The Mediecal Millennium: Objects of Desire

Lecture 16. Devotional Images and Objects

Suggested Reading:

Jeffrey F. Hamburger. Nuns as Artists: The Visual Culture of a Medieval Convent (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
A case study of the production and use of images in a variety of media by a community of Bavarian nuns, through the fifteenth century.

Henk van Os. The Art of Devotion in the Late Middle Ages in Europe. 1300-1500, exh. cat.: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (English translation pub. London: Merrel Holberton, 1994).
An overview of devotional images, most of extraordinarily high quality, with useful essays on iconography and devotional practices.

Nina Gockerell. Bilder und Zeichen der Frömmigkeit: Sammlung Rudolf Kriss (Munich: Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, 1995).
Catalogue of one of the largest and most varied collections of devotional objects in Europe, encompassing pieces from the fourteenth through the nineteenth century in a variety of media; most represent "low" or "popular" devotional culture, and often depart in unexpected (and frequently bizarre) ways from the institutionally sanctioned images we're studying.

Sixten Ringbom. "Devotional Images and Imaginative Devotions: Notes on the Place of Art in Late Medieval Private Piety." Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 73 (1969), 159-70.
A classic study of the interaction of images and devotion, both in theory and in practice, from the twelfth century on.

Primary sources

"On St. Stephen's day my Lord sent me a loving gift for my delight. I was sent
Vierge Ouvrante
[by Henry of Nordlingen] a lovely statue from Vienna-Jesus in a cradle attended by four golden angels, One night I had a revelation in which I saw Him with lively animation joyfully playing in the crib. I asked him, 'Why don't you behave and be quiet and let me sleep? I tucked you in nicely.' Then the child said, 'I do not want to let you sleep; you must pick me up and hold me.' So, with desire and joy I took him out of the crib and placed him on my lap. He was a dear child. I said, 'Kiss me, then I will forget that you have awakened me.' Then he fell upon me with his little arms and kissed me."
--From the Revelations of Margaret Ebner (1291-1351), trans. and ed. Leonard P. Hindsley (New York: Paulist Press, 1993), 134.

"[…]Then great delight in the childhood of our Lord came over me, and I took the statue of the Child and pressed it against my naked heart [i.e., breast] as strongly as I could. At that I felt the movement of His mouth on my naked heart and I felt such a great and holy fear that I sat a while and did nothing."

"Once it so happened that Sister Clara Anna was going into the cloister on St. John the Baptist's day, and she passed by his image she said, 'Hey, get a load of the old wood-chopper over there!' She thought that by insulting him she would make John the Evangelist look all the better…But for that she was immediately struck blind and knocked to the floor, and she just lay there like a piece of wood, with her eyes wide open but not seeing or saying or understanding anything. When she finally returned to her senses and realized how heartily God had punished and warned her, she was every bit as fond of John the Baptist as she was every bit as fond of John the Baptist as she had been of the Evangelist."
--Johannes Meyer (d. 1422), Buch der Reformacio Predigerordens, ed. B.M. Reichert (Leipzig, 1908), vol. II, bk. 3, ch. 4, p. 62.

"[One day Sister Anna of Ramsweg] was praying in front of the big statue of St. John resting on the heart of Christ. As Sister Mye of Reichershoven stood behind her, also praying, she noticed that [Sister Anna] had become completely clear, like a crystal, and that she was actually radiating a glowing light. She observed this the entire time that they were praying in front of the image.
--"Leben heiliger alemannischer Frauen des Mittelalters V: Die Nonnen von St. Katarinental bei Deiszenhofen," ed. Anton Birlinger. Alemannia 15 (1887), 150-84 at 176.

Other Images Discussed in Class:

  • Ivory prayer beads*, German ca. 1500 (17.190.306)
  • The Visitation*, from St. Katharinethal convent (Switzerland), ca. 1305 (17.190.724)
  • Crucifix with St. Bernard and a Nun, painted parchment, Cologne, ca. 1500 (?)
  • Boxwood rosary bead, Brabant,ca. 1500 (Cloisters, NY)
  • Illuminated psalter, English, 1250-70
  • Life-sized jointed crucifix from St. Marienstern convent (Saxony), ca. 1500
  • Baby Jesus crib from the Grande Béguinage, Louvain, ca. 1450
  • Ivory Virgin lactans with Child in a Crib*, French, 1360-70
  • Christ and St. John, Upper Swabia, ca. 1300
  • Röttgen Pietà, Rhineland, ca. 1320