Elina Gertsman posing for photo next to sculpture

Art history’s Elina Gertsman honored with Charles Rufus Morey Book Award

The College Art Association of America (CAA) recently named Elina Gertsman, the Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan Professor in Catholic Studies II, the winner of its Charles Rufus Morey Book Award for her book The Absent Image: Lacunae in Medieval Books (Penn State University Press, 2021).

The Charles Rufus Morey Book Award, named in honor of one of the founding members of CAA and first teachers of art history in the United States, was established in 1953. This award honors an especially distinguished book in the history of art, published in the English language.

About the book

Countering the customary interpretation of late medieval art as relentlessly profuse and exuberant, The Absent Image: Lacunae in Medieval Books, explores different constructions of emptiness ranging from the presentation of voids in illustrations to represent the unrepresentable to the deliberate inclusion of physical holes in manuscript pages designed to reveal portions of other pages.

Gertsman’s investigation of the “fecundity of emptiness” is a generative and compelling topic for scholars of art history/visual studies across areas, both within and outside Medieval Studies. She argues and demonstrates that, between 1200s and 1500s, the broad circulation of scientific thought and its engagement with theology and formal and literary discourses on emptiness, absence, and negation account for visual, cognitive, and material expressions on the pages of medieval books.

Cross-disciplinary in its approach, Gertsman’s book simultaneously draws attention to the visual and material aspects of the manuscripts, phenomenological experience, and philosophical, religious, and scientific theories of the period. In doing so she uncovers an unexpected kinship between the medieval artists and the modernist avant-garde, where the void is regarded as the locus of the sublime and of boundless possibility. Her erudite writing and compelling approach to the subject poses questions throughout that magnify the relevance of her study and stimulate personal inquiry—as a reader reflects on other areas of consideration across time called out in the text. The book is lavishly illustrated and artfully designed with a shape and size complementary to the subject of study. 

Learn more about the award.