Workshop on art and practice in medieval Europe


The initial impetus for this workshop on the Indulgence came from three directions: from my own work on the financing of art and architecture for the friars – I was curious as to how to calculate the intended and actual value to a project of this cost-free method of raising money from the faithful; from a fascinating paper by Michael Bury at a conference in Edinburgh, discussing indulgences linked to the measure of the Virgin’s foot in early modern Europe; and from a passing conversation with Susie Nash about the significance of indulgences for her work on the genesis and use of the Well of Moses at Dijon. It was clear that our ideas and material differed in intriguing ways.

The workshop, held on 25-6 May 2007, was a small-scale, informal event with 25 invited participants, 13 of whom presented short papers, each of which was followed by lengthy and productive discussion. Taken together, contributions were rich with unexpected conjunctions between north and south; medieval and early modern; word and song; modest prints and grandiose sculptures; private piety and public display. In addition to Courtauld staff and students, participants came from the Universities of Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds, London (Birkbeck), Oxford, Reading, Yale and the Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence. Everyone left, I believe, with perceptions altered and preconceptions acknowledged. The Indulgence was revealed as a frequently overlooked issue in the study of art and architecture, and a number of promising new avenues for research were opened up. The friendly but intensive workshop format, with participants clustered round the Research Forum table, was particularly fruitful.

Professor Pat Rubin, as head of the Research Forum, offered enthusiastic support – both financial and logistical – and Douglas Brine, then the Research Forum Postdoctoral Fellow (whose own research includes indulgenced works in early-modern Flanders) was co-organiser of the event and supremo of the associated web pages. On these pages Doug (with the contributions of other workshop members, notably Robert Swanson) has gathered together bibliography, research questions, and the programme of the 2007 workshop presentations. These are now open for public access on the Research Forum section of The Courtauld website. We are currently considering our next event: proposals for presentations will be gratefully received at indulgence@courtauld.ac.uk.

Joanna Cannon
Reader in the History of Art