Thomas E. A. Dale is a professor of Art History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where his research interests include Early Christian, Medieval and Byzantine art; Romanesque art (particularly representations of the body); San Marco in Venice; the cult of the saints; and cultural appropriation. His published work includes Relics, Prayer and Politics in Medieval Venetia: Romanesque Painting in the Crypt of Aquileia Cathedral (1997), "The Individual, the Resurrected Body, and Romanesque Portraiture: The Tomb of Rudolf von Schwaben in Merseburg" (2002), and Shaping Sacred Space and Institutional Identity in Romanesque Mural Painting: Essays in Honour of Otto Demus (contributor and editor with John Mitchell, 2004).
The re-emergence of architectural sculpture in Europe during the eleventh and twelfth centuries is often considered to be a hallmark of the period style known as the Romanesque and its ties to an ancient Roman past. In this overview of his current book project, Professor Dale explores, by contrast, how the intrinsically palpable and spatial medium of sculpture, as well as its form and content appealed to the intensely somatic theology and religious practice of the time. He further considers how sculpture was designed to stimulate the senses as part of daily religious experience. His approach is rooted in recent scholarship within medieval studies that has demonstrated the significance of the body and embodiment in medieval theology and religious practice. The specific period in question saw an intensification of interest in the relationship between the outward appearance and gestures of the body and the inner life of the soul, as well as an increasingly somatic understanding of vision/s and dreams. At the same time, there was a new insistence on the bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which was accessible to all the physical senses, and on the significance of the physical body for the resurrection, which miraculously restored the decayed or fragmented body to wholeness and commemoration of the dead. It was in this context that material images, especially in sculpture, came to be understood as essential mediators of the spiritual due to their capacity to engage the senses.