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The Symbols of Legitimacy

This collection of objects, dating from the 5th to the 15th centuries, is meant to illustrate sources of power during the Middle Ages. From the serpentine crozier to the coin weight, each of these objects served as a symbol of legitimacy, translating authority into material form so that it could be displayed and validated. These kinds of symbols became increasingly important to a society in which power was distributed from the top down, hierarchically. The design of these historical articles all added not just to their mere utility, but also to their ability to supply and evince power. This gallery gives a sense of how people demonstrated their societal significance and how objects like these so often served as the means for communicating authority.

The collection is divided into three rooms, reflecting the three main realms of legitimacy during the Middle Ages: empire, the Church, and wealth. Just as these objects are split among these institutions, so too was real power during this time. These objects, then, provide a way of understanding the power dynamics in medieval society. They connected people to God, to the state, and to their social status, all the while communicating this connection to those around them. Faces of Legitimacy shows how institutions used objects like these to validate and distribute authority.

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