Lecture Recap and Video: Bissera Pentcheva on 'Image, Chant and Imagination at Ste. Foy in Conques'

Nov. 15, 2021


St. Foy in Conques
Photo by Krzysztof Golik - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

2021 Stahl Lecture (Lecture No. 2)

Medieval images decorating the interior and exterior of the ecclesiastical spaces were experienced in a sustained aural atmosphere of chanted prayer, recitation and song. It is this sonic envelope and more specifically the melodic form and content of what is being sung that is rarely explored together with the visual, despite the fact that the music shaped how the figural was perceived. This talk engages the late-10th, early 11th century music for the Office of Ste. Foy and places it in relation with the cult statue and the relief images in the church at Conques. How does the melody shape the meaning of the words; how does chant transform the perception of the architectural space and its images; how does music invite the imagination to conjure up the presence of the saint? Answering these questions will gradually uncover the multisensorial immersive atmosphere, created by the medieval liturgy, which led to a transcendence of subject and object into a mystical union. 

Watch the Lecture

About Bissera Pentcheva

Bissera Pentcheva, the ICMA Stahl Lecturer for 2021, is professor of art and art history at Stanford University, with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Classics. Author of three books (Icons and Power, The Sensual Icon and Hagia Sophia: Sound, Space and Spirit in Byzantium) and editor of two more (Aural Architecture in Byzantium and Icons of Sound), Bissera has redefined the study of Byzantine architecture by means of new insights at the intersection of architecture, art, acoustics, liturgy and theology. Her particular interest has been the “animation” of objects and buildings over time as they are perceived in changing conditions of light and sound. To understand these phenomena in the past she has adopted contemporary technology to capture atmospheric effects around objects and in buildings and to match sonic performance today with the “acoustic signatures” of historic buildings.



This lecture is funded by the International Center of Medieval Art as the second Stahl Lecture 2021.

It is hosted by the Arizona State University School of Art and co-sponsored by the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Design School, and the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.


Bissera Pentcheva, Professor of Art and Art History, Stanford University


2021 Stahl Lecture


November 12, 2021