Nuns and (Visual) Culture in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

The seminar explored the cultures of nuns in various orders and times during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, as well as their perception in scholarly and popular contexts today. Visual culture, art, and architecture provided the nexus for considerations in this course. The following questions were addressed: How did religious women employ architecture, art, and visual objects (furniture, furnishings, dress, paraments, reliquaries, liturgical books, altars, stained glass, and sculpture)? How did nuns strive to establish identity? How did nuns create and define their own spaces? What motivated nuns to join a particular monastery or order? What purposes did nuns serve in society? How did they interact with the world outside? How did female monastic economies function? What were the hallmarks of female spiritualities from mystic idiosyncracies to liturgical rituals? What distinguishing roles did gender play in the life of the religious? What can be learned about female monasticism and sexuality? How were nuns perceived and treated by those outside their walls? How did nuns’ art and architecture function within the larger multisensory ambience of monasticism? What social markers were in place between orders or within a particular order or specific nunnery? How did female monasticism change over time or vary from place to place? How and why are medieval nuns represented in the (visual) culture of our own day?

Group photo at the end of the semester
ASU graduate student Heidi Zimmermann examining figures of the infant Christ in the Germanische Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg
©2004 by Corine Schleif