Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Images of Foreign Holiness in Medieval and Early Modern Times

Prof. Dr. Klaus Krüger


This project concerns itself with foreign holiness, with the various discourses that determined its understanding or definition, and its evaluation and conceptualization, from a pre-modern, Western-Christian perspective. The various manifestations of foreign holiness, of the monstrous, demonic, and diabolical, on the one hand, and of the miraculous, exotic, and magical, on the other, revealed constant discursive polarizations between exclusion and appropriation, as well as fluidity in how Western-Christian holiness itself was interpreted and signified, i.e. reread, redetermined, and resemanticized.

Given this background, the project is devoted to the compilation, evaluation, and case-by-case interpretation of medieval and early modern visual testimony. The main question to be posed asks after the extent to which foreign holiness in the pre-modern era was transported via aesthetic perceptions and dispositives that served to encourage appropriations and acculturations at the level not only of content and iconography, but also of form, thereby effecting an increased aesthetic auratizing and exoticing of the image. A second question will be posed: how far these processes of resemantization via aesthetization already suggested a substantial fermentation that would lead to the sacralizing of the aesthetic, a process that had already begun to show itself at the beginning of the Renaissance, but by its end brought about an increased divining of the artistically beautiful and a reclaiming – in art-historical institutional terms – of quasi-religious experiences of revelation.

This project examines both narrative and narratively-charged image-cycles found in manuscripts, panel and canvas paintings, and in monumental wall paintings. It will track the retelling in these images of foreign and distant events and stories that suggest systematic reinterpretations and recodings as well as the differences between narratological or iconographical strategies, on the one hand, and formal or aesthetic operations, on the other. The project will focus on pictures evidencing travel narratives and on painted hagiographic cycles in public or private sacred spaces (e.g. family chapels), in addition to the depictions of the Thebais that were disseminated first in the 14th century in diverse media and narrative formats. Attention will be given also to the many decorations found in buildings used by religious fraternities and guild residences, where narrative image cycles tell of distant happenings, for example those occurring in the Orient. Also meriting careful consideration will be the functional context of the material concerning the social and economic structures associated with foreign holiness and its aesthetic appropriations, structures that ultimatly manifested itself as forms of visual colonizations and secularizing appropriations.

The systematic investigation and analysis of all the materials will serve as preparatory work for an exhibition that will  aim to illuminate and delineate the pre-modern foundations in early modern and modern practices of appropriation, assimilation, and integration of foreign holiness, and thus, more generally, to show the terms of this pre-modern intercourse with alterity.