The Index will be represented at two events at the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo this year. First is a joint reception with the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence at 5:15 pm on Friday, May 13, in Bernhard 208. Second will be two sessions, titled “Pardon Our Dust: Reassessing Iconography at the Index of Christian Art,” organized and chaired by Index researchers Catherine Fernandez and Henry Schilb, on Sunday from 8:30 to noon in 1145 Schneider Hall. We hope to see many friends there!
Heartfelt thanks to the over 150 people who took our online survey this past month. Your thoughtful, detailed responses will be central to our plans for the coming year. They confirmed many concerns already on the mind of Index staff, especially concerning the difficulties of navigating our current database. They resolved a few hot office debates over how researchers approach the system (Team “Keyword Search” routed Team “Browse List,” 93-7, while “Search by Subject” ran away with “Initial Search Field,” earning 87% of responses). They also offered high marks for the accuracy of our data and the quality of our programs and publications. Most appreciated of all, however, were your concrete, insightful suggestions about how the new database could be designed so as to perform most effectively for an evolving scholarly community.
Three issues emerged repeatedly in the survey results. First was navigation: many researchers reported difficulty using the online database because of outdated or unwieldy design, unfamiliar terminology, and a lack of research guidelines. Close behind this was cost: past subscription fees for the Index have been high enough to make access difficult for smaller institutions and individuals. Finally, many researchers expressed concern about access to and quality of images: not only did past policies at the Index restrict many images from view by remote users, but the quality of our older images (some nearly a century old) can be quite low.
We hear you, and we are happy to say that most of these issues should be mitigated as we move to a new database design over the next two years. We are currently engaged in selecting a vendor to create the new system, which will be more intuitive, researcher-oriented, and image-centered than the original 25-year-old design. We also expect it to be more efficient, allowing us to migrate existing data and integrate new material, including improved images, with greater speed and effectiveness, while nationally changing practices surrounding copyright and fair use will allow us to make more of those images available universally. Finally, once a vendor is selected and the database is in design, we will address the question of subscription costs with our advisory committee, with the goal of offering more affordable access to the database for both institutions and individuals, including independent scholars and students.
We look forward to sharing news of all the changes to come at the Index as we approach our 100th year, and as always, we look forward to hearing from you when our resources or research staff can be of help to your work.
As you may know, the Index of Christian Art is in the midst of a major and long-awaited redesign aimed at making our online database more flexible, accessible, and user-friendly. Please help us by taking a very brief (5-10 minutes) survey about your use of the current database. Your responses will help refine the new design with our researchers’ needs in mind. You can access the link here.
All responses will remain anonymous, and all will be valuable in helping us to design a new database that will better serve you and all researchers whose work concerns the history and signification of images in the Middle Ages.
Thank you very much for your support of our work.
“Plus Ça Change…? The Lives and Afterlives of Medieval Iconography” takes place on April 29 at the Index of Christian Art. To register, click here. Presentations include:
“Rejection, Distortion and Destruction at Santa Maria in Trastevere.”
Dale Kinney, Professor of History of Art Emeritus, Bryn Mawr College
“The Archaeology of Carolingian Memory at Saint-Sernin of Toulouse.”
Catherine Fernandez, Research Scholar, Index of Christian Art, Princeton University
“How Reliquaries Resist Iconographic Classification But Still Have Meaning”
Cynthia Hahn, Professor, Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center
“Signatures and Traces in the Art of al-Andalus.”
D. Fairchild Ruggles, Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
“Debating the Transfiguration In Fourteenth-Century Byzantium; or Why There Is No Hesychastic Art.”
Charles Barber, Professor, Princeton University
“The Frailty of Eyes.”
Kirk Ambrose, Professor and Chair, University of Colorado, Boulder
“Figuring Absence: Iconography and the Failure of Representation.”
Elina Gertsman, Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University
“The Work of Gothic Sculpture in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”
Jacqueline Jung, Associate Professor, Yale University
Generously co-sponsored by the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, Princeton Medieval Studies, Princeton Art & Archaeology, and the Steward Fund in the Council of the Humanities, Princeton University. We look forward to seeing you!
Of all the medieval images associated with the Christmas story, surely most familiar is that of the Nativity, which depicts the Christ child in the lowly stable of his birth, almost always attended by the Virgin Mary, her husband Joseph, and the ubiquitous ox and ass. Medieval nativity scenes often included other onlookers as well, from the shepherds and magi to whom angels announced Jesus’ birth to the midwives who, in some accounts, assisted at it. Of all these figures, few have a longer or more engaging history than the shepherds, with whose homespun character and simple faith many ordinary medieval Christians could identify.
The shepherds themselves have biblical origins: Luke 2:8-20 describes them receiving news of Christ’s birth from a host of angels, then rushing to the stable to see the child for themselves. The scene of the angelic annunciation to the shepherds is sometimes presented adjacent to or in the background of the Nativity, and in the very late Middle Ages, under the influence of Franciscan piety, it was also depicted as an independent scene. However, from the beginnings of Christian art, the shepherds were also frequent onlookers at the Nativity itself. By the fourth century, Roman and Gallic sarcophagi had begun to include one or two shepherds standing beside the manger, often raising a hand in recognition of Jesus’ divinity; middle Byzantine mosaics often cast the shepherds as a trio to balance the three magi who also attended the child. Such pairings were encouraged by medieval texts that presented the shepherds as symbolizing the Jewish tradition from which Christianity had sprung and the magi as representing those pagans who converted to the faith. Alternatively, the magi and shepherds were sometimes presented as demonstrating Christ’s recognition by all walks of life, a universalistic message sometimes developed further in the portrayal of both groups as men of varying ages and even ethnicities.
Late medieval pietistic trends, which promoted the idea that the poorest of men had been the first to receive news of Christ’s birth as confirmation of the value of humility and simplicity, encouraged fourteenth- and fifteenth-century artists to elaborate their images of the shepherds. They often are shown as rough-hewn peasant types—sometimes even including a shepherdess—who offer the child simple, heartfelt gifts, such as a lamb, a flute, flowers or, more unusually, a basket of eggs. The appeal of these humane, familiar figures still resonates in many a Christmas sermon as well as Christmas carols, from the traditional Austrian “Shepherd’s Carol” to the 1941 pop hit “The Little Drummer Boy.”
Shepherds are noted in over 650 records of the Nativity in the online database of the Index of Christian Art; many more can be found in the card files. Media include sculpture, gold glass, manuscripts, enamel, mosaic, fresco, and painting. We wish all our friends who celebrate Christmas a joyous and peaceful holiday.
Welcome to the new website of the Index of Christian Art. Our updated and more user-friendly design preserves many of the things researchers have counted on finding here: information about our history, holdings, and hours; additional image resources; news about events and publications, including the annual journal Studies in Iconography; and a link to our online database. However, it now also includes updated information about our staff and their projects, new information about our resources and services, and periodic blog posts on topics of interest to a range of medievalist researchers.
Our website redesign, created by our Technology Manager Jon Niola with content input from several of our research staff, represents only one of several initiatives under way at the Index this year. The most important to external researchers will be a total revamp of our venerable online database to allow for a friendlier design, more flexible, intuitive searches, and easier access to information and images. We hope to put this into place in time for the Index’s centennial in 2017. Other initiatives include the inauguration of Index Workshops, in which faculty and students in the department of Art & Archaeology at Princeton can join with Index and area scholars to workshop papers and publications in progress, and the revival of the well-known Index Conference Series, which reboots on April 29 with a one-day conference titled “Plus Ça Change? The Lives and Afterlives of Medieval Iconography.”
We would like to think that our technological updates would please St. Isidore of Seville (ca. 560-636), who in 1997 was nominated by Pope John Paul II to become patron saint of the Internet. Bishop of Seville for over thirty years, the learned Isidore richly deserves the honor: his most famous work, the 20-volume Etymologiae, attempted to summarize all human knowledge in the manner of Classical scholars. Its scope ranges from theology and the liberal arts to medicine, animals, and daily life, offering the reader a plethora of surprising and sometimes colorful details about such topics as the causes of an eclipse, the behavior of ants, and the names of various women’s garments. Its wide use and continued importance throughout the Middle Ages can be judged by its countless citations (dare we call them re-tweets?) in works by medieval authors, including such luminaries as Dante, Chaucer, Bocaccio, and Petrarch. Isidore of Seville is represented by 28 records in the Index, both in the database and physical card file; he is often shown writing busily at a lectern, as in the late twelfth-century Aberdeen Bestiary (Aberdeen University Library, MS. 24, fol. 81r). Further subject references to Isidore can be found under, “Clergy, Bishop: Isidore of Seville” and “Scribe, Male: Isidore of Seville.”