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Caroline Walker Bynum to Give 2015 Janson-LaPalme Lecture

March 25, 2015

The 2015 Robert Janson-La Palme Lecture will be given by Caroline Walker Bynum, professor emerita of medieval European history at the Institute for Advanced Study and University Professor emerita at Columbia University. The lecture will take place in McCormick Hall 101 at 5:00 pm on March 25.

Bynum studies the religious ideas and practices of the European Middle Ages from late antiquity to the 16th century. Her many publications in that field include important contributions to the study of women’s spirituality in Europe, including Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (1987), and the history of the body, among them The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200–1336 (1995). Her more recent work—Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond (2007) and Christian Materiality (2011)—locates the upsurge of new forms of art and devotion in the 14th and 15th centuries against the background of changes in natural philosophy and theology.

Bynum’s Janson-La Palme Lecture, “Raised to Glory, Crowned with Gold: German Nuns and Their Statues in the Late Middle Ages,” will pose questions about the medieval practice of crowning and clothing statues by focusing on two statues of the Virgin from the convent of Wienhausen in northern Germany. The lecture puts the crowns worn by Mary in the context of the crowns worn by the nuns themselves, arguing that such elaborate headdresses carried for the sisters many meanings, among them shaping female identity, signaling monastic commitment, and foreshadowing the rewards of heaven.

As the Janson-La Palme Visiting Professor, Bynum is teaching the course “Devotional Objects in Medieval and Early Modern Christianity.” Focusing on religious objects such as statues, altarpieces, saints’ relics, the Eucharist, and liturgical vestments from ca. 1200 to ca. 1600 in northern Europe, the class is investigating how such objects were understood to express divine power through their materiality and what responses they met during the Reformation. The course examines theoretical questions about what “art” is; its relation to “craft”; what iconoclasm or resistance to images means; differences between museum display and sacred space; and whether responses to images are universal or local and temporal.