7th Forum Medieval Art

Conference Date: Sep 25, 2024–Sep 28, 2024 Location: Jena Germany

Call for Sessions closed.

How to Propose a Session

The Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture seeks proposals for a Mary Jaharis Center sponsored session at the 7th Forum Medieval Art/Forum Kunst des Mittelalters, Jena, September 25–28, 2024. The biannual colloquium is organized by the Deutsche Verein für Kunstwissenschaft e.V.

The theme for the 7th Forum Medieval Art is Light: Art, Metaphysics and Science in the Middle Ages. In numerous creation myths, light stands at the beginning of the cosmos. Light, beauty and the good belonged inseparably together in the Middle Ages. Darkness, ugliness and evil formed the opposite pole. The degree of perfection of nature, people and things could be measured by their beauty, which was essentially determined by brightness, brilliance and luminosity. This concept applied to Byzantium as well as to the Christian West, Judaism and Islam. In the Middle Ages, the way this was experienced and communicated was a fundamental achievement not only of sacred art, but it also shaped secular and courtly culture. Under the theme of light, the 7th Forum Medieval Art is dedicated to the multifaceted connections between art, metaphysics, and natural science in the Middle Ages.

By bringing out the light-related qualities of materials—transparency and reflectivity—artists gave the work of art an aesthetic quality that pointed beyond the beautiful to the divine as the origin of all things. Questions about the relationship between luminous or light-reflecting material (gold, silver, gemstones, alabaster, bronze, ivory, silk) and functional design, as well as the connection between material, light and aura, were of cross-cultural and cross-genre significance in the Middle Ages. While objects made of rock crystal between East and West have recently been the focus of several exhibitions and scientific studies, glass as a translucent material par excellence also opens questions between the cultures, ranging from the significance of the material as a substitute for gemstones, to the range of all materials used in the Middle Ages as a substitute for precious stones, to the range of allegorical interpretations, to its function in making the sacred visible.

In architecture, the theme of artistic use of light can be explored by looking at cathedrals, castles, and palaces, as well as mosques, madrasas, and synagogues. Among other things, the relationship between light and built space, the role of light in the design of facades, wall openings, and windows, or the function of dark, windowless spaces in the staging of the sacred can be examined.

Hardly examined so far are light-giving objects such as candles, candlesticks and lamps of any kind, which served to mark meaningful places or to stage prominent persons and ritual actions. Questions about illumination and light arrangements at masses, coronations, or funerals as well as about lights in motion, for example, at processions and festive processions, could contribute to a more precise understanding of the performative potential of light in the Middle Ages.

In encyclopedias, diagrams, and calendars, Western art of the Middle Ages dealt with the connection between light, cosmos, and man in a variety of ways. From the 13th century onward, the rational investigation of light and optical knowledge imported from the Arab world increasingly shaped medieval art, and deepened knowledge of human vision influenced perspective and the representation of light in the art of the late Middle Ages.

Painters and sculptors now devoted themselves to the exploration and representation of light phenomena. It is fascinating to investigate how painting and sculpture react in a changed way to the light conditions at their place of installation, how the theological and the aesthetic expressiveness of gold ground or gilding are combined, and how the pictorial representation of light oscillates between a metaphor of God and a profane surface gloss.

Finally, the theme of light and natural science also builds a bridge to the radiation-based, technological investigation methods of the present day, such as X-ray fluoroscopy, UV or infrared reflectography, which make the process of the creation of a work of art visible.

Further and different cross border questions on light are of course welcome. 

The Mary Jaharis Center invites session proposals that fit within the Light theme and are relevant to Byzantine studies. Additional information about the Forum Medieval Art is available here.

Session proposals must be submitted through the Mary Jaharis Center website. The deadline for submission is May 29, 2023. Proposals should include:

  • Title
  • Session abstract (350 words)
  • Proposed list of session participants (presenters and session chair)
  • CV

Applicants will be contacted by June 5, 2023, regarding the status of their proposal. The organizer of the selected session is responsible for submitting the session proposal to the Forum by June 15, 2023.

The session organizer may act as the presider or present a paper.

If the proposed session is approved, the Mary Jaharis Center will reimburse a maximum of 4 session participants (presenters and session chair) up to $500 maximum for participants traveling from locations in Germany, up to $800 maximum for participants traveling from the EU, and up to $1400 maximum for participants traveling from outside Europe. Funding is through reimbursement only; advance funding cannot be provided. Eligible expenses include conference registration, transportation, and food and lodging. Receipts are required for reimbursement. The Mary Jaharis Center regrets that it cannot reimburse participants who have last-minute cancellations and are unable to attend the conference.

Please contact Brandie Ratliff, Director, Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture with any questions.