CFP: Scent and Sense (ICMA-sponsored session at the 6th Forum Kunst des Mittelalters, „Sinne / Senses“)

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Call for Papers
October 15, 2020
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Medieval and Byzantine History / Studies
CFP: Scent and Sense (ICMA-sponsored session at the 6th Forum Kunst des Mittelalters, „Sinne / Senses“)

Deadline: 15th October 2020


Frankfurt am Main, 29th September to 2nd October 2021

(Please note that due to the COVID-19 pandemic it is not decided yet whether the Forum can take place ‘live’, partially virtually, entirely virtually, or whether it will be postponed.)


Organisation: Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft e.V. with the Institute for Art History, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main (Kristin Böse / Joanna Olchawa)


Session 4:

Scent and Sense: Olfaction and Memory in Medieval Material Culture

Session organiser: Elina Gertsman (Case Western Reserve University)

Session sponsor: International Center of Medieval Art [ICMA], New York)


Although we are used to thinking that the sense of sight reigned supreme in the Middle Ages, medieval scholars of all stripes were quite obsessively preoccupied with questions of olfaction. Ephemeral and fleeting but emotionally, spiritually, and physiologically impactful, the sense of smell was tightly tethered to the humoral, anatomical, and cognitive theories. Memories, in particular, could be affected by smells: a fetid odor, it was gleaned from Avicenna, induced such illness that could make one forget the names of his own children, while sweet-smelling perfumes could strengthen memory and increase devotion.


This session will explore the multivalent relationships between objects, smells, and memory, especially as they existed in the later Middle Ages. We seek to explore two distinct aspects of this relationship. On the one hand, we welcome papers that focus on visual representations of smell, as found in a broad range of manuscripts and printed texts, from medical treatises to romance literature, from tracts on philosophy to encyclopedias. On the other hand, we hope to see contributions that focus on objects whose function is predicated on the sense of smell: among them censers and thuribles used during Christian liturgical services; Jewish Havdalah spice (besamim) containers, used in a ceremony that concluded the Sabbath; incense burners used at receptions, events, and in places of worship throughout Islamic world. Papers may focus on specific case studies or else broadly thematize the intertwinement of smell, memory, and image within the vast sensory landscape of the Middle Ages.

Contact Info: 

Elina Gertsman, Professor of Art History and Director of Graduate Studies at Case Western Reserve University 

Contact Email: