Fragmentation and Iconoclash in Medieval and Early Modern Objects

The research project aims to offer new insights to the fragmentation of devotional objects. Why have certain objects or works of art been demolished? How do they continue their life as fragments? What meanings does an object begin to bear when its material existence is radically altered? How do the objects themselves reveal the drastic moments that have occurred during their itinerary?

The primary research material consists of polychrome wood sculptures, altarpieces and reliquaries from the Baltic Sea region, dated from between 1200–1550. These objects are today held in various collections in Finland, including in the congregations of the Lutheran Church.

What is iconoclash? The concept was established by the French sociologist of science Bruno Latour, and translates into Finnish as ‘kuvakalske’. The concept does not underscore destruction per se, but brings forth the notion of transformation which is, in turn, often a cause of fragmentation. Acts of breakage and reuse, for example, are approached as episodes, which an object experiences during its itinerary - regardless of the nature of the act that has caused the object’s present state.

The art historians involved in this endeavour are Elina Räsänen, Katri Vuola, Sofia Lahti, and Saila Leskinen, who works also as research assistant. The three-year project (2020–2023) is funded by the Kone Foundation and is affiliated with the University of Helsinki.

In collaboration: Lived religion in Medieval Finland and Michel Sittow in the North? Altarpieces in Dialogue

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