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Telling Tales: Narrative Art in Medieval Europe and Beyond - HOA00075H

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  • Department: History of Art
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Katie Harrison
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

Throughout the medieval period, visual media played a crucial role in transmitting historical, religious and secular stories to diverse audiences. Drawing upon medieval ideas of sight, storytelling and the role of images in devotional practice, we will analyse how audience, material, scale and context affected narrative design in a wide range of media.

Related modules

Students who have taken the I-level version of Telling Tales: Narrative Art in Medieval Europe and Beyond are prohibited from taking the H-version of the same module.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

Challenging assumptions that medieval pictorial cycles work as simple illustrations of textual models, we will explore how the commissioners and creators of narrative cycles developed innovative visual devices and complex structures to convey meaning, and devised imagery to articulate specific agendas.

This module will explore the transmission of narratives in a wide range of media, from miniature manuscript illustrations to monumental sculptures, textiles, wall paintings and stained-glass windows, adopting a thematic structure.

Drawing upon medieval ideas of sight, storytelling and the role of images in devotional practice, we will analyse how audience, material, scale and context affected narrative design.

We will take advantage of the rich materials available for study at York Minster and local churches, through site visits, as well as drawing upon a diverse range of case studies from across Europe, recognising the interconnected nature of medieval visual culture.

While focusing upon medieval Europe, where possible, we will also explore case studies from the wider world, to enable the comparison of western medieval pictorial traditions with contemporary approaches to narrative in other cultures.

Throughout the module, students will develop their ability to critically analyse pictorial and textual sources, as well as honing communication skills, through discussions, presentations and written work.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students should be able to:

  • Analyse the design and structure of pictorial narrative schemes
  • Understand medieval thinking about sight, reading, memory, time and storytelling
  • Critically consider the relationships between narratives in different visual media and settings
  • Analyse the role of patrons, artists and audiences in narrative design
  • Question, analyse and synthesise evidence from a wide range of sources
  • Identify and critically evaluate new source material through independent research


Task Length % of module mark
Advanced Assignment
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Advanced Assignment
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on assessed work within the timeframes set out by the University - please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

The purpose of feedback is to help you to improve your future work. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further, you are warmly encouraged to meet your Supervisor during their Office Hours.

Indicative reading

  • Carruthers, Mary. Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Frojmovic, Eva and Catherine E. Karkov, eds. Postcolonising the Medieval Image. London: Routledge, 2017.
  • Hahn, Cynthia. Portrayed on the Heart: Narrative Effect in Pictorial Lives of Saints from the Tenth through the Thirteenth Century. London: University of California Press, 2001.
  • Hilmo, Maidie. Medieval Images, Icons, and Illustrated English Literary Texts: From Ruthwell Cross to the Ellesmere Chaucer. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
  • Jordan, Alyce A. "Stories in Windows: the Architectonics of Narrative." In Investigations in Medieval Stained Glass, edited by Brigitte Kurmann-Schwarz and Elizabeth Pastan, 189-201. Leiden, 2019.
  • Kemp, Wolfgang. The Narratives of Gothic Stained Glass. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Kessler, Herbert L. Studies in Pictorial Narrative. London: The Pindar Press, 1994.
  • Kurmann-Schwarz, Brigitte and Elizabeth Pastan, eds. Investigations in Medieval Stained Glass. Leiden: Brill, 2019.
  • Normore, Christina, ed. Re-Assessing the Global Turn in Medieval Art History. Leeds: Arc Humanities Press, 2018.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.