The Agency of Things in Medieval and Early Modern Art : Materials, Power and Manipulation book cover
1st Edition

The Agency of Things in Medieval and Early Modern Art
Materials, Power and Manipulation

ISBN 9780367359720
Published May 7, 2019 by Routledge
220 Pages 61 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This volume explores the late medieval and early modern periods from the perspective of objects. While the agency of things has been studied in anthropology and archaeology, it is an innovative approach for art historical investigations. Each contributor takes as a point of departure active things: objects that were collected, exchanged, held in hand, carried on a body, assembled, cared for or pawned. Through a series of case studies set in various geographic locations, this volume examines a rich variety of systems throughout Europe and beyond.

The Open Access version of this book, available at, has been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0 license

Table of Contents


Section 1

Material Agency

Professor Andrew Morrall (The Bard Graduate Centre, New York)

The Power of Nature and the Agency of Art. The Unicorn Cup of Jan Vermeyen

Dr Barbara Baert, Dr Hannah Iterbeke and Dr Lieve Watteeuw (KU Leuven)

Late Medieval Enclosed Gardens of the Low Countries. Mixed Media, Remnant Art,

Récyclage and Gender in the Low Countries (16th c. onwards)

Section 2

The Power of Things

Rosa M. Rodríguez Porto (University of York)

Knighted by the Apostle Himself: Political Fabrication and Chivalric Artifact in Compostela,1332

Dr Robert Maniura (Birkbeck, University of London)

Agency and Miraculous Images

Dr Peter Dent (University of Bristol)

Agency, Beauty and the Late Medieval Sculptural Encounter

Section 3

Objects as Social Agents

Dr Leah Clark (The Open University)

Dispersal, Exchange and the Culture of Things in Fifteenth-century Italy

Dr Alexander Lee (University of Warwick)

Michelangelo, Tommaso de’ Cavalieri and the Agency of the Gift-Drawing

Dr Jaya Remond (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin)

Distributing Dürer in the Netherlands: Gifts, Prints, and the Mediation of Fame in the Early

Sixteenth Century

Section 4

Agency of Physical Manipulations

Professor Wim François (KU Leuven)

The Early Modern Bible between Material Book and Immaterial Word

Dr Karen Eileen Overbey (Tufts University) and Dr Jennifer Borland (Oklahoma State University)

Diagnostic Performance and Diagrammatic Manipulation in the Physician’s Folding Almanacs

Dr Jack Hartnell (Columbia University)

Surgical Saws and Cutting Edge Agency

Professor Jacqueline E. Jung (Yale University)

The Boots of Saint Hedwig: Thoughts on the Limits of the Agency of Things

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Grazyna Jurkowlaniec (PhD 2000, habilitation 2009) is assistant Professor at the Institute of Art History at the University of Warsaw. She specializes in art and artistic patronage between the thirteenth and sixteenth century in Europe. She has published in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, Konsthistorisk tidskrift and Artibus et Historiae.

Ika Matyjaszkiewicz (PhD candidate at the University of Warsaw) conducts a project for the Polish National Science Centre Painted Representations of the Volto Santo in the Light of Spatial Studies. Her research focuses on the relationship between the beholder and the work of art. Her publications concern medieval, modern and contemporary art.

Zuzanna Sarnecka (BA Cantab., MA Cantab. and London, PhD) is a lecturer in Art History at the University of Warsaw. Her doctoral thesis at the University of Cambridge focused on the devotional and artistic significance of glazed terracotta sculpture in the Marche. She has published in Artibus et Historiae and Arte Medievale.


"Developing, and sometimes challenging, the theory proposed by Alfred Gell in his seminal study Art and Agency (1998), this book explores the ability of ‘things’ to communicate and perform actions across a wide range of geographical and historical situations. Artefacts of many different types in a variety of media are explored in this fascinating series of essays, which brilliantly straddle microcosm and macrocosm. This is a lively, readable and important book."

- Deborah Howard, University of Cambridge

"Bringing together conversations in art history, anthropology, and archaeology, this book is an important contribution to the field that puts the agency of things into direct dialogue with traditional art historical concerns regarding artistic creation, patronage, reception, and materiality. This collection demonstrates that what is at stake in the intersection of matter and agency are the bounds of art history’s purview and its role is in mediating the ever promiscuous relations between things and those who interject or direct these relations."

- Roland Betancourt, University of California, Irvine