Marginality and the experience of images in late Medieval England
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This thesis re-examines the art historiography of margins and marginality. It has long been recognized that the phenomenon of the marginal – characterized by hybrid forms, and playful scenes of secular subjects – occurred not only on the manuscript page, but also on textiles, maps, furniture, documents, and even within and upon the exterior of the most sacred structures in Christendom. The late Michael Camille argued that in the medieval world these margins were liminal spaces, where artists and patrons explored and defined social relationships through the visual representation of the “other.” Camille and those who followed him painted a picture of a highly stratified, stagnant society, in which images reflect the homogenous worldview of a patriarchal elite. The “others” he described were the socially marginalized peoples of the medieval world, and they naturally included women. I argue that this approach not only simplifies the often complex relationships between patrons, artists, and audiences in the creative process, but also denies agency to the viewer. In this thesis, I present three case studies involving women and marginal art that both complicate and contradict this argument. The first case study analyzes three misericords with a shared enigmatic iconography, and demonstrates not only that the presumed audience for these pieces was broader than commonly assumed, but also that the wheelbarrowed woman offered more than a condemnatory vision of medieval femininity. In the second case study, I examine how the social, political, and economic factors impacting late medieval towns gave rise to the image of the dishonest alewife in hell, and consider how such a marginal character operated on a monumental scale in the Last Judgment mural. The final case study focuses on a book of hours with a prolonged production period, and reveals how several female patrons physically manipulated both its pages and margins in the service of spiritual and material desires. Working with concepts developed by theorists such as Alfred Gell, Catriona Mackenzie, and Michel Foucault, this thesis resituates agency in our interpretation of the marginal arts.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2022-11-20
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 20th November 2022. Images restricted permanently in electronic copy.
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