‘Incarnate Words: Reading in Medieval Christian Visual Culture’ Featured at WCMA / iBerkshires.com

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass.—The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) presents “Embodied Words: Reading in Medieval Christian Visual Culture,” a reinstallation of the museum’s medieval gallery.

The exhibition brings together new and past objects from the WCMA collection with a selection of manuscripts from the Chapin Library at Williams College.

According to a press release, this ongoing exhibition demonstrates the embodied nature of reading in Christian Europe from the 12th to 16th centuries, with art from Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, of present-day Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. More than two dozen works on display include several Books of Hours – ornately decorated personal guides to daily prayer – and an Antiphonary, a large songbook whose letters are large enough to be seen by many from afar. Also on display are paintings and sculptures of saints holding books or texts. Saints, male or female, were often depicted with books to represent their understanding of scripture and to signify their power and wealth.

Highlights of the exhibition include two donations to the WCMA from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation – Taddeo Gaddi’s 14th-century depiction of the Prophet Isaiah holding a scroll and a 15th-century Dutch panel painting depicting the Passion of Christ – as well as an illuminated painting Book of Hours (French; 1496) on loan from the Chapin Library at Williams College. Visitors to the exhibit are also encouraged to visit the Chapin Library, located on the fourth floor of the Sawyer Library across from the museum at 26 Hopkins Hall Drive, where they can view and preserve manuscripts and printed Books of Hours.

Curator Elizabeth Sandoval, a specialist in medieval art and curatorial assistant at WCMA, was inspired for this reinterpretation of the collection in part by her 2018 doctoral thesis, “A Material Sign of Self: The Book as Metaphor and Representation in Fifteenth-Century Northern European Arts.”

“I hope visitors will be surprised at how much our reading practices reflect those of centuries ago in the West, and in particular the wealth of WCMA’s collection of medieval artworks if painstakingly detailed and valuable,” Sandoval said.

In the introduction “Embodied Words”, Sandoval explains that in the Middle Ages, text was not confined to the pages of books but was found everywhere in homes and public spaces: on paintings, architectural decoration, sculpture , furniture, clothing, jewelry, and bodies. How artists combined text and image influenced the reading practices of medieval people.

“Elizabeth’s reinterpretation of medieval art in the WCMA collection through the lens of visual culture and the fundamental role of writing and speech breathed new life into the gallery space”, said Lisa Dorin, Deputy Director of Conservative Engagement. “We are thrilled to collaborate with the Chapin Library to bring together these remarkable objects for museum visitors to appreciate in new ways.”

Key words: Williams College Art Museum,

Briana R. Cross