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SIEF2011 10th Congress: Lisbon, Portugal.
17-21 April 2011

(P220)

Touch, texture, and ties: the emotional experience of material forms

Location Tower A, Piso 3, Room 303
Date and Start Time 19 Apr, 2011 at 11:30

Convenors

Dorothy Verkerk (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) email
Pika Ghosh (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) email
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Short Abstract

This panel seeks to explore how five senses were fully engaged to create a powerful emotional religious experience in pre-modern cultures.

Long Abstract

This panel seeks to explore the role of collective sensory (viewing and also tactile and other sensory) engagement with material forms in creating or enhancing the formation of religious communities in pre-modern cultures. In many earlier viewing contexts the visual experience of an object was not isolated from touch. To see was to also grasp. In others, terms such as taste were used to describe the relishing or savoring of a performance. Heightened and heady engagement that blurred the boundaries of the individual and the collective, could itself serve as the conduit to the divine. It could be prized as instant grace, or practiced and disciplined to guide the devotee's trajectory on the path to salvation, if not induce instant enlightenment. Looking at the cultural values associated with such emotional charge allows us to underscore the role of such intensity in binding groups and in the self-definition of communities.

In revisiting the engagement with material cultural artifacts prior to the intervention of both print culture and newer digital media, we hope to simultaneously shed light on the distinctive visceral experience of the latter. It allows us to then ask if, and how differently, these newer technologies nurtured their virtual and imagined communities, both mobilizing and also inflected by colonial and post-colonial power relations and rising nationalisms in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Savoring sights: visual imagery and the experience of Rasa

Author: Pika Ghosh (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)  email
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Short Abstract

Rasa, the emotional response evoked by a work of art, shapes a complex devotional aesthetic formulated in sixteenth-century north India to experience the beloved god Krishna, intensely, intimately, and viscerally. The visual imagery on seventeenth-century temples, I argue, explore how to stimulate such aesthetic experience.

Long Abstract

Rasa, the emotional response evoked by a work of art, lies at the core of a complex devotional aesthetic that was formulated in the sixteenth century to experience the beloved god Krishna, intensely, intimately, and viscerally. This turn marks a radical departure from the intellectual approach found in earlier texts dedicated to Krishna. At this time, the Gaudiya Vaishnava movement, led by the Bengali saint Chaitanya (1486-1533), swept north India and Bengal to the east, in a frenzy of passionate song, dance, and ecstatic worship, which we tend to collectively designate as bhakti for convenience. These practices centered on Krishna as the supreme reality, and explored the nuances and complexities of his relationship with his beloved, Radha, in particular. While previous scholarship has examined the textual explications of devotional rasa and its articulation in other media such as songs, seventeenth-century temples, I argue, offer yet another set of commentaries or explorations of the aesthetic experience through the characters in Krishna's life. To do so I focus on the imagery on one Bengali temple at the site of Bishnupur, a significant locus of Gaudiya activity under the generous patronage of local kings. This paper locates the rasamandala, a circular form depicting Krishna's erotic dance with the gopis on the Shyam Ray Temple of 1643 in the preoccupation with stimulating devotional experience to reach the divine.

Embracing ivory: a seated Virgin and Child at the Cloisters

Author: Sarah Guérin (Columbia University)  email
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Short Abstract

The signs of wear on an ivory Virgin and Child at the Cloisters help define the scope and purpose of the tactile sense in private devotion in the Middle Ages.

Long Abstract

"His left hand is under my head, and his right hand shall embrace me" (Song of Songs 2:6).

It is generally assumed, based in part on the well-known illumination of St. Hedwig clutching her ivory Virgin and Child, that gothic ivory statuettes were routinely handled and touched. When extant objects are examined closely, however, few actually show any signs of wear at all, a situation that demands a revision of the received paradigm. Rather than a generalized theory, I offer a particular reading of one of the few objects that does show consistent signs of wear: a seated ivory Virgin and Child from Paris in the 1260s, today at the Cloisters Museum, New York. I propose that the specific iconography of this statuette encoded a tactile use; the embrace depicted between mother and child prefigures the viewer/user's caresses of the statuette.

How did touching enhance the experience of meditation and prayer undertaken with the statuette? As one of many spiritual exercises available to the devotee, what benefit did touching and caressing bring to the cognitive processes that constitute prayer? How did this technique interact with the visual and verbal aspects of private devotion? Investigations into what modern neuroscience and medieval theology both say about touch will reveal how multi-sensory engagement led to an enriched experience of prayer in the Middle Ages.

Ways of seeing: miraculous sight in early medieval art

Author: Dorothy Verkerk (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores the sense of sight, both optical and internal, in the presentation, contemplation and creation of illuminated manuscripts. Illuminated manuscripts, such as the Book of Kells, were often produced as display objects to create a sense of awe and wonder; however, there is a hierarchy of sight that begins when the scribe/artist takes up the stylus and brush to create the text, images, and ornament. Manuscripts -- books created by the hand -- whose primary purpose was display reached iconic and relic status by the initial act of opening the interior eyes to the divine act of Creation.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the sense of sight, both optical and internal, in the presentation, contemplation and creation of illuminated manuscripts. Illuminated manuscripts, such as the Book of Kells, were often produced as display objects to create a sense of awe and wonder; however, there is a hierarchy of sight that begins when the scribe/artist takes up the stylus and brush to create the text, images, and ornament. Manuscripts -- books created by the hand -- whose primary purpose was display reached iconic and relic status by the initial act of opening the interior eyes to the divine act of Creation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.