Cover image for From Minor to Major: The Minor Arts in Medieval Art History Edited by Colum Hourihane

From Minor to Major

The Minor Arts in Medieval Art History

Edited by Colum Hourihane

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$35.00 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-9837537-1-1

336 pages
8.5" × 11"
257 color/42 b&w illustrations
2012
Distributed by the Penn State Press for the Index of Christian Art, Princeton University

The Index of Christian Art: Occasional Papers

From Minor to Major

The Minor Arts in Medieval Art History

Edited by Colum Hourihane

“[This book] would be a valuable addition to a library collection at a university with a graduate program in medieval art history, as well as to a museum library supporting exhibitions of medieval art.”

 

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Whether we care to admit it or not, we have always distinguished between those arts that we consider superior and the lesser or minor forms. Giorgio Vasari is usually credited with formally structuring the primary nature of architecture, painting, and sculpture in his Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, which was first published in 1568. Even though this division was initially applied to Italian art, it was not long before it gained more widespread currency. All of the other arts—such as ivory carving, glass, enamels, and goldsmiths’ work—were lumped together into a secondary group that took on pejorative associations, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Other labels have been used over time to describe these minor arts, and we have spoken of them as the decorative, applied, ornamental, luxury, sumptuous, or even mechanical arts. This collection explores the way in which these minor arts have fought back to gain wider acceptance in our holistic approach to studying the arts of the Middle Ages. No longer considered secondary, they are now firmly incorporated into our studies. This collection, written by some of the most eminent scholars in the field, looks at minor media from a historiographical perspective and shows how they are gaining wider acceptance.

The contributors are David S. Areford, Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, Frédéric Billiet, Paul Binski, John Cherry, Michael W. Cothren, Thomas E. Dale, Sharon Gerstel, Cynthia Hahn, Jos Koldeweij, Welleda Muller, Alan M. Stahl, Alicia Walker, Laura Weigert, Harald Wolter-von dem Knesebeck, and Kim Woods.

“[This book] would be a valuable addition to a library collection at a university with a graduate program in medieval art history, as well as to a museum library supporting exhibitions of medieval art.”
“This is a magnificently presented volume produced under the auspices of the Index of Christian Art in Princeton. This is an important collection, and the essays are of consistently high quality. Altogether, the questions presented and the authors’ thoughtful insights demonstrate growing recognition of the integration and cross-fertilisation of the arts in the medieval world, and the importance of work that was once unfairly dismissed as ‘minor.’”
“Colum Hourihane gathered outstanding specialists in a number of specific fields too often overlooked by mainstream art history studies and invited them to formulate critical historiographical overviews dedicated to these subjects, to investigate the reasons for their subordinate status, and to ask whether and how things have changed thanks to recent approaches. . . .The juxtaposition of such different themes allows the reader to discover the variegated panorama of medieval and early modern times that eventually become populated with objects and artworks. It allows, in parallel, a multifaceted but consistent outline of the development of art-historical approaches through the centuries to emerge. Every essay has its lesson to teach, but it is the reading of the entire book that opens up broader horizons concerning the arts once called minor and their related historiographies.”
“In many ways, this volume is more than the sum of its parts. The individual essays will, of course, be of interest to scholars of particular objects and media. As a whole, however, it raises important questions about the value and categorization of ‘art’ that will be of general interest to those working on ‘minor’ arts as well as academics engaged in teaching: many undergraduate courses now introduce students to the ‘history of art history’ and problematize the privileging of ‘fine arts.’ This volume offers many examples that could be adapted for this purpose. There is not a sense here of simply wishing to insert these little-studied or marginalised objects to the canon. . . . Rather, the contributors emphasize something more than a ‘major versus minor’ binary, drawing out the more fluid, permeable, and unstable boundaries between genres and hierarchies. Furthermore, the attention the authors all pay to the role of historiography in the shaping of their material—even where this has been limiting—allows for a critical awareness that permeates their own suggestions for alternative approaches to a diverse range of medieval visual culture.”

Colum Hourihane is Director of the Index of Christian Art, Princeton University.