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Jordan Koel (Kress Fellow): ‘Living Legends: Animated Sculpture in Medieval Culture, ca. 1100–1350’ 

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, stories of animated sculpture circulated with increasing frequency in western Europe. Demons spoke through ancient idols, carved images of the Virgin gently curled fingers around the wedding rings of young men, and crucifixes moved and bled when provoked. Some stories were held to be true, contributing to the reputations of specific objects, places, or people. Others were understood as fantasy, meant to entertain and teach. From the factual to the fantastical, these stories created auras around sculpted images that pulsed with possibility and potentiality. Embedded within these tales is a rich and powerful history of medieval sculpture. My research aims to draw out this history through a careful systematic reading across literary genres aligned with extant works of art to better understand how medieval audiences encountered, engaged with, and understood sculpted bodies in both the landscape and the imagination. 

Image: “Image de pierre,” from La Vie des Pères, MS KB 71 A 24, fol. 104v. Paris, ca. 1327. 

The Work in Progress seminar explores the variety of subjects studied and researched at the Warburg Institute. Papers are given by invited international scholars, research fellows studying at the Institute, and third-year PhD students.