Medieval Wall Painting News 4/2014

I realise that this edition of the Medieval Wall Painting News is a bit behind schedule, but anyway, here are the stories about medieval murals which made it to the news in the last quarter of 2014:

  • On the very last day of the year, Zsombor Jékely reported on the completion of one of the largest restoration projects in Slovakia, i.e. that of the wall paintings in the church of Turňa nad Bodvou. Dating to c. 1420, these paintings are of rather high quality and constitute an important addition to the corpus of murals in the International Gothic style. For more information and more images see Zsombor’s post on his Medieval Hungary blog.
  • Another important restoration campaign was recently completed in France, more precisely in the Chapelle Saint Martial in the Papal Palace, Avignon. Executed in 1344-1346 by Matteo Giovanetti for pope Clement VI., this is one of the most important cycle of wall paintings of its time in France, if not in all of Europe. Fittingly, there is an entire website (in French) dedicated to the chapel and its restoration.1
  • Speaking of restorations, in November the internet also brought us this fascinating piece (in Italian) about the latest findings on the technique employed by Giotto in his famous Arena Chapel frescoes – or, as that report suggests, perhaps not-quite-frescoes-after-all. This was published on a new-ish website called RestaurArti dedicated to the latest news on Italian art (of all periods) with its focus on matters of restoration and safeguarding the country’s architectural and artistic heritage. If you read Italian, you should definitely have a look!
  • Incidentally, already in October, RestaurArti also reported on newly discovered wall paintings in the Cappella del Presepe in Matera Cathedral. Judging by the photos provided, these murals seem to date from the 14th century, and they are justly praised as an extraordinary discovery.
  • Another new discovery was reported from Lausanne, Switzerland: A fragment of early 14th-century wall painting was uncovered in what was once a domestic space in a nobleman’s town-house. As is typical for secular decorations of that time, it consists of a fictive drapery in the dado zone and an ornamental pattern covering the main part of the wall. For more information (in French) and a photo of the fragment see here.
  • Another fine set of frescoes from the first half of the 15th century was recently uncovered in the Church of Santa Maria do Castelo in Abrantes, Portugal.2 Although far from extensive, these paintings are of great importance nonetheless, at least in a local context – after all, the survival rate of pre-1450 murals in Portugal is close to zero, so this really is a rather exciting find. For more information (in Portuguese) and a couple of images see here or here.
  • The last piece in the “new discoveries” section comes from Spain, more precisely from the church of Sant Pere in Ripoll where 40 painted dragons were uncovered on the ribs of the church’s Gothic vaulting. The paintings themselves are dated 1561, so strictly speaking they are not medieval. However, I decided to include them here nonetheless, since I believe they form a great example of how a medieval space was re-interpreted and re-appropriated in the early modern period. Pictures and some more information (in Spanish) can be found here.
  • To conclude, the final news item in today’s post comes from a rather unexpected source, the Daily Mail: Titled – in that inimitable matter of fact style the Mail is famous for – How I saw off satanists and rescued one of England’s finest churches…, it is the admittedly fascinating story of the restoration of St. Mary in Houghton on the Hill, Norfolk, which brought to light some of England’s earliest surviving wall paintings, believed to date back to the late 11th century. To be sure, the discovery and restoration of the murals is not itself a recent event (having taken place in the 1990s), but the Daily Mail piece is, so I figured it ought to be included here as a slightly unusual case of “medieval wall paintings in the news”. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s worth a read…



  1. I must confess that the restoration was actually already completed in early 2014, but I’d somehow missed it back then. Considering the frescoes’ great importance, however, I feel compelled to still report on them now, even though this is, strictly speaking, old news. []
  2. It has to be mentioned, though, that some of the reports published online give a different date of execution and speak of “late 15th-century frescoes”. Based on the images I’ve seen, however, I definitely agree with the pre-1450 dating. []

Live at Leeds (and elsewhere)

Those who know me (or even those who have already been following me for a while) won’t be surprised to hear that I have never subscribed to the publish-or-perish-paradigm and that I firmly believe in quality over quantity. When it comes to conference presentations, for instance, I have always been convinced that squeezing too many of them into your schedule will inevitably compromise their quality. My rule-of-thumb is that two presentations per year is pretty much the perfect number: It’s just about sufficient for both your face and your research to get noticed by your peers, but it stills leaves you with enough time to take care of all the other stuff on your to-do-list (you know: research, publications, teaching, grading, administration etc.).

However, like the Pirate Code, this is more of a guideline than an actual rule, so this year I wound up with no fewer than five conference presentations on my plate (and I’m actually considering applying for another one). The first of them already took place in January in Switzerland, and I will return to that same country for the final one in autumn (more on that in due time). Right now, though, I have three upcoming appearances at conferences in fair England, so I thought I’d give my UK readers a heads-up in case you’re interested to hear one (or more) of my talks. So, here are the dates for my, er, upcoming UK tour (should I make t-shirts?):

  • Next week, I will be speaking at the Third Postgraduate Monasticism Conference: Monastic Myths – Origins, Identities, Legacies at the University of Leeds, 16-17 May 2014. I’m on Saturday afternoon, right after lunch, and will present hopefully interesting thoughts on Word and Image in Cistercian Foundation Narratives from Fourteenth-Century Austria. (For the complete conference programme see here.)
  • Then, on July 5-6, you’ll find me in London at a conference dedicated to Gothic Ivories: Content and Context, which is jointly organised by The Courtauld Institute of Art and the British Museum. The title of my paper is Buying, Gifting, Storing: Ivory Madonnas in Documentary Sources from Late Medieval Central Europe, and according to the provisional programme it is scheduled for Saturday morning (please note the word ‘provisional’, though – the final programme will be made available in the near future on the website of the Gothic Ivories Project).
  • Right after that, it’s back to Leeds again for the International Medieval Congress, taking place July 7-10, where I’m speaking about Works of Art in Monastic Chronicles from Early Fourteenth-Century Austria. I’m in session 1718 which, I’m afraid, is on Thursday afternoon, a time slot at which many congress delegates are usually already on their way home and attendance rates are accordingly low. Last year, for example, I was in a session with no more than seven people in the room, and that’s including the speakers, the moderator and myself. So let’s see how that goes… (For more details on the session see the conference programme).

One of the sources that will appear in at least two, perhaps even in all three of the above conference papers: the Liber Fundatorum Zwetlensis, c. 1310, Zwettl Abbey – the image shows a detail from fol. 64v, Leutold and Agnes of Kuenring as Donors of Zwettl Abbey (Image in public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

From the titles of my papers you may already have gathered that they all deal with roughly the same time period and area (Central Europe, especially but not exclusively Austria, from c. 1250-1400) and that they even have something like a recurrent theme, i.e. a preoccupation with written sources. So, if you’re interested in these kinds of things and happen to be in London or Leeds on one of the dates indicated above, it’d be great to see you there! And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a conference paper to write…