Hans Fries and Niklaus Manuel: Evidence, Inquiry, and Knowledge in Swiss Painting, 1430-1530


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


History of Art


This dissertation explores the intersections between artisanal and juridical epistemologies in the work of two early modern Swiss artists, Hans Fries and Niklaus Manuel. With the growing impetus to verify miracles and visions through judicial examination, artists in this region developed innovative strategies of representation that embraced, navigated, and adapted to new concepts of the sacred redefined by the judicial inquisitio (inquiry). They thus imparted a new kind of epistemic value to their work, one that was generated by the material presence of the image and guaranteed by a novel valuation of the manual labor and skill of the artist. Moreover, Fries’ and Manuel’s involvement in a local inquisitional trial suggests that their professional knowledge carried its own evidentiary value. This dissertation therefore examines the juridical potential of images, that is, their capacity to furnish certain kinds of evidence to test—or prove—the sacred.