History of Art and Architecture

Alumni Bio: Therese Martin

Therese Martin received her PhD in 2000 under the direction of John Williams with a dissertation on the topic of San Isidoro in León, examining both the architectural history of a Romanesque church and its patronage by the royal women responsible for its construction. She has been a tenured scholar since 2009 at Spain’s premier research institution, the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas. This position followed her first job at the University of Arizona (2000-2009, tenured in 2006). Currently, she has major funding in the form of a Starting Grant from the European Research Council, which provides generously for scholars of any nationality who want to work in Europe and are between two and twelve years out from their doctoral defense. These start-up funds are designed to facilitate the creation of teams and the establishment of fellowships for graduate students, and generally to help junior scholars move into more senior ranks. Therese received 1.2 million euros ($1,500,000) for her project entitled “Reassessing the Roles of Women as ‘Makers’ of Medieval Art and Architecture,” which over the course of four years, 2010-2014, is allowing her to head a team of ten scholars from five countries.

As Therese describes it, her project “is a response to silence and absence.” The silence is that of medieval women in the history of art, for despite the advances of recent decades, the field continues to be overwhelmingly a history of men. There is an unspoken underlying assumption that works of art and architecture in the Middle Ages were made by and for men, save for the rare cases where it can be demonstrated otherwise. That is, medieval art is not approached from a position of neutrality but rather presumed to be masculine in origin and intent. Scholars routinely christen anonymous artists with the title “Master of…” followed by some outstanding characteristic by which we recognize “his” work. By contrast, artists and patrons are identified as women only when their names are recorded on a work of art or in documentation. These noteworthy cases have been fruitfully studied, often within a framework of the exception that proves the rule. But how many so-called exceptions must there be before we decide that a new rule is in order? At what point to do these perceived aberrations from the norm become rather a new pattern waiting to be recognized? She believes that we have reached such a point, and therefore her team’s research will bring to the fore women’s roles as patrons and facilitators, producers and artists, owners and recipients, within specific social and political contexts, including as well their interactions and collaborations (or confrontations) with men.”

The first major publication to result from this project is a two-volume set with the same title, which was published by Brill in May 2012. Including twenty-four substantial articles by scholars from ten countries, these volumes propose a renewed way of framing the debate around the history of medieval art and architecture to highlight the multiple roles played by women. Today’s standard division of artist from patron is not seen in medieval inscriptions—on paintings, metalwork, embroideries, or buildings—where the most common verb is 'made' (fecit). At times this denotes the individual whose hands produced the work, but it can equally refer to the person whose donation made the undertaking possible. Here scholars examine secular and religious art from across medieval Europe (from Al-Andalus to Scandinavia, and from the sixth to the sixteenth centuries) to demonstrate that a range of studies is of interest not just for a particular time and place but because, from this range, overall conclusions can be drawn for the question of medieval art history as a whole.