Professor Gervase Rosser

Featured Publication

The Art of Solidarity in the Middle Ages: Guilds in England 1250-1550, Oxford University Press, 2015.

The Art of Solidarity

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.

See also my History of Art Department page:

  • The ethics of confraternities

  • “They say the Madonna is working miracles”: The power of stories in the creation of an image cult

  • Guilds, Fraternities, And The Values Of CivilSociety: Modern Perceptions And Medieval RealitiesOf A European Phenomenon

  • The Church and Religious Life

  • The Ex Voto Between Domestic and Public Space: From Personal Testimony to Collective Memory

  • ‘Charity, fraternity, self and others in the late medieval European guilds’

  • ‘The Church and Religious Life’, in Carrie Beneš, ed., A Companion to Medieval Genoa (Leiden: Brill, 2018), pp. 345-67

  • Towns in Medieval England Selected Sources

  • True icons? The Power of Supernatural Images in Late Medieval and Early Modern Italy

  • The Art of Solidarity in the Middle Ages: Guilds in England 1250-1550

  • More

Current DPhil Students

  • Lia Costiner - The vernacular ‘Life of the Virgin and Christ’ and the characteristics of popular devotion in early Renaissance Italy
  • Jasmine Chiu - Dance and visual culture in Tuscany c.1350-1450
  • Sarah Griffin - Diagram and dimension: Visualising scientific thought in the drawings of Opicinus de Canistris
  • Stefanie Lenk - Baptismal art in the late antique and early medieval western Mediterranean
  • Jennifer Shurville - Images of Scientia and the end of the world in thirteenth-century drawings at Vercelli
  • Eleanor Townsend - Religious images in late medieval England: The Jesse Tree reredos at St Cuthbert’s, Wells
  • Lorenzo Caravaggi - Violence in the Italian communes, twelfth-thirteenth centuries

I would be happy to hear from potential DPhil students in the fields of medieval and early Renaissance Italian art, and medieval English and European urban history.

I currently teach:

Prelims: FHS: Masters:

Antiquity After Antiquity

Flanders and Italy in the Quattrocento

MSt History of Art and Visual Culture - Optional paper: Gothic Art


The Early Italian Renaissance


Gothic Art in Europe


Venice and Florence in the Renaissance

  Theory and Methods in the History of Art