2021 Undergraduate Dissertation Prize Winner

We are delighted to announce that Molly Lewis (University of Manchester) is the winner of the Association for Art History’s 2021 Undergraduate Dissertation Prize for the essay, ‘Sinful, Sexual, Sacred: Locating a Thirteenth Century Visuality through the Selective Erasures in Rylands MS French 5’. An abstract of this dissertation can be found below.

As our members and readers will know, winning and shortlisted essays are assessed thoroughly on the quality of their originality, research and method, as well as form and content.

Shortlisted runners up

From a considerable number of well-researched and insightful essay nominations, we also shortlisted the following two worthy runners up:

Erin-Atlanta Argun (University of Cambridge) for the essay ‘The Masque of Blackness by Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones and Anna of Denmark’.

Anna Mladentseva (University College London) for the essay ‘Peer-to-Peer: The Role of User-Generated Data in Net Art Conservation’.

Prize winning Abstract

Medieval vision is often conceived as shrouded in superstition and mystery, the mystical antithesis to the rational, objective, camera-obscura-like eye of the modern and contemporary West. The present study seeks to shed some light on the complexities overlooked in this dichotomous narrative by tracing the points at which medieval ocular passions manifest on the pages on a thirteenth century manuscript. The manuscript I have chosen is Rylands MS French 5, a markedly under-researched codex from the mid-thirteenth century. MS French 5 is remarkable for the predominance of its imagery and the carefully selective erasures that mar its pages. These erasures are directed, purposefully or not, at representations of the sinful, the sexual and the divine, and these three touch points guide the study through the hazardous terrain of medieval visuality and visual culture. Through situating the erased folios within their wider cultural context, this study will seek to return to them some of their original power to shock, disgust and arouse the viewer. The medieval ‘period eye’ that emerges from this approach is one in flux; fusing old and new ways of seeing in an inherently paradoxical and superfluous mode of sight that resists easy classification.

The Dissertation Prize is assessed by our Doctoral and Early Career Research (DECR) committee. Many thanks to those on the committee who read and shortlisted this year’s submissions. The quality and originality of this year’s undergraduate essays has been extremely high. Thanks also to all who submitted nominations for this prize.

Read more about our 2020 Undergraduate Dissertation Prize winner and shortlist.

Image credit: detail from Rylands MS French 5, The John Rylands Library, Manchester.

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