Elina Gertsman’s Worlds Within: Opening the Medieval Shrine Madonna (Penn State University Press, 2015) is an intellectually vibrant study of the approximately forty extant vierges ouvrantes, shrine madonnas produced between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. These vierges, sliced vertically at the front, could be opened to reveal an array of sculpted or painted images. For Gertsman, their gendered materiality and the viewer’s physical involvement are paramount: moving away from formal analysis, she approaches perceptions of the vierge ouvrante as a culturally charged material object with which to think, feel, and pray. She relishes the strange unfamiliarity of the madonnas, scattered across western Europe from France to northernmost Sweden but condemned by late-medieval and early-modern reformers, envisioning them as “a Barthian punctum: a sting, a wound, a point of entry into late medieval visual culture”. If the point is focused, her angles of entry are multiple: Worlds Within is an exceptionally multidisciplinary book, approaching her subject through innumerable cultural and disciplinary prisms. Gertsman examines the Virgin’s body performatively, as a liminal threshold to heaven and salvation; provocatively, as the object of a kind of sublime medical intervention (a spiritual C-section); playfully, as a stimulus to touch, particularly tempting in the case of her ivory madonnas. Readers are invited to open and close a gatefold of the Rhenish Shrine Madonna, just as believers once opened and closed the vierges ouvrantes themselves. The volume is lavishly produced, seeming to share the medieval delight in the book as luxury tactile object.

Karen Gould Prize Citations: https://medievalacademy.site-ym.com/page/GouldPrizeWinner


Karen Gould Prize in Art History

The Karen Gould Prize, established by an endowed gift from Lewis Gould in 2016, is awarded annually for a book or monograph (conference proceedings and collected essays are not eligible) in medieval art history judged by the selection committee to be of outstanding quality. To be eligible, the author must be resident in North America and be a member in good standing of the Medieval Academy of America.

Karen Gould (1946 – 2012) was an art historian specializing in manuscript illumination and was the author of The Psalter and Hours of Yolande of Soissons (Speculum Anniversary Monographs) (Medieval Academy of America, 1978). The prize established in her name consists of a certificate and a monetary award of $1,000. It is announced at the annual meeting of the academy each spring. The first Prize will be given in 2018.

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