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How Can “Images Drive Out Images”? The Use and Function of Devotional Imagery in Heinrich Seuse’s Exemplar: A Reassessment

GoTriple's project summary

"The aim of this research and training programme is to provide new answers to art historical questions on the use and function of images in the meditative practices of the Late Middle Ages. I will do this by focusing on the highly problematic case of Heinrich Seuse’s Exemplar in an interdisciplinary way, combining Visual and Textual studies. For this reason I am applying to Leiden University Institute for Cultural Disciplines, which hosts a research group working on the mystical tradition of the Rhineland an the Low Countries (the Initial Training Network ""Mobility of Ideas and Transmission of Texts"") and where, as an art historian, I will gain training in the fields of Medieval Textual studies and Manuscripts studies.Heinrich Seuse (†1366) was one of the most influential mystic writers in the Rhineland during the Middle Ages. In the Exemplar (a compilation of his texts accompanied by drawings he designed) Seuse offers a complex example of the relationship between text and images in the spiritual realm and a theory of devotional imagery based on a key phrase: “Drive out images with images”. Oft-quoted, but generally misunderstood, this concept needs to be reassessed in order to fully understand Seuse’s conception of devotional imagery. Scholars often state that for medieval mystics, images were important at the beginning of the meditative process but that they were simply tools to be left behind in order to move beyond the sensory world. Yet, with this phrase, Seuse offers a more subtle vision of this process: images should not be dispensed with entirely, instead each image must be replaced by another so that they complete and correct each other. This idea of continual interchanging modifies our understanding of the contemplative theory of the Exemplar. During this fellowship I will engage in the study of text-image issues and of the image theory in the Exemplar, in order to give a more accurate interpretation of the late medieval practice of religious meditation."

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