CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Embodied Words: Reading in Medieval Christian Visual Culture

Exhibition: 18 March 2022 - 31 March 2024

NB please note that a selection of the manuscripts will be returned to lending institutions by the end of 2022. The exhibition is ongoing and will include other works of art after 2022.

In the Middle Ages, reading was thought to change you, physically and spiritually. Medieval people believed that words written and read, spoken and heard, could imprint on the brain, heart, and soul. The senses mediated the reception of these words. The artworks from Williams College Museum of Art’s collection and manuscripts from the Chapin Library in this exhibition demonstrate the embodied nature of reading in Christian Europe from the twelfth through the sixteenth centuries.

Text at that time was not confined to the pages of books but could be found everywhere in homes and public spaces: on paintings, architectural decoration, sculpture, furniture, clothing, jewelry, and bodies. How artists combined text and image informed the reading practices of medieval people. Despite the pervasiveness of text, societal norms around gender, class, and education determined whose words could be read. Women were considered readers, and certain men were thought of as readers, writers, and creators.

As visitors “read” the objects on view, they may reflect on how medieval reading practices shape how, what, and where they read today, even in digital formats. Whether we are turning the pages of a codex or scrolling down a screen, reading is an embodied act.

The exhibition is curated by Elizabeth Sandoval, Assistant Curator.