Lehti Keelmann and Alice Sullivan, U-M History of Art doctoral candidates, give short talks followed by Q & A.
Lehti Keelman: "Amber Rosaries, Baltic Furs, & Persian Carpets: The Tallinn Mary Altarpiece as an Object of Hanseatic Conspicuous Consumption?"
Operating in the 15th and 16th centuries in the Hanseatic port town of Tallinn (medieval Reval) was the Brotherhood of the Black Heads, an urban organization of young, single, and ambitious sons of town councillors. The Brotherhood’s goals were based on their multi-faceted identity as a civic, religious, and merchant organization, charged with defending their town as its militia, sponsoring local churches and monasteries, brokering trade and ultimately, participating in the acquisition of luxury articles such as altarpieces. This paper will explore one of the Brotherhood’s major commissions, the Mary Altarpiece (before 1493) by the Master of the Saint Lucy Legend. The altarpiece is a cultural artefact that demonstrates, in its visual program, a negotiation of values. While a religious work, it functioned as well to make secular claims: this is an item of conspicuous consumption that reflects a mediation between regional and localized stakes. Imported from the artistic centre of Bruges, the Mary Altarpiece made its way aboard a Hanseatic cog ship across the Baltic Sea in a very physical form of cultural transfer. The subject matter of the altarpiece includes details alluding to the import and export of exotic goods. Saints are set into ornate, earthly interiors, wrought with the wealth of the world - Flemish tapestries, Persian carpets, and Spanish tiles, pointing to the Brotherhood’s desire to promote themselves as wealthy merchants with links abroad. Members of the Brotherhood are depicted wearing luxury goods from the eastern Baltic such as fine furs and amber jewellery, signalling their local commercial ties. In examining the levels of expression in the Mary Altarpiece, this paper will investigate the Brotherhood’s self-fashioning and engage with broader ideas about local-regional mediation and exchange.
Alice Sullivan: "Miracles and Memory: Afterimages of Byzantium in Sixteenth-Century Moldavia"
After the devastating conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Turks began to threaten increasingly the political stability and religious identity of Moldavia—a principality located on the eastern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains in modern Romania. From these struggles, Moldavia emerged as a Christian frontier situated at the crossroads of western European and Slavic-Byzantine cultures. Select elements from the Latin and the Greek ecclesiastical domains were thus transformed and assimilated into local traditions giving rise to an artistic output eclectic with respect to sources. The painted and fortified monastic churches from this region built in the decades following the demise of the Byzantine Empire are characteristic of these cross-cultural currents. With strong roots in the Orthodox faith and its rituals, Moldavia remembered at this time Byzantium’s heritage in particular ways. For instance, as the principality sought to free itself from the Turkish dominance, it readapted in its context a certain model, namely, the miraculous deliverances of Constantinople at key moments throughout its history. Conflated into one distinctive image type, as I argue, these historical moments reveal a conception of history as a series of interventions and a particular kind of response from the Moldavians to the crisis of 1453 and its reverberations into the century that followed.
Lehti Keelman and Alice Sullivan