SAH-HIG-The Historic Interiors Affiliate Group, invites its members and scholars of medieval art and architecture to submit proposals for its second HIG-organized session at the Society of Architectural Historians in Montreal in April 2023.  Its focus, on material culture and medieval church interiors, expands our group’s consideration of the history of the interior beyond the modern period.

The deadline for the submission of proposals is June 7, 2022.

Material Religion Through the Sacred Interior

Following the Protestant Reformation, clerics and church officials stripped the interior spaces of many western medieval churches of their polychromy, textiles, choir screens, side altars, and sculptures, fundamentally changing the sensorial experience of worship for both clergy and laity. These changes had an impact on how scholars approached medieval church interiors, causing some to overlook the presence of furniture and other portable furnishings. Instead, art and architectural historians have emphasized architectural structure, frescos, and painted altarpieces. Other scholars analyze aspects of the liturgy that engage with select objects, but there is much more to be said about items long since removed.

This session invites papers that investigate how sacred interiors were furnished with items such as—though not limited to—textiles, side altars, altar cloths, and choir screens. How did these material objects influence the experience of the worshipper in this holy space? How have museums’ categorization of furniture as part of the decorative arts impeded the study of these items? Is the term “furniture” the correct or relevant term to use for items such as altars and choir stalls, and can this be clarified by writers? What role did textiles play in creating movable temporary spaces within the larger building?

Investigations of these themes in relation to sacred spaces from all eras and places are welcome. Differences in experiences of the sacred interior based upon gender, socio-economic class, and race are encouraged.  As art historian and religious studies scholar David Morgan observes in his recent book, The Thing about Religion, material objects are the “things…[that] make religions happen.” This session seeks to explore the medieval western church interior (c. 500–1500) as a space where material objects have been employed to make religion happen.

Organized by the SAH Historic Interiors Affiliate Group and chaired by Tania Kolarik, Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison,