A Material World

A Material World is a new events series hosted by the Warburg Institute which focuses on the reconstruction of life in the past through objects and materials, the people who made them and the people who used them. Combining public lectures, student seminars and live object-based presentations across three terms, the series brings together academics and heritage professionals from a wide range of disciplines including history, art history, cultural history, archaeology, anthropology, history of religion and museum studies. The series will discuss issues concerning historical objects, their materials, forms, and functions, as well as their conservation, presentation, display, and reconstruction. It offers a broad social perspective, being concerned not only with the highest strata of society, but also with marginalised peoples and their habits concerning the production and consumption of everyday items. 

The three combined lecture-seminar sessions of 2020-21 will be on the theme of Devotion.

A Material World: Devotion will explore a range of artefacts produced and marketed in the context of religion during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The theme will build on Aby Warburg's legacy and interest in the devotional practices of both western and non-western societies, as well as the Warburg Institute's interdisciplinary ethos.

Organisers: Rembrandt Duits (Acting Curator, The Photographic Collection, The Warburg Institute) and Louisa McKenzie (PhD student, The Warburg Institute).

Photo: ©️ Gordon Plumb


Upcoming events


'The Anatomy of Ritual: Votive Body Parts in Greco-Roman Antiquity and Beyond'

Presented by Jessica Hughes (Open University & The Votives Project)

Jessica Hughes introduces her research on anatomical votives in classical antiquity, the models of human body parts which were dedicated in sanctuaries all over the Greco-Roman world. She will discuss a range of votive materials, techniques, forms, and findspots, and consider how these objects can help us understand changing ideas about divine power and human frailty in the ancient Mediterranean.

8 June 2021, 5:30 - 7pm

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Watch previous events

The Oxburgh Hall Finds | Presented by Anna Forrest (National Trust)

Anna Forrest examines how the recent discoveries at Oxburgh Hall shed light on the vibrant material culture of recusant Catholics at a time of persecution. As the Oxburgh Hall project is still in its early stages, this lecture presents a key opportunity to discover how curators go about analysing objects, and start to formulate conclusions, while a project is still evolving. 

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'(Im)material Devotions: Light and lighting devices in devotional practice'

Tom Nickson examines the role of candles, lamps and natural light in shaping devotional spaces and experiences. Drawing on written, visual and archaeological evidence, he will consider the role of different lighting devices in a range of spaces, from mosques to royal chapels and parish churches, showing how light and lighting were central to experiences of material and devotional cultures at all levels of society. 

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'The Exeter Cathedral Wax Votives''

In 1943, following the bombing of Exeter Cathedral, a trove of wax votive objects was found at the tomb of Bishop Edmund Lacey. Many were in small fragments, but one whole figure remained - a unique survival of what was once a vibrant religious practice. In this seminar, Dr Naomi Howell and Graham Fereday from Exeter University will discuss the history, study and ongoing conservation of these extremely rare, fragile objects using a combination of high-definition photography, 360-degree videos and 3D-printed models. Combining medieval history and digital humanities, this seminar offers students and others who are interested an opportunity to discover more about this important archaeological find. Presented in conjunction with Exeter Cathedral Library and Archives.

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