I first studied Early Netherlandish Painting in its iconographical and stylistic aspects, before focusing my research on the links between these paintings and devotional practises, and more generally on the relations between art and spirituality during the Late Middle Ages. I dedicated my PhD thesis (2009) to the links between Early Netherlandish religious paintings that include portraits and the meditative practices of the time. I did so by studying these images in conjunction with contemporary spiritual literature (esp. Jan van Ruusbroec and the writers of the Modern Devotion). I am currently pursuing my research on the links between religious literature and devotional imagery during the Late Middle Ages at the Institute for Cultural Disciplines (Oud Nederlands L&C) of Leiden University, as an Intra-European Fellow (Marie Curie Actions) : my postdoctoral research project is dedicated to the text/image issue and the image theory in the oeuvre of the mystical writer Henry Suso (Heinrich Seuse), and more precisely in his Exemplar, a compilation of his vernacular texts accompanied by drawings.
Images drive out images ? The Use and Function of Devotional Imagery in
Heinrich Seuse’s Exemplar: A Reassessment
Henry Suso († 1366) was one of the most influential mystic writers in the Rhineland during the Middle Ages. In the Exemplar – a compilation of his texts accompanied by drawings – Seuse offers a theory of devotional imagery based on a key phrase: Daz man bild mit bilden ûs tribe (« Drive out images with images »). Oft-quoted, but generally misunderstood, this concept needs to be reassessed in order to fully understand Seuse’s conception of devotional imagery. Scholars often state that for medieval mystics, images were important at the beginning of the meditative process but that they were simply tools to be left behind in order to move beyond the sensory world. Yet, with his key phrase, Seuse offers a subtle vision of the place of images in the meditative process: images should not be dispensed with entirely, instead each image must be replaced by another so that they complete and correct each other. This continual interchanging fundamentally modifies our understanding of the contemplative theory described in the Exemplar. Furthermore, the drawings contained in the extant manuscripts seem to describe this process. During this research fellowship I will engage in the study of this image theory in an interdisciplinary way, by taking into account textual and visual studies in order to better understand the role of images in late medieval religious practices and the relationship between texts and images in the Exemplar.
Abstract of the thesis
The aim of this research was to enlighten the function of religious images in the meditative practices of the time, by focusing on the devotional portrait in Early Netherlandish painting and on the mystical literature of the Low Countries in the Late Middle Ages. In the particular case of paintings that include devotional portraits, the confrontation between text and image necessitated an appropriate methodology, which I developed. It is based on an exhaustive corpus of paintings containing devotional portraits (663 items). The first part of my thesis offers a complete presentation of this corpus based on a typological analysis which takes into account both iconographical and formal elements of the images. It aims to describe pictorial conventions – such as the structuring of space and the ordering of sacred and secular zones – that have a particular bearing on the picture’s meaning. These elements are then brought to bear on the second, interpretative, part of the thesis, where I argue that these paintings can be understood as visualizations of the contemplative process of the devotee. I also deliver a new interpretation of the place of images in the spiritual process by studying the concept of the ghemeine leven in relation to the writings of Jan van Ruusbroec and Geert Grote. By studying the pictorial/iconographical content of the paintings and the texts of the major writers of the mystical tradition of the Low Countries together, this research showed the strong convergences between pictorial and textual conventions related to the spiritual ascent and the transformation of the soul.
- Member of the committee of the “Réseau des médiévistes belges de langue française”
- Scientific in charge of the group INTERSECTION (young researchers in Humanities from the University of Liège)
Most representative publications
- « Un témoignage des rapports entre Ambrosius Benson et l’atelier de Gérard David : la Descente de croix d’Ambrosius Benson conservée à Liège », dans Annales d’Histoire de l’art et d’Archéologie, XXXII, 2010, pp. 27-56.
- « Entre traditions flamande et ibérique. Les oeuvres religieuses flamandes comportant des portraits d’Espagnols (1400-1550) », dans Publication du Centre européen d'Études bourguignonnes (XIVe-XVIe s.). Rencontre de Madrid (23 au 26 septembre 2010). Diplomates, voyageurs, pèlerins, marchands entre pays bourguignons et Espagne aux XVe et XVIe siècles, 51, 2011, pp. 275-301.
- « Ung petit tableau fermant a deux fuilletz. Notes sur l’évolution formelle et les voies de diffusion du diptyque à portrait dévotionnel dans les anciens Pays-Bas aux XVe et XVIe siècles », à paraître dans Le Moyen Âge.
- « Portrait dévotionnel et processus contemplatif dans la peinture flamande du XVe siècle : Le cas de la Vierge d’Exeter de Petrus Christus », à paraître dans les actes de la journée d’études La contemplation dans la peinture flamande, 14e-16e siècles (Tours, Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance de Tours, 21 novembre 2008), sous la direction de Luc BERGMANS, à paraître chez Brepols (Turnhout).
- « “Mise en mots” et “mise en image” du processus spirituel : vers une nouvelle approche du portrait dévotionnel dans la peinture flamande de la fin du Moyen Âge », à paraître dans Ralph DEKONINCK et Agnès GUIDERDONI (éd.), Dire penser éprouver l’image entre théologie, rhétorique et esthétique durant la première modernité, à paraître chez Peeters (Leuven).
Download the complete CV