The physician’s folding almanac: a misnomer of the medievalist?

Here is an extract from the winning entry of the Association for Art History’s Undergraduate Dissertation Prize 2016, by Amy Moore, University of York.

In November 2013, the Wellcome Library acquired a small folding manuscript, MS 8932. Previously unknown to scholars, this private manuscript was sold as a ‘folding almanac’, becoming one of 29 known folding astrological calendars produced in 15th-century England. In response to the diagnostic and prognostic potential of its contents, Wellcome 8932 joins a group of manuscripts known by historians of medicine (and the British Library) as ‘physicians’ folding almanacs’.

Whilst their name suggests scholarly certainty in the ownership and function of these manuscripts, we have no surviving textual or visual evidence that associates the almanac with a 15th-century physician. With examination of provenance already exhausted, material evidence offers a tantalising opportunity to draw new light on these mysterious manuscripts.
Using the 19 surviving illustrated folding almanacs, this investigation uses the discipline of art history to critically reconsider a consensus crafted by historians of medicine. In exploring their visual similarities and differences, iconography, and form, it addresses three foundational questions: where did the folding almanac come from, who owned them, and how might they have been used? In comparing the body of survivals, one finds convincing arguments for a shift in their function.

The iconography and stylised decoration of earlier editions point towards plausible ecclesiastical patronage; the folding almanac is no longer simply in the hands of the physician.
To think about the folding almanac without the subconscious association with a secular physician opens new environmental and prosopographical enquiries. The results point to a wider range of users – including itinerant friars and monastic infirmaries – and new visual connections between contemporary codices and religious iconography. Findings of this kind provide a poignant case for the value of visual investigation in sources typically removed from the art historical canon.

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Home, exile and the politics of belonging

Artists and speakers from across the world explored the experiences of exile and belonging in relation to art in this session, ‘Home, exile and the politics of belonging’, at the Association’s 2017 Annual Conference. Here’s a snapshot of this session.

Joel Robinson (The Open University, UK) opened the morning session, with his paper Exhibiting the ‘Arrival City’: Confronting the Migration Crisis at the Architecture Biennale. Focusing on the pavilions of Austria and Germany, as exhibited at the 2016 Venice Biennale of Architecture, Joel explored how curators had showed the refugee crisis in Europe. He discussed the exhibitions ‘Places for People’ and ‘Making Heimat’, which acted as interventions and became platforms in which refugees are given agency.

The second paper, delivered by Carol Que (University of Oxford, UK), explored the two sci-fi short films ‘Nation Estate’ (2012) and ‘In the Future, They Ate From the Finest Porcelain’ (2016) by Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour. Carol discussed the two films in relation to the ‘complex spatio-temporal relationships between the body and the land’ that is particularly significant to the Palestinian nation.

Lydia Wooldridge (University of Bristol, UK) presented, in her paper (t)ex(t)ile: Exploring Transnational Identities through Cloth, the work of Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar and Afghani artist Jeanno Gaussi. Lydia explored the ways in which the usage of textiles act as a platform to communicate transnational identity and the migratory experience from the Middle East to Germany.

Friederike Voigt (National Museums Scotland, UK) followed with her paper The Earth of Iran: Ideas of Homeland in Contemporary Iranian Art. Friederike examined the notion of homeland in the works of Iranian artists Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Maryam Salour and Jila Peacock. Friederike discussed how the choice of motifs and materials form an important factor in understanding the notion of homeland and belonging.

After the lunch break, Vivian Kuang Sheng (University of Manchester, UK) explored the work of Mona Hatoum and presented a selection of works where ordinary household objects have been ‘unexpectedly estranged’ and create a ‘tangible sense of threat and disturbance’. Using Alison Weir’s account of ‘home’ as a ‘space of conflict’, Vivian examined Hatoum’s work as an alternative construction of home that underlines political (as well as social and cultural) debates.

Sarah Fox (Carleton University, Canada) considered Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression as a theoretical framework to explore the work of Canadian artist Hajra Waheed. Through this framework, Sarah analysed two of Waheed’s projects, ‘Sea Change’ (2011 – present) and ‘The Cyphers’ (2016), and illustrated how Waheed develops narratives to represent the notion of home.

Elianna Martinis (Ionian University, Greece) explored the work of Greek artist Katerina Hariati-Sismani, with a particular emphasis on the drawings Sismani created during her five-year exile in 1947–52. Elianna discussed representations of exilic experience during the Civic War, as experienced by Greek women who established a sisterhood of comrades.

Eva Zetterman (University of Gothenburg, Sweden) concluded the session with a presentation of the work of Chicago artist Guillermo Gomez- Peña. Eva discussed a wide body of Gomez-Peña’s work from the 1970s to the 2010s and how the artist has conceptualised the experience of displacement.

All papers had contextualised the experience of exile and belonging and initiated discussions where the audience reflected and addressed questions about the migratory experience and the construction of home. These debates will be further examined in a forthcoming publication, which will include the papers presented at the session.

Session Convenor at the Association for Art History’s 2017 Annual Conference in Loughborough.