Sacramental Theology and the Decoration of Baptismal Fonts: Incarnation, Initiation, Institution
Baptismal fonts were necessary to the liturgical life of the medieval Christian. Baptism marked the entrance of the faithful into the right relation, with the Catholic Church representing the main cultural institution of medieval society. In the period between ca. 1050 and ca. 1220, the decoration of the font often had an important function: to underscore the theology of baptism in the context of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. This period witnessed a surge of concern about sacraments. Just as religious thinkers attempted to delineate the sacraments and define their function in sermons and Sentence collections, sculptural programs visualized the teaching of orthodox ideas for the lay audience. This book looks at three areas of primary concern around baptism as a sacrament – incarnation, initiation, and the practice of baptism within the institution of the Church – and the images that embody that religious discussion. Baptismal fonts have been recognized as part of the stylistic production of the Romanesque period, and their iconography has been generally explored as moral and didactic. Here, the message of these fonts is set within a very specific history of medieval Catholic sacramental theology, connecting erudite thinkers and lay users through their decoration and use.
Dr Frances Altvater received her MA and PhD degrees in History of Art from Boston University, USA, focusing on the Romanesque period. Her dissertation, “In Fonte Renatus: The Iconography and Context of Twelfth-century Baptismal Fonts in England” (2003), formed the centerpiece of this research. She teaches at the University of Hartford, USA, where she is also the Academic Dean for Hillyer College.
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