Krems/Salzburg Team


Research personnel:

The team based at the Institut für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Krems/University of Salzburg) comprises:

PI GERHARD JARITZ , senior research fellow at the Institut für Realienkunde and professor at Central European University (Budapest) – 2010‐13

Fulltime postdoctoral researcherKATEŘINA HORNÍČKOVÁ – 2010‐13


Institution: Institut für Realienkunde, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Krems 

The Institut für Realienkunde at Krems, now affiliated to the University of Salzburg, was founded in 1969 by the Austrian Academy of Sciences. It undertakes research on daily life and the history of material culture, from an interdisciplinary approach (archaeology, images and texts). Its realonline database is fully indexed and catalogued and unique for the world, in terms of the detailed analysis available to researchers, some of which is now available in English.


a) aims and objectives

The Krems team aims to demonstrate the changing ways in which the visual representations of saints were used to transmit messages, through a sophisticated analysis of their presentation in diverse spaces: whether the interior and exterior of churches, in religious books, in domestic settings; differentiating religious from non‐religious space (whilst acknowledging how non‐religious space could become a space of faith). The study embraces considerations of social and gendered space, the different spaces of closeness and distance, and space as vehicle for conveying meaning.
The project examines the role of the visual representation of saints from the twelfth to the beginning of the seventeenth centuries, the levels and complexity of these representations and their influence on the popular perception of saints: on communicating with saints, the power of saints, identifying with model lifestyles presented by them, and how saints helped people identify with their own communities, from local ones up.
The project has direct access to a world‐leading resource, the image database of the ‘Institut für Realienkunde’ (realonline) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, containing c. 25,000 twelfth‐ to sixteenth‐century images from Central Europe (today’s Austria, Southern Germany, the Czech lands, Slovakia, Hungary, Transylvania, Slovenia, and Northern Italy [i.e. South Tyrol]). Unparalleled analysis can readily be undertaken of key localities or regions, as well as whole countries in this area. The project specifically seeks to answer the research question of the extent to which the results of this Central European analysis may be generalised. The CRP partners will therefore be both provided the findings from Central Europe and also inducted in the methods developed at Krems so that comparative studies can be undertaken. In this way, the entire CRP can discover if one is confronted with ‘international’ trends and developments, or if there are particular differences to be seen with regard to the use of the ‘image of the saint’ in specific dioceses or, more broadly, in different cultural areas of Europe in this period.
The Krems team also aims, within these Central European regions, to contrast the way saints were presented to their public through visual representations with the way they were presented in other media. The project can thereby better understand the nature of and relationships between medieval media: whether the audience was served ‘one’ image of a saint or saints, across diverse media, or a variety of ‘images’ of the saint(s), with contrasts between visual depictions and portraits in sermons, vitae, or music. This problem addresses the current scholarly discourse on the general function of religious images.
The analysis of visual representations also distinguishes between ‘static’ and ‘narrative’ depictions of saints, especially in the various figurative media which portray holy women and men. This topic addresses the psychological question of the extent to which it was enough to become familiar with the static figure of a saint to recognise her or him again elsewhere, or if the narrative element, that is, the depicted story of their life, offered greater or better possibilities for internalisation, commitment to memory and emotional engagement. A third focus of this IP concerns the phenomenon of closeness and distance between the images and their beholders, and the use of such closeness and distance as a key function in mediating the message(s), in this case concerning saints. This study relates largely to the placement of the image (e.g. eye versus vault level). This topic addresses the hypothesis that, by the late Middle Ages, the aloofness of saints and the consequent means of representation (through their holiness, power, unreachable model character, and suchlike) were as dominant if not more so than their portrayal as being ‘human’, familiar and close (through being depicted as a member of one’s own community, and a participant in normal, everyday life, and so on). We will examine what role the different patron saints, from local to regional to ‘national’ level, played in this respect. Were the ‘networks’ of closeness and distance typical tools of medieval ‘techniques de la croyance’?

Key objectives and research questions that will be addressed:

The Krems IP concentrates on both ‘close reading’ as well as a qualitative and quantitative analysis of visual representations of saintsin Central Europe. It is, moreover, particularly interested in comparative approaches and contextualisation. Although the main emphasis is put on the analysis of visual images, the latter can only be realised through the application of interdisciplinary methods. The project’s initial analyses will concentrate on comparison of two regions in Austria (Lower Austria, Tirol) and individual popular and/or ‘regional’ saints (such as St Katherine, and St Leopold). Having examined the results of these introductory studies, the research will then concentrate on larger regions (Austria, Bohemia, Transylvania, Upper Hungary-Central/Eastern Slovakia) to receive, at the end, answers for Central Europe to questions like:
What are the differences, if any, in the way in which the visual representations of saints are produced, used, perceived and ‘received’, at variously local, regional, ‘national’ and ‘general’ levels?
Can we observe developments and changes over the 500 years studied (twelfth to sixteenth centuries)?
What level of engagement and religious or secular benefit can be adduced for individuals or communities through the visually represented models of saints and their model lives?
What light does the visual representation of saints offer as a generic source for the social life of images and image‐making, that is in the context of understanding community cohesion and culture?
Do images of saints have the power to construct identities (cf. Freedberg 1989)?
Do comparisons with the evidence and results from other areas of Europe, particularly the research areas of the other IPs, offer a uniform ‘European visual image of saints’?
To what extent can the medieval situation be compared to the saintly visual culture of post‐medieval periods? What influences can be traced into the modern world?


b) Methodologies

The project concentrates on ‘close reading’ of medieval Central European visual representations of saints followed by their qualitative and quantitative analysis. The latter draws on the existing, fully indexed image database of the ‘Institut für Realienkunde’ of the Austrian Academy of Sciences containing c. 25,000 images.
The project starts with research into small localities and regions and figures and progresses towards the comparative study of larger cultural areas. Contextualised, cross‐disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches drawing mainly on textual evidence but other ‘object’ material are applied. In this way, the function of visual images for transmitting religious messages, through the portrayal of saints, and their role in the everyday life of individuals, groups and medieval society are better clarified.