Opulent jewelled objects ranked among the most highly valued works of art in the European Middle Ages. At the same time, precious stones prompted sophisticated reflections on the power of nature and the experience of mineralized beings. Beyond a visual regime that put a premium on brilliant materiality, how can we account for the ubiquity of gems in mediaeval thought?
In The Mineral and the Visual: Precious Stones in Medieval Secular Culture (Penn State University Press, 2022), art historian Dr. Brigitte Buettner examines the social roles, cultural meanings, and active agency of precious stones in secular mediaeval art. Exploring the layered roles played by gems in aesthetic, ideological, intellectual, and economic practices, Dr. Buettner focuses on three significant categories of art: the jewelled crown, the pictorialized lapidary, and the illustrated travel account.
The global gem trade brought coveted jewels from the Indies to goldsmiths’ workshops in Paris, fashionable bodies in London, and the crowns of kings across Europe, and Buettner shows that Europe’s literal and metaphorical enrichment was predicated on the importation of gems and ideas from Byzantium, the Islamic world, Persia, and India.
Original, transhistorical, and cross-disciplinary, The Mineral and the Visual engages important methodological questions about the work of culture in its material dimension. It will be especially useful to scholars and students interested in mediaeval art history, material culture, and mediaeval history.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.