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Karen Gould Prize Citations

 

2020 Karen Gould Prize in Art History

 

Benjamin Anderson’s Cosmos and Community in Early Medieval Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017) presents an engaging assessment of the political and social functions of zodiacal imagery in the Frankish, Umayyad, and Byzantine Empires.  Solidly rooted in studies by pioneering art historians Aby Warburg and Hans Peter L’Orange, Anderson’s book is a welcome and long overdue re-evaluation of an imagery that seems stable in nature, but, as he subtly demonstrates, offers an array of nuances due to its different political and social functions across the early Christian-Islamic medieval world.  Anderson calls attention to objects that will be new to many medievalists. He uses frescoes and manuscript illuminations, as well as thrones, tables, mantles, and similar objects to argue how Muslim rulers, along with the Carolingians and their successors, used the zodiac to unite their followers under their divine authority to rule.  However, in a different political context, the Byzantine emperor used similar imagery to separate and elevate his status, making clear that the heavens offered exclusive knowledge for ruling elites.  Anderson’s combinative approach focused on particular examples in their geographical and chronological contexts will serve as a model for future cross-cultural studies.  Yale University Press similarly deserves praise for the excellent production quality.

 

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