On April 7th, Michael Weldon (MA, Medieval Studies) and Kevin Vogelaar (MA, Medieval Studies) were inducted to the Jesuit Honors Society Alpha Sigma Nu. The organization, which emphasizes scholarship, loyalty, and service, selected Michael and Kevin for their exemplary commitment to the tenets of Jesuit learning.
[Read on for profiles of our two Alpha Sigma Nu inductees]
The 2016 Harvard Medieval Material Culture Lectures and Workshops were held Monday, April 4- through Thursday, April 7 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Featured lecturers were Elizabeth Pastan of Emory University and Patrick Degyrse of University of Leuven.
On Thursday morning at the Fogg Museum, Elizabeth Pastan, Professor of Art History at Emory University along with Katherine Eremin, Research Scientist of Harvard Art Museums and Charlotte Gray, Art Historian of Harvard University presented The Craft of Medieval Glass: Decorative Glass in the Harvard Art Museums. Their focus was medieval stained glass.
In their presentation it was explained how technology based equipment used for XRF analysis could be brought on site to research the chemical makeup of individual pieces of a stained glass window in order to determine whether which pieces were original, and which were part of a restoration. It furthermore allowed the glass to be assigned a date and region of origin. Chemical processes were also explained for creating clear glass (white glass), transparent colored glass, and opaque colored glass. During the presentation smaller stained glass samples were illuminated over a light box for close inspection. Methods for cutting and assembling stained glass panels were also explained and a section of lead came, the metal structure which supports a glass panel, was on hand for inspection.
Next, methods for firing images and text onto a glass surface were explained. Using silver stain (silver nitrate) and vitreous paint, the front and reverse sides of a piece of glass could be treated in order for an artisan to reach a desired effect. This process could also have been repeated multiple times if necessary.
The relationship between stained glass designer and stained glass artisan was then described. In some cases the relationship could be contentious, however one example was shown of an artisan’s faithful interpretation of the artist’s original design. In terms of installation, if a window were to be located high above ground, a full-scale cartoon would be placed on the floor of the actual site where the glass pieces could be laid out to ensure accuracy and efficiency during an installation.
The presentation moved into the Naumburg Room, a two-story Jacobean hall, deigned with special light wells for displaying and viewing recently restored stained glass windows. The highlight of the two-hour presentation was the ehibition of a restored late-12th Century roundel from the Canterbury Cathedral, depicting the life of Thomas Beckett. The decision making process of the restoration as well how to support, display, and illuminate the work were discussed at length.
For stained glass enthusiasts, two valuable resources are:
Later that afternoon Patrick Degryse, Professor of Archaeometry at University of Leuven presented The Technique and Trade of Glass in Antiquity and the Middle Ages at the Harvard Semitic Museum. The museum’s basement level is not only used for storage but for hands-on research and ongoing projects where currently approximately 400 glass objects are in the process of being catalogued. By performing isotopic analysis, Degryse attempts to trace the glass back to its source.
Unlike the earlier stained glass presentation, these glass objects were formed from molten glass taken directly from a furnace. The workshop’s participants were invited to observe and handle about a dozen of these glass objects. The glass was explained in terms of its fundamental properties of which silica (sand), makes up approximately 75% of the material. Other ingredients would have included plant ash and sodium carbonate. Sand samples taken from various regions of the Mediterranean were then examined by the workshop participants who then theorized which samples would be most suitable for glassmaking.
Next, working with modeling clay, the participants had an opportunity to simulate techniques for working with hot glass. The three techniques discussed were core-trailed glass, mold formed glass, and blown glass. According to Degryse glassmaking goes back to at least 3000 BC, but glassblowing did not develop until approximately 100 BC.
One very important point in the history of the development of glassmaking is the enormous consumption of fuel. Molten glass is kept at approximately 1600 F, a temperature which would need to be maintained over a period of days, even weeks, and would require the cutting of thousands of trees, essentially deforesting the area where the glass shop was built. Therefore glass shops would move their location nearer to fuel sources. Glass furnaces necessarily took an enormous toll on local forests resulting in medieval laws prohibiting the use of glass furnaces.
If you have not seen it, glassblowing is a fascinating process to watch. Visit the website for the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY and click on their video links.
The Très riches heures, a book of prayers commissioned for a French prince, is one of the most famous illuminated manuscripts of the 15th century. It contains dozens of images painted with rich pigments and embellished with gold. The original sits in the Musée Condé in Chantilly, France.
But thanks to a fine art facsimile of the historic tome in Fordham’s Walsh Library, students can flip through the lush pages and absorb a visual representation of medieval art and religion.
The Très riches heures facsimile is one of 300 books and objects donated to Fordham by Dr. James Leach, a New York physician who’s been curious about medieval manuscripts and liturgical books since he was young.
“When I was growing up, I had an interest in Latin and in the church,” said Leach, who heads the dermatology department at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx. “The prayer books I was familiar with were a springboard to begin looking at the older manuscripts.”
He began amassing a collection of fine art facsimiles of medieval manuscripts, which have been produced since around 1990, typically in limited-edition runs of 300 to 900 copies. He thought that Fordham, as a Catholic university with an established medieval studies program, would be the perfect repository for these works. Leach also donated a sizable collection of original Catholic prayer missals from the late-19th to early-20th centuries.
Nina Rowe, PhD, chair and associate professor of art history at Fordham, said the University is lucky to have such high-quality reproductions available for students.
“One can certainly lecture in the classroom about the technical aspects of luxury handmade books from the eighth to the 15th centuries in Europe,” Rowe said. “But with high-quality facsimiles, students can get a sense of the ways in which illuminated manuscripts were functional objects, designed to be viewed up close, leafed through, and carried.”
Rowe said the Très riches heures is one of the “greatest hits” of medieval art history. She also has a few other favorites among the collection.
“I’m delighted to be able to teach students from the facsimiles of the Lindisfarne Gospels, an English monastic manuscript made around the year 700 and renowned for its so-called Carpet Pages, full-page designs with intricate interlace, often in the form of the cross,” she said.
“Another favorite facsimile of mine reproduces a Moralized Bible (sometimes called the Saint Louis Bible) from Paris, 1226 to 1236. Every page features eight circles arranged in four pairs, each with little scenes linking a vignette from the Hebrew Bible to a Christian or contemporary commentary. The images are especially fun when they depict the perceived vices of early 13th-century Parisian life, evoking the real world of the street in a remote period.”
Pages from the collection’s facsimile of a Moralized Bible (sometimes called the Saint Louis Bible)
Linda LoSchiavo, TMC ’72, director of the University libraries, said Leach’s contributions are an important addition to Fordham’s Special Collections.
“The facsimiles are an extraordinary example of medieval artistry,” she said. “They’re done with highly specialized devices, and the bindings are reproductions as well.”
The cover of a facsimile of the Sacramentary of Henry II, a liturgical manuscript from the late-10th to early-11th century, includes an intricate copy of the original’s ivory relief. Other facsimiles Leach has donated include theEton Choirbook and the Lorsch Gospels.
The cover of a facsimile of the Sacramentary of Henry II, which features an intricate plastic copy of the original’s ivory relief
The recent establishment of Fordham’s Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies, and the collection of Judaica being assembled by Magda Teter, PhD, the chair’s inaugural holder, prompted LoSchiavo to ask Leach if he would consider donating a a Haggadah, a book used during Passover seders. He was happy to oblige, and earlier this year donated a facsimile of the Barcelona Haggadah. The original dates to the middle of the 14th century.
Leach hopes his gifts will help Fordham students learn that art and illuminated manuscripts flourished during the medieval period, even though the era sometimes gets a bad rap.
“Most important is that they realize that ‘medieval’ is not purely a derogatory term,” he said. “It was an age of faith and artistic productivity that contributed to Western civilization.”
“In mid March 2015 – toward the end of New York’s perpetual winter – I took the subway up to Dykman Street and trekked up the snowy hills of Fort Tyron Park to reach The Cloisters Museum and interview for their summer internship program. To my amazement, I did receive the offer to become one of eight summer interns working for the Education Department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters Museum and Gardens. June 1st was the beginning of the most fascinating, exhausting, and rewarding summer I have had so far. The internship at The Cloisters was two-fold: Day-Camp tours and a Gallery Talk.
For the day-camp tours, we, the interns, had two lists of twelve works of art. One was titled People in the Middle Ages and the other Medieval Treasure Hunt. We spent time researching and learning about these twenty-four works of art and how they fit into their theme. Our research prepared us to be tour-guides in preparation for groups of summer camps and schools – the average group was twenty-something kids, of any age between four and twelve. Our job was to take the facts and history of Medieval Art and bring to life the Middle Ages for these kids. Of course, we would avoid the gruesome stories of plague and torture; however, we highlighted the level or skill and patience that went into creating tapestries and stained glass without modern tools. The children loved identifying the figures of the king’s court in the Nine Heroes Tapestries and exploring the shining works of gold, ivory, or rock crystal. At the end of each tour, we spent 10-15 minutes with a craft project that related to the theme of the tour.
The second part of the internship was the Gallery Talk. Over the course of the nine-week program, each intern came up with a theme of their choice and developed a one-hour lecture around 6-8 works of art that related to the topic. We had access to the Met’s extensive library and were expected to research our objects in great detail. The topic I chose was Art Across Medieval Spain. Growing up in Madrid and being exposed to medieval ruins at a young age, I was eager to explore the history behind the art of medieval Iberia. I specifically focused on the religious conflicts between Christians and Muslims, and on the pilgrimage culture of traveling to and from Santiago de Compostela. The most fascinating information I came across in my extensive research was that these two themes are intrinsically related; each of the seven works of art I included in my lecture directly related to both the Christian Reconquista and the pilgrimage to Santiago. The work I had the most fun studying and presenting was an alabaster statue of Saint James the Greater – on this stop of my Gallery Talk I touched on the historical enigma behind this disciple of Jesus, his significance to Spanish culture during the Middle Ages and the transformation of his meaning today as pilgrims flock to his remains from all over the world for religious and secular reasons.
As you might know from visiting the museum yourselves, The Cloisters provide a sliver of medieval Europe on the northernmost tip of hectic Manhattan; not only is this a space for academia and truism, but also a refuge from the speeding yellow cabs and loud street vendors downtown. I was honored and privileged to help this unique museum over the summer – plus, I learnt a great deal about Medieval Art in the process.”
Peter Vergara is a freshman at Fordham College Rose Hill. He is double majoring in Political Science and Art History, with a minor in Philosophy.
Within the canons of art history, rings are often relegated to second-class status. Nineteenth-century art historians, for example, were more likely to regard pieces of jewelry as consumer objects than as products of imaginative artistry on par with sculptures or oil paintings. But since May, the Cloisters have sought to redress this imbalance by highlighting the role rings have played as signifiers of social identity from antiquity to the Renaissance in their exhibit entitled “Treasures and Talismans: Rings from the Griffin Collection.” Last Friday, Fordham Medieval Studies alumnus Scott Miller, who co-authored the exhibition’s catalog, Take This Ring: Medieval and Renaissance Rings from the Griffin Collection, led visitors from Fordham on a tour to explain how rings acquired meaning and worked to construct their bearers’ identities.
The late Byzantine and early medieval rings featured in the exhibit afforded Miller the opportunity to explore how anthropological studies throw light on the work of art history. Historians have searched for explanations, for example, for the transition from the smoothness and relative simplicity that characterized antique rings to the almost “neurotic” quality produced by the geometric and architectural designs from late antiquity. Miller described how British anthropologist Alfred Gell’s ideas concerning magic as a “technology of enchantment” have helped historians to theorize what factors might have been at work in this particular shift. Miller placed the collection’s elaborate late antique rings in the context of the Byzantine court of the tenth century as described by Liutprand of Cremona, who, during his audience with the emperor, observed mechanical singing birds, stomping lions, and levitating thrones. The highly wrought rings of late antique nobles may have been worn with the intent to dazzle and bewilder delegates like Liutprand.
Another group of rings, the diamond giardinetti, demonstrate the importance of provenance in understanding the social roles that rings played. Miller noted that without knowledge of the rings’ background and only their design and materials, a historian would likely judge these fashionable rings to have belonged to courtiers or aristocrats. But the rings’ provenance identifies them as having been donated to a Spanish convent as “dowries” by novices’ families at the time of their entry into the convent. Historians, suggests Miller, have to be wary of ascribing social significance to an artifact based on its design alone. New practices and individual innovations can twist existing conventions to bestow meaning in new and unexpected ways.
To further illustrate his point, Miller turned to Fordham’s own Nina Rowe to ask about her wedding band. While the ring had been invested with great meaning by its bearer, Professor Rowe showed visitors that the band was in fact an inexpensive mood ring, one which had to be replaced so often that she orders them in bulk. “There’s a place in Alaska that sells them for cheap,” she said.