54th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI, May 9 to 12, 2019
Sponsored by the Index of Medieval Art, Princeton University
Encountering Medieval Iconography in the Twenty-First Century: Scholarship, Social Media, and Digital Methods
Organizers: M. Alessia Rossi and Jessica Savage (Index of Medieval Art, Princeton University)
Stemming from the launch of the new database and enhancements of search technology and social media at the Index of Medieval Art, this roundtable addresses the many ways we encounter medieval iconography in the twenty-first century. We invite proposals from emerging scholars and a variety of professionals who are teaching with, blogging about, and cataloguing medieval iconography. This discussion will touch on the different ways we consume and create information with our research, shed light on original approaches, and discover common goals.
Participants in this roundtable will give short introductions (5-7 minutes) on issues relevant to their area of specialization and participate in a discussion on how they use online resources, such as image databases, to incorporate the study of medieval iconography into their teaching, research, and public outreach. Possible questions include: What makes an online collection “teaching-friendly” and accessible for student discovery? How does social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and blogging, make medieval image collections more visible? How do these platforms broaden interest in iconography and connect users to works of art? What are the aims and impact of organizations such as, the Index, the Getty, the INHA, the Warburg, and ICONCLASS, who are working with large stores of medieval art and architecture information? How can we envisage a wider network and discussion of professional practice within this specialized area?
Fourth in a series of short blog posts introducing new features of our online database
Did you know that you can filter Index search results by style and/or culture of origin? The “Style/Culture” field on the search filters page groups results according to widely used stylistic or cultural categories, such as “Gothic,” “Ethiopian,” or “Jewish.”
As any student of art history knows, stylistic and cultural labels can be difficult to define. Stylistically speaking, what’s “Gothic” in France in 1150 may be considered “Romanesque” at the same date in Italy, while the parameters for ethnic, religious, or other cultural communities can vary even more dramatically. Still, because we’ve observed that students and other new users of the Index may find such labels helpful in narrowing and exploring search results, we’ve elected to keep them in our new database, consulting authorities such as the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus and even current medieval art textbooks to refine how we apply them. If you’d like to learn more about why we applied a particular “Style/Culture” label to a work of art, you can look at the authority record for that label.
Because style and culture terms remain subjective even in the best of circumstances, they may not yield precise results and are most usefully applied when you are searching broadly to learn how a subject was represented in a particular period or cultural sphere, rather than to search for a particular example. You might find, for example, that searching for a frequently represented subject such as “Virgin Mary: Annunciation” delivers an intimidating 2500+ results. However, if what you really wanted was to see examples of how the Annunciation was depicted in Byzantine art, narrowing the results by using the “Style/Culture” delimiter “Byzantine” reduces this to a much more manageable—and more relevant—list of 276 records.
Some delimiters will still deliver a high number of results (try using “Gothic” instead of “Byzantine” to see what we mean), but you can refine these further by using additional filters—such as Date, Location, or Medium—when you’re ready for more specificity. To apply the Style/Culture filter, type a search term into the free text field at the upper right of the search window. On the results page, choose the “Filters” option, then in the “Style/Culture filter, begin typing the term you’re looking for—the system will auto-complete the term, if it exists—and then, once you’ve selected the term you want, simply click “Search.” The filtered results will appear below.
If you’d like to view a complete list of Style/Culture terms currently used by the Index, click on “Browse” at the top of the window and then choose Style/Culture. To expedite your search for a particular term, type it into the search line at the top of the list.
As always, if you have questions or comments about the Index of Medieval Art database, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re here to help, and we want to know what you think.
Third in a series of short blog posts introducing new features of our online database
Have you tried out our Medium filter yet? As part of our ongoing series introducing specific features of our database to assist you in developing research strategies, let us direct your attention to the Medium field. First, you may ask, what exactly do we mean by “Medium”? In the Index database, “Medium” refers both to the materials that compose the work of art and to the methods of facture or technique employed in its creation. As Herbert Kessler rightly observes, “matter mattered in the Middle Ages,” and we at the Index wish to foster exciting new scholarship related to the iconography of materials. A cursory glance at our Medium category under the “Browse”tab reveals an extraordinary array of materials and techniques. Objects may include materials ranging from “acacia” wood to “zeiler sandstone,” and all these materials might have been “hammered” and “punched,” or “chiseled” and “incised,” or subjected to many other possible means of manipulation.
But what if you are not ready for this level of specificity? For more general Medium searches, we have devised a series of basic category terms to help you find what you need: “stone,” “gems,” “wood,” “ivory,” “metal,” “enamel,” and “textile.” For example, let’s say you’re interested in representations of the Virgin Mary in any kind of stone. A keyword search for “Virgin Mary” on the database homepage will yield thousands of results in all media. So, if you want to limit your results to images in stone, simply find the “Filters” tab under “Advanced Search” and select “stone” under the Medium filter. Click on “Search,” and you will reduce your list to 1,752 records.
Now what if you know that you’re searching for representations of the Virgin Mary in a specific kind of stone? This time, let’s say you’re looking for marble sculpture. Instead of sifting through all 1,752 records for marble examples, just try selecting “marble” in the Medium filter. This should bring your results down to a mere 410 records.
You can also try refining your search with another filter. Interested in marble representations of the Virgin produced in medieval France? Add “France” in the Location filter, and you’ll narrow your results to 55 records.
So, whether you’re searching within broad categories or examining specific materials and techniques, try using the database’s Medium filter to adjust your search to your research interests.
Here are a few additional pointers:
When conducting iconographic research on manuscripts, if you wish to narrow your search according to how the images were rendered, select “Manuscript” in the Work of Art type filter and then select a more specific term from the Medium filter, such as “illumination,” “color wash,” or “drawing.”
You can always add more than one term to any filter. So, for example, if you want to search for items that include both copper and gold, you can add both “copper” and “gold” to the filter with the Filter Options set to “MATCH ALL FILTERS.” If, on the other hand, you want to search for items that include either copper or gold, then add both “copper” and “gold” to the Medium filter with the Filter Options set to “MATCH ANY FILTER.”
In the Index database, we make the distinction between regular gemstones and gemstones that bear images. Thus, figured gems are identified as glyptics. For example, a thirteenth-century head reliquary of Saint Eustace in the British Museum contains an amethyst stone among the gems on the fillet ornamentation, and therefore has “amethyst” listed under the Medium heading in the record. In contrast, the stunning Late-Antique intaglio at Dumbarton Oaks that bears a depiction of Christ is identified as “amethyst glyptics” under Medium.
So, as you undertake your research with us, we hope that you’ll give the Medium filter a try. As always, please feel free to send us questions or comments about any aspect of the IMA database. Contact us at email@example.com. Matter matters…and so does your feedback!
 Herbert Kessler, Seeing Medieval Art (Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2004), 14.
This year’s contributions are unusually diverse, ranging from Byzantine wall paintings and Romanesque sculpture to Ottonian dynastic images and Jewish ritual books. In addition, for the first time this year authors were offered the option to include color illustrations. Check out the contents of the latest volume on the updated journal page: https://ima.princeton.edu/studies-in-iconography/. Congratulations and thank you to all our authors and reviewers!
Studies in Iconography (ISSN 0148-1029) is an annual publication housed at the Index of Medieval Art at Princeton University since October 1999. It is dedicated to publishing innovative work on iconography and other aspects of visual culture of the period up to 1600. We welcome submissions of innovative work on iconography and other aspects of visual culture of the period up to 1600, including those with interdisciplinary, theoretical, and critical perspectives. Submissions are accepted year round; see https://ima.princeton.edu/studies-in-iconography-editorial-guidelines/ for current guidelines.
The Index will be closed on June 4 and 5 as Princeton celebrates Class Day and Commencement 2018. We look forward to welcoming visitors during Princeton University weekday summer hours, 8:45-4:30, beginning June 6.
Second in a series of short blog posts introducing new features of our online database
Have you tried our Language Filter yet? Since we at the Index of Medieval Art realize that some of the search features available to users of the new database may be unfamiliar, we thought that we ought to take some time to recommend and explain a few of them. This time, let’s discuss your use of language, shall we? Specifically, did you know that you can filter your searches to look for images that appear in the context of a certain language? Well, you can!
Say you’re interested in images of Joseph of Arimathea, for example, whether in a scene—such as the Deposition or the Entombment—or as an isolated figure. You might start with a simple keyword search for “Arimathea” on the database homepage, or you could also use the “Terms” tab on the “Advanced Search” page, checking “Description” and “Subject” in the “Search Fields” checklist, a strategy that currently yields a whopping 735 results.
Now let’s try using one of the filters. Simply switch to the “Filters” tab on the “Advanced Search” page. Feel free to explore, and try all or any of the filters. For the purposes of this demonstration, however, we’re thinking about language, so let’s start by narrowing our search to manuscripts. Simply select “Manuscript” in the Work of Art Type Filter (Example 1), then click “Search” again. You’ll discover that, in this case, you have nearly halved the search results to 373, but that’s still a lot of records to consider.
Now here comes the exciting part! If you know that you’re interested in a particular linguistic context, then you can add the Language Filter to your Advanced Search. There are currently 48 languages to choose from in the Index of Medieval Art database. For this demonstration, we’ve specified Greek (Example 2), so we’re searching for the word “Arimathea” where it appears in either the Subject field or the Description field, only in records for which the Work of Art Type is “Manuscript” and the language of the manuscript is “Greek.” Click “Search,” and you’ll discover that you have been able to filter your results down to a manageable 32 records!
Simple, n’est-ce pas?
You can easily change the Language filter to compare results from one language to another. Changing Greek to Armenian yields ten results. Church Slavonic yields six. Filtering for some languages may return nothing, others quite a lot. Latin, for example, returns 233 results, so you might want to add another filter to your search. For the time being, only the languages of manuscripts are identified in the database. Eventually, however, the Index database will identify the language or languages of every object that incorporates the written word.
You might have noticed that names of some languages include date ranges, as in “Middle English (1100–1500).” Although such dates can seem arbitrary, we try to differentiate among the stages of a language’s development. If you’re curious about how the Index defines a language, or about what sources we cite, you can click on the language name in the Language field of a Work of Art record. This will take you to a page where you can read the Language Details. There you’ll also find citations and external reference codes (Glottolog and ISO 639-3). On that page, there is also a list of all Work of Art References that include that language.
So, start exploring, and be sure to try out the filters available in the new Index of Medieval Art database. Also, please let us know what you think…but mind your language!
First in a series of short blog posts introducing the new features of our online database
Did you know that you can search The Index of Medieval Art for information about patrons of medieval art? The Index records both identified and unidentified patrons, the latter entered as grouping terms for types of patrons (Male, Female, Couple) and major monastic orders, such as Augustinian, Benedictine, and Carmelite. There are also general headings for anonymous male and female patrons (Male, unidentified and Female, unidentified). Names of churches, monasteries, and abbeys are given by their proper titles, such as Canterbury Cathedral, but might be further identified by location (e.g. Abbaye d’Anchin [Pecquencourt, France]).
For an overview of our patron headings, click on Browse at the top of the Index landing page. This will bring you to a list of over 900 names and grouping terms sorted in alphabetical order. To reach a specific entry, type the first few letters of a name into the search line at the top of the list. For instance, typing in “Blanche” will bring you to all Blanches from Burgundy, Castile, France, Navarre, and also the late 14th-century Countess of Geneva. Clicking on any patron heading will return a glossary entry comprising a biographical note with dates, alternate names of the patron, a bibliographic citation, an external reference for the authority source, and all the work of art examples linked to that patron.
Our patron entries are formatted in keeping with standard biographical authorities, such as the Library of Congress Name Authority File, the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF), and Oxford References. Patrons are identified in the Index database by their roles and dates when these are known. When performing an Advanced Search in the “Terms” screen, you may prefer to keep the Match Type set to “Default,” which will search all parts of the heading. In the “Terms” window, a search can be formulated with keywords such as “Pope,” “Doge,” or “Prince,” using “Patron” in Search Fields to locate medieval patrons by their role. Similar keywords, along with keywords for place indicators like “Monastery” or “Convent,” can be searched against the “Patron Note” field, which will search the biographical notes in the patron glossary.
Many of the monastic patrons contain their locations in parentheses after the name of the community, so countries of patronage activity can also be searched as keywords. For instance, searching against “Patron” or “Patron Notes” with the keyword “Italy” returns over 150 records. This indicates artwork results for a patron who was active in Italy. From here, in the “Filters” window, the Date Slider can be used to refine results. The “Terms” search can be refined with any of the additional filters, including “Location,” “Medium,” “Style/ Culture,” and “Work of Art Type.”
Are you interested in finding out which female patrons were active in France in the 14th century?
In the Advanced Search “Terms” screen, enter the keyword “Female” and choose the Search Field “Patron” (keeping Match Type set to “Default,” as recommended).
Then, go to “Filters,” select “France” as a Location, and set the Date Slider to 1300 and 1399.
This search should yield 27 examples, where a female patron is connected to the 14th century work made in any part of France.
*In results, please note that work of art records without images usually indicate the Main record.
As you search for patrons in the new Index of Medieval Art database, bear in mind that visual representations of patrons are found in the Subject field. To find images of patrons, you can browse or search the Subject field with the keyword “Donor.” To read more about medieval patronage practices in general, you might find the Index’s 2013 conference publication Patronage, Power, and Agency in Medieval Art of interest. Enjoy refining your searches and browsing the range of patrons we record in the Index! And please remember that we are always happy to have your feedback. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that, at the moment Christ died, darkness swept over the land for three hours (Matthew 27:45). The foreboding skies at Christ’s crucifixion were also recorded in Luke 23:44-45 and Mark 15:33. Mark’s account, thought to have been written around the year 70 CE, was likely the earliest. Some scholars have reasoned that this midday phenomenon was an actual eclipse, because the passage in Luke reports that darkness fell over the land when “the sun was eclipsed” (“τοῦ ἡλίου ἐκλιπόντος”) (Luke 23:45). However, the passage is usually translated “the sun was darkened.” The verb is in the passive voice, as is the verb “ἐσκοτίσθη” used in other versions of the Greek text, and both words can mean “was darkened” or “was obscured.” No matter how we may interpret the words relating the phenomenon, and no matter whether it is possible to attribute the darkness thus described to a real astronomical event, scriptural hours of daytime darkness over Golgotha presented an iconographic opportunity to medieval artists depicting the Crucifixion.
In manuscripts and painted works of art that aimed to depict the event, color was frequently exploited to illustrate darkness and to create a dramatic setting. Across media, the celestial bodies of the sun and the moon were incorporated into the skies above the crucifixion, not only to signal darkness at daytime but also to imbue the scenes with a rich cosmological significance.
An especially early example appears in the Syriac Rabbula Gospels from the late sixth century. In this manuscript, the Crucifixion includes a partly eclipsed Sun and a Moon with a face against a remarkably light sky; a sliver of shaded pigment at the top suggests darkness (Figure 1). From antiquity, the sun and moon were associated with power. In early medieval crucifixion scenes they represented God’s cosmic anger at the death of Christ. Throughout the Middle Ages, personifications of the Sun and Moon became regular characters at the Crucifixion, positioned as sorrowful figures mourning Christ’s death. The placement of the Sun and Moon respectively at the right and left arms of the cross came to be read typologically as the Old and New Testaments. After about 850, they could also be seen as allegorical representations of Church and Synagogue.
The Ottonian Sacramentary of Henry II sets the Crucifixion scene against a deep purple background, a striking hue used to set a somber mood and suggest darkness (Figure 2). Busts of the personifications Sun and Moon sit on the arms of the cross. The Sun, labeled SOL and sporting a rayed headpiece, and the veiled Moon, labeled LUNA, both turn away from the scene and weep into their draped hands. The strong background color effectively conveys the darkness of this scene emphasized by the dramatic gestures of the Sun and Moon.
Medieval artists sometimes set the same iconographic features within a flattened space of gold or patterned backgrounds. A leaf from the Potocki Psalter, made in Paris in the mid-13th century, sets the Crucifixion against a gold background (Figure 3). Christ is flanked above by the sun and moon and below by the Virgin Mary and the Evangelist John. Within this composition, the three main figures hover between time and space, darkness suggested only by the presence of the partly obscured sun and the crescent moon.
Similarly, in a Crucifixion scene painted around 1400 to 1410 in a Register of Coiners and Minters from Avignon, a richly patterned background of gold scrolls avoids any illusion of a dim sky (Figure 4). The red sun and the moon’s countenance in the upper corners of the miniature are the only clues that the ornamental ground is actually simulated “darkness.” In both miniatures, decorative and luminous backgrounds highlight the central features of the scene so that the Crucifixion image becomes a place of mediation, the background “darkness” metaphorically positioned between an earthly space and a shift in the cosmos at the moment of Christ’s death.
Images of darkness at the Crucifixion can be found in the Index database by any of several possible search strategies. One method is to perform an advanced search using the keyword “Crucifixion” while filtering with the subject “Sun and Moon.” This search returns over 380 results. Executing the search again with the subject “Personification: Sun and Moon” returns around 220 examples in a variety of media, including ivory plaques, glyptics, and frescoes. “Personification: Sun and Moon” is the subject used by the Index for records concerning works on which both celestial bodies have facial features. Using words like “stars” or “starry,” background elements that can also suggest a dark sky may be recorded in the Index’s descriptions of such works.
With the advent of the Index of Medieval Art’s new database, thumbnail images are now visible with search results, allowing the researcher to review works of art at a glance. Thus, a researcher looking into images of the Crucifixion will be able to notice the gradual change in the later medieval period in the West, when images of the Crucifixion began to represent the three-hour darkness as a true night sky. In a Book of Hours made in Paris about 1490, a soft pattern of gold stars with the sun and moon dot a dark blue sky to create the illusion of evening (Figure 5). Other Crucifixion scenes that a researcher may notice while thumbnail browsing show cloudy, dark, and emotive skies that convey darkness without the sun or moon. These atmospheric scenes offer a remarkable and naturalistic, if not peaceful, departure from the earlier ones with their grief-stricken personifications of the Sun and Moon.
The starry night sky casts a familiar source of light over a recognizable scene, and these astronomical bodies inspired fascination in medieval minds still forming theories about what those bodies might actually be. Nevertheless, the symbols of the Sun and Moon, while signaling darkness and the passage of time, also imparted emotional weight, persisting in iconography not only to adhere to scriptural tradition, but also to emphasize the significance of Christ’s death.
Hautecoeur, Louis. “Soleil et la lune dans les crucifixions.” Revue archéologique, ser. 5, XIV (1921): 13-32
Schiller, Gertrude. “The Crucifixion.” In vol. 2 of Iconography of Christian Art, 88–164. London: Lund Humphries, 1972.
Nickel, Helmut. “The Sun, the Moon, and an Eclipse: Observations on The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John, by Hendrick Ter Brugghen.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 42 (2007): 121–24.
 The Gospels report three other supernatural events that occurred during the Crucifixion: the temple veil was split in two; various earthquakes shook the land; and the souls of the dead rose from their graves. See related subjects in the Index of Medieval Art: Christ: Crucifixion, Earthquake; Christ: Crucifixion, Resurrection of Dead, and Veil of Temple: rending.
 Bible Translation. “David Robert Palmer trans., The Gospel of Luke: Part of The Holy Bible.” Accessed 30 March 2018. Bibletranslation.ws/trans/lukewgrk.pdf. See especially p. 116, n. 307.
 Gertrude Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, trans. Janet Seligman (London: Lund Humphries, 1972), 2:94.
 This interpretation was promoted by St. Augustine (354–430 CE). Schiller, 109.
It’s easy to assume that medieval iconography was unchanging: that after a particular way of representing a saint or scene was invented, it became fixed in tradition. Not so! Medieval iconography and the stories that lay behind it moved constantly with the times, adapting over the centuries to the local beliefs and practices of their surrounding communities. Many of these post-medieval adaptations were frankly anachronistic, as is the topic of the present post, which also happens to be of central importance here at the Index: coffee.
Coffee was not a medieval beverage; the earliest evidence of its consumption in this form derives from fifteenth-century Yemen, from where it spread to other parts of the Islamic world, reaching Ottoman-ruled Constantinople in the sixteenth century and western Europe soon after. Where it was traded most actively, it inspired import companies, coffeehouses, and coffee-centered social practices, eventually even percolating (!) into medieval artistic and legendary traditions to which it had no original connections at all.
One example of this trend is Saint George’s “coffee boy,” a name sometimes given to the small figure holding a vessel who rides behind the saint on certain Byzantine and “post-Byzantine” icons (Fig.1). The type for some time puzzled scholars, who now conclude, on the basis of written sources, that such scenes depict Saint George miraculously rescuing a Christian captive.
However, the path to this conclusion was once obscured by alternative local interpretations. One legend that still circulates today in some villages in Cyprus explains that Saint George was drinking coffee when news reached him of the princess he was to rescue from a dragon. With no further ado he mounted his horse, and the coffee boy immediately followed him with his beverage, allowing the saint to finish it on the ride. While the legend seems unlikely (to say the least), our interest lies in how this conflation came into being. Why would the explanation of this image rest on coffee, a beverage unknown either to the third-century saint or to the medieval icon painters who portrayed him?
To answer this, we must return to the two original legends that inspired this iconography. In the former, the young boy was captured by the Bulgarians. He was so handsome that their ruler made him a steward and kept the boy in his residence. On the same evening Saint George rescued him, the ruler had asked him to bring water for hand-washing during the supper in the palace. In the second instance, the boy was taken into captivity by the Saracens and was made the personal cupbearer of the Emir of Crete; he was in the act of offering a glass of wine to the Emir when Saint George appeared and rescued him. The first representations of this iconography, in which the boy holds either a cup or a ewer, appeared in the twelfth century and then spread in the Eastern Mediterranean, where they promoted the role of Saint George as defender of Christians in areas threatened by foreign invasion. Not surprisingly, the type became even more widespread in Orthodox icons after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire.
In this later period, the representation of the miracle of the captive boy was often conflated with the more famous episode of Saint George killing the dragon and saving the princess (Fig. 2). This compositional transition combines the two miraculous episodes to reinforce the original connotation of protection from “infidels,” embodied by the young boy, and of the fight against evil, symbolized by the dragon and the unharmed princess. After the sixteenth century, the garments worn by the young boy reflect contemporary fashion under the Ottoman rule: baggy trousers, a yelek (vest), a cebken (jacket) and a distinctive hat. The opacity of the ewer he holds, which resembled a coffee pot, may have led to the boy’s identification as a coffee server, much like the vendors found throughout Ottoman-ruled lands (Fig.3). Like so much medieval iconography, the interpretation of St. George’s “coffee” boy thus tells us much more about the preoccupations of a changing early modern society than it does about George’s own hagiography.
The association of coffee with St. Drogo, a French saint venerated at Sebourg, has even more circuitous history. Since about 1860, Drogo has been credited as the patron saint of coffeehouses, especially in Ghent, but the reasons for this remain obscure. A twelfth-century orphan, he early devoted himself to penance, pilgrimage, and charity, giving away all that he earned as a shepherd beside what he needed to stay alive (Fig. 4). When a painful hernia made work and travel impossible, he settled down as a hermit in Sebourg, living on a bare ration of brown bread and warm water until his death in 1186.
Drogo’s hagiography offers nothing that might link the saint to coffee besides his penchant for drinking warm water, and this might have encouraged his association with the beverage. However, it may be worth considering that in the mid-nineteenth century, when the saint’s link to coffeehouses is first recorded, his cult center of Sebourg was also renowned for the production of chicory, a plant used in combination with coffee and as a coffee substitute in both France and the Low Countries from the late eighteenth century onward. Could the local chicory trade have encouraged St. Drogo’s association with coffee drinking? We would love to hear from historians who may have an answer to this mystery.
Anachronisms aside, what St. Drogo and the “coffee boy” tell us quite clearly is how flexibly saints’ lives and iconography responded to the changing priorities of the communities around them. The same flexibility more recently has given us Saint Claire as the patron saint of television and Saint Isidore of Seville as patron of the internet. What new saintly protectors will the 21st century bring? There’s a question to ponder over your next cup of joe.