The Sensuous Appeal of the Holy. Sensory Agency of Sacred Art and Somatised Spiritual Experiences in Medieval Europe (12th-15th century) – SenSArt

ERC Project, PI Zuleika Murat

Art moves the eyes. But is sight the only sense we use to experience it? This is a crucial question for Western culture, dominated today by the hegemony of vision. By challenging the current ocularcentric paradigm, and assimilating notions on the cultural values of sensation, the ERC funded SenSArt project provides an examination of medieval sacred art from the unconventional lens of its sensory agency.

Between the 12th and the 15th century Europe underwent an extraordinary artistic evolution and an impressive cultural revitalization, which sparked a reassessment of the role of sensory perception in systems of knowledge and spiritual enlightenment. SenSArt explores and compares different social environments in six selected regions (Italy, France, Germany, Spain, England, the Low Countries), pursuing three objectives:

  1. it analyses quantitatively and qualitatively the perceptual schemes that oriented the reception of sacred art, scrutinizing how art solicited its beholders through multiple sensory inputs;
  2. it develops and investigates the notion of ‘sensory agency’ of art, establishing sacred art as a primary actor capable of exerting, through sensorial stimulation or deprivation, a social agency on its audience;
  3. it provides an overall phenomenology of experiences on a European scale, by comparing the diverse patterns that different social groups lived on a local, regional and supranational scale.

SenSArt will achieve its goals by developing a new combined approach at the crossroad of Art History, Cultural History, Religion Studies, and Text Studies, involving a multidisciplinary team of scholars that delve into a comparative set of materials, including normative texts on the senses and works of art.
In so doing, SenSArt will shed new light on wide historical, devotional and cultural phenomena, outlining complex networks of social interactions where humans, art and the senses interplayed with each other, enhancing our understanding of medieval Europe.

Source / BnF, Ms Français 13342, cc. 46v-47r

PI: Zuleika Murat
Funded under: Horizon 2020, ERC Starting Grant
Grant Agreement number: 950248

Start date: 1 September 2021
End date: 31 August 2026
Budget: 1.499.328,00 €