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The Murray Seminar on Medieval and Renaissance Art - Spring 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.

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.  We hope to see you there.

  • 18th January 2017: Zsofia Buda, 'The Lady with the book and the closed curtain: iconographical peculiarities in a 15th-century Jewish service book for Passover’
    The Ashkenazi Rylands Haggadah (Manchester, JRL, MS. Rylands Hebrew 7) is a Jewish service book used during Seder Eve, the eve of Passover. It was produced in Southern Germany, perhaps in the area of Ulm, around 1430. A good number of illustrated Haggadah manuscripts have survived from medieval Europe, mostly from fourteenth-century Spain and fifteenth-century Germany. Several of the miniatures in the Ashkenazi Rylands Haggadah show peculiar iconographical features which do not fit into the evolving Haggadah-illustration tradition.  Zsofia Buda discusses three of these unusual images: a lady holding a book at the Seder table (fol. 5r) illustrating the beginning of the main part of the text, ‘Ha lakhma anya’ (‘The bread of poverty’); a young figure holding a curtain at ‘Ma Nishtanah’ (‘In what way is this night different?’) (fol. 5v); and another composition with a curious motif of a curtain accompanying a quotation from Ezekiel, “I made you grow like a plant of the field,” (fol. 14r). She analyses these images by placing them into the wider context of contemporary visual culture and pointing out certain surprising similarities to Christian iconography.
  • 22th February 2017: Laura Jacobus, '"Mea culpa?" Penitence, Enrico Scrovegni and me' 
    The Arena Chapel in Padua was until very recently thought to be commissioned as an act of restitution for usury, and its frescoes by Giotto as an expression of penitence on the part of the patron Enrico Scrovegni.  That view has been challenged by Laura Jacobus and others.  But two of her recent discoveries have the potential to reinforce the established view and undermine her own.  What happens when a researcher uncovers an inconvenient truth, and what is to be done?
  • 15th March 2017: Péter Bokody, ‘The Politicization of Rape: Giotto’s Allegory of Injustice in Padua’
    Wartime sexual violence, notwithstanding its scale and ubiquity, resisted scholarly conceptualization until recently. The recent academic awareness of the phenomenon is the result of the critical focus on sexual violence in feminist discourse initiated by Susan Brownmiller in her ground-breaking study, Against Our Will (1975). Following Brownmiller’s work, the question of medieval and early modern rape imagery in Western art has been thoroughly examined by Diane Wolfthal in her pioneering book Images of Rape (1999). The allegory of Injustice in the Arena Chapel (Padua) by Giotto di Bondone (1303-1305) and the allegory of War in the Palazzo Pubblico (Siena) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1338-39) are key allegorical images of rape, since they can offer critical and politicized representations of sexual violence without sanitizing or eroticizing the act. Although these two monuments are well-known to scholars, the unparalleled representations of sexual violence received so far only scant attention. The paper explores the implications of these monuments for a general history of rape and the visual culture of late-medieval Italy.

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