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.
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
“They say the Madonna is working miracles”: The power of stories in the creation of an image cult
Towns in Medieval England: Selected Sources
This is the first collection of translated sources on towns in medieval England. It draws on the great variety of written evidence for this significant and dynamic period of urban development, and invites students to consider for themselves the challenges and opportunities presented by a wide range of primary written sources.
The introduction and editorial commentary situate the extracts within the larger context of European urban history, against a longer chronological backdrop and in relation to the most up-to-date research. Suggestions for further reading enable the student to engage critically with the materials and encourage new work in the field. Collectively, the texts and commentary provide an overview of English medieval urban history, while the emphasis throughout is on the particular character and potential of each type of written evidence, from legal and administrative records to inventories of shops, and from letters and poetry to legendary civic histories.
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
Association in a guild or fraternity was an extremely common experience in medieval Europe. This book asks why so many people wished to belong to these highly miscellaneous groups (only rarely confined to a single craft), whose social diversity was of their essence. It finds a partial answer in the challenging material circumstances of the later Middle Ages, but a fuller one in contemporary debates surrounding the identity and fulfilment of the individual, and the problematic question of his or her relationship to a larger society. These debates are contextualized in a longer history which continues to be pertinent today. Unlike previous studies, the book’s focus is not on the guilds as institutions but on the social and moral processes which were catalysed by participation. These bodies are shown to have founded schools, built bridges, managed almshouses, governed small towns, shaped religious ritual, and commemorated the dead. Informing and transcending all of these activities, however, was the perception that association in a fraternity could be a catalyst of personal change. Members cultivated friendship between individuals on the understanding that the fulfilment of human potential 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.
The Five Guildsmen
Chaucer’s attitude towards the Five Guildsmen is not easy to determine and his portrait of them has been subject to many diverse readings. This chapter asks whether historical study of the medieval guilds brings us any closer to an appreciation of the resonances, for late-medieval readers, of Chaucer’s text. In particular, we need to see the Guildsmen’s fraternity in terms of contemporary debates about such associations and their secular and religious purposes. The poet himself does not preach or polemicize about the guilds or condemn them in the way that some of his contemporaries did. But the fact that the poet’s account of the fraternity is not unambiguously positive is a sufficient clue that Chaucer was at least open to some of the contemporary criticisms of the guilds. His careful description of the Guildsmen provides both a comment and a contribution to this fourteenth-century debate.
Antonello da Messina, the devotional image, and artistic change in the Renaissance