This past 11 April, the Center for Medieval Studies hosted its annual “Compatible Careers” event. Each year, the Center asks alumni to share their experiences of finding jobs after their graduations that go beyond the traditional academic/tenure-tracked path. The perennial question for graduate students nearing their graduations is: “what next?” To study what you love is a joy, but the fact of the matter is that, eventually, one needs to realize what one wants to do for a living. This question haunts many a student at night, especially those who would elect a non-academic path. The purpose of this annual workshop is to show students that taking alternate paths is not only possible, but it may even result in finding a better fit for them. This year’s speakers represent a wide array of careers that show promise and reward the creative medievalist willing to look beyond the usual choices presented to them. [Read on for more about the 2017 Compatible Careers Workshop] Continue reading
Our coverage of the 37th Annual Conference continues! Read on for more. Continue reading
This past 25 March, the Center held its 37th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies. This year’s conference, “The Generative Power of Tradition: A Celebration of Traditio, 75 Years,” explored both the power of tradition in producing new ideas and movements and the role and history of Traditio in the humanities.
This year’s conference was divided into two panel sessions and two roundtables, with Father Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J., beginning the conference with a brief history of Traditio’s origin, its current role in facilitating discourse in numerous disciplines in the humanities, and its future under both Fordham and Cambridge University Press. [Read on for our full coverage of the 37th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies] Continue reading
This past 5th of November, Dr. Hafner brought both her Manuscript Culture class and a collection of brave volunteers to Pergamena, one of the few tanneries left in the United States and one of the precious fewer tanneries in the world that also produces parchment. Officially listed as Richard E. Meyer and Sons, its current name derives from the Latin term for Pergamum, which first produced parchment in large quantities for writing purposes after Alexandria imposed a ban on papyrus exports to the city in response to Pergamum’s own attempt to build a great library to rival Alexandria’s. Down an unassuming rural road in Montgomery leading out into the woods, a van filled with semi-comatose students and faculty who knew exactly what was in store for them pulled up to a gray barn. When the van emptied and all had disembarked, the large front door of the barn opened. The crowd of eager and nervous medievalists approached, caught their first whiff of the scent of dead and dissolving flesh through the cool morning air, and came to understand exactly what the next seven hours entailed. Some practically ran into the barn, ready to see what Jesse Meyer, the owner, had in store for them. Some entered hesitantly, not sure how long it may take for them to acclimatize to this very new and different environment, or, perhaps, not sure if they wanted to acclimatize to it. Still others entered with grim determination, accepting the onslaught on their noses as the price they would have to pay to see just how the parchment we look at and read from actually was made, driven by the need for enlightenment. Dr. Hafner, who has been to Pergamena on multiple occasions and who brought another Fordham group there just last April, looked amused at the reactions of her students.
Once inside the barn, covered with cobwebs that looked as if they had been established there since the tannery’s opening in 1865, the crowd gathered around Jesse Meyer, who delivered an introduction to not only how Pergamena itself was established, but also why they do what they do and to what end. While leather production makes up a good deal of their income, Meyer related that parchment production also retains its demand. Book conservators look to Pergamena for parchment produced in an archival-friendly and historically accurate way, while artists who like to work with parchment also come to Meyer for their own materials. It is toward this latter end that Meyer himself got into parchment production. Before the tannery was made into what we know of as Pergamena, Meyer, a sculptor by training and nature, saw hides and parchment as great materials to work with as mediums for three-dimensional art as they can be shaped in practically any way one wants, as long as the hides are prepared properly.
Adding parchment to the products already produced by the family workshop, Meyer learned of the medievalist academic community and their desire to learn all they can of parchment production and how the physicality of the book impacted readers’ understanding of its contents. Meyer reached out to them, being one of the few in America who could give them exactly what they were looking for. Seeking to come closer to the medieval process, Meyer attempted to learn as much as he could from medieval handbooks on parchment production, but ran into the issue of descriptions of the process being less than clear. In a business such as tanning or parchment making, one is only as valuable as one’s process is secret, thus written details are few and far between, either in medieval sources or modern. Trial and error were Meyer’s tutors, and he’s learned well. Meyer, now actively engaged with medievalists across the country and attending the odd conference, often takes his show on the road, showing students and professors alike the rare sight of parchment actually being made.
Beginning his description of the process with a note of warning that parchment making and tanning can be bad for the skin, hair, nails, and relationships, Meyer presented the students first with a vat in which hides are left to sit in a lime solution, the acidity of which must be constant and monitored. Meant to dissolve remaining fat, flesh, and loosen hair or fur, these vats of lime are generally referred to as “pits” for the fact that they used to be always kept in pits in the ground. In some places in the world, such a Morocco, this is still done in such pits, with the oldest operating pit tannery in the world in Marrakesh. In upstate New York, barrels serve to contain the mixture of lime and liquefying beast.
Meyer brought the crowd deeper into the barn, cluttered with vats, soaking hides, and machinery spanning the last century. It was time for the hands-on portion of the presentation. Meyer reached deep into a nearby vat and drew from it a goat hide and flung it across a round beam, sending a stream of liquid flying across the room. In an admirable display of spontaneous coordination, the group of students parted instantly to avoid every airborne droplet. These skins were meant to be worn around an animal’s body, thus laying them flat in this untreated state would make them difficult to clean. Laying them across a beam gives some semblance of their natural shape. He demonstrated first how to scrape the hair off the skin. With a single movement, Meyer scrapped-off around one-third of the goat hair, showing just how effectively the lime solution works. Then, other students tried their hands at it, donning Meyer’s apron and gloves. Then, after the hair was removed, Meyer demonstrated how to remove the remaining flesh and fat from the underside of the skin. Brandishing now a crescent-shaped metal knife coloured by use and age to an appropriate hue of reddish-brown, Meyer showed how to remove the flesh without actually damaging the hide itself. The skins of deer, sheep, goats, and cows (the most common types he works with), while certainly durable, still can be damaged during this process, with cuts made by the scrapping knife an ever-present concern. For this portion a few volunteers went forth to try their hand at wielding this time-tested blade. With a mound of flesh steadily building up around the beam’s stand and the occasional, oddly satisfying, “plop” echoing through the workshop, Meyer related that it is at this point that one can really see the quality of the hide one is working with. The end product, be it either leather or parchment, is only as high a quality as the source material, and if the animal was butchered improperly or carelessly or killed in an inefficient or amateurish way, then it will result in an inferior hide, requiring that much more work to make serviceable.
From scraping and soaking, the crowd moved on to drying and stretching. After the skins were cleaned and soaked to remove the residual lime, they were air dried. Attached to frames with clasps holding the hide flat from every possible angle, the skin would dry under tension so as to prevent it from reverting to its natural shape. Parchment, as Meyer related and demonstrated, is flat because it is dried in such a tense position, thus, when it gets wet again, that tension is released, and it curls. Attached to these frames, the skin, once dry enough, needs to be shaved down to make the surface sooth enough to write on, but coarse enough to retain ink. Using another crescent-shaped scrapping knife, he showed how he would scrape strips of skin off the hide till it met the desired smoothness. Here, too, students tried their hands at the process, meeting varying levels of success, but everyone contributing a bit to the future usability of that skin for the preservation of a message, either in writing or as art.
By the end of the day, every student was fully engrossed in the details of watching an animal skin turn into a vehicle for the preservation and transmission of human knowledge and experience. Reservations had been replaced with genuine fascination and a newfound appreciation for what it took to produce the books of hours and bibles medievalists admire and, all too often, take for granted.
The Centre would like to thank Jesse Meyer for opening his shop up to us again on an early Saturday morning and giving us the chance to experience a part of human history that we have come all too close to losing.
Every year, students at Fordham University have the unique opportunity to walk the Camino de Santiago through the study abroad course Study Tour: Medieval Spain. This summer, graduate student Alexa Amore (MA Program, Medieval Studies) accompanied Professor David Myers, chaperones Alex Egler, Louisa Foroughi, and Rachel Podd, and a group of 24 undergraduate students (Fordham’s largest Camino group to date!) on the medieval pilgrimage route from León to Santiago de Compostela. The group was also thrilled to be joined in Spain by Katrine Funding Højgaard, a former visiting student from Denmark in Fordham’s graduate program in Medieval Studies.
As a medievalist with interests in pilgrimage studies and art history, Alexa was eager to follow the traditional pilgrimage route through Spain and to adopt the lifestyle of a pilgrim, or peregrina. She opted to travel as light as possible, leaving her laptop at home and bringing only a twelve pound backpack and camera with her for the entire trip. Alexa arrived in Spain several days before the official start of the study tour in order to spend some time in Barcelona and Madrid. Among the highlights from this part of her journey, she visited several famous Gaudí buildings including the Sagrada Familia as well as the National Art Museum of Catalonia, which houses one of the most important collections of romanesque frescoes in the world.
She also visited all three major museums in Madrid–the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen Bornemisza–and took a day trip to Toledo in order to see several former synagogues and mosques, including El Cristo de la Luz. “As an undergraduate I took a class on Spanish art that covered everything from visigothic churches to Picasso’s Guernica,” she explained “so I was so excited to see all of these works of art in person.”
When she arrived in León, Alexa started to feel nervous about the two weeks of hiking that lay ahead of her. “I didn’t do much training ahead of time because I was so busy during the semester… I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, but I was determined to walk the whole way on my own two feet!”
For Alexa, the best part of the pilgrimage was the journey itself. She especially enjoyed the tiny villages along the Camino “where there was absolutely nothing going on and it was just peaceful and life was incredibly simple for the people living there. It was so nice to arrive, take off my shoes, and just sit and look at the sky and the mountains, listen to the birds and watch the sun set. And after a really long day’s walk, you just feel like you earned every minute of that stillness.”
After the long-awaited arrival in Santiago de Compostela with the Fordham group, Alexa travelled south to spend a few days visiting Córdoba, Granada and Seville. 28 long days on the road later, she was happy to return to the United States. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that all along, I was actually on a pilgrimage to New York City,” she explained. “I really missed home, but I was so glad that I left it all behind in order to gain a fresh perspective on where I am in my life now and where I’m going in the future.”
For more on the Camino de Santiago, visit the Fordham peregrinos’ ongoing digital project, Mapping the Camino: The Student’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago, which Alexa founded along with Professor Myers and the Fordham peregrinos of 2016.
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.
By Michael Weldon
Dr. Nina Rowe, Chair of Fordham’s Department of Art History and Music, has been awarded year-long fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) for her new book project, The World in a Book: Weltchroniken and Society at the End of the Middle Ages. This project, analyzing 22 of the known 56 extant illuminated Weltchroniken, or world chronicles, dating from 1330-1430, seeks to study works typically produced for lower nobility and burghers. This genre of manuscript, with text written in verse in the Middle High German vernacular and richly adorned with extensive illumination cycles, presents events from biblical and ancient history as a seamless narrative. Following in a similar fashion as her previous work on the study of mass-produced ivories intended for a popular market (see below), illuminated Weltchroniken, while by no means indicative of the artistic tastes and sensibilities of the typically silent medieval illiterate majority, do shed light on the more common and wide-spread tastes and desires of the larger segments of the rising middle classes.
These manuscripts were composed of texts by multiple authors, the best-known of whom is Rudolf von Ems (ca. 1200-1254), but extensive pictoral cycles smooth over the pastiched quality of the text. The genre of Weltchroniken transcends changes in preferences of medium, being found on both parchment and, from 1390, more mass-marketable paper. An example of a paper Weltchronik held in the New York Public Library (Spencer MS 38) inspired Rowe to pursue this line of research. During the NYPL’s 2005 exhibition The Splendor of the Word, this piece came to Rowe’s attention. Captivated by the style of its illustrations, she had to postpone her study of this book and its genre until the completion of the project she was working on at the time. As explained by Rowe, being non-devotional in nature, Weltchroniken are examples that complicate the prevailing assumption that the pious works commissioned by the highest levels of secular and clerical society represent the majority of Germanic high and late medieval book production. Non-devotional genres are deserving of further, more in-depth study as well, and reveal more about medieval society than devotional works alone can provide. This point, understood amongst scholars of literature and history, is still fraught among art historical academic circles, where the dominant narrative is still driven, by and large, by Enlightenment principles of viewing the medieval era as a time in which piety and religiosity defined every aspect of life at every level of society.
This latest project, while a departure from the subject matter of her previous work on sculpture in monumental cathedral facades (see below), certainly does fit with Rowe’s prevailing interests in analyzing how the production, use, and presentation of art challenges our underlying assumptions about medieval social and interfaith dynamics. Neither Christianity nor its rivals and neighbors, at the organizational or devotional levels, were monumental constructs, unified by their opposition to one-another and unyielding or undifferentiated in their hierarchical structures. The farther one looks down the pyramid of medieval society, the more complex the image of that society becomes, and Weltchroniken provide the impetus to look at more than just the pyramid’s pinnacle.
“Pocket Crucifixions: Jesus, Jews and Ownership in Fourteenth-Century Ivories,” Studies in Iconography
32 (2011): 81-120
The Jew, the Cathedral, and the Medieval City: Synagoga and Ecclesia in the Thirteenth Century
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)
By Kevin Vogelaar
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.”
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 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.”
By Nicole Larosa
The Center for Medieval Studies welcomes Ron Herzman, our current medieval fellow in residence. Dr. Herzman, State University of New York Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at the College at Geneseo, studies the relationship between Dante and the visual culture of Italy. He has published widely on Dante and the Middle Ages, with a special interest in the connections between Dante and Francis of Assisi. Dr. Herzman has also taught at Georgetown University, St. John’s College in Santa Fe, and Attica Correctional Facility, and has directed eighteen seminars for high school teachers for the National Endowment for the Humanities in Italy and the United States. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from his alma mater, Manhattan College, and was the recipient of the first CARA Award for Excellence in Teaching Medieval Studies from the Medieval Academy of America. He is currently the Director of Dante Outreach and Education for the Dante Society of America.
Dr. Herzman delivered the final lecture of the Fall 2015 Lecture Series, “Dante and the Frescoes of the Sancta Sanctorum” on Tuesday, December 2.
In his engaging presentation, Dr. Herzman elucidated the connection between the visual program of the Sancta Sanctorum, a papal chapel in Rome, and the imagery used by Dante in his criticisms of Popes Nicholas III and Boniface VIII in Canto IXX of the Comedia. Dr. Herzman argues that the fresco cycle provided the material for Dante’s deconstruction of Pope Nicholas’ agenda in Canto IXX. The Sancta Sanctorum was decorated in the lavish style of royal chapels such as Louis IX’s Sainte-Chapelle, Justinian’s Hagia Sophia, and Charlemagne’s palace at Aachen, and was designed to publicly proclaim the legitimacy and holiness of the controversial Orsini Pope, Nicholas III, who was known for his excessive nepotism.
Dr. Herzman attracted a huge crowd that included many high school students and his own sophomore English teacher, Bill O’Malley, S.J., a longtime teacher at Fordham Prep. He even opened with a joke about simony that took the entire room by surprise, using this colorful moment to suggest the danger of the co-option of the spiritual by the material.
Dr. Herzman’s talent as a teacher shined through the combination of his commanding knowledge of Dante’s Italy and his acerbic wit. His lecture was a pleasure for all in attendance.
By Alexa Amore