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'Embodied Words: Reading in Medieval Christian Visual Culture' on View at WCMA
04:09PM / Thursday, March 31, 2022
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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 exhibit brings together new and past objects from the WCMA collection with a selection of manuscripts from Williams College's Chapin Library.
 
According to a press release, this ongoing exhibition demonstrates the embodied nature of reading in Christian Europe from the twelfth through the sixteenth centuries, with art from present-day Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. More than two dozen works on view include several books of hours—ornately-decorated personal guides for daily prayer—and an antiphonary, a large songbook whose letters are large enough to be seen by many and from a distance. Also on display are paintings and sculptures of saints holding books or texts. Saints, whether 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 gifts to 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 Book of Hours (French; 1496) on loan from Williams College's Chapin Library. Visitors to the exhibition are also encouraged to visit the Chapin Library, located on the fourth floor of Sawyer Library, across the street from the museum at 26 Hopkins Hall Drive, where they can see and hold manuscripts and printed books of hours.
 
Exhibition curator Elizabeth Sandoval, a specialist in medieval art and Curatorial Assistant at WCMA, drew inspiration for this reinterpretation of the collection in part from her 2018 doctoral thesis, "A Material Sign of Self: The Book as Metaphor and Representation in Fifteenth-Century Northern European Art." 
 
"I hope that visitors are surprised by how much our reading practices mirror those from centuries ago in the West, and especially by how rich WCMA's collection is of such minutely detailed, precious medieval artworks," Sandoval said.
 
In the "Embodied Words" introduction, Sandoval explains that during the Middle Ages, text was not confined to the pages of books but could be found everywhere in homes and public spaces: on paintings, architectural decoration, sculpture, furniture, clothing, jewelry, and bodies. How artists combined text and image informed the reading practices of medieval people.
 
"Elizabeth's reinterpretation of medieval art in WCMA's collection through the lens of visual culture, and the fundamental role of the written and spoken word, has breathed new life into the gallery space," said Lisa Dorin, Deputy Director for Curatorial Engagement. "We are delighted to collaborate with the Chapin Library to bring these remarkable objects together for museum visitors to appreciate in new ways."
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