Universiteit Leiden

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Research programme

Medieval and early modern studies: literature, art and learning (750-1700)

The research themes and projects of this research cluster demonstrate the interest in the creation, conservation and dissemination of the literary and visual arts and their roles in society as outlined in the framework of the Institute’s research agenda and interests.

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Caroline van Eck

European Culture underwent radical changes in art, scholarship and science, literature and religion between 750 and 1800. These changes include: the emergence and development of the natural sciences, urbanisation, the Western Schism, humanism, the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, spectacular developments in the art of painting, architecture, arts and crafts, and the development of an art market. These developments were accelerated by increasing lay literacy, the growth of universities and the use of the vernacular alongside academic Latin and the invention of the printed book and image, that generated a more intense participation by the laity in the previously almost exclusively clerical scholarly culture. Furthermore, fundamental changes took place in politics (emergence of nation states; division of Europe because of religious wars and confessionalisation; fight against Islam), warfare (discovery of gunpowder), demography (e.g. mass mortality due to the plague), economy (overseas trade) and geography (discovery of the New World) and natural history (discovery of new botanical and zoological species, invention of the microscope). All these changes meant that a whole new world developed in Europe. The research themes and projects of this research cluster demonstrate the interest in the creation, conservation and dissemination of the literary and visual arts and their roles in society as outlined in the framework of the Institute’s research agenda and interests. ‘Arts in society’ presupposes an approach that integrates medieval and early modern textual culture and visual arts in contemporary culture.

Three forms of collaborative approaches stand out. Firstly, projects characterised by a broad perspective on Medieval and Early Modern textual culture, combining literary studies with intellectual and religious history and the study of material texts, such as the EU Initial Training Network MITT: ‘Mobility of Ideas and Transmission of Text. Vernacular Literature and Learning in the Rhineland and the Low Countries (ca. 1300–1550)’, directed by Dr Warnar, with twelve young scholars in collaboration with the Universities of Oxford, Antwerp, Freiburg and Lecce. The NWO VIDI project ‘Turning over a New Leaf: Manuscript Innovation in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance’, directed by Dr Kwakkel, studies the new type of manuscript that emerged around 1100, commonly called ‘pre-gothic’, including all its codicological and palaeographical features; Dr Van Marion’s NWO VENI project studies the ongoing presence of medieval literature in the Dutch seventeenth century.

The second integrated approach regards the visual arts and architecture, that is, the ways in which the arts together functioned in society, focusing on the relation between art works or buildings and their public. Examples are the study of art and architecture as living presence (following from Van Eck’s VICI project on ‘Art and Agency’); the large multidisciplinary volume on the Pieterskerk in Leiden (Den Hartog et al., 2011), which shows how sculptural and architectural elements together acted on viewers, and served to represent the religious, political or artistic views of patrons and artists; or the reconstruction of the dissemination of Netherlandish art and architecture in early modern Scandinavia by means of the settlement of artists’ dynasties such as the Van Manders in Denmark or Sweden (Roding).

Thirdly, the interdisciplinary and integral study of art and literature, in which natural history, art history, book history and literary studies are also combined (for example, two NWO projects: Prof. Hoftijzer on Clusius’s botanical network throughout Europe, and Prof. Smith on ‘Cultural Representations of Living Nature’ around 1600). Lastly, Early Modern literature in England, France, the Netherlands and Italy, covering the work of famous writers such as Donne, Shakespeare, Rabelais, Montaigne, La Fontaine, Vondel, Petrarca and Machiavelli, is studied from such diverse perspectives as book history, text editions, translation studies, rhetoric, word/image relationships and reception theory.

 

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