Dept of History of Art | News | The Murray Seminar on Medieval and Renaissance Art - Autumn 2017
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The Murray Seminar on Medieval and Renaissance Art - Autumn 2017

The Department of History of Art at Birkbeck presents a series of seminars on medieval and renaissance art, supported by the Bequest established in memory of Professor Peter Murray, the Department’s founder.

These advanced research seminars are open to all, and attract interested members of the public, staff and students from other London colleges and beyond.  They are an opportunity to hear and contribute to cutting-edge research, often at the very early stages of work in progress.

All this term’s seminars take place in the History of Art Department at Birkbeck (43, Gordon Sq., London WC1H 0PD) in Room 114 (The Keynes Library) at 5pm.  Talks finish by 5.50pm (allowing those with other commitments to leave) and are then followed by discussion and refreshments.  This term’s seminars are:

18 October: Kim Woods, Speaking Sculptures

Many statues and works of sculpture made in the late Gothic and Renaissance period are represented with mouth open, as if caught in a mid-utterance. These ‘speaking sculptures’ have received remarkably little comment from art historians. What are these speaking statues meant to be saying? And what, as viewers, are we meant to ‘hear’ and respond? The aim of this paper is to begin to unravel this illusion of speech and the agency it implies.

It may be tempting to dismiss the phenomenon of the ‘speaking sculpture’ as just another virtuoso feature that enhanced the illusion of life and, with it, the persuasive character of a late Gothic art or Renaissance work of art. The big difference is that the illusion of speech creates a different level of engagement and interaction with the viewer: faced with such an image we not only look but ‘strain to hear’. Does this suggest a sort of animation that demands a living presence response? Or does the illusion of speech enhance the potential surrogacy of the statue, ‘enacting’ the hopes of the viewer? Or could it be that a speaking statue is actually ‘saying’ something quite specific that the viewer in some sense might have ‘heard’ as part of their viewing experience. If so, how do we recover the ‘period ear’ to listen in? These are some of the questions that will be addressed.

13 November: Zoe Opacic, From Sacroscape to Cityscape: Images of Central European Towns in Late Medieval Sources

More information to follow

6 December:  Cecily Hennessy, Mary Magdalene in Byzantium

While Mary Magdalene’s relics were housed from about 900 in a most splendid church built by Leo VI in Constantinople, she is often thought to be an insignificant saint in the east, although several indications suggest a more complex situation. This paper examines the Early Christian and Byzantine imagery of Mary, explores some eastern texts that contributed to forming her identity and endeavours to understand why the two traditions, east and west, are so distinct.

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