Session Title

Unfinished/Infini: Incomplete, Ongoing, and Never-Ending Works of Art

Sponsoring Organization(s)

Medieval Studies Program, Univ. of Texas-Austin

Organizer Name

Joan A. Holladay

Organizer Affiliation

Univ. of Texas-Austin

Presider Name

Joan A. Holladay

Paper Title 1

The Crusader Church of the Resurrection at Abu Ghosh, in and out of Time

Presenter 1 Name

Megan Boomer

Presenter 1 Affiliation

Univ. of Pennsylvania

Paper Title 2

Illusory and Abandoned Ends in Chretien de Troyes's Arthurian Romances

Presenter 2 Name

Rebecca Newby

Presenter 2 Affiliation

Cardiff Univ.

Paper Title 3

The Tickhill Psalter: Unfinished but Unforgotten at Worksop Abbey

Presenter 3 Name

Anne Rudloff Stanton

Presenter 3 Affiliation

Univ. of Missouri-Columbia

Start Date

12-5-2017 10:00 AM

Session Location

Fetzer 2030

Description

Some of the best known, richest, and most dramatic manuscripts in the art historical canon—including the Très Riches Heures, the Douce Apocalypse, and the Kassel Willehalm Codex—were not completed in the initial campaign of work. Yet they were returned to their owners, patrons of the most elevated status, who used them, cherished them, and occasionally had them worked on again in later campaigns. We art historians have concerned ourselves largely with separating earlier and later hands in these works, suggesting only in passing the possible (perhaps unknowable) reasons for their incompleteness: the artist died or walked off the job, the patron passed away, ran out of money, or lost interest in the project. And we have used such incomplete works to talk productively about the sequence of steps in which medieval manuscripts were produced.

I would argue that modern scholars (and builders and editors) place outsized importance on the concept of the complete, a result due in part perhaps to Gutenberg and the fixed form of printed books. Evidence that this may not correspond to the way medieval artists and patrons understood their projects might be found in the manuscripts and behavior of Charles V of France (r. 1364–80). Charles famously revised—in three successive campaigns—both the text and the image cycle of the manuscript of the Grandes chroniques de France, which he had commissioned himself. He also cut up and inserted new texts and new illuminations, including multiple portraits of himself, into at least one manuscript that he had acquired from an earlier owner, the Hours of Blanche of Savoy, a work of about 1330. In other words, a book was for him an infinitely malleable work that allowed for reconception and change, updating, and adaptation to new political and personal circumstances. Medieval authors and readers preceived texts too, like the Willehalm of Wolfram von Eschenbach, as open to extension, elaboration, and further work; Wolfram’s poem of the 1210s was given a coda more than twice as long as the original work in the second quarter of the thirteenth century and, finally, in the 1260s, a preface elaborating the early lives of the main characters from a few minimal indications in the original text. Furthermore, oral transmission allowed for each new performance of a given text to differ from previous versions.

This session seeks papers that address the idea of the unfinished, the ongoing, and the infinite in the middle ages. Papers might approach the issue from a conceptual point of view; they might also address the question by examining specific works of art. Despite the examples in manuscript illumination cited above, papers treating works in all visual media are welcome; indeed the delayed execution of towers at sites like the cathedrals of Chartres and Bourges may indicate a similar disregard for finality. Papers that consider the incomplete in works of literature or music will also be considered.

Joan A. Holladay

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May 12th, 10:00 AM

Unfinished/Infini: Incomplete, Ongoing, and Never-Ending Works of Art

Fetzer 2030

Some of the best known, richest, and most dramatic manuscripts in the art historical canon—including the Très Riches Heures, the Douce Apocalypse, and the Kassel Willehalm Codex—were not completed in the initial campaign of work. Yet they were returned to their owners, patrons of the most elevated status, who used them, cherished them, and occasionally had them worked on again in later campaigns. We art historians have concerned ourselves largely with separating earlier and later hands in these works, suggesting only in passing the possible (perhaps unknowable) reasons for their incompleteness: the artist died or walked off the job, the patron passed away, ran out of money, or lost interest in the project. And we have used such incomplete works to talk productively about the sequence of steps in which medieval manuscripts were produced.

I would argue that modern scholars (and builders and editors) place outsized importance on the concept of the complete, a result due in part perhaps to Gutenberg and the fixed form of printed books. Evidence that this may not correspond to the way medieval artists and patrons understood their projects might be found in the manuscripts and behavior of Charles V of France (r. 1364–80). Charles famously revised—in three successive campaigns—both the text and the image cycle of the manuscript of the Grandes chroniques de France, which he had commissioned himself. He also cut up and inserted new texts and new illuminations, including multiple portraits of himself, into at least one manuscript that he had acquired from an earlier owner, the Hours of Blanche of Savoy, a work of about 1330. In other words, a book was for him an infinitely malleable work that allowed for reconception and change, updating, and adaptation to new political and personal circumstances. Medieval authors and readers preceived texts too, like the Willehalm of Wolfram von Eschenbach, as open to extension, elaboration, and further work; Wolfram’s poem of the 1210s was given a coda more than twice as long as the original work in the second quarter of the thirteenth century and, finally, in the 1260s, a preface elaborating the early lives of the main characters from a few minimal indications in the original text. Furthermore, oral transmission allowed for each new performance of a given text to differ from previous versions.

This session seeks papers that address the idea of the unfinished, the ongoing, and the infinite in the middle ages. Papers might approach the issue from a conceptual point of view; they might also address the question by examining specific works of art. Despite the examples in manuscript illumination cited above, papers treating works in all visual media are welcome; indeed the delayed execution of towers at sites like the cathedrals of Chartres and Bourges may indicate a similar disregard for finality. Papers that consider the incomplete in works of literature or music will also be considered.

Joan A. Holladay