Brittany Hill Lecture Review #1

Brittany Hill

Contemporary Art

Lecture Review- Heidi Gearhart


During the lecture “Is There Virtue in Virtuosity? Art and Skill in the Medieval Monastery” Heidi Gearhart analyzes the purpose of monastery books from the 1000-1100’s. Focusing predominately on the Wolfenbuttel book, written by Theophilus, she discusses the two main themes of the book: craftsmanship and the theory behind it. 

Gerhart began by analyzing the theory behind monastery books, and why monks would place so much importance on gaining skill. The reasoning behind it was that the best way to honor God would be to become the most skilled craftsman, because it was he that honored them with free will, which allows them to choose to become skilled. By becoming incredibly masterful, the objects they craft would be of such high quality that they too would honor God. Monastery book were held in such high regard because with their content, monks could become closer to God, just by mastering the practices outlined in the book.

Once Gerhart discusses the theory of free will, her lecture shifted to analyzing certain monastery books, specifically the Wolfenbuttel. Comprised of three sections, each one is a collection of “recipes” that details techniques of how to do paintings, stained glass, and metalwork. It shows both a progression of material, as well as complexity of the objects. There is an hierarchy of material; the most basic skills featured in the first book, require the most simple of material, pigment, and then progress to more and more complicated and valuable materials that require more skill to work, such as gold. This shows that the progression of materials, as well as the skill set required, elevates one to higher forms of skill, therefore closer to God himself. Although the book is primarily about specific skills, Theophilus also writes about theory. He believed that through free will and reason given to man by God, that man was able to gain skill. Through the virtue of skill and art, man could gain redemption and ascend closer to God. Theophilus also stressed the importance of careful diligence and craftsmanship. Diligence, he believed, was absolutely vital in becoming the most virtuous master of art.

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