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Professor Tessa Garton
Art History

Professor Tessa Garton


Studying Romanesque Sculpture is Both Business and Pleasure for Art History Professor
By Erin Pyne

For Dr. Tessa Garton, professor of art history at the College of Charleston, 11th and 12th century Romanesque sculpture isn't just an interest, it's a passion. For more than 10 years, Dr. Garton worked on the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland as a field investigator. Her efforts, along with many others, helped develop the first digital archive of British and Irish Romanesque stone sculpture.

According to the web site for the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland, "Romanesque sculpture marks a high point of artistic production in Britain and Ireland, corresponding to the boom in high-quality building that followed the Norman Conquest in 1066, and reflecting a new set of links with mainland Europe."

The project was run by the British Academy and the Royal Irish Academy. While Garton's work was mostly in the south of Ireland, the project covered both Britain and Ireland. "My part of it was essentially cataloguing every chip and stone of Romanesque sculpture for about half of Ireland," she said.

Garton's work involved repeated trips to Ireland, site visits, cataloguing photographs, documenting her findings, and researching the history of the sites. Her research came to a close about three years ago and helped produce the web site for the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland, which can be found at www.crsbi.ac.uk. The web site is the first online research database for Romanesque sculpture in Britain and Ireland.

Towards the end of her work in Ireland she became interested in researching the influence of pilgrimage on Romanesque art. She presented a paper on Medieval Pilgrimage in Ireland at a conference on Saints and Pilgrimage around the Atlantic organized by another professor from the College of Charleston. The paper will be published soon in a volume of papers from the conference.

"I have always been interested in the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela," she said. The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela is a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James in Santiago, Spain, which became very popular during the 11th and 12th centuries. The pilgrimage has four routes through France, beginning in one of four cities: Arles, Le Puy, Vezelay, and Paris. The four routes then come together across the Pyrenees, and continue through Northern Spain to Santiago.

While she has never systematically followed the route from start to finish, over the years she has visited sites along the route. She has traveled to Santiago twice in the last four years, studying the subject matter depicted on the churches.

Garton is also interested in the shrines and monuments dedicated to the saints that have been venerated along the route. "I have been interested in how this route that links many different regions impacted artistic ideas and how artistic ideas and influence traveled back and forth along the route," she said. She also plans to study how the structure of the churches relates to the functionality of the churches.

Garton is particularly interested in the effect of the pilgrimage on outlying towns and areas along the route. She described the region of Palencia just north of the pilgrimage route through Spain as "an out of the way place" where nothing much happens, with "very sleepy little villages." Sleepy? Yes. Boring? Not even close. Almost 200 virtually untouched Romanesque churches remain in northern Palencia and Garton is interested in studying these churches in relation to the pilgrimage.

Garton has not begun the documentary work yet and she described the project as "still in its infancy." She anticipates the research to be a long term project and eventually would like to produce an online database similar to the one her research helped produce for the Corpus of Romanesque sculpture in Britain and Ireland.

At the College of Charleston, Garton teaches a variety of art history classes ranging from Art History 101: Prehistoric through Medieval, to Art History 362: Medieval Manuscript Illumination. She was also able to incorporate her past research interests into an art history senior seminar class, which she plans on doing again.

Garton earned her B.A. at the University of East Anglia and she earned her Ph.D in Art History from the Courtauld Institute at the University of London. She has worked at the College of Charleston since 1988. With no lack of interests, Professor Garton is able to share her passion for 11th and 12th century Romanesque sculpture with her students.