The indulgence has generally been used, by historians of art and architecture, as a tool or side-issue rather than as the focus of a substantial study.  Papal and Episcopal indulgences are often referred to in the art-historical literature either as a means of dating building projects, as an indication of papal support, or, particularly in the case of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century images, as a means of singling out special paintings, prints, sculptures, and metalwork, so as to consider issues of power and interaction with the beholder. Similarly, it seems that since the work of Nikolaus Paulus, Geschichte des Ablasses im Mittelalter vom Ursprunge bis zur Mitte des 14. Jahrhunderts, in 1922-23, specialists in ecclesiastical history and canon law have seldom shown focused interest in the topic. More recently, the conference publication “Misericorditer relaxamus”.  Le indulgenze fra teoria e prassi nel Duecento, ed. L. Pellegrini and R. Paciocco, Studi medievali e moderni, 3 (1999), has thrown valuable light on the early workings and mechanisms of the indulgence and its relation to the building history of the friars. The collection of essays Promissary Notes on the Treasury of Merits (2006), edited by Robert Swanson, promises to be an important addition to our understanding, as does Swanson’s forthcoming monograph on the indulgence in pre-Reformation England.  But much remains to be done, especially in relation to Art and Architecture. 

Workshop, 25-26 May 2007

The overall aim of Art, Architecture and the Indulgence is to draw together researchers from different areas of expertise in order to share information, clarify issues and advance the subject. The first stage of the project was a highly successful workshop event, hosted by the Courtauld Research Forum, which took place on 25-26 May 2007. It took the form of a series of 10- and 15-minute presentations each of which provided a specific case study, surveyed the state of the issue in a given field or explored more general questions and themes. Each presentation was followed by lively discussion. The next stage of the project – probably another event to take place in the summer of 2008 – is currently being formulated and further details will be posted here shortly.

The speakers at the workshop on 25-26 May 2007 were:

Bonnie Blackburn (Wolfson College, Oxford)
Douglas Brine (Courtauld Institute)
Michael Bury (Edinburgh University)
Donal Cooper (Warwick University)
Paul Crossley (Courtauld Institute)
Paul Davies (Reading University)
Flora Lewis (Independent scholar)
Robert Maniura (Birkbeck College)
Susie Nash (Courtauld Institute)
Gervase Rosser (St Catherine’s College, Oxford)
Robert Swanson (Birmingham University)
Gerhard Wolf (Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence)
Christopher Wood (Yale University)

The programme for the workshop of 25-26 May 2007 can be viewed here

E-mail discussion: building a bibliography and a list of questions and themes

We are also gathering material and building up a bibliography through e-mail contact.  We would be very grateful for any suggestions you are able to offer during the coming year, either for bibliography, topics, questions, case-studies, or potential participants. 

Suggestions can be e-mailed, as they occur to you, to