Last June, the innovative and creative art historian Michael Camille contributed to the History Today-Reaktion Books lecture series Picturing the Past, with a talk on ‘Spinning Pigs and Smelly Streets: The Other Chartres’. The subject matter, part of his current project to bring together the secular art of the medieval street with that of the cathedral and court, was typical of his work, which brought his fresh and earthy eye to the world of medieval art, architecture and sculpture. Tragically, later that same evening he was rushed into hospital and diagnosed with a brain tumour; he died on April 29th, 2002, aged forty-four.
Michael Camille was born on March 6th 1958 and brought up in Keighley, Yorkshire. He became the first student from his local grammar school to go to Cambridge in fifty years, where he studied English and art history. From 1985 onwards he taught at the University of Chicago. His first book The Gothic Idol: Ideology and Image-Making in Medieval Art (1989) demonstrated his interest in images of outsider groups in medieval society, such as Muslims and homosexuals. In Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art (1992), perhaps his most widely admired work, he revealed the world depicted on the edges of medieval manuscripts, delighting in the sheer baudiness of marginalia, misericords and gargoyles. His other books include Glorious Visions: Gothic Art (1996), The Medieval Art of Love: Objects and Subjects of Desire (1997), and Mirror in Parchment: The Luttrell Psalter and the Making of Medieval England (1998). Michael Camille was one of the outstanding art historians of his generation, bringing innovation and imagination into the field of medieval art history, which has remained to this day otherwise highly conservative in its methodlogy. His work was imbued with a sense of the living presence of the past, and he managed to vividly recreate the medieval world for a wide readership. He spent much time in France, in particular Paris, and he was engaged in several projects relating to medieval France at the time of his death. His final work Monsters of Modernity: the Gargoyles of Notre Dame, is to be published by Chicago University Press in the spring of 2003.
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