Ornamenta sacra

Iconological study of the liturgical heritage from the Southern Netherlands (1400-1700)

This collective project, gathering scholars from different institutions (UCL, KUL, IRPA/KIK), aims at conducting an iconological and anthropological research devoted to the late medieval and early modern liturgical heritage (called ornamenta sacra during this period) from the Southern Netherlands (1400-1700). It is concerned with different kinds of objects – made of a wide variety of materials and techniques – fundamental to the ceremonial (such as chalices, monstrances,  censers, altar vases, candlesticks, chasubles...), objects that occupied a central place in the religious art of the past. We will investigate the provenance, the nature (material, technical, stylistic, iconographic...) and the evolution of this production in order to better understand its religious, social and artistic importance in a timeframe characterized by profound transformations of the liturgy and by religious reforms and conflicts.

In this respect, the focus on the Southern Netherlands is particularly relevant. Indeed, this area appears to be an interesting vantage point to observe all the reconfigurations of the relationships between art and liturgy, due to its position at confessional and cultural borders. The spatio-temporal framework will enable us to appreciate how far the evolving norms – especially after the Council of Trent and the consecutive Romanisation of the liturgy – but also the politico-religious turmoil (e.g. the iconoclasm crisis of 1566) had an impact on practices.

The historical anthropology of the visual, the sensible and the ritual will offer us a methodological framework within which we will consider the material and symbolic nature as well as the spatial and ritual context of these objects, so as to provide a renewed analysis of their forms and functions. We will also build up an original methodology in order to trace the links (in terms of provenance, of typology, of chronology) among the objects which are part of liturgical sets often today dismantled and scattered across different places (museums, private collections, church treasures...).