Agnus Dei Sacramentals. Wax Agents of Papal Potestas in Early Modern Worlds

Warburg Institute – A Material World: Ritual

Minou Schraven (Amsterdam University College): ‘Agnus Dei Sacramentals. Wax Agents of Papal Potestas in Early Modern Worlds’

Monday 17 January 2022: 5.30pm

Online via Zoom

To the ridicule and outrage of Protestants, early modern Catholics recurred to a wide range of blessed devotional objects, such as crucifixes, rosaries, and medals. Yet none were as powerful as the Agnus dei: small disks of the purest wax impressed with the Lamb of God that by tradition were consecrated and distributed by the Pope during the Holy Week of his first (and then each seventh) year in office. 

Looking closely at the materiality, agency and indexical relation to the Pope, this presentation will explore how Catholics, Protestants and non-Christians perceived of these sacramentals and their supposed extraordinary powers. How can we understand the massive increase in production numbers of the Agnus dei against the backdrop of confessional wars and the missionary effort of early modern global Catholicism? How did contemporaries perceive of the relation of these objects with the pope and his claims as Vicarius Christi? And how were these objects obtained, used and displayed, both then and now?

Minou Schraven teaches art history and material culture at Amsterdam University College and is research fellow at the Amsterdam Centre for Religious History at Vrije Universiteit. A specialist on the art and culture of early modern Rome, she has published on festival culture, the ritual use of portrait medals, and the display of bog bodies and their reconstructions in contemporary museums.  The current research is part of a book project entitled Blessed and Indulgenced Objects in Early Modern Catholic Worlds. Materiality, Agency and the Pope’s Prerogative

This event is part of the A Material World: Ritual series, which brings together academics and heritage professionals from a wide range of disciplines to discuss issues concerning historical objects, their materials, forms, and functions, as well as their conservation, presentation, display, and reconstruction. Organisers: Rembrandt Duits (Acting Curator, The Photographic Collection, Warburg Institute) and Louisa McKenzie (PhD student, Warburg Institute).

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