The Art of the Poor in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance

The Art of the Poor  in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance
14 June 2018, 9.30am - 15 June 2018, 5.30pm
Conference / Symposium
Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AB


The art history of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance has generally been written as a story of elites: bankers, noblemen, kings, and popes and their artistic interests and commissions. Recent decades have seen attempts to recast the story in terms of material culture and include a wider range of objects than are discussed in the traditional surveys of painting, sculpture and architecture, but the focus has not fundamentally shifted away from the upper strata of society. One otherwise excellent publication following this new approach even states confidently that ‘there was no such thing as poor man’s art in the Renaissance.’

There are, however, countless modest images, decorated objects and buildings across Europe that belie this notion, from lead and tin pilgrims’ badges in the Museum of London to frescoed churches commissioned by village communities during the Venetian period on Crete. These works of art were made for the more than 95% of the population who were economically less privileged: peasants, unskilled and skilled workers in the building and manufacturing industries, small-time artisans. They are works that tend not to enter the major art museums and exhibitions of the western world, or feature prominently in tourist guide books; they can be found in museums of urban history and archaeology and the closest they come to mingling with ‘real’ art is in shows with an anthropological approach, such as ‘the art of devotion.’ If they are discussed in artistic terms at all, these are often negative: ‘coarse’; ‘crude’; ‘primitive’; or ‘provincial’. There is also a common assumption that such objects did not have artistic traditions of their own but were always derived from the shining examples made by famous artists for the rich.

This conference aims to challenge these perceptions. For the first time, ‘the art of the poor’ will be given centre stage. Through a variety of case studies, objects, their functions and manufacturing traditions will be re-evaluated and established aesthetic judgements and tacit assumptions in scholarship re-examined. The conference will seek to give impetus to a new field combining the expertise of urban archaeologists, historians, historical anthropologists, and art historians. This field, different from general studies of material culture in that its principal object is ‘art’, can help us re-assess the very concept of ‘art’ and its function in society, neither of which can be understood properly without taking into account the broadest range of artistic activity.


Joannne Anderson (The Warburg Institute); Ruth Atherton (University of Birmingham); Roger Blench (University of Cambridge); Annick Born; Aude Chevalier (Université Paris Ouest - Nanterre la Défense);Anne-Clothilde Dumargne (University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines); Samuel Cohn (University of Glasgow); Rembrandt Duits (The Warburg Institute); Clarisse Evrard (University of Lille 3 – École du Louvre); Shannon Emily Gilmore  (University of California); Hayarpi Hakobyan (Yerevan State University); Paula Hohti (Aalto University); Meriel Jeater (Museum of London); Peg Katritzky (The Open University); Angeliki Lymberopoulou (The Open University); Jane Malcolm-Davies (Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen); Tom Nichols (University of Glasgow); Jacqui Pearce (Museum of London); Thomas Schweigert (University of Wisconsin); Anne-Kristine Sindvald-Larsen (Aalto University); Lucinda Timmermans (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam); Nicoletta Usai (University of Cagliari); Alexandra van Dongen (Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam); Charlene Vella (University of Malta)

The conference will take place on 14 June from 09.30 to 17.30, and on 15 June from 10.00 - 17.30


Attendance is free of charge. Pre-registration is required by clicking on the Book Now button below.


Thursday 14 June

09.30 Registration

10.00 Welcome

          Bill Sherman, Director of the Warburg Institute

          Rembrandt Duits

Session 1. Chair: Michelle O'Malley

10.20 Rembrandt Duits (The Warburg Institute, London) - Did the Poor have Art?

10.40 Tom Nichols (University of Glasgow) - Jacopo Bassano and the Painting of Poverty

11.00 Discussion

11.30 Coffee (Common Room)

12.00 Samuel Cohn (University of Glasgow) - Material Culture without Objects. Artisans’ Artistic Commissions in Renaissance Italy

12.20 Alexandra van Dongen (Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam) - The Inventory of a Miller’s Widow from Sixteenth-Century Holland

12.40 Annick Born (independent scholar) - The Adoration of the Magi. Piety and Fashion for Each and Everyone in Early Sixteenth-Century Antwerp

13.00 Discussion

13.30  Lunch (for speakers and chairs only in Classroom 2)

Session 2. Chair: Tom Nichols

14.30 Thomas Schweigert (University of Wisconsin) - On the 'Slipshod' Nature of Carpaccio's Saint Tryphon Tames the Basilisk in the Scuola degli Schiavoni

14.50 Shannon Emily Gilmore (University of California) - Miracles in the Margins. The Popular Piety of the Miraculous Image of Santa Maria delle Carceri in Prato

15.10 Angeliki Lymberopoulou (The Open University) - κέ παντός του λαου το χορίου τ(ης) Μάζας Communal Church Decoration from Rural Venetian Crete

15.30 Discussion

16.00 Tea (Common Room)

16.30 Joanne Anderson (Warburg Institute) - Next to Chur we are still Poor. the Relationality of Poverty in the Rhaetian Alps

16.50 Nicoletta Usai (University of Cagliari) - The Rich and the Poor. Devotional Icons and Echoes of Giotto in Sardinia in the Late Middle Ages

17.10 Charlene Vella (University of Malta) - The Native Art of the Maltese Islands in the Late Medieval and Renaissance Periods

17.30 Discussion

18.00 Reception (Classroom 1)

19.00 Conference dinner at the Warburg Institute (for speakers and chairs only in the Common Room)


Friday 15 June

10.00 Doors open

Session 3. Chair: Rembrandt Duits

10.30 Anne-Kristine Sindvald-Larsen (Aalto University) - Dressing the Poor. Artisans and Fashion in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century Scandinavia

10.50 Paula Hohti (Aalto University) - The Art of Artisan Fashions. Moroni’s Tailor and the Changing Culture of Clothing in Sixteenth-Century Italy

11.10 Discussion

11.30 Coffee (Common Room)

12.00 Jacqui Pearce (Museum of London) - An Art for Everyman. The Aspirations of the Medieval Potter

12.20 Clarisse Evrard (University of Lille 3 – École du Louvre) - Italian Tin-Glazed Earthenware. Silverware for Poor People?

12.40 Roger Blench (University of Cambridge) - Elite and Popular Musical Instruments in Iconography and Archaeology in the Medieval and Renaissance Period in Europe (including audio clips)

13.00 Discussion

13.30 Lunch (for speakers and chairs only in Classroom 2)

Session 4. Chair: Angeliki Lymberopoulou

14.30 Ruth Atherton (University of Birmingham) - Visual Pedagogy. The Use of Woodcuts in Early Modern German Catechisms

14.50 Peg Katritzky (The Open University) - Shakespeare’s ‘Picture of We three’. An Image for Illiterates?

15.10 Meriel Jeater (Museum of London) - The Art of Popular Piety. Pilgrim Souvenirs from the Museum of London Collection

15.30 Discussion

16.00 Tea (Common Room)

16.30 Anne-Clothilde Dumargne (University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines)  -  An Ordinary Object for Priceless Lighting. Copper Alloy Candlesticks in Late Medieval and Early Modern Society

16.50 Lucinda Timmermans (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) - Dutch Fire Screens and their Iconography

17.10 Discussion

17.30 Close



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