Abstraction in Medieval Art
Abstraction in Medieval Art
Beyond the Ornament
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Table of Contents
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PREFACE: Elina Gertsman, 'Withdrawal and Presence'
Vincent Debiais, 'Colour as Subject'
Aden Kumler, 'Abstraction's Gothic Grounds'
Adam S. Cohen and Linda Safran, 'Abstraction in the Kennicott Bible'
Robert Mills, 'Back-to-Front: Abstraction and Figuration in Bosch's Visions of the Hereafter'
Danny Smith, 'The Painted Logos: Abstraction as Exegesis in the Ashburnham Pentateuch'
Benjamin C. Tilghman, 'The Sign within the Form, the Form without the Sign: Monograms and Pseudo-Monograms as Abstractions in Mozarabic Antiphonaries'
Gia Toussaint, 'Ornament and Abstraction: A New Approach to Understanding Ornamented Writing in the Making of Illuminated Manuscripts around 1000'
Nancy Thebaut, 'The Double-Sided Image: Abstraction and Figuration in Early Medieval Painting'
Danielle B. Joyner, 'Birds of Defiance: Jewelled Resistance to Modern Abstractions'
Megan C. McNamee, 'Early Romanesque Abstraction and the "Unconditionally Two-Dimensional Surface"'
Taylor McCall, 'Functional Abstraction in Medieval Anatomical Diagrams'
Julie Harris, 'Imaging Perfection(s) in Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts'
RESPONSE: Herbert Kessler, 'Astral Abstraction'
CODA: Charlotte Denoël, 'Carolingian Art as Conceptual Art?'

Reviews and Features

"An excellent collection of thoughtfully selected, intelligently argued, and well-researched essays on an important topic."
- Richard K. Emmerson, Florida State University

"Absolutely original; startlingly and refreshingly innovative, both theoretically and empirically... the opening salvo in a completely new conversation that has never, as yet, been had in the academic world, and whose time, most definitely, has arrived."
- Marc Michael Epstein, Vassar College

"[...] the reader of this volume comes away buzzing with the pleasant frisson of inspiration, thinking eagerly of how future scholarship will expand on the project initiated here."
- Frances Lilliston, Comitatus, Vol. 53, 2022

“Gertsman’s collection of essays offers a rich set of studies that challenge ideas of abstraction and ornament, and art-historical conceptions of medieval art. [The] essays here offer a convincing sense of the possibility of these visual elements to represent, and indeed enable, interaction with the mysteries that preoccupied medieval conceptions of humanity, divinity and the world – both the literal within which one lived, and the broader universe which one could not see.”
- Millie Horton-Insch, Art History, Vol. 45, Iss. 4

Elina Gertsman (ed.)

Abstraction in Medieval Art

Beyond the Ornament

Abstraction haunts medieval art, both withdrawing figuration and suggesting elusive presence. How does it make or destroy meaning in the process? Does it suggest the failure of figuration, the faltering of iconography? Does medieval abstraction function because it is imperfect, incomplete, and uncorrected-and therefore cognitively, visually demanding? Is it, conversely, precisely about perfection? To what extent is the abstract predicated on theorization of the unrepresentable and imperceptible? Does medieval abstraction pit aesthetics against metaphysics, or does it enrich it, or frame it, or both? Essays in this collection explore these and other questions that coalesce around three broad themes: medieval abstraction as the untethering of the image from what it purports to represent; abstraction as a vehicle for signification; and abstraction as a form of figuration. Contributors approach the concept of medieval abstraction from a multitude of perspectives-formal, semiotic, iconographic, material, phenomenological, epistemological.

Elina Gertsman

Elina Gertsman is Professor of Medieval Art and Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan Professor in Catholic Studies II at Case Western Reserve University. She is the author of The Dance of Death in the Middle Ages: Image, Text, Performance (2010), Worlds Within: Opening the Medieval Shrine Madonna (2015), and The Absent Image: Lacunae in Medieval Books (2021); co-author of The Middle Ages in 50 Objects (2018); and editor of several volumes on performance, emotion, liminality, and animated objects. Her work has been supported by the Guggenheim, Kress, Mellon, and Franco-American Cultural Exchange foundations as well as by the American Council for Learned Societies.