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09/01/2022 - 09/02/2022 | London

The Politics Of Iconoclasm In The Middle Ages


The role of the visual in constructing social and political power in the Middle Ages has enjoyed much scholarly attention in recent times, and interest in the subject shows no sign of waning. Much less consideration has been given to the responses that visual representations of power elicited from those who encountered them. Given that visual images and performances often aggressively served to stake controversial and, for some, threatening claims, there can be no doubt that such responses were often hostile. But how visual constructions of power were contested, and what visual strategies were open to their opponents – such as defacement, obliteration, or the creation of counter-images or performances – has been remarkably little studied outside the religious sphere. Yet if we think we should take seriously the power of images in politics and society, then the means available to medieval people to oppose and challenge that power is clearly an important subject. To study this volatile aspect of medieval society is important not least because current discourses make use of the past to oppose as well as promote the defacement, destruction, or removal of statues, for example.

The keynote lecture will be delivered by Leslie Brubaker (University of Birmingham).

The subject is manifestly a large one. Locations for iconoclastic acts and behaviours might include the court, towns and cities, or the battlefield, and events and moments where power-displays were concentrated, such as coronations, royal and princely entries, tournaments, councils, and parliaments. Topics and media for consideration might include:

Topics will include:

- Attacks on the powerful in effigy, through their representations in portraiture, sculpture, or manuscript illustrations, as well as the creation and dissemination of polemical, satirical, or defamatory counter-images.

-The destruction, defacement, or public dishonouring of insignia of power such as coats of arms, banners, seals, and clothing.

-The destruction of sites of power (where this has a clear symbolic dimension), such as town walls and gates, palaces and castles and their contents, including the iconographic and performative ‘re-branding’ of such sites by their conquerors.

-The human body as a site of iconoclasm, through acts and rituals of public dishonour, from symbolic inversion to physical mutilation.

-The productive dimensions of iconoclasm as a performance that creates new meanings as it left visible damage or created conspicuous absences.

-Reactions in the aftermath of iconoclasms that illuminate contemporary perceptions of such behaviour and reveal potential ambiguities resulting from displays and their destruction.

-Verbal and textual ‘iconoclasm’: the denunciation, criticism, or contestation of images or visual performances of power in texts or in textual reports of speech-acts.



9.00 to 10.00 am: History and Historiography of Iconoclasm

▪ Len Scales (Durham University), Welcome: The Politics of Iconoclasm in the Middle Ages
▪ Norbert Schnitzler (Gymnasium Heepen), Iconoclasm in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century [TBC]

10.00 to 11.00 am: Politics of the Sacred
▪ Matthias Hardt (GWZO), Iconoclasm in the Slavic Revolts of 983 and 1066
▪ Kateřina Horníčková (Palacky University Olomouc), Politics and Religion during Hussite

11.00 to 11:30 am: Coffee & Tea Break

11.30 am to 1.00 pm: Multiple Materials
▪ Allie Terry-Fritsch (Bowling Green State University), Iconoclastic Feasting: Image Destruction at Banquet and Altar in Late Medieval and Renaissance Europe
▪ Louisa McKenzie (Warburg Institute), Power Melting Away: Iconoclasm and Santissima
Annunziata’s Wax Ex-Votos
▪ Kate Heard (Royal Collection Trust), ‘Not only to the Diminution of Divine Worship, but to the Hurt of the King’: Damaging, Stealing and Confiscating Vestments in Late Medieval England

1.00 to 2.00 pm: Lunch

2.00 to 3.00 pm: Interactions of Text and Image
▪ Gerald Schwedler (Kiel University), Graphoclasms, Re-Writing and the Importance of History: The Example of the Dispute between Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria (1282–1347) and the Papacy
▪ Lorenz A. Hindrichsen (Copenhagen International School), Erasure in Late Medieval Visual Representations of Intersectionality

3.00 to 3.30pm: Coffee & Tea Break

3.30 to 5.00 pm: Multivalence of Urban Spaces
▪ Marcus Meer (GHIL), From Significant Shields to Meaningful Millstones: Defacing, Erasing, and Replacing Visual Matters on the Urban Stage
▪ Jan Dumolyn and Jeroen Deploige (Ghent University), Burning Down the House: The Law of Arson and Demolition in the Medieval Communes of the Southern Low Countries
5.30 to 7.00 pm: Keynote at the Warburg Institute
▪ Leslie Brubaker (Birmingham University), The Theory and Practice of Iconoclasm: Lessons from Byzantium

7:00 to 7.30 pm: Reception at The Warburg Institute

8.00 pm: Dinner

End of Day 1



09.00 to 10.00 am: Attacking the Dead
▪ Dyan Elliott (Northwestern University), Grave Iconoclasm: Papal Politics and the Desecration of Tombs
▪ Ondřej Jakubec (Palacky University Olomouc), Sepulchral Monuments as Objects of
Iconoclasm and Social/Religious Controversy in Central Europe, 15th–17th c.

10.00 am to 10.15 am: Break

10.15–11.15 am: Presences and Absences
▪ Samuel Cohn (Glasgow University), An Iconoclasm of Class: The Early Renaissance
Destruction and Prevention of Non-Elites from Commissioning Art in Public Places
▪ Martin Bauch (GWZO), Degradation through Honour: The Frankfurt Funeral Ceremony for Günther of Schwarzburg by his Rival Charles IV

11.15–12.00 am: Coffee & Tea Break

12.00 am to 1.00 pm: Roundtable Discussion at the Warburg Institute
• Leslie Brubaker (Birmingham University)
• Ludmilla Jordanova (Durham University)
• Arnold Bartetzky (GWZO)

End of Day 2


German Historical Institute London& The Warburg Institute

in collaboration with

GWZO (Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe in Leipzig)

with support from
Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Leibniz Research Alliance ‘Value of the Past’, Kiel University (CAU)

Conveners: Marcus Meer (GHIL), Len Scales (University of Durham), and Sarah Griffin (The Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London)

Information on participating / attending:
If you would like to register to hear the papers of this conference at the GHIL, please follow this link to:

If you would like to register for the keynote at the Warburg Institute only, please visit their website:


09/01/2022 09:00 - 09/02/2022 13:00

Event venue:

German Historical Institute London

17 Bloomsbury Square
WC1A 2NJ London
United Kingdom

Target group:

Scientists and scholars, Students

Email address:



Subject areas:

Art / design, Cultural sciences, History / archaeology, Politics, Religion

Types of events:

Conference / symposium / (annual) conference




Virginie Michaels


Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit

Event is free:


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URL of this event:

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