Six Medieval Luxury Items - Art, Power and Wealth in the Middle Ages

Course summary

Six Medieval Luxury Items - Art, Power and Wealth in the Middle Ages


Collections of medieval art displayed in museums often appear a little arid and cut off from the cultural identities of those who view them. Ivory carvings have lost their colour, bronze artefacts their gilding, and empty cavities forlornly witness the brutal excision of shining gemstones and enamels which once adorned the surfaces of objects made for showy liturgies or displays of personal wealth. In this lecture series we will look at six high status objects ranging in date from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries which still appear in much the same way as in their final state of manufacture. That they survive at all is little short of a miracle, since so many pieces of this kind were melted down, destroyed, or re-fashioned because their materials were so precious, or alternatively because their content and sheer indulgence were frowned upon by later generations. As a result most of our knowledge of such artefacts is derived from tantalising descriptions ‘itemised’ in contemporary inventories, recording highly prized objects long since lost. We will examine in turn a gold reliquary, an enamelled altarpiece, a walrus ivory cross, a gilded candlestick, a tableau vivant, and a royal New Year’s Day present, and reflect on what they tell us about the values and preoccupations of the society which produced them.


Programme details




11.00am – 12.30pm


Coffee/tea is provided in the Common Room before each lecture, from 10.30am

10.30am Registration (first week only 26 October in Rewley House Reception)


26 October 2017

The Reliquary of Ste Foy

A jewelled ‘speaking’ reliquary incorporating elements from the Gallo-Roman to the Gothic period.


2 November 2017

The Gloucester Candlestick

An early twelfth-century candlestick made for the Benedictine abbey of St Peter in Gloucester.


16 November 2017

The Cloisters Cross

A double-sided carved ivory cross probably made by an English workshop towards the middle of the twelfth century.


23 November 2017

Nicholas of Verdun’s Klosterneuburg Retable

The largest surviving champlevé enamelled altarpiece, it was made in the late twelfth century for an Augustinian abbey north of Vienna.


30 November 2017

The Louvre ivory ‘Deposition group

A group of individual figures carved in the thirteenth century forming a tableau depicting the Deposition.


7 December 2017

The Golden Horse of Altötting

An early fifteenth-century New Year’s Day present given by Isobel of Bavaria to her husband, Charles VI of France.


Recommended reading

Some Reading

M. Bagnoli (ed), Treasures of Heaven: saints, relics and devotion in Medieval Europe (London, 2010) British Museum exhibition catalogue

M-M Gauthier, Emaux du moyen âge occidental (Fribourg, 1972)

M.T. Gibson (ed), English Romanesque Art 1066-1200 (London, 1984). Hayward Gallery exhibition catalogue

Paris 1400: les arts sous Charles VI (Paris, 2004). Musée du Louvre exhibition catalogue

E .C, Parker and C.T. Little, The Cloisters Cross: its art and meaning (London, 1994)

P. Sheingorn and R.L.A. Clark (eds), The Book of Sainte Foy (Philadelphia, 1995). Translated edition of an eleventh-century account of the miracles of Ste Foy.



Alumni 10% Discount: £0.00
Friends of RH 10% Discount: £0.00
Summer school 10% discount: £0.00
Tuition (includes coffee/tea): £110.00


If you are in receipt of a state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses



Dr Catherine Oakes

Course Tutor and Director of Studies

Dr Cathy Oakes is Director of Studies for the History of Art, OUDCE.