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FRIHUMSAM-Fri prosj.st. hum og sam

Dusting the "Dusk of the Dark Ages" - Art Technological Illumination on Late Medieval Altarpieces in Scandinavia

Alternative title: Lys i mørketid: En kunstteknologisk studie av alterskap fra senmiddelalderen i Skandinavia

Awarded: NOK 3.3 mill.

Project Number:

274764

Application Type:

Project Period:

2018 - 2022

Location:

Subject Fields:

Late medieval church art (1350-1550) in Scandinavia is often simply categorised as "objects of Hanseatic import". This assumption has proved difficult to refute, due to both the style of these objects - reflecting common pan-European trends - and their lack of associated documentation. Their "rootless" character has led DATILAS' trail of research back to where it all began: the medieval craftsman's workshop. Through technical art history - the interdisciplinary coupling of conservation, historical studies and the natural sciences - the project uses the physical objects as the primary sources of information to elucidate the social and cultural conditions surrounding their making, and the interrelationships between commissioners and craftsmen, merchants and guilds, social structures and society. The entire Norwegian corpus and a selection of Scandinavian and German altarpieces will be analysed with the purpose of highlighting four specific themes dealing with altarpiece production in Northern Netherlands, Northern Germany and Norway, eventually leading to more conclusive answers about the characteristics of this part of Norwegian cultural heritage. The project raises fundamental questions regarding the attribution of Scandinavian medieval artworks and what inspired their making. It is executed in close cooperation with Hamilton Kerr Institute, University of Cambridge, an internationally renowned centre of excellence within the field of conservation. Dissemination, participation in international research networks, and field work was a focus in the first year of the project. Data was gathered, using art technological tools, from altarpieces in Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden. The principal investigator has participated in seminars and workshops, conferences and network meetings at universities and museums across Europe (Cambridge, Lübeck, Oslo, Leeds, Bergen and Leuven). An important milestone in the first year was the workshop New Directions for Technical Art History, organized by DATILAS and hosted by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Methodology was a key theme of the gathering, casting a critical light on the field's terminology, as well as increased insight into affiliated fields in the social sciences. As a direct result of the workshop, the database and visualization tool Nodegoat was chosen for DATILAS. DATILAS has found evidence of the production of so-called "hybrid" altarpieces, outputs from the collaboration across geographical borders. Interpreted in light of alterity theory within the social sciences, the examinations have brought insight into migrant craftsmen in diaspora communities. Contrary to being defined by geography, the concept of "Hanseatic art" should be viewed through the evaporation of borders, where migration and fluidity are key elements. The study is a particularly good case for a holistic approach in the search of objects' origins, where examinations of "anonymous" elements, and not only the high arts of painting and sculpture, are pivotal. The results was published in the article Part Production of "Hanseatic" altarpieces in late medieval Scandinavian diaspora communities, in the book Migrants: Art, Artists, Materials and Ideas Crossing Borders (Archetype, 2019) A focus has been the study of the gilding and polychromy of structural parts of the whole corpus of Northern German altarpieces in Norway. The case highlights the medieval craftsman's use of sophisticated materials and techniques and proves that, in addition to being secondary props, the shrine decorations bore important meanings in their own right, containing intrinsic material and aesthetical values. Furthermore, the study found both change and continuity in the specific craftsmanship throughout the late medieval period. Especially changes in the layering and three-dimensional effects have been useful tools in the correction of previously assumed dates of origin of several of the altarpieces. The results was published in the article Setting the Stage, Framing the Picture; the Gilding and Polychromy of Late Medieval Altarpiece Structures in the North (CLARA special issue, Vol.5, 2020). Due to Covid 19 and travel restrictions the project took a complimentary direction in parts of 2020 and 2021, where archival studies became a main approach to elucidare questions on the afterlife of medieval altarpieces in the respective church locations. The theory used, a so called object biography approach follows the lives of the altarpieces, and questions all the meanings and functions theyve had in tact with societal changes. The results were dissementated at two conferences and in an article, ?From saintly shrines to cabinets of curiousity - the fate of privately-owned medieval altarpieces in Post-Reformation Norway?, planed to be published in open access, in Konsthistorisk Tidsskrift, 2021. Another ?corona-project? was to write a chapter on medieval altarpieces for a new book to be published in 2022.

Many intriguing dichotomies surround our knowledge of late medieval church art in Scandinavia, a part of cultural heritage often simply categorised as "objects of Hanseatic import". This assumption has proved difficult to refute, due to both the style of these objects - predominantly altarpieces - reflecting common pan-European trends, and their lack of associated documentation. Their "rootless" character has led DATILAS' trail of research back to where it all began: the medieval craftsman's workshop. Through the burgeoning field of technical art history - the interdisciplinary coupling of conservation, historical studies and the natural sciences - the project will use the physical objects as the primary sources of information to elucidate the social and cultural conditions surrounding their making, and the interrelationships between commissioners and craftsmen, merchants and guilds, social structures and society. To operationalise the research objectives, the entire Norwegian corpus and a selection of Scandinavian and German altarpieces will be analysed within a sophisticated interdisciplinary methodological framework (2.2.2), executed through four work packages (2.2.3). The empirical foundation will be provided by close-hold visual examinations aided by instrumental analyses, to distinguish original layers from overpaint, and to identify incongruencies with established standards. When identified, such idiosyncrasies can serve as the "fingerprint" of a specific craftsman, or hallmark of a geographic region or cultural tradition. The objectives will develop innovative approaches and will help to model conservation strategies by casting light on short and long-term effects of past restoration campaigns. Through a historical socioeconomic lens, the project raises fundamental questions regarding the attribution of Scandinavian medieval artworks, and of the regional and international influences surrounding their production.

Activity:

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