I research and teach in the history of cities and of visual culture. As an urban historian, I have worked on the social history of neighbourhoods and groups, a theme which I began to explore in Medieval Westminster, 1200-1540 (Oxford, 1989) (Whitfield Prize) and have since pursued through study of English and European guilds and confraternities. This work has been brought together in: The Art of Solidarity in the Middle Ages: Guilds in England 1250-1550 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). As a historian of art, I have published with Jane Garnett a study of miraculous image cults, Spectacular Miracles. Transforming Images in Italy from the Renaissance to the Present (London: Reaktion Books, 2013) (Art and Christianity Enquiry - Mercers Prize). Please see the research tab for more details.
The Art of Solidarity in the Middle Ages: Guilds in England 1250-1550, Oxford University Press, 2015.
Guilds and fraternities, voluntary associations of men and women, proliferated in medieval Europe. The Art of Solidarity in the Middle Ages explores the motives and experiences of the many thousands of men and women who joined together in these family-like societies. Rarely confined to a single craft, the diversity of guild membership was of its essence. Setting the English evidence in a European context, this study is not an institutional history, but instead is concerned with the material and nonmaterial aims of the brothers and sisters of the guilds. Gervase Rosser addresses the subject of medieval guilds in the context of modern debates surrounding the identity and fulfilment of the individual, and the problematic question of his or her relationship to a larger society. Unlike previous studies, The Art of Solidarity in the Middle Ages does not focus on the guilds as institutions but on the social and moral processes which were catalysed by participation. These bodies founded schools, built bridges, managed almshouses, governed small towns, shaped religious ritual, and commemorated the dead, perceiving that association with a fraternity would be a potential catalyst of personal change. Participants cultivated the formation of new friendships between individuals, predicated on the understanding that human fulfilment depended upon a mutually transformative engagement with others. The peasants, artisans, and professionals who joined the guilds sought to change both their society and themselves. The study sheds light on the conception and construction of society in the Middle Ages, and suggests further that this evidence has implications for how we see ourselves.
Painting in medieval and Renaissance Italy
Medieval urban history
Social history of groups and communities
One strand of my work is concerned with the history of visual culture, both within and beyond the conventional range of 'high art'. I researched and published with Jane Garnett a book about cults of images believed to be miraculous: Spectacular Miracles. Transforming Images in Italy from the Renaissance to the Present (London: Reaktion Books, 2013). We have also staged public exhibitions on this theme. My art historical research is focused on late-medieval and Renaissance Italy. I am interested in non-naturalistic elements in Renaissance painting, and explored Duccio's high altarpiece for Siena cathedral in this light. I am currently working on the Sicilian painter Antonello da Messina, partly as a means to critique the periodisation of 'medieval' and 'Renaissance' art. These interests relate to the history of vision, and in this connection I have also published on Dante and sight. The other major theme in my work is medieval urban history. Here my particular interest is in how inhabitants of cities cope – with urban life, and more particularly with one another. This began with Medieval Westminster (1989) and has continued in a series of studies of English and European guilds and confraternities. My book, The Art of Solidarity in the Middle Ages: Guilds in England 1250-1550 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), is in part a response to current political and philosophical discussion about the relationship between the state, the individual citizen, and voluntary associations.