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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

f) Re|source: medieval and contemporary art

1) Re|source: medieval and contemporary art

Clare A. Lees, Sharon Morris, Neil Jeffries, Jayne Parker, Liz Rideal et Jo Volley

Texte intégral

1In exploring contemporary arts practices and medieval culture, this panel took inspiration from William Kentridge’s Triumphs and laments, on the banks of the Tiber. Five artists—Neil Jeffries, Sharon Morris, Jayne Parker, Liz Rideal, and Jo Volley, from the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London—considered the relationship between the medieval and the contemporary arts, using their own work as a focus. The panel illustrated how medieval materials and artefacts resource contemporary arts practice in poetry, film, and photography as well as sculpture and painting. We also circulated a booklet of images and descriptions.

2Neil Jeffries (image 1) explored his painted metal sculptural reliefs that conflate figurative and abstract elements into awkward and confessional relationships. These often respond to the marginal elements of art of medieval northern Europe; misericords, psalter illustrations, capital carvings, and rood screens, where authorship/craftsmanship lines blur and the antecedents of later Expressionist art are asserted.

3As chair of the panel, Clare A. Lees (image 2) provided a contextual frame, the result of her recent research on how modern and contemporary poets, writers, and artists engage with early medieval cultures.

4Artist and poet, Sharon Morris’s artworks include photography, installations, film-poems, and live readings with projections (image 3). Inspired by medieval manuscripts and their glosses, and by inscribed stone monuments, which include Latin, Irish and Ogham scripts, Morris examined her current interest in the “macaronic” as texts that are not necessarily translated. Morris discussed her juxtaposition of different perspectives of looking and reading through photography and poetry; the time zones of geology, history and the present; English and Welsh languages and their etymology; and the intimate act of reading a book versus a scroll.

5Jayne Parker (image 4) is an artist and filmmaker whose work has been widely shown in art galleries, on television, and in film and music festivals. To this panel discussion, she contributed her “particular interest in the construction of early musical instruments and their depiction in manuscripts and paintings, particularly when played by animals or angelic beings.” As another example of her interest in form, Parker offered her carvings of magnolia buds, echoing medieval manuscript and sculptural images.

6Artist and author Liz Rideal (image 5) has had fifty solo exhibitions in both public and private art galleries across Europe and America: six catalogue publications and twenty public commissions. Her artwork is held in collections including those of the Tate; the Victoria & Albert Museum; The British Museum; The National Portrait Gallery; The Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada; Museet for Fotokunst, Denmark; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; The George Eastman Museum; Berkeley Art Museum; and the Yale Centre for British Art. Her presentation for this panel focused on her ongoing photographic work in Rome, investigating Rome’s medieval sculpture and architecture as an artistic resource in the present.

7Our final panelist, Jo Volley (image 6) addressed her concerns with measurement, light, space and colour as light, which employ a wide range of material and medium. Volley drew attention to the nature of archiving, historic materials, ideas of craftsmanship, incorporating traditional and contemporary techniques. Coast, 7ft diameter (image 6) is a collection of two thousand plaster objects, pebbles, coloured with one or more of sixty different handmade inks from pigments and stains accumulated from around the world. It is inspired by the medieval Cosmati mosaics and the idea that they bring together, in a single form, precious materials from far off lands as if deposited by the tide upon the shore, infused with the light and drawn by the sea. A conceit of Coast is that it contains some very rare pigments a number of which have probably never before existed together in a single work.

8Members of the research group, Medieval in Contemporary Art (MiCA), these artists and medievalists demonstrated how the contemporary arts re-surface various meanings of the medieval in the modern world. The first panel of this kind at a medievalism conference, the panel encouraged wider collaboration and engagement between medievalists and artists by exploring shared research questions, theoretical framings, and methodological issues.


University of London

Slade School of Fine Art, University College London)

Slade School of Fine Art, University College London)

Slade School of Fine Art, University College London)

Slade School of Fine Art, University College London)

Slade School of Fine Art, University College London)

© Publications de l’École française de Rome, 2021

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