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Journal of Visual Culture

Undergraduate Projects:

Laura Adams
Chloe Barnett
Bridget Costello
Elizabeth Damore
Hannah Flack
Molly Finnegan

Mariana Martin
Daria Ovide
Abigail Perkiss
Lauren Rosenblum
Debbie Wang
Maxim Weintraub
Petra Williams-Lescht

Graduate Projects:

Maya Balakirsky
Deborah Barkun
Andrea DeGiorgi
Zlatan Gruborovic
Elizabeth Martin
Michael J. McClure
Sara Morasch
Jeanne-Marie Musto
Kim Peters

Kim Peters

What is now the town of Lincoln in Lincolnshire, England was settled more than two thousand years ago and, in the first century C.E., it became the capital of the Roman province that covered eastern England.   Flourishing during the medieval period as an inland port and a center of wool production, the town was visited by pilgrims and became home to several communities of friars.   They were drawn to the region by its cathedral, the third largest in England, consecrated in 1092 and reconstructed one hundred years later in the Gothic style.   Today, its looming towers still command the view above a medieval town center making Lincoln a valuable destination for an aspiring art historian particularly interested in the later Middle Ages.   During the summer of 2005, I spent eight weeks working in the Lincoln Cathedral Library, which gave me the rare opportunity to live in this region of extraordinary history while assisting with a project that would itself expand my knowledge of medieval culture and art.     

The libraries of the Lincoln Cathedral contain manuscripts that date as far back as one thousand years.   The Medieval Library was built in the 1420's and is now used for regular exhibitions of books and manuscripts.   The Wren Library, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1675, houses an important collection of early printed books.   My project was to create a computer database classifying the woodcuts from the library's holdings of incunabula and early printed books .   It is estimated that around five hundred of the books printed before 1535 contain woodcuts.   I compared these images with those catalogued in Edward Hodnett's English Woodcuts, 1480 to 1535 .   This involved digital photography of the woodcuts and the creation of subject fields to enable cross-referencing.

The librarians arranged a visit to the Cathedral Works Department where we were shown around the stonemason's workshop and were allowed to see pieces of the Dean's Eye rose window on the light box.   I attended cathedral concerts, Shakespeare plays, and a study day in the Wren Library.   On the weekends, I traveled to London, York, Nottingham, and Haworth (the home of the lovely Brontë sisters).   I took a trip to Cambridge with the library staff and visited King's College Chapel and the Wren Library at Trinity College.

My summer work inspired my choice of thesis topic - I am now writing on a subject involving fifteenth and sixteenth century woodcut images.   But, what I learned from my internship that was most lasting came from my experience of the cathedral itself.   I remember seeing Lincoln's towering West Front for the first time, not over the rooftops of the town but as a image projected in a darkened Bryn Mawr classroom. Until I spent a summer in Lincoln, I had not truly realized that its Gothic monument was in fact still the center of so many lives.   In the morning, choir men walked their dogs around the circling drive and stonemasons walked the roof.   Organ music often drifted into the cloister where students from the Minster School took their lunches. Many of my co-workers, as children, had played rowdy games dangerously close to the chapter house windows. In the short time I'd spent working in the cathedral library, I grew to love this town in eastern England and was fortunate to be among those people whose faith and care had sustained this place for more than a thousand years.  

Given Emil Nolde's portrayal of his Biblical figures as Jews with "primitive," sometimes grotesque features that often tend towards caricature, I decided last spring to write a masters thesis on Nolde's Mary of Egypt triptych, focusing on his use of primitivism as it relates to issues of gender, race, and ethnicity. From the beginning of this project, the counterpoint to the problematic nature of these representations has been my own emotional, almost naive attraction to the images. How, I began to ask, is it possible to reconcile this sort of visceral response to the paintings, with the complicated implications engendered by Nolde's appropriation of elements from non-Western art?

With this question in mind, I traveled to Europe in August in order to look at the triptych, as well as a number of paintings related to the series. In Copenhagen, I visited the Staatens Museum for Kunst, which owns eight of Nolde's paintings, including The Last Supper and one of his many stillifes with "primitive" objects. At my next stop, the Nolde Stiftung near Neukirchen, Germany, I saw the monumental Life of Christ polyptych and Der Hemcher, the latter of which provides a clear indication of the influence of Orientalism on Nolde's art. The highlight of this visit, however, was a private viewing of a painting that has never been exhibited, a piece originally entitled Urwetb und JungJing and later changed to Maria Aegyptiaca.

From Neukirchen, I traveled to Hamburg and the Hamburg Kunsthalle where I was able to spend a considerable amount of time in front of the triptych: Legende: Die Heiige Maria von Aegypten. Interestingly, the central panel is larger than the other two, so that along with its predominantly warm coloration and the emphatic gesture of its figure, this panel commands the viewer's attention at the expense of the other two paintings. In person, the first panel is garish, grotesque, and difficult to look at, while in comparison, the final panel is practically lifeless and flat. In Essen, my final destination, I visited the Museum Folkwang, home to a number of Nolde's religious paintings, including a second version of the final panel of the Mary of Egypt triptych. In contrast to the painting in Hamburg, this work is vivid and compelling, an image of life or spiritual redemption through death, as opposed to the odd lifelessness represented in the Hamburg painting.