Abstraction haunts medieval art, both withdrawing figuration and suggesting elusive presence. How does it make or destroy meaning in the process? Does it suggest the failure of figuration, the faltering of iconography? Does medieval abstraction function because it is imperfect, incomplete, and uncorrected-and therefore cognitively, visually demanding? Is it, conversely, precisely about perfection? To what extent is the abstract predicated on theorization of the unrepresentable and imperceptible? Does medieval abstraction pit aesthetics against metaphysics, or does it enrich it, or frame it, or both? Essays in this collection explore these and other questions that coalesce around three broad themes: medieval abstraction as the untethering of image from what it purports to represent, abstraction as a vehicle for signification, and abstraction as a form of figuration. Contributors approach the concept of medieval abstraction from a multitude of perspectives-formal, semiotic, iconographic, material, phenomenological, epistemological.
The Brummer Collection of Medieval Art in the Duke University Museum of Art is one of the finest to be found in any American university museum. It is remarkable for its breadth and the variety of objects represented, with works varying in scale from monumental stone pieces to small-scale objects in wood, ivory, or metal, and ranging from the seventh to eighth centuries through the sixteenth century. This fine catalog makes available for the first time this rich but little-known collection. Five studies by leading art scholars focus on key works in the collection and contribute to a new understanding of the origins of many of the pieces. Two introductory essays comment on the character of the collection as a whole, its acquisition by Duke University, and its conservation. Finally, the catalog section discusses the more important pieces in the collection and is followed by a checklist of entries and smaller photographs of all other objects.
Contributors. Ilene H. Forsyth, Jean M. French, Dorothy F. Glass, Dieter Kimpel, Jill Meredith, Linda S. Roundhill
What do they all mean – the lascivious ape, autophagic dragons, pot-bellied heads, harp-playing asses, arse-kissing priests and somersaulting jongleurs to be found protruding from the edges of medieval buildings and in the margins of illuminated manuscripts? Michael Camille explores that riotous realm of marginal art, so often explained away as mere decoration or zany doodles, where resistance to social constraints flourished.
Medieval image-makers focused attention on the underside of society, the excluded and the ejected. Peasants, servants, prostitutes and beggars all found their place, along with knights and clerics, engaged in impudent antics in the margins of prayer-books or, as gargoyles, on the outsides of churches. Camille brings us to an understanding of how marginality functioned in medieval culture and shows us just how scandalous, subversive, and amazing the art of the time could be.