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Religious Life in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

This portfolio brings together images and objects of diverse forms to explore the complexities of religious practices in medieval and early modern Europe. Religious images and their orthodoxy were questioned at different times and in different locations in this period, but remained a cornerstone of education and devotional practice for literate and illiterate groups alike. Those assembled here were for public use in churches, private use in homes, and more. These works open up discussions on the relationship between function and aesthetics, daily life in medieval and early modern Europe, and religious and material cultures. They invite a long view of both religion and religious art, as over time they incorporate new techniques and trends. Most date to before the Reformation.

This carved bone sculpture depicts the Virgin Mary raising her right hand in a gesture of grief while her head is bent in mourning. A similar female figure, holding her hands clasped before her, appears in profile behind the Virgin, and another female figure stands to the left. Behind the mourning women the pointed helmets worn by two soldiers may be discerned.
Embriachi Workshop, Venice, Italy
The Mourning Virgin and holy women (fragment of a Crucifixion from a portable altarpiece)
1395 - 1405
Presented in memory of Rosalie Eisenberg
This marble statue depicts a standing male figure, who holds a closed book in his left hand and makes what appears to be a gesture indicating speech with his right. The curls of his flowing beard and long hair are echoed in the gentle curving folds and undulating edges of his long robe and mantle. He turns his head downward and to his left
1350 - 1360
marble with gilding
Museum Purchase
The majestic figure of the Virgin with the infant Christ on her lap sits enthroned in the center of this painted panel. Her elaborate throne rests upon a dais and is enclosed on three sides by panels bristling with Gothic ornament. Two bishop saints holding croziers stand at the foot of the dais accompanied by two other saints who stand behind them, while fourteen angels crowd the background.
Jacopo del Casentino
Enthroned Madonna and Child with angels and Saints Louis of Toulouse, Zenobius, John the Evangelist, and John the Baptist
1320 - 1330
tempera and gold | panel
Museum Purchase
This manuscript leaf contains a single column of text in Latin surrounded by generous margins on three sides. Pen-flourished initials elaborated with delicate penwork, colored red and blue alternating with gold and purple, mark the beginning of each verse along the left edge of the text column. Five line-fillers, long linear elements colored blue and gold, complete the closing line of each verse and preserve the regular shape of the text block.

Leaf from a psalter or book of hours (Psalm 26)
1400 - 1450
ink, tempera and gold | parchment
Museum Purchase
Two rampant dragons with open wings, wide flared tails and red-painted eyes stand facing one another with a large plant form held between them.
Architectural ceiling boss with two dragons, probably from the Church of St. Andrews at Cullompton
1425 - 1435
wood with red polychrome
Museum Purchase
This ceiling boss features four faces with traces of paint that are arranged in a radial pattern with the crowns of their heads converging on a single, central point. Two of the faces are female, identifiable by the wimples worn on their heads, while the other two, wearing small pointed caps and sporting beards, are male. The symmetrical regularity of the piece is counterbalanced by subtle asymmetries introduced by differences in detail and the sequence of facial types.
Architectural ceiling boss with four faces, probably from the Church of St. Andrew at Cullompton
1425 - 1435
wood with polychrome
Museum Purchase
A standing, bearded figure of St. Christopher, broken off at the knees, holds the Christ child on his right shoulder while leaning upon a staff in his left hand. The child, whose head is encircled by a halo, wears a long cloak over his robe and rests his left hand upon an orb in his lap. The red and brown polychromy is a later addition.
St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child
15th century
alabaster with polychrome and gilding
Museum Purchase
Two columns of Latin text fill this page taken from a bible manuscript. A painting in a gold rectangular frame is located in the lower right column. An angel descends from a blue semicircular disc in the upper right corner of the painting and grasps a larger figure by the hair with both hands. This second figure holds a jug in his left hand and a plate with bread in his right. A third figure, dressed in a white robe, reaches up toward this larger figure from an enclosure below. He appears against a black background and four gray animal heads overlap his torso.
Leaf from a Bible with Daniel in the lions' den aided by the prophet Habakuk
1285 - 1295
ink, tempera and gold | parchment
Anonymous Gift in memory of Mrs. John Alexander
This manuscript page contains a column of Latin text surrounded by generous margins.  A pair of slender flowers with small green leaves run the length of the text along the left margin. Three decorated initials appear on the left edge of the text block. Each initial is painted gold on a pink and blue ground with white scrollwork and enclosed within a frame. Two rectangular line-fillers, colored pink and blue with white scrollwork, appear in the right half of the text column.
Leaf from a Book of Hours
1400 - 1425
ink, tempera and gold | parchment
Anonymous Gift in memory of Mrs. John Alexander
This figure of Christ wears a volumnious mantle and strides forcefully forward with his left leg. His hands, now broken off, once held either a cross-staff or a globe while he made of gesture of blessing with the other. His robe appears to have originally been gilded and then painted over with red to impart his garment with a lustrous quality.
Standing Christ
1470 - 1480
wood, polychrome and gilding
Transfer from the College of Architecture and Design
This miniature painting depicts a group of male figures gathered around a coffin draped with a blue cloth. Two pairs of candles set on tall candlesticks are placed at the head and foot of the coffin. To the left of the coffin stand four mourners wearing long gray robes with hoods. Facing them from the other side of the coffin are three tonsured clergymen dressed in white, who look at an open book placed before them. The group stands upon a green tiled floor next to a pink wall. The background is painted red and decorated with an exuberant pattern of gold scrolling foliage motifs.
Gold Scrolls Group
Leaf from a book of hours with a funeral mass
1415 - 1455
ink, tempera, gold, and silver alloy | parchment
Anonymous Gift in memory of Mrs. John Alexander
This sculpture represents an angel bending slightly toward the left with his head tilted downward. Carved slots in his back would have held his wings, and the figure has lost his forearms and hands as well as his legs below the knees.
1295 - 1305
limestone with polychrome
Gift of the Friends of the University of Michigan Museum of Art for the Paul Leroy Grigaut Memorial Collection


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Christianity — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:54 pm)
Europe — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:54 pm)
European culture — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:54 pm)
Medieval europe — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:54 pm)
Religion — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:54 pm)

61 Collection Object Sources

Apostle (1957/2.3)
Standing Christ (1972/2.55)
Angel (1969/2.157)
Holy Family (2002/2.74)
Pope (1947/2.6)
Annunciation (1992/1.135)
Choir Book Page (2006/1.97)

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Creative Commons by-nc-sa (University of Michigan Museum of Art)

Last Updated

January 25, 2019 12:34 p.m.


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