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The Absent Image: Lacunae in Medieval Books

Penn State University Press, 2021

Guided by Aristotelian theories, medieval philosophers believed that nature abhors a vacuum. Medieval art, according to modern scholars, abhors the same. The notion of horror vacui—the fear of empty space—is thus often construed as a definitive feature of Gothic material culture. The Absent Image argues that Gothic art, in its attempts to grapple with the unrepresentability of the invisible, actively engages emptiness, voids, gaps, holes, and erasures.

Exploring complex conversations among medieval philosophy, physics, mathematics, piety, and image-making, the book considers the concept of nothingness in concert with the imaginary, revealing profoundly inventive approaches to emptiness in late medieval visual culture, from ingenious images of the world’s creation ex nihilo to figurations of absence as a replacement for the invisible forces of conception and death.

Innovative and challenging, this book will find its primary audience with students and scholars of art, religion, physics, philosophy, and mathematics. It will be particularly welcomed by those interested in phenomenological and cross-disciplinary approaches to the visual culture of the later Middle Ages.

Supported by the American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship. 

Recipient of the Millard Meiss Publication Grant.