Active Objects: An Introduction

By Karen Eileen Overbey & Benjamin C. Tilghman | Published in Issue Four

Taken as a whole, these essays demonstrate the diversity of approaches and insights made possible by a “New Materialist” approach, even when the material is restricted to Western medieval art. These projects can constructively challenge our methods of social art history, particularly iconography and iconology, which often focus on single, holistic moments of meaning-creation or interpretation.

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This essay asks if, when, and how the concealed substrates of these precious-metal liturgical objects would have come to matter publicly, and it marks the first step of a much larger project. Were medieval subjects seeing beneath the surface, or did a gold surface sufficiently satisfy and thus arrest their gaze, or did these precious-metal objects prompt a viewing mode at once penetrating and willingly beguiled?

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On the Enigmatic Nature of Things in Anglo-Saxon Art

By Benjamin C. Tilghman | Published in Issue Four

One of the more vexing problems facing scholars of Anglo-Saxon art is the simple fact that we often do not know precisely what it is that we are dealing with. I am speaking not so much of the questions of dating and localization that hamper the study of medieval art. Rather, it is that we cannot even say for certain what many of our most famous objects even are, or were intended to be.

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It may be useful to begin this essay with a very basic observation. Aside from kinetic sculpture, objects are only as active as viewers allow them to be. They shape our perceptions, and direct the physical, intellectual, and perhaps spiritual movements that we make in response to them, only insofar as we agree to be influenced.

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The specificity of Matian and Digrenet’s action in giving Troyes 960 “for their souls” also renders this little-known codex an anchor in the broad question of how early medieval manuscripts were designed with utility in mind, and how all components of their construction—images, text, ordering, physical build—may be instrumental in work performed with (or through) the codices toward a defined purpose.

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