Figuring Absence: Empty Spaces in Late Medieval Art


ACLS Fellowship Program


Art History and Art


For many centuries, medieval philosophers, guided by Aristotelian theories, claimed that nature abhors a vacuum. Medieval art, it is regularly assumed, abhors the same; hence, the notion of horror vacui, the fear of empty space, is often construed as a definitive feature of Gothic material culture in its many manifestations. This project reformulates the way in which aesthetic and philosophical underpinnings of later medieval art are perceived. It explores complex conversations among philosophy, physics, mathematics, piety, and image-making in order to suggest that Gothic art, in its constant attempts to grapple with the unrepresentability of the invisible, is predicated on new engagements with emptiness, voids, gaps, holes, and erasures.