Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Remembrance of Good Men and the Stories of the Deeds of Valiant Men Justly Inflames and Excites the Hearts of Young Knights: Representing History in the Fifteenth Century
by Sullivan, Brendan M., Ph.D., New York University, 2014, 358; 3635309
Abstract (Summary)

My dissertation examines a methodological dilemma confronting the study of fifteenth-century manuscript illumination: to what extent does art-historical interpretation recover the "original" meaning of a work of art, and how much are these past meanings a refracted and reshaped version of the art historian's own present response to the still-extant work? Can we reconcile these two temporal/heuristic poles - one that views the meaning of the work as sealed away in the past, the other that conceives of a work's meaning as blossoming forth only in the present - without either being overpowered and hidden by the other? These larger questions emerge out of an examination of Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, manuscrit français 2646, an illuminated manuscript produced in Bruges in the late fifteenth century containing the fourth book of Jean Froissart's Chroniques. Français 2646's visual program is repeatedly singled out as a particularly "violent," "agitated," or "dramatic" rendition of the Chroniques. Typically, art historians explain these distinctive emotive qualities as effects intentionally encoded into fr. 2646 at the time of its creation, for example by the Master of Anthony of Burgundy, one of the manuscript's artists, or by Louis of Gruuthuse, this manuscript's patron. Historically specific names offer a natural-seeming way to integrate the object into a fifteenth-century context, and thus reduce the reader's awareness of the present experiences on which the art historian draws in his reconstruction of the past But words like "violent" and "dramatic" generate a subjective emotional power that sits uneasily within this reconstructed historical context, and these words thus point to a more complex relationship between past and present. My dissertation attempts to exploit this uneasy tension, and to move towards a more dynamic, articulate understanding of how the present engages affectively with the past. Drawing on work by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Carolyn Dinsahw on the intersection between emotion and historical/critical practice, I arrive at a conceptualization of history that is overfull with idiosyncratic emotionality, in which the meaning of past continually shifts and changes. My own, present experience of these objects is juxtaposed with the reconstructed past, and I describe how this experience is plagued with frustrations and disappointments that interfere with history's reconstructive imperatives. I use this frustrating and abortive relationship with the past to revisit traditional art historical methods of contextualization, and to question the meaning derived from a manuscript's connection to a particular artist or patron. How might these images not only reflect medieval artists' and patrons' intentions, but also create a differently, yet equally, meaningful relationship with future viewers? How might a manuscript provide different kinds of hermeneutic experiences as its context changes, as it comes into contact with an open-ended succession of viewers throughout its long existence? It is precisely this interest in the future -- in other words this "futurity" -- that is lacking in art history's focus on reconstructing the medieval object's original or intentional meaning. My dissertation will make space for these future readings, and for the idiosyncratically emotive meanings that arise from them--for a history that, rather than disguising the subjective present in favor of the objective past, explores their messy codependence.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Alexander, Jonathan J.G.
Commitee: Hay, Jonathan, McCredie, James, Smith, Kathryn A., Soucek, Priscilla
School: New York University
Department: Institute of Fine Arts
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 76/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Art history
Keywords: Affect theory, Art history, Burgundian art, Critical theory, Illuminated manuscripts
Publication Number: 3635309
ISBN: 978-1-321-16296-7
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