The Depiction of Spatial Experience in Early Medieval Gospel Books, 787-814 CE Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Fischer, Elizabeth
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Art and Art History, Art History
  • This dissertation examines the visual construction of space in a group of luxury gospel books produced in connection with Charlemagne’s court. The books’ detail and quality make them an ideal case study. The miniatures do not conform to post-medieval expectations of realism, which has led to the assumption that medieval artists were uninterested in sensory experience. In this dissertation, I argue that there is a consistent spatial model in which pictorial space is shown as an extension of the viewer’s environment. I integrate medieval expectations of the cosmos and sensory perception, architectural evidence, and textual descriptions of places that relate to the original viewing context. I use studies of the cultural features of spatial experience and neuroscience research on how the brain processes visual stimuli to help understand the effects the images had for viewers who were accustomed to similar depictions. This depiction of space relies on the principle that space is experienced through the body. Post-medieval visuality emphasized a disembodied viewer who was fully separated from the image. This created different expectations for how images should represent space to show orientation and relationships. Space was imagined as a series of layered frames: things closer to the viewer overlap things in the distance, and visible borders and frames were used to create a telescopic effect that connected the layers, including connecting the picture plane to the viewer’s environment. Haptic details were used to show proximity: something that was close to the picture plane looked like it could be touched. The images show textured surfaces that indicate the facture and materiality of the things that are represented. Finally, I address how this spatial depiction affects the meaning of the images and the books’ purpose. The books are shown to be a new Ark of the Covenant, kept in a new Temple; by showing this space as connected to the churches in which they were kept, the churches became new Temples and Charlemagne showed himself as a new Solomon.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Brachmann, Christoph
  • Lin, Wei-Cheng
  • String, Tania
  • Bull, Marcus
  • Verkerk, Dorothy
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

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