Research Focus

Visual and Material Culture

The aim of this sub-project is to arrive at a thorough understanding of how visions of community were transformed into actual visual manifestations of communities in the medium of images in late medieval society. The project will try to analyse images as a medium of visual communication which allows persons or groups of persons to visualize their belonging to a certain social, religious, political or other community, and which also provides its audiences with possibilities to identify with (aspects of) group identities represented in the paintings.

The dynamic spiritual, intellectual and cultural developments in the society, started in the 13th century with closer interaction between monastic, and lay spheres, nurtured substantial artistic production in the courts, monasteries, and towns of Centre Europe. However, over the centuries a large percentage of late medieval images has been lost. In order to get substantial results nonetheless, the project will operate on two different levels.

First, in its early phase, on a distinctly local level focussing on the wall paintings that survive in the city of Krems an der Donau and its immediate surroundings – one of the core regions of the duchy of Austria. In this rather small area, a surprisingly large number of wall paintings from the mid-13th to the mid-14th century have survived, and the density of the material in this region allows us to retrace connections between the single cycles of paintings and the people who commissioned them.

 While the analysis of this local network will form the first level of the project, on a second level this core material will be viewed in its wider context by putting it into relation with other, more isolated sets of paintings from other cities and regions of Central Europe, especially Austria, Bohemia and Moravia.

The rise of the new dynasties in 14th century Central Europe introduced novel forms of representation, expressed in the artistic field by generous patronage of architectural and artistic complexes, novel iconography and formal language, and intensive trans-regional artistic exchange. Aware of their symbolic potential to bind communities together, the new elites invested into images, monuments and symbolic representations that often looked back to the past for inspiration. Images became important vehicles, through which the concepts of shared (religious) history were communicated.

The second part of the VISCOM project seeks to understand how the concepts of shared past (e.g. religious, regional, or proto-national) were reified in visual media. First, it looks at the introduction of new political themes in the visual hagiography cycles (manuscript and wall painting) of the Luxembourg and Anjou periods. Drawing on comparative framework embedded with the VISCOM project, images will be analysed to see if the representation of communities follows similar of different patterns across the region.

Its second focus is to study the transformation of the visions of community against the backdrop of the religious reform and societal transformation in the 14 - 15th century Bohemia. The main pool of visual sources here are the public images and symbolic representations in the recently-developed urban contexts of late medieval Bohemian towns.


Kateřina Horníčková:  Forging Communities in Visual Representations in 14th and 15th century Central Europe (court, monastic and urban contexts)(2015-2018)

Christian Opitz: Wall Painting as a Medium of Representation of Courtly, Civic and Monastic Communities in Central Europe, c. 1250-1350 (2011-2014)

Barbara Schedl: St. Stephens in Vienna – The architecture of Written Sources (associated [Senior PostDoc-Project] (funded by the FWF) in cooperation with VISCOM)

Illustration: Zisterzienserstift Zwettl, Stiftsbibliothek, Hs. 2/1, fol. 8r, 13. Jhdt.: Stifterbuch „Bärenhaut“

Last Update: 05.12.19