units: Programs for Freshmen, Culture, Text and Language, Expressive Arts

Program Revisions

Date Revision
November 17th, 2008 Winter quarter enrollment details added.