Hell, Heaven and Purgatory in the Middle Ages

Course Dates: 23/04/24 - 21/05/24
Time: 11:00 - 13:00
Location: Keeley Street
Why were images to do with the afterlife so prevalent in the Middle Ages? Come, face your eternal destinies and look at images such as the Last Judgement, skeletons, filthy flesh, worms, ghosts and Hell mouths.
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Full fee £119.00 Senior fee £95.00 Concession £77.00

Course Code: VB530

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Tue, day, 23 Apr - 21 May '24

Duration: 5 sessions (over 5 weeks)

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What is the course about?

In this art history course we study and explore the world of life after death in medieval art. We will take the three theological concepts of the afterlife: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory and look at blue skies, sometimes spangled with stars for Heaven, and lots of flames, burning pits and monsters for Hell. Images for the latter captured the visual imagination much more, despite how terrifying Hell must have seemed then. We will look at a range of visual representations from wall carvings to corbels and capitals and sculptures to illuminated manuscripts and tombs to see how these afterlife places are conjured up and envisaged.

We will also consider the seminal image of the Last Judgement that explained to people what would happen to them if they were not good, kind, caring and loving in their temporal lives. In particular we will look at the British equivalent – known as Doom paintings. We will also ask why there were so many ghoulish depictions of skeletons, Hell mouths, Devils and demons and even grim reapers, worms and ghosts. Were the representations designed to put the fear of God in you, or to prepare you, or even to distract you with some monstrous humour as you faced your sinful ways?

After all, for the believer, earth was not really bothering with. Living on earth was just the waiting room for Hell or Heaven and Purgatory another Hell-like waiting room to see if one could get out just in time. We consider these three key afterlife words in the sense of Place and what eternity as a tangible destination might have felt like. If Hell was really a place, was there a conviction that hope was not in vain?

We will try and work out what these images would have meant to the ordinary Christian facing their eternal futures, knowing the immortal tests before them. We will also see that preparing for the eternal was not only a challenge, but a craft, and visual primers were there to help the believer on their soulful journey towards the unknown.

What will we cover?

• Looking at different visual representations of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, learning how to identify subject matter, function and meaning.
• Looking at different themes associated with Heaven and Hell such as the Last Judgement or the Three Living and the Three Dead.
• Study and compare images that take a viewer to Hell such as ‘Going to Hell in a Handcart’ or the large open mouthed entrance to Hell.
• Engaging with the monstrous and the bestial, through images of monsters and the Danse Macabre motif as other visual expressions of where people might go at their death.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Better understand medieval art (including architecture, sculpture, manuscripts, panel paintings and wall paintings) and give examples of how it deals with death, purgatory and hell.
• Discuss some ways in which one might understand the medieval view of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory (for example as a physical thing, a concept, an imaginative or metaphorical idea etc.) by looking at the art of the period.
• Engage with works of art by close reading and by comparing them with other works.
• Set works of art in a wider religious, cultural, geographical and social context (using and reading primary texts).

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

This course is suitable for all levels.
You should be able to follow simple written and verbal instructions, demonstrations, hand-outs and health and safety information.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

You will be taught by lecture with slide images and you will be invited to participate in group discussion. There will be handouts provided by your tutor. However, they will also be available digitally via a Google Classroom. You will be invited to join the Google Classroom within a week of your course start date.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

You might wish to purchase a notebook for taking notes. You might wish to buy some of the books on any reading list given out in class.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

You might also be interested in:
Art and identity: from the High Renaissance to the Reformation
Art and power: from Counter-Reformation to the Baroque
Art and empire: in the early modern era
Art and melancholy: from the Enlightenment to the Victorian age
Medieval art and architecture
Romanesque and Gothic sculpture: beyond the antique.

Emma Rose Barber

Emma Rose Barber is an art historian who has been teaching adults for over 25 years. She specialises in the visual culture of the Middle Ages and the Italian and Northern Renaissance. She has also taught classes on British art and has designed many different courses such as Last Suppers in Florence and Bosch, Breughel and the Surrealists. She has also given lectures on Women and Art. She used to run the history of art department at the British Institute in Florence and works for many institutions such as the Open University, Morley College and the department of continuing education at the University of Oxford. Her book – 111 Churches that you Shouldn’t Miss in London - is coming out in the autumn of 2020. She has spent the last five years with a Mini A-Z looking for churches to write about, many of which can be found on her blog – https://theitinerantchurchgoer.wordpress.com/. She is also writing a Cultural History of Wayfaring and writes articles for Selvedge Magazine.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.