Sunday, March 08, 2009

Medieval Postcards

Renowned Art Historian Traces Postcard Invention To Medieval Nuns in March 24 Talk at SU
5 March 2009

Syracuse University issued the following press release:

The evolution of the postcard is the subject of a talk by Kathryn M. Rudy, a world-renowned expert on medieval devotional art. She will speak on Tuesday, March 24, at 5:30 p.m. in room 107 of Syracuse University's Hall of Languages. Free and open to the public, the lecture is sponsored by the Department of Art and Music Histories in SU's College of Arts and Sciences. Rudy is keeper of illuminated manuscripts at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (The Royal Library, the Dutch equivalent of the U.S. Library of Congress) in The Hague. For more information, call (315) 443-4185.

Rudy traces the postcard's origins to 1490, when a nun inscribed the back of a single-leaf, miniature painting of St. Barbara and sent it to another nun. The recipient then placed the folio, "scrap-book style," into a manuscript prayer book, where she cobbled together a selection of other images, presumably gifts from other nuns. Laurinda Dixon, professor of art and music histories at SU, says that these beautiful, personalized paintings were, in effect, the first postcards, with an image on one side and a greeting on the other. "Dr. Rudy links this medieval practice to modern postcards, which we send to friends and family members and save as mementos," she adds.

Rudy is not a deltiologist, or postcard collector, in the conventional sense. The former Cornell mathematics professor specializes in devotional art, particularly Middle Dutch manuscripts, from the 1300s-1500s. She also is interested in prayer books. Currently, Rudy is working on a book project about the use of medieval prayer books as talismans to ward off evil, disease and sudden death, as well as a book about virtual pilgrimages in the Middle Ages.

In addition to being a sought-after author and public speaker, Rudy has taught art history at numerous institutions, including Columbia University, Barnard College, Brooklyn College, the University of Oregon, University College Utrecht and the University of Amsterdam. In 2005-06, she was the Samuel H. Kress Fellow at the Warburg Institute, London. Rudy earned a licentiate in mediaeval studies from the University of Toronto, as well as a Ph.D., M.Phil. and M.A. in art history from Columbia University.

More information about SU's art and music histories (formerly fine arts) department is available at