Róisín Watson: Postdoctoral Fellow (2015-16)

Róisín Watson submitted her PhD at the University of St Andrews in 2015. Here she studied the Lutheran visual culture of the Duchy of Württemberg from 1534 to c. 1700, exploring the ways in which Lutheran ecclesiastical art was used by dukes, pastors and parishioners to express their spiritual and secular relationships. 

As recipient of the Society for Renaissance Studies, Róisín’s new project addresses the relationship between the space of the church, its decoration and the administration of charity in early modern Lutheran Germany. In the first debates about the role of images during the Reformation, reformers in Germany and the Swiss Confederacy criticised the opulent decoration of the Catholic Church because it diverted church funds away from the poor.  Charitable provision and the production of ecclesiastical art were viewed from the outset of the Reformation as antithetical.  Yet the physical space of the church and its material and visual setting became important in communicating notions of charity: church objects might memorialise individual or collective charitable donations; alms for the poor were frequently distributed by the epitaphs of deceased donors or from the altar following communion; finally, churches might also be decorated with images of giving to encourage parishioners to participate in similar activities. This project considers the relationship between art and charity, as well as the extent to which the donation of objects to the church and financial bequests to the poor were conceived of in similar ways. A study of visual and material culture challenges the Weberian paradigm that the late medieval and early modern periods signalled a transition from forms of charity that were localised and administered through ecclesiastical structures to a modernised efficient, civically administered system of poor relief.