In the thirteenth century, figures in stone, metalwork, stained glass, and paint adorned the public spaces of churches and the private spaces of books to an unprecedented degree. This explosion of portraiture coincided with a trend towards figuring individuals as subjects at prayer. These highly conventional images challenge modern assumptions about where identity lies within a portrait. It is not the appearance of the subject’s body, but rather its devotional performance, that expresses its status as an individual. This dynamic reveals the dialectic at the core of thirteenth-century Christian conceptions of subjectivity: the self is simultaneously embodied and immaterial, specific and ideal. The self is also gendered, and it was in representations of women that gestures of devotion first became essential components of portraiture. Through my attention to the role of gender in the visual and cultural discourses around the devotional self, my work disrupts scholarly tendencies to produce totalizing definitions of selfhood, revealing instead the conceptual nuances within apparently similar representations of self.
My current book project examines the devotional portrait across material and social contexts in France between 1180 and 1320. This work stems from my dissertation, “The Portrait Potential: Gender, Identity, and Devotion in Manuscript Owner Portraits, 1230–1320,” completed at Bryn Mawr College in 2015. My dissertation addressed medieval portraiture through a close study of eight devotional manuscripts that emphasize portraits in their illuminations. Examining the means by which manuscript owner portraits signified to their medieval viewers revealed the inherent semantic flexibility of the images. I argue that this flexibility is inherent to the images’ function in devotion as aspirational models for the women and men who saw them.
My next project treats courtly love and dynastic concerns in an illuminated psalter made near Amiens (BnF lat. 10435). The unique illuminations in this little-known book include both a sophisticated visual gloss to the biblical text and a fanciful family history that frames social standing in terms of erotic exchanges, providing fascinating insight into the construction of familial, class, and gender identity in the late thirteenth century. A further project carries my research into the Renaissance to address printed books of hours of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. While modern scholarship has often neglected these books in favor of their illuminated contemporaries, this study of their production and reception will shed light on their unique position within the material history of the book. In addition to a traditional publication, I also aim to produce a digital resource for the study of printed books of hours: a website that provides a catalog of books, texts, and images; maps the production and export of books within Europe; and tracks the output of specific printers and booksellers.