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Charles IV and the power of marvellous objects

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - POMOC (Charles IV and the power of marvellous objects)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2019-02-01 do 2020-07-31

The project ´Charles IV and the power of marvellous objects´ (2019-2020) took as its subject one of the most important and influential rulers in the fourteenth century Europe, Charles IV of Luxembourg, king of Bohemia (1347-70), king of Romans (1346-78), and Holy Roman Emperor (1355-70) and the precious objects associated with him. Charles accumulated many of the most sacred relics of Christendom and it was during his reign that Prague gained its reputation as a repository of the most holy relics, a reputation which could only be surpassed by Paris or Rome. What is less known is the fact that, in addition to relics, Charles IV also amassed various precious objects both of ´western´ and ´eastern´ provenances. Many of them were subsequently transformed and converted to religious purposes in innovative ways. Though the relevant literature on Charles IV contains numerous remarks on precious items dispersed within diverse monographs, which are without a doubt a valuable part of the historiography of art, the objects under examination are usually considered independently from their former function and original historical and cultural context. Following the predominant nation-centered narrative and its myths, they focused mainly on the national dimension of the objects and undervalued the multicultural and trans-national features. Thus, the present project had two principal objectives:

(1) To study in depth a specific group of precious objects of diverse provenance which Charles IV acquired, assembled and commissioned to be adjusted and to show what purpose these objects served him.

(2) Through the lens of the objects to pioneer a new, transnational and truly European image of Charles IV, who so far has conventionally been studied predominantly in the fragmented manner of nation-based narratives, within separate national historiographies.
Mobility was of crucial importance for the internationalisation of this project and the extensive fieldwork was conducted in the archives, libraries, museums and treasuries in Prague, Vienna, Brussels, Paris, Nuremberg, Oxford and London. The project´s key outputs, in the form of publications, are as follows:

a) ´The Power of Marvellous Objects: Charles IV of Luxembourg, Charles V of Valois and their Gemstones´ (Journal of the History of Collections, Oxford 2020). The paper explores Charles IV of Luxembourg (1316–1378), King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, and his little-studied interest in gathering gemstones. It analyses this interest in connection with the fourteenth-century French royal court, especially with the collecting activities of Charles V of Valois (1338–1380), King of France, and demonstrates that both sovereigns sought out and used precious and semi-precious stones of various provenance chiefly as instruments of their respective imperial self-images and claims to power.
b) ´Charles IV of Luxembourg and the Claudius cameo´ (with Martin Henig, Source: Notes in the History of Art, University of Chicago, in the peer review process). This study explores in a novel way the embellishment one of the most intriguing precious objects in the possession of Charles IV, the gold reliquary cross. By demonstrating the essential role that ancient gemstones mounted on the cross had in the construction of the visual message conveyed by this object, the study reveals Charles of Luxembourg as a ruler of international education and transnational orientation capable of using the ancient past for his own political purposes.
c) The Luxembourgs in Late Medieval Europe: Old Topics, New Perspectives, ed. by Karl Kügle, Ingrid Ciulisová and Václav Žůrek (Boydell and Brewer Ltd, forthcoming), a collection of fourteen essays (in English) by authors from five countries. The volume includes the present writer’s article. ´Relics and Stones: Charles IV of Luxembourg and his Reliquary Cross´. The volume explores the Luxembourg dynasty and its principal fourteenth century royal and imperial representatives – John the Blind, Charles IV and his two sons, Wenceslas and Sigismund – from a wide, multi-disciplinary and European perspective by bringing art, literature, history, politics and diplomacy of the time into mutual dialogue, and it thus effectively contributes to the better understanding of the imperial past of late medieval Central Europe.

Despite an impressive body of scholarly investigations on Charles IV and his court, the historiography is still dominated by nation-state narratives and a European centered orientation. All of the publications listed above as coming out of this project significantly help to overcome these limitations. By demonstrating the undervalued multicultural and multifunctional dimensions of precious objects associated with Charles of Luxembourg, these publications help to restore historical and artistic connections obscured by national historiographies, and allow us to demonstrate Charles IV´s relatively less-studied transnational orientation. As a result, the publications contribute to a better and more complex understanding of the ways in which precious objects helped Charles IV to signify and construct power and to build up his imperial self-image.

In addition to the above mentioned publications, the results of the project achieved so far have also been disseminated to the public in form of the following lectures and seminars:
d) ´Prague and Paris: Charles IV of Luxembourg and his Reliquary Cross´ – lecture hosted by the medieval seminar of the Institute of Christian Art History, Charles University in Prague (November 29 2010). The lecture addressed to university students explored in novel way the importance of French thirteenth and fourteenth century goldsmith works of art for Charles IV and the objects he commissioned to serve his royal and imperial aspirations.

e) ´The Power of Marvelous Objects: Charles IV of Luxembourg and his Gems´ – lecture hosted by the medieval history seminar of Oxford University, convened at All Souls College, University of Oxford (March 2 2020). The seminar lecture, which was open to a wide academic public, explored little-studied practices of transformations of ancient objects possessed by Charles IV to new religious purposes, and the role that the reinvented traditions of the saintly Capetian monarch Louis IX, King of France, and of the ancient Roman empire played in this process.
One of the consequences of European regionalisation is that historical knowledge is not shared in a comprehensive manner. Political boundaries often constrain international scholarly contacts, producing geographically bounded research and preventing the integration of research agendas. This tendency has characterised research thus far on Charles IV and his artistic patronage, which has almost entirely been conducted by Czech or German scholars through a predominantly national approach. The above mentioned lectures and publications in English, which form foundations of the author’s book in progress dedicated to Charles IV and his objects, significantly contribute to the overcoming of these limitations. They offer new perspective, knowledge and insight into the image of Charles of Luxembourg and help the scholars of countries historically associated with his pan-European social and political activities to go beyond narrowly national narratives and to set up a new platform for future research which builds upon wider contexts and different viewpoints.