CFP Oct 8, 2014

Female Monasticism and the Arts across Europe (London, 13-14 Mar 15)

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN, Mar 13–14, 2015
Deadline: Dec 10, 2014

Michaela Zöschg

Sister Act: Female Monasticism and the Arts across Europe ca. 1250 –

Keynote speaker: Professor Dr. Carola Jäggi, University of Zürich (CH)

This conference seeks to compare, contrast and juxtapose scholarly
approaches to the art of Medieval and Renaissance religious women that
have emerged in recent decades. Seeking to initiate a broader
conversation, which is long overdue, we invite papers that examine
female monastic art in terms of patronage, space, devotional practice,
spiritual identity or material history, spanning all of Europe and
bridging the gap between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Over the last three decades, within a broader scholarly effort to
recover women’s history, art historians have explored the role of gender
in the form, function and patronage of monastic art and architecture. It
has become evident that the institutionalisation of late medieval and
renaissance religious women developed under very different conditions
from that of their male counterparts. Monastic foundations for women are
repeatedly revealed as having been idiosyncratic, rarely adhering to a
set of norms. There are many examples of stable and flourishing
institutions performing functions of dynastic memoria for wealthy,
aristocratic or royal families. Equally, female convents could be fluid
and metamorphic during the course of their history: many instances
demonstrate shifting ecclesiastical allegiances, mutable types of
monastic life, movement between patrons, and even communities changing
order. Such varied historical circumstances shaped the architecture for
female religious communities, ranging from large complexes erected in
the most fashionable styles of their time, to basic dwellings within
converted secular buildings. Diversity can also be observed in the
commissioning and use of works of art, from second-hand or adapted
paintings to specially commissioned, lavish monuments and vast cycles of
wall paintings. In short, artworks in the female religious context
escape generalisation.

Idiosyncrasies are found not only when investigating the female monastic
complex and its art, but also in the scholarship itself, which has
primarily focused on chronologically and geographically specific
material, often without engaging in dialogue with adjacent fields.

North of the Alps, scholars tend to gravitate towards the rich
Cistercian and Dominican material, and to concentrate on the interplay
between visual culture and devotional practice. The 2005 exhibition
'Krone und Schleier: Kunst aus mittelalterlichen Frauenklöstern', and
the accompanying conference, bore witness to the vibrant wealth of
artworks preserved in the German-speaking areas of Europe, and should
foster scholarly exchange with other European regions.

On the Italian peninsula, the patchy archival record and damage to
physical convent spaces has led to a proliferation of case studies.
Renaissance and early modern scholarship has also focused on biographies
of individual nuns or specific convent chronicles as means of
investigating nunneries within the urban fabric of the Italian
city-states from a socio-economic perspective.

Meanwhile, the abundance of surviving artistic material in Spain,
Portugal, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe has recently started to receive
attention. The art of women who lived in a semi-religious context, such
as tertiaries, widows, anchoresses and beguines, has also been brought
to the fore. This abundance of recent work now invites comparison and
wider interpretation.

We welcome proposals for 20-minute papers exploring material across the
stated time span, in all artistic media and throughout Europe, that deal
with either case studies or broader methodological questions. Papers,
which take a comparative approach, breaking the traditional regional or
chronological boundaries, are particularly welcome. We intend to arrange
the papers into panels that present contrasting approaches and/or
differing time periods or places, to stimulate comparative discussion.
Topics may include, but are not limited to:

- The topography of female religious settlements (e.g. within a city or
a region)
- Female monastic architectural space (social aspects, interaction,
hierarchies etc.)
- The commemorative function of art and architecture in female religious
- The relationship between lay patrons and female religious communities
- Artworks and liturgical/devotional practice
- Religious women as artistic practitioners
- Second-hand or relocated artworks
- The importance of written sources (chronicles, regulations, etc.) for
understanding the artistic choices of religious women
- Comparisons between the art of female and male communities
- Artworks for female tertiaries and other semi-monastic groups,
comparisons with the art of their second order counterparts
- Patronage networks between individual patrons and/or female religious
- Representing collective and individual identity
- The influence of female monastic art beyond the nunnery

Please send your abstracts of 250 – 300 words and a short biography of
100 words to Laura Llewellyn ( and
Michaela Zöschg ( by 10 December 2014 at
the latest.

Unfortunately, we cannot offer travel subsidies. Applicants from outside
London are therefore encouraged to apply to other funding bodies for
travel bursaries to attend the conference.

Organised by Laura Llewellyn and Michaela Zöschg (The Courtauld
Institute of Art)

CFP: Female Monasticism and the Arts across Europe (London, 13-14 Mar 15). In:, Oct 8, 2014 (accessed Jul 18, 2024), <>.