CU/AH 331 - Imagining Medieval Culture: The Communicative Power of Medieval Images

Medieval men and women were captivated and amazed by images. This is because images have the potential of generating psychological, cognitive, and emotional responses while communicating social and cultural ideas and concerns. In recent years medieval images have generated excitement among modern art and cultural scholars who recognize their potential as “wordless” records of culture and windows into different medieval mentalities. By studying medieval images, in some cases as if they were modern ones, scholars attempt to understand medieval everyday life experiences, material culture, creation of identities, intellectual development, and even attitudes about the body and sexuality.

The purpose of this class is to explore medieval images within their cultural context in an attempt to:

  1. Understand how they were conceived and used to communicate the ideas and concerns of the period;
  2. Assess how they can be useful in reconstructing medieval experiences and perspectives;
  3. Recognize the difficulties of approaching images from other eras without the appropriate context and methodology;
  4. Gain a proper understanding of medieval history, art, and thought; and
  5. Question how medieval images continue to convey messages and construct identities even in our own lives.

To this end, we will place the images in their cultural and historical framework with the help of modern studies. For example, Jews, Muslims, and heretics were usually portrayed in medieval art in the Christian world as “monstrous figures.” To understand the construction of such imagery, the class will have to consider the role of the creators of such images, their audiences, their media, the current ideology, symbolic meaning, and the political, sacred, and secular context of the representations. The analysis of modern scholars and the discussions in class will help in putting all these concepts into play allowing us to view the images as windows into the medieval conception of the “Other.” Fortunately, the class will have the great opportunity to experience medieval images “first-hand” by visiting in Barcelona the world’s renown Romanesque and Gothic art collections of the MNAC (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya), the Gothic Choirs from the Cathedral of Barcelona and the church of Santa Maria del Mar, the medieval sculpture collection of the Frederic Marès Museum, and the Cloister of the Monastery of Sant Pau del Camp.

Course Information


Art History
Cultural Studies

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