History of Art Research Seminar 29 September 2021
From Malene Nafisi
Dr Amelia Hope, Teaching Fellow, Early Art (History of Art, University of Edinburgh)
‘Poor men and brother hermits’: The Franciscans, the eremitic life, and a late thirteenth-century image of the desert'
Abstract: At the end of the thirteenth century, a novel iconography appeared in central Italy depicting the eremitic lives of monks and hermits in the desert. The first known example of this type of narrative image, which looks back to the exemplary ascetic lives of the early Christian Desert Fathers, is contained in a tabernacle, currently on display at the Scottish National Galleries in Edinburgh. Aspects of its iconography can be convincingly traced to manuscript illuminations from Byzantium, but who wanted it made, and why? What motivated its creation? This paper argues that the origins of this extraordinary image can be related to contemporary debates about the nature of the religious life. Specifically, it can be linked to certain members of the Franciscan Order who insisted on an unbreakable link between poverty – a defining characteristic of mendicancy – and the desert. This scene of eremitic life enables new ways of thinking about processes of cultural assimilation and exchange, the representation of historical understanding, and the role of images in religious disputes.
Bio: Amelia’s research focuses on narrative images in Italy between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, with a particular interest in images of the desert. Her doctoral thesis explores the relationship between narrative painting and religious ideas, the religious and visual traditions of Byzantium, and art associated with the Mendicant Orders. Since graduating in 2019, Amelia has been a Teaching Fellow at ECA, teaching courses on Medieval Rome and, this year, on Renaissance Women. Her paper for the Research Seminar series is adapted from a forthcoming article in Gesta.