Holy (mis)conceptions: late medieval depictions of the visitation featuring the occupied womb and their female monastic audience

Muryn, Wiktoria Anna (2021) Holy (mis)conceptions: late medieval depictions of the visitation featuring the occupied womb and their female monastic audience. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Images of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary to Saint Elizabeth in which the in utero children are depicted as visible within or outside their mothers’ wombs appeared in devotional artworks of Central Europe since the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Research so far has mainly investigated those representations in terms of their iconography and its development from their Byzantine sources to the late medieval period. This thesis seeks to contextualize depictions of the occupied womb within scenes of the Visitation in relationship to one of their most significant contemporary audiences; that is, cloistered women of what is modern-day Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Czechia.

This thesis is the first study to examine these objects predominantly through the lens of their female monastic audience and its use of and response to them. This study combines text-image study and close visual analysis of objects such as panel paintings, sculptures, textiles, and illuminated manuscripts with socio-historical and material approaches to investigate how late medieval nuns in German-speaking areas utilized representations of the Visitation featuring the occupied womb in their liturgical and para-liturgical practices, private devotion as well as mystical and visionary experiences. Developments in Christian doctrine, artistic tradition, and female monasticism are discussed in order to create a framework in which to explain why images of the occupied womb found such resonance with the religious practices of cloistered women. Both narrative and non-narrative representations of the Visitation are investigated alongside other types of devotional objects, including images of the Holy Kinship, Maria gravida, and Christ Child dolls and cribs; in order to place them within the broader context of artwork commissioned by or created within late medieval nunneries. This thesis also newly analyses these objects as direct responses to the social realities of life in the cross-generational kin group of a medieval convent. Actively building on medieval understanding of personal and communal femininity, the female body, and monastic enclosure, this multi-faceted study ultimately demonstrates the significance of depictions of the occupied womb as directly responding to and facilitating gendered piety.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Volume 2 has been removed to conform with copyright restrictions
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Funder's Name: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Supervisor's Name: Strickland, Professor Debra and Richards, Dr. John
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82620
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2022 12:24
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2022 16:59
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82620
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/82620

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