Visual Media and Spatial Contexts in Pre-Reformation Central Europe: The Sacred Ensemble in Spiš (Slovakia), c. 1425-1525


FWF-Project P 33726-G (1 September 2020 - 31 August 2024)

Project leader: O. Univ.-Prof. Dr. Michael Viktor Schwarz

Researcher: Dr. Tim Juckes

Ensembles of visual media from the late Middle Ages have survived as systems in sacred space in only a few regions – the products of a tolerant form of Lutheranism that protected churches from Counter-Reformation remodelling and, at the same time, froze them in their pre-Reformation condition. Among the significant clusters of material – found primarily in Franconia (southern Germany), along the Baltic coast (northern Germany, Poland, Gotland), and in Spiš (Central-East Slovakia) – the Slovak examples are the least researched. The project exploits their exceptional potential by addressing five sites of differing character in, or closely connected to, the region – the collegiate church of Spišská Kapitula, the town churches of Levoča and Spišská Sobota, and the village churches of Strážky and Smrečany (Liptov).

There are two main aims. Firstly, to examine each site in terms of both its individual components and characteristics as an ensemble. An investigation of artistic media found in key zones – such as the environment of the high altar, the threshold to the choir, and the space's entrance areas – will show how local dynamics unfolded. The second aim is to use these site histories to explore broader developments in late medieval sacred space. Advancing beyond perceptions of increasingly cluttered interiors in the pre-Reformation period, the late medieval boom in sacred art will be considered as a distinctive process with its own chronologies, mechanisms, and nuances. By examining each site in terms of its medieval usage, the project also seeks to identify regimes of order that bound multifaceted ensembles through the phases of their development. While regional in its focus, it thus casts light on super-regional phenomena and has implications for the study of contemporary ensembles across Europe.

Levoča, Church of St James