CMRS Conference
“Dante and Modernity”
October 20-21, 2017

dante and homerIn a famous passage of Survival in Auschwitz, the memoir that emerged from his harrowing experience in the concentration camp, Primo Levi strives to recall from his memory Canto 26 of Dante’s Inferno – a canto that narrates the mad flight and tragic fall of the Greek hero Ulysses. Levi’s account of Ulysses’ speech to his companions in Inferno 26 turns into the prism through which the reader of Survival journeys across nearly three millennia of European history, from the obvious, albeit oblique, echoes of Homer’s Odyssey to the rise of a new epochal phenomenon that we have come to describe as Humanism and to the horror of the Nazi concentration camp. Dante’s Divine Comedy is the text that allows Levi to glimpse a sign of humanity in this horror, a modern hell that man created on earth. It is in light of the role that Dante plays in Survival that this conference aims to assess Dante’s place vis-à-vis modernity: his role as a modern author in vernacular; his prophetic impetus; his theological and political vision; his influence on later writers from Giovanni Boccaccio to John Milton and beyond, as well as on artists from Michelangelo to Dali.

This conference – much like Dante’s Comedy – transgresses disciplinary boundaries, bringing together scholars from English, Art History, Philosophy, Religion, History, Political Science, and Italian to explore Dante’s role in informing the modern imaginary; his vision as a prophet and modern author; literary and artistic works inspired by The Divine Comedy; the reception of Dante’s work in early modern Europe and beyond; the challenges of teaching Dante in a rapidly evolving academic environment; and the question of freedom – a key issue in the moral and theological economy of the Comedy and possibly the most crucial question that Dante’s poem poses to its modern readers.

Organized by Andrea Moudarres (Italian, UCLA).

The complete schedule and additional details are posted in the events section.

CMRS Emerging Scholars Conference
October 27, 2017

The UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Emerging Scholar conference directly engages the CMRS mission to support Graduate Student research. This one-day conference features UCLA graduate students from a variety of departments including Art History, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, History, French, and English presenting recent research from topics that relate to CMRS’s sphere of interest defined broadly as the period from Late Antiquity to the mid-seventeenth century.

Organized by Sharon Gerstel (Art History, UCLA), CMRS Associate Director.

The complete schedule and additional details are posted in the events section.

CMRS Conference
“Sound and the Sacred”
November 17-18, 2017
Sound and the Sacred, a UCLA-CMRS conference organized by Sharon Gerstel.
Sound and the Sacred, a UCLA-CMRS conference organized by Sharon Gerstel.

Sound — whether thunder or psalmody — plays a role in the formation and perception of the sacred. Religions acknowledge the importance of sound, manifested in the voice of God, the call to prayer, collective chant, and other profound ways. Sound unifies communities in sacred worship and affirms sacred hierarchies. It is captured in images and contained in built environments. Sound — human, angelic, primordial, heavenly — is critical to spiritual transformation. The connection of sound and the sacred is born in the first cry of a child emerging from the womb, and at death, sound is the last sense to leave the body. Sound is never extinguished; reverberations are theorized to be omnipresent and eternal. Sound fades beyond human cognition but lingers in the atmosphere.

This symposium addresses questions that are at the forefront of current academic research in the humanities and sciences. It showcases projects on the acoustical measurement of ancient, Early Christian, Byzantine, Western Medieval, Islamic and Renaissance temples, churches, and mosques. These projects engage scholars in innovative explorations of sound and its reception, particularly within sacred landscapes. This symposium also considers orality/aurality and performance/reception, through diachronic, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary approaches.

This symposium features an evening in the Powell Rotunda where Byzantine and Jewish cantorial traditions are explored along with the process and challenges of composing and crafting music to evoke the sacred.

Organized by Sharon Gerstel (Art History, UCLA), CMRS Associate Director.

The complete schedule and additional details are posted in the events section.

CMRS Conference
“Bodies and Maps: Personification of the Continents”
January 12-13, 2018

Personifications of the continents of Europe, Africa, Asia, and America abounded in Renaissance and Early Modern Europe. The continents, depicted as female (and sometimes male) figures, appeared in political processions, court performances, ceiling and wall frescos, maps, atlases, frontispieces, poems, travelogues, costume books, prints, paintings, textiles, ceramics, sculptures, wood pulpits, and sculptured tympanums. While the rise in the popularity of these images in the early modern period may well have been related to encounters in the Americas, which increased the number of continents in the European imagination beyond the Ptolemaic three, the tradition of personifying the continents extends back to the early middle ages and has continued to the present day. Throughout the history of this tradition, the number of continents has changed along with their human representations to reflect and reinforce ideas of both self and other.

This conference, organized by CMRS Associate and Occidental College Professor of History Maryanne Horowitz brings historians together with art historians, historians of cartography, and literary scholars to explore the full range of the phenomena of continent personifications and their variant significance for cultural history.

The complete schedule and additional details are posted in the events section.

CMRS Conference
“The Power of Fame, The Power of Arts: The Extraordinary Renaissance Court of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini”
January 26-27, 2018

Although not as well-known as other prominent families such as the Medici, Visconti, or Borgia, the Malatesta of Rimini, especially during the leadership of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (1417-1468), occupy a central position in the history of the Italian Renaissance. Gifted with great military skill, and a profound sensibility for the arts, Sigismondo became the epitome of the ‘man’ of the Renaissance. The great Swiss historian Jakob Burckhardt, in his influential The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, considered him a “whole man,” the crowning figure among “the furtherers of humanism,” a condottiere equally capable in war and art, unscrupulous, cruel, and yet refined, in other words the perfect example of the new man capable of changing the course of civilization, and of ushering in the age of modernity. In a time of physical violence and artistic delicacy, Sigismondo could be considered the source of one of the highest cultural achievements of the West.

This conference, organized in association with the J. Paul Getty Museum to commemorate the six-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Sigismondo, will consider his political and military skills, his relationship with the papacy–which culminated in pope Pius II’s excommunication and condemnation to eternal damnation– and especially his patronage of the arts and of artists such as Leon Battista Alberti, Piero della Francesca, Vittore Pisano (Pisanello), Matteo de’ Pasti, Agostino di Duccio, Roberto Valturio, and Basinio da Parma, just to mention a few.

Organized by Massimo Ciavolella (Italian, UCLA) and Bryan Keene (The J. Paul Getty Museum).

The complete schedule and additional details are posted in the events section.

CMRS Early Modern Conversions Conference
“Objects of Conversion in Early Modern Europe
February 16-18, 2018

Can objects convert? Exploring the relationship between objects and conversion can usefully complicate the usual distinctions between subjects and objects. From sacramental materials to holy wells, human hands to books, new kinds of food and drink to precious metals and forms of currency, objects can both convert and be converted, tangling any linear chain of causality. Objects are also purposes, inviting us to ask not only the how but also the why of conversions.

This conference brings together specialists from a variety of fields in the humanities to discuss these questions in the context of early modern Europe. Accusations of idolatry haunted the participation of objects in transformative worship, as accusations of apostasy haunted religious conversions. Theology thus provided the core vocabulary for issues of conversion in many other areas. How did early modern developments in natural history shape the way people understood their environments – their power over external objects, including non-human animals – and hence their own subjectivities? How did changing understandings of cognition (including embodied and extended cognition) and virtue (as both physical and spiritually manifested) shape interactions between humans and nonhumans? What confessional and political implications did these changing interactions entail? And what can we learn from them as we wrestle with the dangerous energies of religious conflict in the 21st century?

Organized by Professor Robert N. Watson (English, UCLA), Professor Holly Crawford Pickett (English, Washngton and Lee University) and Professor Bronwen Wilson and presented in conjunction with the early Modern Conversions project headquartered at McGill University.

The complete schedule and additional details are posted in the events section.

The 40th Annual UC Celtic Studies Conference & The Annual CSANA Meeting
March 8-11, 2018

This joint meeting of the Celtic Studies Association of North America (CSANA) and the 40th Annual UC Celtic Studies Conference is organized by The Celtic Colloquium student group in consultation with Dr. Karen Burgess (UCLA-CMRS) and Professor Joseph Nagy (Professor Emeritus, UCLA; Celtic Languages and Literatures, Harvard).

The program will feature papers on all aspects of Celtic culture including language, literature, history, art, and archaeology, from late antiquity until the present day. For more information, contact Karen Burgess at

The complete schedule and additional details are posted in the events section.

CMRS Conference
“Asclepius, the Paintbrush, and the Pen: Representations of Disease in Medieval and Early Modern European Art and Literature”
May 4-5, 2018

Humanity has always tended to show a prurient interest in abnormalities. The medieval and early modern period is no exception, displaying a deep fascination with virulent ailments and all sorts of physical deformities. Despite this attraction, few artists of the period engaged in the depiction of disease. When they did, their expression was particular to the medium used and differed among artists even when using the same medium. Since such an effort was outside their norm, what factors drove artists to pick up pen or brush to approach maladies as a subject of esthetic expression? How did the artists’ experiences influence their choices in portraying disease? Were these depictions the result of something that interfered with their intent to faithfully reproduce the best of nature, or do they reflect a rebellion against what we generally assume to be the period`s artistic and literary quest: the portrayal of spiritual beauty and, later, the rediscovered beauty of the human body?

This conference, organized by Massimo Ciavolella (Italian, UCLA) and Rinaldo Canalis (David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA), engages these questions and the contemporary perspective they elicit.

The complete schedule will be posted shortly.