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The English Carthusians and the Art of Abstinence

Podcast – Julian Luxford

  • 27 May 2020
  • The British Art Talks podcast is a new audio series from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. It features new research and aims to enhance and expand knowledge of British art and architecture.

The Carthusian order was founded in the late eleventh century in France. It spread rapidly and widely, and experienced great popularity during the later Middle Ages, when dozens of new charterhouses were founded against a background of sharp decline in monastic foundation in general. The main reason for Carthusian popularity was the order’s consistent adherence to the eremitic precepts and form of living established by its founding fathers. Manifest holiness generated a powerful reputation and patronage to match. The Carthusians also proved adaptable, managing to integrate into urban environments from the thirteenth century onwards without seriously compromising their principles.

This talk covers the art and architectural dimensions of Carthusian life with particular reference to the ten foundations of the order’s English Province. While these monasteries are all largely destroyed, enough survives to give a clear picture of the distinctive layout and elevation of their essential buildings and the sorts of embellishment they received. A fairy large number of Carthusian books and documents has also come down to us, some containing illumination, drawings and seals. Examples of this material that illustrate Carthusian ritual, customs and spirituality will be selected for discussion.

About the speaker

  • Head and shoulders portrait of Julian Luxford

    Julian Luxford is a professor of art history at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where he has worked since 2004. He took his first degree at La Trobe University in Melbourne, after which he spent five years at the University of Cambridge, as a PhD student and then as a junior research fellow at Clare College. Most of his research is on later medieval English art and architecture, on which he has written extensively. The visual culture of the monastic orders, particularly the Benedictines and Carthusians, is at the centre of much of his work. Currently, he is finishing off a book on medieval drawings in England, Scotland and Wales. He also has a great fondness for Northern European painting of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.