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£74,000 from AHRC for research into medieval art and music

The choir of Wells Cathedral

The choir of Wells Cathedral

9 April 2010

Dr Beth Williamson of the Department of Historical Studies (History of Art) has been awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellowship worth £74,099 to work on a project entitled ‘The Embodiment of Devotion: Art, Music and Affect in Late Medieval England’.

The project will consider the effect that embodiment (that is, being ‘in the flesh’) had on medieval religious experience, balancing art history’s usual concentration on the visual with a focus on the physical and emotional effects of music.

The research aims to capture the complexity of religious practice as an intellectual, physical, sensual and emotional experience, and assert the vital importance of both art and music as integral parts of religious experience in England between 1200 and 1600.

Dr Williamson said: “All of the senses play a part in the embodied experience of the religious devotee but the art, architecture and music of medieval Christianity offer the most concrete examples of deliberate, conscious and complex appeals to the senses. 

“During the nine months of the fellowship I will investigate the various strands of thought in the middle ages that were concerned with the senses, with sense perception, and with the relationship between physical or sensual experience and religious devotion.

“This will lead to a detailed examination of the images and material artefacts associated with English medieval religious experience, including painted images, books and sculpture, and to a consideration of the religious sound-scape, including the music that would have been performed as part of religious devotions.”

An expert on late medieval European painting, with particular interests in Christian art and in the material culture associated with Christianity, Dr Williamson will also draw on her experience as a singer of medieval ecclesiastical music with Bristol’s Exultate Singers in conducting this research. 

The project will run from 1 January to 30 September 2011.

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