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Beautiful, Meaningless Letters? Abstraction and Calligraphy in Medieval Manuscripts and Modern Painting

Did abstract art exist before the 20th century? Focusing particularly on the calligraphy and ornament of medieval manuscripts from the British Isles and Spain, this lecture will consider how some artists in the early Middle Ages toyed with the relationship between visible forms and sensible meanings in ways that did indeed approach abstraction. Considering these works alongside that of twentieth-century artists Jasper Johns, Paul Klee, and Ed Ruscha can help us make sense of how changes to the visual form of letters and their context can shift them from sense to nonsense, and sometimes back again.

Benjamin C. Tilghman is assistant professor of art history at Washington College. He was educated at Lawrence University, Williams College, and the Johns Hopkins University. His published research has focussed on early medieval manuscripts, especially the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels, and he is a core member of the Material Collective, a collaborative working group of art historians dedicated to fostering innovative and humane research in the humanities.

Sponsored by the art department. Free and open to public.

Image: Jasper Johns, Alphabet, 1959

Tuesday, October 30, 2018 at 4:45pm

Psychology, 105
3203 SE Woodstock Blvd, Portland, OR 97202, USA

Event Type



Faculty, Students, Alumni, Open to the Public, Staff



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