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The Normativity of Sacred Images in Early Modern Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SACRIMA (The Normativity of Sacred Images in Early Modern Europe)

Reporting period: 2019-06-01 to 2020-11-30

Relations between images and norms, and in particular religious norms, are extremely controversial in human societies. This is true for pre-modern Europe as well as for our contemporary world. However, the question of the ‘normativity of images’ has never been systematically explored. While research on the ‘power of images’ has progressed during the last 25 years, the question of the capacity of images to produce norms has not been addressed. What defines these norms related to images: external agencies, such as political or religious powers, or the images themselves? SACRIMA puts this question at the centre of a new comparative and interdisciplinary investigation into the status of the sacred image in Early Modern Europe. SACRIMA sets out to study relations between religion, aesthetics and geography in Early Modern Europe, proposing to break ground in two main ways. First, by conducting a new investigation of early modern sacred images using the concept of ‘normativity’, a notion that is generally associated not with images, but with written documents. Second, by adopting a comparative and trans-national approach at the crossroad of the history of art, the history of religion and cultural geography. Through a new survey of image-based material in ecclesiastical archives in five major areas that, remaining inside Catholicism, responded differently to the challenge imposed by the Reformation, SACRIMA investigates relations between art, religion and cultural transfer in the period 1450-1650.

The project has three main objectives:
1. To provide a comparative survey of contested images in Italy, France, Iberia, the Low Countries and Southern Germany, investigating similarities and differences of institutional visual policies inside Catholic Europe, using a comparative approach and focusing on dynamics of conflict, negotiations and inter-confessional border crossing.
2. To develop and investigate the notion of ‘visual norm’ in different media, through a series of in-depth case-studies and an analysis of different aspects: form and materiality, meaning and iconographies, spatial relationships and movement, reproduction, restoration and reframing.
3. To integrate the investigation of institutional and visual norms through a study of art transfer and local reactions, aiming at reconstructing a cross-border cartography of image normativity and a geography of visual norms throughout Europe and beyond.

A reflection on the notion of the ‘normativity of images’ significantly contributes to shedding new light on previously explored notions such as those of ‘image censorship’, the ‘power of images’ or the ‘performance of images’. At a wider level the Project will offer a richer understanding of the historical processes of integration of the different forms of European visual culture.
The Project has worked towards the three interconnected Objectives: (1) Institutional Normativity; (2) Visual Normativity; (3) Movement and Geography of Visual Norms.

(1) The Project charted major early modern archives that had not been explored systematically for what concerns image-based material. New archival sources on institutional control and contested sacred images were collected from ecclesiastical archives in Italy and Spain. This survey sets the ground for the planned digital map of contested images, and allows the Project to compare similarities and differences in image normativity within Europe. These issues were discussed in several intensive workshops and during the I International Conference of the Project (Munich, 2-3.11.2017). As a result, a book with 13 chapters (3 by team members) edited by the PI is in the final process of revision for publication and several peer-reviewed articles have been submitted.

(2) The second Objective is subdivided in aesthetic normativity, iconographic normativity, and visual modes of reproduction and reframing. Team Members have collected data on widespread iconographies, relevant cases of reproduction and reframing of cult images/spaces, and controversial iconographic novelties; and carried out photographic campaigns throughout Catholic Europe. The Team questioned notions of style in the rendering of sacred subjects by co-organizing a joint workshop on Mannerism (Rome, 5-6.6.2018). The Project's II International Conference (Munich, 30.11-1.12.2017) addressed the theoretical conceptualisation of iconographic normativity by analysing the transmigration of images of children in Europe. The outcome of these activities is a series of forthcoming peer-reviewed articles and book chapters.

(3) The third Objective intersects with the other two insofar as each investigation involves a geographic dimension. With the help of web design contractors, the Team is developing a digital tool that will map institutionally contested images and reactions, and relevant artist and artwork transmissions that inspired iconographic repetition. This interactive atlas will illuminate the relationship between the most relevant case studies through text and imagery, demonstrating dissemination methods, and evolving responses from the local communities.

Beside to their ongoing publications, Team members have discussed the Project's early results in circa 25 papers offered to different international academic venues.
SACRIMA has charted new research topics as well as little explored archives and repositories containing material relevant for the study of the Normativity of sacred images in premodern Europe. New findings regarding individual case studies on Contested Images, Holy Houses, Child Saints, Crucifixions, Saint John the Baptist and Marian cults are analysed and published. Forensic sources and legal documents have proved successful for broadening traditional narratives on the development of and conflicts around sacred images.

These investigations have shed new light on the limits of institutional norms, and iconographic normativities imposed by the images themselves. Departing from earlier national, regional, or centralized approaches, SACRIMA focused on cultural transfer, replicas and reframing from a transnational perspective, which challenges our understanding of image dissemination, stylistic development and relations between center and periphery.

SACRIMA’s comparative approach will lead to a mapping of differentiated visual norms in Europe and a better understanding of the geographies of the power and efficacy of images. By the end of the Action, SACRIMA is expected to publish a series of edited volumes (Sacrima Series) as well as a substantial number of articles in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters leading to the completion of 3 individual monographs. 1-2 PhD thesis will be completed. A digital map is expected to provide a pilot resource mapping contested images and normative iconographies. Overall the project's outputs will produce a new outlook on the complex geographies and normativities of sacred images in premodern Europe.
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