Index of Medieval Art

Access to the Index of Medieval Art Database Will Become Free on July 1, 2023

Jongleurs from the Silos Beatus, 1091–1109 (London, British Library, MS Add. 11695), fol. 86r

We are very pleased to announce that as of July 1, 2023, a paid subscription will no longer be required for access to the Index of Medieval Art database. This transition was made possible by a generous grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the support of the Index’s parent department of Art & Archaeology at Princeton University.

When an online database of Index records was first launched in the 1990s, it was as a subscription service; only those affiliated with a subscribing institution or willing to pay for a subscription of their own could access the full online records. An opportunity to rethink this model arose in 2017, when our shift to a new, non-commercial database platform lowered costs enough that, with careful budget management, the subscription fees could be progressively reduced. In 2023, bridge funding from the Kress Foundation will allow us to eliminate fees entirely, giving researchers at all levels full access to the Index database at no cost, and ensuing support from the Department of Art & Archaeology will allow us to make this transition permanent. We express our deepest thanks to both the Kress Foundation and our department for their support of this initiative.

We look forward to working with the wide range of new researchers who will gain access to our resources, and in the coming months we will offer several online training sessions to introduce the database to those who may be unfamiliar with it. The schedule and signups for these will be publicized on this blog and through the Index social media accounts. Index staff also remain available at all times for researcher questions via our online form at https://ima.princeton.edu/research-inquiries/.

We hope that this good new brightens your New Year as much as it does ours, and we look forward eagerly to sharing our resources with students and scholars from high school to retirement, as well as with public learners seeking the reliable information about medieval art and culture that has always been the goal of the Index of Medieval Art.

Light in Winter

A detail of a manuscript page depicting the sun with a human face and wavy rays beside a goat on a golden arc, all against a blue ground
Sun and and Zodiac sign of Capricorn, Book of Hours, ca. 1500 (New York, Morgan Library M. 14, fol. 17v).

The Index of Medieval Art will close at noon this Friday, Dec. 23. The reading room will open to visitors on Dec. 28 and 28 and then resume its normal weekly schedule (9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday) beginning Jan. 3, 2023. As the days grow longer and winter begins, we share our best wishes for a warm, bright holiday season and promising New Year.

“Looking at Language”: A Graduate Student Visitor’s Perspective

A vew of a conference room with two screens and a speaker at a podium addressing listeners standing or seated at desks.
“Looking at Language” conference room and speakers gathered at Princeton University on November 12, 2022.

In November 2022 the Index of Medieval Art was pleased to award a Graduate Student Travel Grant to Johann Spillner, a doctoral candidate at the University of London to attend the Index Conference “Looking at Language.” He sends this reflection on his experience:

“It is the sign of a great conference when every paper, no matter how remote to one’s own field of interest, holds your attention. “Looking at Language,” held by the Index at Princeton this November, was certainly a great conference and I count myself lucky to have been able to attend in person due to the generous support of a travel grant from the Index. The papers which addressed, among other things, updates of language in manuscripts (Benjamin C. Tilghman); misspellings in mosaics (Warren T. Woodfin and Ludovico V. Geymonat); or fictional objects in vernacular narratives (Kathryn Starkey) were thought-provoking throughout. The presentation that has stuck with me the most is the one by Prof. Margaret S. Graves on “The Limits of Language,” in which she discussed the art historical bias towards the “talkative” artifact and served as a poignant finale to all the previous papers. Among the things that are still only possible when attending in person (apart from ingesting the excellent food provided by the Index) were the conversations during and after coffee breaks and at luncheon—here, I have to especially thank Prof. Ruba Kana’an for some enlightening and thought-provoking chats.

“While the conference alone was well worth my eight-hour transatlantic flight, the second highlight of my trip was certainly visiting the Index itself. Having only seen the online portal of the Index, the actual library and card indices have left a deep impression on me. My own research tries to address the formative power of art historical categorization and language, and standing in the Index itself, I could not help but feel that the Index, through countless years of sweat and, I imagine, a lot of tears, was the physical manifestation of that trajectory. There is something to be said for getting lost in the Index’s system and diving into the countless rabbit holes that the card index offers. While I started by looking at images of Stylites—Christian ascetics who lived out their lives atop of columns and pillars—my interest was caught by a different category of persons positioned next to various building parts: the unnamed nineteenth- and twentieth-century “staffage figures” who give a sense of scale or local color to the photographs of in-situ monuments. These do not represent a category of their own in the Index, but one can imagine the countless stories encapsulated in these photographs.

A file card with typed catalog information and a photograph of an architectural element on which a man in a fez is seated.
One of Spillner’s discoveries: An Index photograph card depicting the discovery of the portal on Tower B in Qasr al-Mukharram, entered into the subject file in 1949 with the iconographic heading “Cross.”

“All this is to say that my research at the Index was a joyful and stimulating journey. At this point, I would like to thank the Index of Medieval Art, and especially Pamela Patton, Fiona Barrett, and Jessica Savage for the support and their kindness that enabled me to come to Princeton. Special thanks to Jessica Savage for not only sacrificing her time and patience to teach me the ins and outs of the Index system but also accompanying me on my aberrations during my stay.”

And the Index thanks YOU, Johann, for traveling to join us and for sharing your experience with our readers. We hope to see you again soon.

Johann Spillner is a PhD candidate at the University of London, Birkbeck College in the Department of History of Art. His research focuses on Islamic architectural objects in Western museums, more specifically, what their removal, display and representation mean for the subsequent reading of these objects.

Fall 2022 Conference Travel Grant and Taxonomy Workshop

Detail of illuminated manuscript depicting rectangular painted frame of green meander pattern enclosing angel, wearing halo, with red outspread wings and raising trumpet to lips with left hand. Background painted in alternating red, violet, and red vertical lines and partial manuscript text in Latin visible at top and bottom of image.
Nimbed angel of the Apocalypse illustrating the Seventh Trumpet “Adoration in Heaven,”
Las Huelgas Beatus, New York, Morgan Library & Museum, MS. M.429, fol. 100r.

Registration for the November conference Looking at Language, taking place Saturday, 12 November 2022 is now live! The Index has two exciting announcements in connection to the conference:

For the first year, the Index will offer one graduate student travel grant for a non-Princeton student who wishes to attend the conferences but lacks the financial resources to do so. The grantee will be invited to participate in all aspects of the conference, including the speaker lunch, and to pursue research at the Index if their visit schedule permits. Review the eligibility requirements and the application process here.

On Tuesday, 8 November 2022, 12:00 – 1:00pm EDT, the Index will be holding a workshop on Zoom titled Looking at (Index) Language: A Dive into Taxonomy at the Index of Medieval Art. This workshop is open to anyone interested in learning about Index language standardization practices and preferred terms in Index cataloging. Find out more about the workshop and how to register here.

Index Open House 2022

The Index of Medieval Art will welcome Princeton University and area researchers to its annual Open House on September 15 from 4:30-6:00 pm. For those farther away: we look forward to hearing about how we can help with your research this year! Please visit our Research Inquiries link with your questions.

Wishing everyone the best for the new academic year!

Index Spotlight Series: Pamela Patton

This blog post is the fifth in a series focusing on members of the Index staff. Today we will be introducing Pamela Patton.

What is your background and specialization?

I’m a medievalist who studies the visual culture of the Iberian Peninsula, a focus that began at Tufts University when my advisor Madeline Caviness pointed me toward the Pamplona Bibles as a research topic. I was fascinated, and still am, by the complexity of medieval Iberian culture and its historiography—the questions are constantly evolving. The decision served me well: after doing grad degrees at Williams College and Boston University, I was offered a fellowship at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, which then evolved into a split curatorial and faculty position in “Spanish Art.” Although I shifted out of curatorial work after tenure, as a professor at SMU I was able to develop several courses on medieval Iberia as well as other aspects of the Middle Ages. Since coming to the Index in 2015, I’ve continued to research and occasionally teach medieval Iberian things, and I’m always happy to pitch in on cataloging works of art from Spain for the database. After 30+ years in the field, I do occasionally wonder if I should wander into some other part of the world, but then some great new Iberian question turns up, and back I go.

In the foreground, a woman in a red scarf on a balcony; behind her is a wide view of a city with mountains in the background
Pamela Patton on a balcony overlooking Granada.

What research projects are you working on currently?

I’ve just wrapped up a project on how skin color and stereotype were used in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Iberia to signal racial, social, and cultural difference, and that’s inspired me to think further about the role of improvisation generally in Gothic manuscript illumination, specifically in the illustrated manuscripts of the Cantigas de Santa María, which were made for Alfonso X of Castile in the late thirteenth century. Illustrating the four hundred songs that were to be included in those two manuscripts must have been a massive task, and the artists met the challenge with some highly inventive iconography—giant silkworms, flying chairs, dancing pork chops, and the like. They must have had considerable latitude, in addition to a wonderful imagination!

A manuscript illumination depicting a woman seated in a chair, flying over a landscape filled with trees, birds, and rabbits. The scene is framed by a floral border with heraldic castles and lions.
Detail of the reluctant pilgrim from Cantiga 153, Cantigas de Santa María (RBME MS T-I-1), fol. 208r.

What do you like best about working at Princeton?

Princeton does things for real. Very few universities so effectively hold teaching and research at their core, not to mention committing the resources that help them happen. As Index director, I especially appreciate the openness to new ideas, the support for scholarly initiatives, and the extraordinary research resources. These things don’t happen by themselves; they take investment at the highest level. On a more personal note, I’m grateful every day that when I go to work I have the opportunity to hear and share ideas with so many bright, thoughtful people, both in the Index and throughout campus, and in such a beautiful place. It’s a fine reason to get up in the morning.

What travel experience played a role in your becoming an art historian?

My mother had always wanted to travel, and when I was a child she and my father twice managed to put aside enough money to take the whole family to Europe. Remember Arthur Frommer’s Europe on $10 a Day? My mother really did that. I loved visiting all the art museums and historic sites, but I think reading The Hobbit on the train between cathedral towns in England was probably what made me a medievalist. The line between history and fantasy obviously was very blurry for me then, but somehow I became absolutely certain I wanted to learn more about this stuff. Corny, okay, but give me a break—I was eleven.

A white book with the words “Europe on $10 a Day by Arther Frommer” on the cover, shown against a plain background.
Arthur Frommer’s Europe on $10 a Day.

What do you like best about being back on campus in person?

People and books. I really missed the easy discourse that comes with sharing a coffee, talking over a research question, or listening to Q&A after a lecture. Ideas flow so much more freely when you’re in person and the moment has your full, active attention. And there is nothing more inspiring than walking into the library stacks to find the physical book you need: the excitement of spotting and opening it; the anticipation of what you’ll find in its pages; the serendipity of seeing what else is on that shelf. And the lights! I really like how the lights in Firestone brighten gradually when you walk into an individual aisle. It’s as if the light bulb that’s about to go off in your head is already going off all around you.

Coffee or tea?

Yes, please, all of it. I would drink coffee all day if I could, especially if it’s the cortados that I got hooked on during dissertation research in Spain. But to spare my co-workers a jittery colleague, in the afternoon I usually segue into tea, ideally a nice green jasmine.

Prof. Julia Matveyeva to Work with the Index on Ukrainian Cultural Heritage

A woman with her hair pulled back, wearing glasses and a purple scarf
Prof. Julia Matveyeva, Beketov National University of Urban Economy, Kharkiv

We are very pleased to announce that Prof. Julia Matveyeva will be joining the Index remotely in August to work on adding iconography from Ukraine’s medieval cultural heritage in the online database. Matveyeva will begin with St. Sophia in Kyiv, a UNESCO world heritage site and central medieval monument in the history of art. Legacy records of the mosaics of St. Sophia in Kyiv already exist in the print collection of the Index, as do those from Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral and almost two dozen records of icons and other objects in Kyiv museums. However, scholars who are not able to travel to use the print Index on the Princeton campus have had no access to these images or their metadata, which moreover are in need of updating. By the end of the project in December, these works of art will be updated and incorporated into the online database, making them available for study by an international community of scholars, students, and lay learners.

A large typed card with a photostatic image of a building interior, and a stack of typed index cards
A photo card (dated 1942) and index cards (last updated 1967) in the Index of Medieval Art print files. Photo: John Blazejewski.

Matveyeva is an Associate Professor at the department of Fine Arts and Design of the O. M. Beketov National University of Urban Economy in Kharkiv. Her research has been primarily focused on Byzantine iconography, especially textiles and embroidery, within the Empire and in the neighboring territories, including Kievan Rus’, Romania, Bulgaria, and Italy. Her book Decorative Fabrics in the Mosaics of Ravenna: Semantics and Cultural Context was published in 2020 and she is now working on a new project titled The Evolution of the image of the altar space: from liturgical fabrics to iconostasis in the 4th- 15th centuries. Subjects, semantics, iconography.This project was made possible by a Flash Grant from the Princeton University Humanities Council.

The interior of a domed church with paintings and mosaics on its walls
Interior, St. Sophia, Kyiv (Photo: Rasal Hague CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=109689396)

Fall 2022 Conference at the Index of Medieval Art: “Looking at Language”

A gold pendant inscribed with a cross on steps and Greek lettering.
Gold reliquary pendant/medical amulet (?), 10th–11th c, reverse.
British Museum, London, inv. no. AF.354. © Trustees of the British Museum

Please save the date for the next Index of Medieval Art conference, “Looking at Language,” on November 12, 2022. Assuming no major changes in university or government pandemic protocols, the conference will be hosted in person as well as live-streamed. It will feature eight medievalist scholars, in a wide range of specializations, who will address the many relationships between language and works of art, including the literal use and/or representation of language in creating a work; the linguistic traditions that surrounded its creation and reception, and the language now used to analyze and understand it. Speakers will include:

Ludovico Geymonat, Louisiana State University
Margaret Graves, Indiana University
Ruba Kana’an, University of Toronto
Sean Leatherbury, University College, Dublin
Sarit Shalev-Eyni , Hebrew University
Kathryn Starkey, Stanford University
Ben Tilghman, Washington College
Warren Woodfin, Queens College CUNY

The conference schedule, location details, and live stream registration link will be posted in September.

Index Spotlight Series: Catherine Fernandez

This blog post is the fourth in a series focusing on members of the Index staff. Today we will be introducing Catherine Fernandez.

What is your background and specialization?

As a medieval art historian, I owe so much of my intellectual formation to the universities where I earned my degrees. Can I use this space to give a shout-out to all the medievalists—both past and present—at Florida State University and Emory University? My academic journey, so to speak, began at FSU with two BAs, one in English Literature and one in Art History. I earned my PhD in Art History at Emory and then headed up the east coast to join the Index research staff immediately after graduation. My current research interests center on medieval treasuries and French Romanesque art, but I am happy to get my thousand-year medieval “fix” through various Index projects. Based on cataloguing or classroom instruction needs, I might be simultaneously working on an Ottonian manuscript, a late-antique sarcophagus, or Gothic archivolts; it’s an embarrassment of riches.

Large black and white stone divided into two levels, the upper level containing ten white carved human figures, the lower level containing ten white carved human figures.
The Gemma Augustea, one of the many treasury objects originally at Saint-Sernin in Toulouse. ca. 9–14 CE. 230 x 190cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Photo: Carole Raddato CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons).

What research projects are you working on currently?

At the Index, I happily embrace a wide range of topics, but I am particularly thrilled to have worked with our IT guru Jon Niola in the development of a field within individual records that “maps” iconographic programs within medieval buildings and other structures. By highlighting the placement of in-situ works of art, the “Location in Structure” field can only amplify our understanding of medieval iconography’s spatial dimension. With regard to my own research, I am currently working on my book project, entitled Charlemagne’s Pectoral: The Presence of Carolingian Memory at Saint-Sernin of Toulouse. This monograph seeks to reintegrate a group of extraordinary treasury objects associated with the emperor Charlemagne within the liturgical space of the famous Romanesque shrine.   

What do you like best about working at Princeton?

It remains an absolute pleasure to work with so many wonderful medievalists—both members of the local community and visiting scholars—and participate in the “Life of the Mind” on campus.

Masked female figure seated at desk and reading book.
Catherine Fernandez consulting a manuscript in the salle de lecture du département des Manuscrits at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, July 2021.

What travel experience played a role in your becoming an art historian?

I consider myself fortunate to have had an upbringing that included extensive global travel. Over the course of my childhood, my family visited countless monuments, museums, galleries, and archaeological sites around the world, and any number of these places could have infected me with the “art history bug.” But humor me, if you will, when I give credit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and E.L. Konigsburg’s novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I mean, what art historian hasn’t fantasized about hiding out at the Met like the novel’s two child protagonists?

Female figure on street in front of Gothic church.
Catherine in front of the Cathedral of Clermont-Ferrand, November 2021.

What do you like best about being back on campus in person?

Close access to actual libraries and actual human beings, as I am rather fond of both.

Coffee or Tea?

Red Bull. Blueberry flavored. What? Was I supposed to wax poetic about some kind of refined oolong?

Part-time Research Opportunity (Medieval Ukraine) at the Index of Medieval Art

The interior of a domed church, its walls decorated with mosaics and paintings.
Interior, St. Sophia, Kyiv (Photo: Rasal Hague CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=109689396)

The Index of Medieval Art invites applications for a four-month, remote, part-time research position to assist in incorporating key mosaics and paintings of medieval Kyiv into the Index database. This position is made possible by a 2022 Flash Grant from the Princeton University Humanities Council and consists of a $5,000 honorarium to be directed to the scholar.

The successful applicant should have relevant training in art history, preferably with a medievalist background, and should hold a doctorate or have completed all but the dissertation. Applicants may be of any nationality, but preference will be given to a scholar whose work has been disrupted by the crisis in Ukraine. A reading knowledge of Russian and Ukrainian is preferable.

The work position will require roughly two days a week of remote work over a four-month period, beginning in summer of 2022. The successful applicant will work with the Index research staff to catalogue Ukrainian monuments, beginning with the cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv. They will be trained in Index norms in cataloging the monumental structure, describing the iconography of its paintings and mosaics, transcribing inscriptions, and adding bibliographic citations, Index subjects, and other metadata. Staff guidance and scans of the relevant print material will be provided. The timeline for this work is somewhat flexible but must be completed by the end of the funded period, December 31, 2022.

To apply, please send a CV and letter of interest to marossi@princeton.edu and ppatton@princeton.edu by June 1, 2022 ​