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"The joy of art lies in showing how something takes on meaning." -- Maurice Merleau-Ponty

            Department of Art & Art History


                    Stanford, CA  94305



Suzanne Lewis

Professor Emerita, Stanford University
Ph.D. University of Michigan, 1964

From 1966 to 2002 I taught courses and seminars at Stanford on Medieval and Byzantine art and architecture and seminars on the Methodologies pf Art History. From 1978 to 1987 I served as Chair of the program on Medieval Studies. 

My wide-ranging published research has been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, National Endowment for the Humanities, Pew Foundation, and the Millard Meiss Publication Fund. In 2004 I was elected Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America.


I am still actively engaged in research and writing.   


My work has evolved over several decades. My interests have shifted from Early Christian architecture in Milan to Coptic textiles from Egypt, an Carolingian ivory plaque, the Book of Kells, Matthew Paris's chronicle illustrations, to illustrated Apocalypse manuscripts from the ninth through the fifteenth century in England, France and Flanders. However, my fundamental approach has remained unchanged. Although my graduate academic training was steeped in the formalism of the 1950's and 60's, my interest in medieval art and architecture was deeply concerned with asking questions of how and why, rather than what, where, and when.


First influenced by Arnold Hauser, Suzanne Langer, Richard Krautheimer, and Erwin Panofsky, problems relating to context and communication initiated and continue to drive my agenda. Since the 1990's, when my work became focused on visual narrative in Apocalypse manuscripts, the additional layer of texts led to a wider and deeper probing of human experience, subjectivity, and cognition. Inspired by reception theory and its philosophical roots in phenomenology, the role of the viewer-reader and the contextualization of the medieval and present viewer's experience now function as critical factors in my interpretation of meaning. As formulated by Wolfgang Iser, Roland Barthes and Hans Robert Jauss, reception theory redefines the viewer as the instigator of a dynamic end-game, a complex exploratory experience unfolding in real time. 

Within the long history of art, the Middle Ages hold a unique place in my work. Buildings and images served a number of functions, both sacred and profane. They embodied beliefs, knowledge, feelings and desires that were intended to be shared by individuals within the same time, place, and culture. Although these fundamental human factors still engage our fascination and even empathy, our perceptions of their presence in medieval art have obviously been shaped by drastically different, often antithetical cultural conditioning. Yet it is by exploring the many gaps between then and now that we can discover and unpack significant meaning embodied in the medieval image on many different levels.   

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