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The Interaction of Art and Relics in Early Modernity

Posted By Andrew R. Casper, Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Interaction of Art and Relics in Early Modernity

Organizers: Livia Stoenescu, Texas A&M University; Andrew Casper, Miami University

While the reenactment of relics, devotional objects, and icons played a major role in the development of early modern Christianity, the interaction of art and relics in this period remains an under explored topic of investigation. In many instances, what might be considered competing and mutually exclusive claims between representation and material authenticity render art and relics to be fertile collaborators in the perpetuation of religious visual and material culture.  Through their wide-ranging figurative and semantic senses, relics acted as containers and revealers of the divine while gradually serving as sources for ambitious works of art. At the same time, artists refined an earlier hierarchy between art makers and artifacts and simultaneously interspersed relics with aesthetic goals in their art.

This panel seeks to uncover aspects of relic reenactment in the early modern Christian context of Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa. Contributions will reveal that relics were the predominant medium for recasting devotion into the new, enduring, and transcendent ideals of Early Modern Christian art. We welcome ideas of redistributions and re-integrations of relics, but endorse topics that deploy aesthetic considerations to advance an active discourse about pilgrimages, shrines, and traffic with relics. In articulating the resonances among medieval and early modern works of art, contributions will stress how thinking through works of different times stages new, critical insights into Early Modern Christian art.

Possible topics may include:

1.       The development of elaborate framing devices – reliquaries, monstrances, tabernacles and others – for the visible presentation of relics

2.       Works of art that themselves become relics

3.       The emergence of “true image” relics (Veronica, Shroud of Turin, etc.) into early modern visual culture

4.       Emerging conceptualizations of relics that draw from artistic theories

5.       The dialogue between art and relics in rituals and spectacles

6.       Aspects of relics derived from literary sources that fostered the execution of several early modern portraits of Christ and the saints

7.       The edification of specific architectures for relic display in ecclesiastical, palatial, and domestic spaces

8.       Relics and their miraculous forces in the Wunderkammer

9.       Texts exposing the divide between a transient materiality and the transcendent quality of relics 

10.   Aspects of relics relocations to Syria, Southern India, and other territories for the establishment of a local cult of a saint

The organizers are intent on pursuing this topic and the papers selected toward publication in a collected volume.

Please send a CV and 150-word abstract to by May 25.

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