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In the Centre of Europe: Medieval Art and Architecture in Hesse

Schotten, Liebfrauen Church, southern portal
Schotten, Liebfrauen Church, southern portal: Corbel figure below the statue of The Virgin Mary, ca. 1360 (photograph: Markus Späth).


For the longest time, a comprehensive investigation of medieval art and architecture in Hesse was only of marginal interest to art historians. In the past decade, the DFG project “Mittelalterliche Retabel in Hessen (Medieval altarpieces in Hesse) highlighted the artistic wealth of the region. Due to the centuries-long continuity of political and territorial entities such as the Landgraviate or the archdiocese of Mainz, various medieval artefacts, especially from the time of 1250 onwards, have been preserved in large numbers.

Consequently, in today’s state of Hesse, which developed out of transformations and divisions of the medieval Landgraviate, this leads to the perception of the “typically Hessian”. An example of this are the half-timbered buildings which still shape the centres of many towns and even cities. However, the region’s medieval art and architecture was largely influenced by its interconnected location at the heart of the European continent. Important transport routes crossed in Hesse. Those were not only used to transport goods, but also enabled the movement of a variety of people with their ideas, knowledge, and skills.

This project, initiated in collaboration with the professor of medieval art history at Goethe-University Frankfurt, Prof. Kristin Böse, aims to tackle this lack of knowledge of a regional art production in its European connectedness by systematically investigating the evidence. Initially, a compilation of surviving medieval churches and their liturgical furnishings is conducted at both institutes by student assistants. For this undertaking we heavily rely on the exhaustive research in regional history done by our colleagues which offers important digital resources, for instance the Landesgeschichtliche Informationssystem (Hessian Regional History Information System), without which research in the humanities would be close to impossible during the Coronavirus pandemic.