Throughout this module, we will consider whether it is possible to assess national character in art and architecture, and whether doing so matters.
Module will run
Spring Term 2021-22
In October and November of 1955, German émigré art historian Nikolaus Pevsner delivered the Reith Lectures, a series of radio lectures disseminated over the BBC’s airwaves. Pevsner, at the time of his lectures, had spent two decades in the country; his series was titled The Englishness of English Art. In the foreword to the book based on his lectures, Pevsner queries the project, writing ‘why should I have set myself up as a judge of English qualities in English art, being neither English-born nor English bred’?
Throughout this module, we will consider whether it is possible to assess national character in art and architecture, and whether doing so matters. Some questions we will consider are: what was English about art and architecture in medieval England? Do the makers of English medieval art identify as English, in opposition with their counterparts in Europe and elsewhere? How has English art history constructed its view of the Middle Ages? How do contemporary issues of nationalism temper and distort our ability to historicize the Middle Ages? What is globalism, and are the Middle Ages ‘global’? In this course, we will consider these questions through an examination of English medieval art and architecture and its points of unity, disjunction, and intersection with the wider world.
This module will consider on art and architecture from the pre-Conquest period to the Henry VIII’s split with Rome and the Reformation in England, with a focus on understanding that which is “English” and the way art and architecture relate to and communicate Europe and the broader world. This will entail an examination of style, labour, materials, as well as patrons, institutions, and networks. Furthermore, we will consider the way medieval art has been studied and exhibited in the UK and beyond.
This module will be organized in case studies, some of which are described here. We will begin with a consideration of the Anglo-Scandinavian period and the impact of the Vikings on England, focusing on York, as well as tracing the linkages with England and Scandinavia for the duration of the Middle Ages. England’s relationship with Normandy and the rupture caused by the Norman Conquest in 1066 will be the focus on sessions on the Bayeux Embroidery and Durham Cathedral. In two sessions on the beginning of Gothic architecture in England, we will examine monastic architecture of the Cistercians the architectural principles they brought to Yorkshire, and the cult of Saint Thomas Becket and the emergence of French Gothic at Canterbury in the 1170s (and likewise the cult of Becket disseminated to Scandinavia and the Continent). England’s artistic exports, namely Opus Anglicanum (fine needlework) and alabaster sculpture will be considered both stylistically and economically. Looking at ivory sculptures, we will map the arrival of ivory from Africa into Europe with a consideration of trade and focus on English patronage of ivories. Continuing our focus on trade, we will examine the trading world of the late Middle Ages, focusing on England’s role in the European wool trade, which was influential in the rebuilding of parish churches at the hand of merchants.
This module will be comprised of lectures and discussions organised around a series of case studies. Students will gain an understanding of relevant primary sources and contemporary scholarship. They will also be aware of the historiography and the range of methodologies available for studying this material. By the end of this course, students will have a fluency with English art and architectural production of the Middle Ages that exists within an international context.
Module learning outcomes
By the end of the module, students should have acquired:
knowledge of a corpus of significant buildings and artworks produced in the British Isles during the Middle Ages
an understanding of how art and architecture produced in the British Isles during the Middle Ages fits into a broader European and global context
an understanding of the role of nationalism in the study of the Middle Ages, and how such thinking has inflected the field to date
the ability to reflect critically on various scholarly approaches and familiarity with some of the methodologies available to scholars of medieval art history
communication and presentation skills
skills in critical reading
skills in formal analysis, recognising styles, and describing and analysing buildings
% of module mark
Essay/coursework Assessed Essay
Special assessment rules
% of module mark
Essay/coursework Assessed Essay
We aim to provide feedback on summative assessment within 20 working days.
Alexander, J. J. G., and Paul Binski, eds. Art of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200-1400. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1987.
Beer, Lloyd de, and Naomi Speakman. Thomas Becket: Murder and the Making of a Saint. London: British Museum, 2021.
Bernstein, Meg. “A Bishop of Two Peoples: William of St. Calais and the Hybridization of Architecture in Eleventh-Century Durham.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 77, no. 3 (2018): 267–84.
Binski, Paul. Becket’s Crown: Art and Imagination in Gothic England, 1170-1300. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.
———. Gothic Wonder: Art, Artifice and the Decorated Style, 1290-1350. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.
———. “The Cosmati at Westminster and the English Court Style.” The Art Bulletin 72, no. 1 (1990): 6–34.
Brown, David. Durham Cathedral: History, Fabric and Culture, 2015.
Browne, Clare Woodthorpe, Glyn Davies, and M. A. Michael, eds. English Medieval Embroidery: Opus Anglicanum. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.
Crossley, Paul. “Anglia Perdita. English Medieval Architecture and Neo-Romanticism.” In Tributes to Jonathan J.G. Alexander: The Making and Meaning of Illuminated Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts, Art & Architecture, 471–85. London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2006.
———. “Between Spectacle and History. Art History and the Medieval Exhibitions.” In Late Gothic England, Art and Display, edited by Richard Marks. London, 2007.
———. “Bristol Cathedral and Nikolaus Pevsner: Sondergothik in the West Country.” In The Medieval Art, Architecture and History of Bristol Cathedral: An Enigma Explored, edited by Jon Cannon and Beth Williamson, 186–215. Bristol Studies in Medieval Cultures, 2011.
———. “Medieval Architecture and Meaning: The Limits of Iconography.” The Burlington Magazine 130, no. 1019 (1988): 116–21.
Draper, Peter. “English with a French Accent: Architectural Franglais in Late-Twelfth-Century England?” In Architecture and Language: Constructing Identity in European Architecture c. 1000-c. 1650, edited by Georgia Clarke and Paul Crossley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
———. The Formation of English Gothic: Architecture and Identity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
Fergusson, Peter. Architecture of Solitude: Cistercian Abbeys in Twelfth-Century England. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.
Fernie, Eric. Romanesque Architecture: The First Style of the European Age. Pelican History of Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.
Foster, Richard. “The Context and Fabric of the Westminster Abbey Sanctuary Pavement.” In Westminster Abbey: The Cosmati Pavements, edited by Lindy Grant and Richard Mortimer, 49–91. Courtauld Research Papers, no. 3. Aldershot, Hants, England: Burlington, Vt: Ashgate, 2002.
Frankl, Paul, and Paul Crossley. Gothic Architecture. Yale University Press, 2000.
Frew, J. M. “Gothic Is English: John Carter and the Revival of the Gothic as England’s National Style.” The Art Bulletin 2, no. 64 (1982): 315–19.
Guérin, Sarah M. “Avorio d’ogni Ragione: The Supply of Elephant Ivory to Northern Europe in the Gothic Era.” Journal of Medieval History 36 (2010): 156–74.
Holt, J.C. Colonial England: 1066-1215. London: The Hambledon Press, 1997.
Krautheimer, Richard. “Introduction to an ‘Iconography of Mediaeval Architecture.’” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 5 (1942): 1–33.
Lunnon, Helen. “Inventio Porticus—Imagining Solomon’s Porches in Late Medieval England.” British Art Studies, no. 6 (June 29, 2017).
Marks, Richard. “The Englishness of English Gothic Art.” In Gothic Art & Thought in the Later Medieval Period: Essays in Honor of Willibald Sauerlander, edited by Colum Hourihane, Vol. XII. Index of Christian Art Occasional Papers. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2011.
Michael, M. A., ed. The Age of Opus Anglicanum. Studies in English Medieval Embroidery. London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2016.
Norton, Christopher. “Viewing the Bayeux Tapestry, Now and Then.” Journal of the British Archaeological Association 172 (2019): 52–89.
Pevsner, Nikolaus. The Englishness of English Art. London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1955.
Reilly, Lisa. The Invention of Norman Visual Culture: Art, Politics, and Dynastic Ambition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.
West, Francis James. “The Colonial History of the Norman Conquest?” History 84, no. 274 (1999): 219–36.
Wilson, Christopher. “The Cistercians as ‘missionaries of Gothic’ in Northern England.” In Cistercian Art and Architecture in the British Isles, edited by Christopher Norton and David Park, 86–116. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
———. “Why Did Peter Parler Come to South-West England?” In Architecture, Liturgy and Identity: Liber Amicorum Paul Crossley, edited by Zoë Opacic and Achim Timmermann, 89–110. Studies in Gothic Art. Turnhout: Brepols, 2011.
Zarnecki, George. English Romanesque Art, 1066-1200. London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1984.