Jan Provoost’s Sacred Allegory, Jan van Ruusbroec’s Spieghel der ewigher salicheit and Mystical Contemplation in the Late Medieval Low Countries – Geert Warnar

Monday, December 1st, 16:00, Oude Boteringestraat 38, room 130
Eye to Eye, Text to Image? Jan Provoost’s Sacred Allegory, Jan van Ruusbroec’s Spieghel der ewigher salicheit and Mystical Contemplation in the Late Medieval Low Countries

Dr Geert Warnar, University of Leiden

The Sacred Allegory, an enigmatic painting ascribed to the Bruges artist Jan Provoost (ca. 1525), seems to be an expression of ideas that circulated in mystical writings from the fourteenth century onwards, especially Jan van Ruusbroec’s Spieghel der eeuwigher salicheit. The question is how to consider these connections between painting and literature.

Models of contemplation and speculation found in religious writing help to understand the role of images in meditative practices. Metaphors, allegories or exegesis that shape religious literature help to decode the symbolic meaning of devotional imagery. In this way art historians have opened up a very promising field of research, but also raised a number of methodological problems. What are we talking about when speaking of the interaction of words and images? How do texts and images relate to each other in terms of source material? Do we really need external sources like texts to understand visual arts? Or do the mystical dimensions of paintings only exist if we use texts to interpret visual images? Or does it work the other way round: do images help us to understand texts, as they make visible the abstract notions, discussed in theological terms? And finally: how do we decide which texts are relevant for what paintings?

Dr Warnar is a member of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Leiden. He specialises in Dutch medieval literature.

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