Workshop argument

Studies on the uses of images in catechetical transmission have long attested to the historical depth and the plurality of cultural contexts in which this practice developed. Starting with the iconographic programs associated to predication in medieval churches, then looking at the Jesuit missionary paintings produced in the northern parts of China and in New France (16th-17th c.), the taolennoù of Lower Brittany, while passing through the visual didactics implemented by the Franciscans Pedro de Gante (c.1480-1572) and Diego Valadés (c. 1533-82) in colonial Mexico, examples abound of this pictorial media pedagogy that particularly flourished under the Counter-Reformation. To account for this practice, the theorists of evangelisation and the preachers themselves have commonly pointed to illiteracy, to the impossibility of linguistic communication in situations of first contact, or to the perceived ingenuity of the populations to be converted. Understood in this light, the recourse to images would compensate for a deficiency either in the verbal or written transmission of the Christian scripture, or in the cognitive faculties of the catechumen – the two often seen as being interrelated. Other interpretations recall the emotive and contemplative function of the visual arts in Christianity. Here the image is perceived independently of doctrinal communication; it is illustrative or eloquent, but detached from catechetical discourse. However, various iconic elaborations contradict these too restrictive readings of the use of images as instruments of conversion. For instance, the pictographic catechisms produced in Mexico (16th-19th c.) and in the Andes (19th-21st c.) encode, sometimes literally, the fundamental texts of the catechesis in the native tongue using logographic and phonographic signs, to which figures of mnemonic value can be associated. Furthermore, the use of these materials in contemporary Bolivia attests to the indivisible link between image and enunciation of the catechetical discourse in the teaching of prayers during Lent. These Amerindian traditions illustrate not only the originality and complexity of the scriptural techniques deployed to record and transmit the doctrine, they also demonstrate that the image in the service of catechetical diffusion cannot be approached solely as a compensatory tool for language or by dissociating it from doctrinal enunciation. It is therefore necessary to account for its mnemonic, pragmatic and semiotic functions in the translation of religious discourses.

    The purpose of this workshop is to assemble specialists of catechetical scriptures – historians, art historians and anthropologists – to debate the uses and efficacity of pictorial imagery in the transmission of Christian precepts. In focusing particularly on the context of elaboration and usages through time of these productions, the presentations will address a wide variety of issues. They will discuss the intellectual framework within Catholicism and Protestantism that informed the deployment of figuration throughout the pages of catechisms. Who were the initiators of this method in each given context and, once established, who were its propagators and users? Was the purpose of these productions restricted to the teaching of a set corpus of texts or could their usage have varied in the course of history? Certain papers will address more specifically the relationship between image and orality in the context of discourse transmission. They will examine the teaching set-up along with its associated gestures and occurrent chants in order to shed light on the distinctive role of images in the efficacity of transmission. Overall, this workshop will encourage comparative approaches conducive to developing new avenues of reflection in the analysis of iconic materials where contextual data is lacking. Ultimately, these enquiries should lead to re-examining the pertinence of the methodologies that have been elaborated in the quest of understanding these heterogeneous corpuses and their context.

Bérénice Gaillemin, Isabel Yaya

GDRI Anthropologie et Histoire des Arts; ce travail réalisé dans le cadre du Labex portant la référence ANR-10-LABX-0099 a bénéficié d'une aide de l’État gérée par l'Agence Nationale de la Recherche au titre du programme d’Investissements d’avenir portant la référence ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02 PSL.