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Medieval art and architecture

medieval art research

(Prof Paul Binski (North-Western Europe), Dr Donal Cooper (Italy and the Mediterranean)

Our Department is a world leader in innovative research in the Middle Ages, depth of research facilities and medieval collections, and professional attainment. Cambridge’s contribution to the field goes back to M R James and Robert Willis, 19th-century founders of analytical research into illuminated manuscripts and medieval architecture. These were developed by S C Cockerell, C R Dodwell, George Henderson and more recently the late Michael Camille, whose work celebrates the liberal and diverse tradition of our field.  The subject is currently in the custody of Paul Binski, who teaches the art and architecture of north-western Europe in the Romanesque and Gothic periods, and Donal Cooper, who works on medieval and Renaissance Italy.

Major larger research projects in recent years have involved collaboration in the study and cataloguing of the wealth of medieval illuminated manuscripts in Cambridge. led to the major ‘Cambridge Illuminations’ exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the accompanying catalogue (edited by Paul Binski and Stella Panayotova, 2005), and a new Catalogue of the Western Illuminated Manuscripts in the University Library (Paul Binski and Patrick Zutshi, 2011). The Parker on the Web project, in conjunction with Stanford University, has made the world-famous manuscript collection of the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College available via the Internet. These projects continue to produce significant spin-off opportunities for students wishing to study the medieval book, and gain practical expertise in codicology and paleography at MPhil or PhD levels. 

Over the last decade, new links have built up with the Hamilton Kerr Institute (a department of the Fitzwilliam Museum) in the study and conservation of medieval panel painting.  Cambridge is now a significant centre for such work. A three-year study on East Anglia's rood screens, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, concluded in 2012 with an international symposium on ‘The Art and Science of Medieval Church Screens’. The medieval heritage of the local area is regularly explored at symposia for staff and graduate students in collaboration with the University of East Anglia. 

The medieval art history of the British Isles viewed in a European context is one departmental strength. Professor Paul Binski FBA continues to supervise a number of research students. His recent publications include Gothic Wonder: Art, Artifice and the Decorated Style (Yale: 2014) and a new book is forthcoming on the experience and agency of Gothic sculpture.  His MPhil and PhD graduates since 1995 have an exceptional record of professional attainment, and include Professor Matthew Reeve (Queen’s University), Professor Robert Mills (UCL) Dr Julian Luxford (St Andrews), Dr Kate Heard (Royal Collections Trust), Dr Lucy Wrapson (Hamilton Kerr Institute), Dr Emily Guerry (Kent), Dr John Munns (Magdalene College) and Dr Jessica Berenbeim (English Faculty), as well as a number of college research fellows and other postdoctoral awards.

Affiliated lecturers with research interests in this field include John Munns and Anna Gannon.  John Munns specialises in the artistic culture of England and its neighbours in the long twelfth century, especially in the contexts of theology, liturgy and devotion. Anna Gannon's research deals with early Anglo-Saxon art, particularly around the time of the conversion to Christianity, and she specialises in early Anglo-Saxon coinage. 

As well its university teaching officers and affiliated lecturers, the department works with experts from the Fitzwilliam Museum, the colleges, the arts faculties, and elsewhere in Cambridge to foster a lively and rigorous research culture in the study of the art and architecture of the Middle Ages.

The department holds a regular medieval research seminar for its own students and visitors from elsewhere, one series of which has recently been published (Decorated Revisited: English Architectural Style in Context, 1250-1400, ed. J. Munns (Brepols 2017).

Gothic Wonder cover Binski

Beckett's crown cover

illuminated manuscript cover