Art History

Reframing the Margin

– The Role of Marginal Imagery in the Construction of the Sacred

From the earliest days of Romanesque until the end of the Gothic we find a large body of motifs that are neither biblical nor narrative. The popularity of fighting beasts, grotesque masks, and expressive faces was long-lived. These images often appear in the margins, and may thus be seen as commenting upon and defining the centre. One may find apt explanation for singular motifs, but mostly, these images are not presenting us with a puzzle, if only the right set of texts are studied. Often, their decorative qualities are far more obvious than any religious (or other) content This form of imagery challenges traditional iconography.

The field of medieval art history has debated the meaning of such images since the mid-nineteenth century. The interest in this art of ‘indeterminability’ has increased since the early 1990s, as they have been debated within the framework of ‘the monstrous’ or ‘the marginal.’ Accordingly, they are often referred to as ‘marginal art.’ The rise of visual studies has offered yet another chance to examine this puzzling and gripping artistic vocabulary. A substantial amount of the preserved material from medieval Norway feature such motifs. It is the ambition of the IKM research group to debate local exampled and conventions within their larger context. The group has a core of three medievalists, all in their different ways concerned with the ‘marginal’s’ role in the construction of the sacred. Ingrid Lunnan Nødseth debates how materiality and use of such motifs in textiles contributes towards the construction of the sacred. Margrete Syrstad Andås examines the role ‘marginal imagery’ in the creation of sacred spaces in stone and stave churches, whereas Margrethe Stang directs her attention towards the altar, and the mimic features of evil in panel painting as means of constructing the sacred.