Audiovision in the Middle Ages: Sainte-Foy at Conques

AudioVision in the Middle Ages

The Monastery of Sainte-Foy (Holy Faith) at Conques in Occitania, Southern France, presents a unique case of survival: its golden effigy of Santa Fides is the earliest extant sculpture in the round in the Latin west, while the local eleventh-century architecture, music, and texts offer rich contextual evidence. Even though Sainte-Foy's statue and the narrative prose feature widely in art historical studies, the music composed at the site has fallen into a thousand-year oblivion. Bissera Pentcheva's AudioVision in the Middle Ages assembles in a highly innovative way, a wide variety of materials that help us reconstruct the visual and auditory experience of the medieval ritual at Conques. The eleventh-century Office of Sainte-Foy is here brought to life and successfully deployed as a new analytical tool to shed light on the staging and experience of the golden statue of Santa Fides and the narrative reliefs displayed in the abbey's church.

Medieval art is silent in modern times. Often displayed in sterile museum galleries, it is most often presented without any analysis of the intended envelope of sound, chant, prayer, and recitation. Stripped of this aural atmosphere, these objects have lost the power to signify and to elicit affect. This exhibition restores aspects of the original soundscape to explore the inherent connections between chant and image in medieval times. It is the first to engage medieval art from the perspective of AudioVision–the simultaneous flow of visual and auditory stimuli. The focus is on the ninth-century golden statue and reliquary of Sainte-Foy at Conques and the traditions of its eleventh-century public worship.