5 conference

5th Annual Conference

Medieval Spectacle
Art and Performance in the Middle Ages

Studying medieval art from reproductions – two-dimensional representations projected onto a blank screen – has distorted our understanding of medieval spectacle, its spatial, immediate, and communicative qualities. Whether in mosaics, stones, murals, stained glass or other, multi-figured spectacles functioned as elaborate setting in which sacred history was dramatically enacted before the collective gaze. Civics courts were conducted with the Last Judgment as its background and surroundings; donors’ figures were concealed beyond curtains and dramatically revealed during intercessory prayers; ritual scenes blurred the boundaries between art and reality, past and immediate present; seeing and performing were the major mass communication media of the epoch. Such spectacles, to paraphrase the famous coinage of Giovanni Balbi, were meant to excite feelings of devotion, these being aroused more effectively by things seen than by things heard, and thus remain more active in our memory.

The rich theoretical framework that has opened up in the last decades – incorporating reception, narratology, theological argumentations for the use of images, ontology and epistemology of vision, functionalism, marginality, gender studies, anthropological, contextual and interdisciplinary approaches – has tended to fragmentize such spectacles. Being at the fall of what William J. Thomas Mitchell has defined as the “pictorial turn”, this conference seeks to reintegrate the fragmentized views of medieval art into a coherent whole – namely, the medieval spectacle: art, performance and movement. 

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