Tracy Chapman Hamilton’s research and teaching focuses on the medieval visual culture of Europe and the Mediterranean, especially rooted in questions of gender studies, collecting, topography, and geography.
Her work on how women’s lives are made visible through patronage has been a constant theme in her research. For instance, Pleasure and Politics at the Court of France: The Artistic Patronage of Queen Marie de Brabant (1260-1321) (Brepols 2015) examines the commissions of Marie de Brabant, queen of France, and analyzes how the dynamics of her patronage played a primary role in transforming conceptions of court, culture, and queenship. Using an interdisciplinary methodology, she explores how Marie’s patronage, taking the form of manuscript illumination, sculpture, stained glass, and architecture, as well as literature, music, science, history, genealogy, ritual, and finery, set a trend for courtly consumption for the remainder of the medieval period. Nearly always political in nature, her commissions were nonetheless sumptuous to behold, whether secular or sacred in content.
Hamilton’s ongoing interest in questions of space and place have led her to a variety of expressions. One is her forthcoming book, The Ceremonial Landscape: Geography, Gender, and Art in Late Medieval France, focusing on how the individual and cooperative commissions of a group of married and widowed women took advantage of their geographical complexity. Another is her nascent project, Mapping Medieval Women’s Patronage, brought to life in the first Kress Summer Institute on Digital Mapping and Art History. Hamilton is collaboratively crafting a digital map that will thematically, geographically, and temporally document the local and international connections between these women and their peers. The combination of data and interactive map will ask new spatial questions of the material that are best brought to light in this digital format. Indebted to explorations of the Digital Humanities in the classroom, it will eventually be housed on a website that allows digital modeling and mapping of medieval patronage to demonstrate a medieval interconnectedness of the process as well as one existing in modern scholarship.
Hamilton is convinced that when teaching and research are combined this synthesis works to everyone’s greatest benefit. Her teaching allows her to look far beyond Europe in the late-thirteenth and early-fourteenth centuries. She loves watching students have their first contact with art history in the Survey of Art and then seeing them develop a visual eye in intermediate and upper-level classes. Especially in her Medieval courses she looks at the whole of Europe and the Mediterranean, studying Greek Byzantium, the Latin West, and the Persian and Islamic worlds to the east and south.
Hamilton chose to teach for a variety of reasons: to alert students to the wider world, to provoke them to analyze the visual and textual with a critical eye and mind, and to compel them to engage in cultural and societal debates often rooted in the past but still relevant to the present. The art and architecture of antiquity and the Middle Ages in particular allows twenty-first-century students students to reevaluate their opinions about topics with which they are unfamiliar. Yet, by familiarizing themselves with the the ancient, medieval, and early Renaissance worlds, students can view the unfamiliar in the modern world with a more open, well-informed mind.
Outings to Charlottesville, Washington, Baltimore, and New York are a regular requirement of her courses. Closer to home, Hamilton uses objects from The University of Richmond’s extraordinary permanent collection and Ralph Adams Cram’s neo-Gothic campus, as well as the objects and spaces of the VMFA and Agecroft Hall at every opportunity, in the belief that there is no substitute for gazing at and, whenever possible, handling the original.