The art of the convent

THE 2023 annual Shaftesbury Abbey lecture on Thursday 27th April looks back to life in medieval convents, through the eyes of contemporary artists, when art historian, Dr John Renner, of the Courtauld Institute, gives an illustrated talk on Art in the Medieval Convent – the Pictorial Life of Nuns in Italy.

The spring lecture takes place at Shaftesbury Arts Centre, at 7.30pm. The abbey itself, demolished after the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, remains as buttresses on Gold Hill, and ancient walls surrounding a peaceful garden. But it was once one of the great monastic establishments of England, founded by King Alfred the Great, whose daughter was the first Abbess.

Dr Renner is a specialist in the art of medieval and early Renaissance Italy. Following a career in journalism he took an MA in art history at Birkbeck College and a PhD at the Courtauld Institute. He now lectures for the Courtauld, the V&A and other prestigious art establishments.

Nuns in the Middle Ages were viewers, patrons, and sometimes makers of art – but material evidence is hard to come by in this country, even for such prominent and prosperous establishments as Shaftesbury Abbey. More survives, fortunately, in continental Europe. In his lecture, Dr Renner will look into the pictorial culture of convents in late medieval Italy, to reveal the central role of images in the enclosed lives of the nuns.