Meaning in the Middle
The Christian religion is one of symbols. Ministering to a population that was largely illiterate necessitated the creation of a system of symbols and motifs to convey complex theological and moral teachings. Unlike manuscripts created for the relatively small literate class, or uninscribed objects with a utilitarian purpose, many religious objects leverage the power of both text and imagery to elicit robust responses that reinforce the most salient Church teachings.
Each of the objects in this exhibit contain intertwined written and symbolic components designed to produce powerful religious responses from viewers. The simple inscriptions provide context to the visuals that accompany them, just as the usage of religious symbols and imagery inform the meaning of the work for illiterate viewers. This exhibit features four objects which illustrate the dual purpose of symbolic imagery and concomitant text from the Middle Ages: a 15th century Italian Fragment of Altar Cloth, 15th century Alabaster Carving, 15th century brass German Plate with Saint Christopher, as well as a 13th-15th Byzantine painting of Saint Mark. The complex interaction between the written word and symbolic portrayal of religious symbols is designed to elicit powerfully reactions within the viewer. As you move through the gallery, imagine the way these objects would have been viewed in their original context by a member of the clergy or a lay person. Try to imagine the how the interaction between words and symbols in these objects would creating meaningful experiences for literate clergyman unlettered peasant alike.