Fields of Study: Medieval and Byzantine Art

At Penn, the Middle Ages embraces wide geographic and cultural terms. Penn’s History of Art Department offers students the opportunity for a synchronic-based focus, studying in depth one period across multiple cultures, or a diachronic focus, studying one culture over several decades or centuries. Faculty work closely with students to hone their critical and observational skills for advanced training in the areas of study that interest them most, whether it is in the close analysis of objects, the methods of building construction or field archaeology, medieval and contemporary theories of art, or historiography. 

Medieval Europe is the specialty of Robert A. Maxwell, whose research centers on the Romanesque and Early Gothic periods across Western Europe. Professor Maxwell is interested in art’s ability to generate histories for and about individuals (scribes, sculptors, patrons) and communities (monasteries, towns, regions), as well as the tensions that emerge when art’s claims to history are compromised by competing legends, revelations, visions, and forgery.

Robert G. Ousterhout specializes in Byzantine art and architecture. His research focuses on the documentation and interpretation of the vanishing architectural heritage of the eastern Mediterranean, in particular the Byzantine architecture, monumental art, and urbanism of Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Cappadocia. 

Renata Holod teaches the Islamic world, offering students crucial perspectives on East/West interactions, especially around the Mediterranean basin (Sicily, Spain, Holy Land). She has carried out archaeological and architectural fieldwork in Syria, Iran, Morocco, Central Asia, and Turkey, and has recently completed an archaeological/ethno-historical survey on the island of Jerba, Tunisia.

The department’s medieval offerings are augmented by Ann Kuttner’s interest in the Late Antique and post-Constantinian cultures of Italy and surrounding regions. Larry Silver’s expertise in the arts—especially prints, manuscripts, and painting—of the Lowlands, Burgundy, and Germany further deepens Penn’s strengths in the late medieval period. 

Across Penn’s campus, outstanding scholars in the history, literature, music, and religion offer excellent opportunities for students to broaden their cultural training. We encourage students to seek courses in other departments to compliment their art-historical study, whether taking courses in paleography, historical preservation, Islamic religious studies, western Romances, Latin or Greek, and so on. Collaborative teaching, joint exhibitions, and conference planning all express the faculty’s genuine interest in generating interdisciplinary dialogue. Students find additional resources through the local university consortium, which makes it possible to attend courses taught at other colleges and universities across the Delaware Valley (Temple, Bryn Mawr, Delaware, and Princeton).  More information about the medieval offerings across campus are found at the Medieval Studies @ Penn website.

Philadelphia and the surrounding area offer Penn students a wealth of resources. The recently inaugurated Schoenberg Center for Manuscript Studies, housed in Van Pelt Library, is at the nexus of the study, research, and publication of Penn's collections of rare books.  The first director of the Schoenberg Center, William Noel, formerly Chief Curator of Manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, is a world-renowned specialist of medieval illumination and codicology.  The Schoenberg Center organizes an annual conference, as well as wide-ranging meetings and lectures, for students and faculty interested in all aspects of medieval manuscripts and early books.

Beyond Penn, the region is rich in European medieval, Eastern and Islamic art collections, particularly of sculpture, manuscripts, and stained glass.  Recent study trips have included curator-led discussions at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (Departments of Manuscripts and of Medieval Art); the Morgan Library in New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Departments of Decorative Arts and of Prints); the Free Library of Philadelphia (Department of Manuscripts); the Rosenbach Museum of Library (Department of Manuscripts); the Glencairn Museum; and the University Museum.  Penn students have also held curatorial internships, lectureships, and guest lectureships at the University Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum, and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

 

Recent projects led or coordinated by Penn faculty:

- 2013-14, Lectures by Michalis Kappas (Greek Archaeological Service, Kalamata); Jonathan Ben-Dov (Haifa Univ.);

- 2013, Conference, Thinking Outside the Codex, 6th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

- 2012, Visiting Professor, Manuel Castiñeiras (Universidad Autonoma, Barcelona), lectures and seminars

- 2012, Conference, Taxonomies of Knowledge, 5th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

- 2012, Series of three international symposia on medieval sculpture (Penn, Paris, Philadelphia Museum of Art) 

- 2012, Conference, Masons at Work, on building practices in the pre-modern world

- 2012-13, Lectures by Patrick Geary (Institute for Advanced Study); Prof. Felipe Pareda (Johns Hopkins);Philippe Marquis (Délégation archéologique française en Afghanistan); Richard Kagan (Johns Hopkins)

- 2011, Site Seminar (Cappadocia), hosted by Koç University (Istanbul)

- 2011-12, Lectures by Prof. Jeffrey Hamburger (Harvard), Prof. Eric Palazzo (Univ. Poitiers), Dr. Vincent Debiais (Univ. Poitiers)

- 2010-11, Exhibition (University Museum): “Archaeologists & Travelers in Ottoman Lands”, coupled with “Osman Hamdi Bey and the Americans” (Pera Museum, Istanbul)

- 2010-11, Lectures by Prof. Marie-Thérèse Camus (Univ. Poitiers), Prof. Sharon Gerstel (UCLA), Prof. Jean-Marie Guillouët (INHA, Paris), Prof. Sarah Lipton (SUNY-Stony Brook), Dr. Roberto Nardi (Centre di Conservazione Archeologica, Rome), Prof. Diane Reilly (Indiana Univ.), Prof. Annemarie Weyl-Carr (Southern Methodist Univ.).

- 2010, Byzantine Studies Conference hosted on the Penn campus

- 2010, Site Seminar (Burgundy, France), “Cluny 910-2010”

- Several workshops and symposia sponsored by the Center for Ancient Studies: “The Dark Ages Illuminated” (2008); “Change and Cultural Exchange in the 13th Century” (2009); “Contesting Images: Byzantine and Other Iconoclasms” (2009); “Connections You Can Believe In: Syncretism in the Ancient World and Beyond” (2010)