Donation and Devotion, Art and Music
as Heard and Seen Through the Writings of a Birgittine Nun
This Web site accompanies Katerina's Windows, written by Corine Schleif and Volker Schier and published by Pennsylvania State University Press in 2009.
The book centers on the (re)discovery of 58 letters written by Katerina Lemmel, a wealthy Nuremberg widow, who, in 1516, entered the abbey of Maria Mai in the south German village of Maihingen, and rebuilt the monastery using her own resources and the donations she solicited from friends and relatives. Through the letters and associated documents, readers can follow the procedures for donating and commissioning stained glass as well as witness audience reaction to it, ranging from the critical aesthetic assessments of Katerina Lemmel to the iconoclastic acts of enraged peasants.
Katerina Lemmel's letters provide unique glimpses into the material realities of monastic life; close-up views of the interconnected workings of art, music, liturgy, and literature; unparalleled evidence of the persuasive powers of a nun who functioned as negotiator and mediator; emotional accounts of one woman's struggles and concerns on behalf of other women; and extensive data on women’s networks that crossed lines of class and calling. Katerina’s rich array of firsthand references to the multisensory experiences that determined both the daily rhythms and yearly cycles of this religious community are of particular value for a consideration of the arts during the late Middle Ages and early modern period. The letters provide an insider’s insights into the spiritual economies and donation practices that were subsequently scorned by Protestant reformers. A passage from the monastic chronicle offers an eye-witness account of the ways in which the social challenges to this system erupted into the iconoclash and bloody violence of the Revolution of 1525.
The authors envision the book as a pilot project that endeavors to present both historical texts and interpretative analysis. Katerina Lemmel and those around her are allowed to speak, and audiences today are enabled to hear these early sixteenth-century voices in English translation. Necessary explanations as well as theoretical considerations and critical insights of our own day are provided by the authors. These two tasks are undertaken simultaneously without permitting the one to take precedence over the other, neither as the critical translation of a text with commentary, nor as a book about Katerina Lemmel with appendices containing source material.
The study presents a fresh look at nuns and at art and music made by and for nuns. Much previous literature has focused on nuns as mystics and visionaries, and on their art as irregular, “primitive,” or mundane. The book demonstrates the importance of spiritual economies and the roles of nuns as active agents: brokers, administrators, commissioners, donors, and beneficiaries of sophisticated art related to innovative liturgical music.
A critical German text edition and a collection of essays by specialists from various fields are planned.