WMU News

Book about medieval nuns as artists wins Grundler Prize

May 13, 1999

KALAMAZOO--A groundbreaking book on devotional imagery and spirituality in female monastic communities during the Middle Ages has been named the winner of a major international prize for scholarship in medieval studies by Western Michigan University.

The 1999 Otto Grundler Prize was awarded to Dr. Jeffrey F. Hamburger, professor of art history at the University of Toronto, during ceremonies at the 34th International Congress on Medieval Studies, held May 6-9 at WMU. The $2,500 prize is named for the former director of WMU's Medieval Institute, which each year acts as host to the world's largest gathering of scholars in medieval studies. More than 2,700 persons attended this year's event.

Hamburger's book "Nuns as Artists: The Visual Culture of a Medieval Convent" was selected from among 46 nominations. Published in 1997 by University of California Press, the book explores the importance of visual imagery in the devotional practices of late-medieval women's communities. The work is based on a study of twelve little-known drawings done in the 16th century by an unknown Benedictine nun from the convent of St. Walburg in Eichstatt, Bavaria, Germany. Attempts to interpret the drawings and provide a window onto the spiritual life of cloistered women are central to the work.

According to Dr. Paul E. Szarmach, director of the Medieval Institute, Hamburger's book is significant because it uncovers new evidence of the roles women played during the Middle Ages.

"The role of women during the Middle Ages is always downplayed," he says. "But Hamburger has the evidence to show that there was a lively, active culture in these women's societies. He is dealing with new evidence in a new way."

The Grundler Prize was established by WMU President Emeritus Diether H. Haenicke to honor Grundler for his distinguished service to the University and his life-long dedication to the international community of medievalists. The prize is intended to recognize a book or monograph on a medieval subject judged by a selection committee to be an outstanding contribution to the field. Authors from any country are eligible for the prize and nominations are accepted from readers or publishers.

Hamburger, who received bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Yale University, has been at the University of Toronto since 1997. Prior to that, he was at Oberlin College in Ohio where he was the Irving E. Houck Professor in the Humanities. A 1979 recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, he has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition to "Nuns as Artists," Hamburger is the author of two other books, "The Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Medieval Germany" and "The Rothschild Canticles: Art and Mysticism in Flanders and the Rhineland circa 1300."

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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