Elaine C. Block Database of Misericords

Elaine C. BlockElaine C. Block devoted about thirty years of her life to studying and photographing choir stalls from all over the world. Her collection of nearly 10,000 photographs, which is found in this database, represented for her an original way of looking at medieval civilization. While it is less conformist than medieval sculpture or painting, the iconography of misericords presents many aspects of the European Middle-Ages from the XIIth to the XVIth century which are not found elsewhere.

These images fascinated Elaine’s students at Hunter College CUNY for many years. It was this interest which made her realize that they had to be documented and photographed and that a corpus would have to be created. This was at a time when there was little or no interest in these works. She decided to stop teaching well before the age of retirement and to divide her time between homes in New York and Paris. This enabled her to start her lifelong aim to of checking choir stalls in European churches and to be the ambassador of this art of the “huchiers”. Throughout her career and because of her expertise Elaine was frequently consulted when choir stalls were being restored. One such example was in the historic Cathedral at Saint-Claude (Jura) near the Swiss border where a fire destroyed half of the church’s choir. She was able to identify many choir stalls from just seeing the misericord.

She also decided to found an organization devoted to their study - Misericordia International - which even now after her death sponsors sessions at Kalamazoo and Leeds and also holds its own international colloquia biannually. These are collaborative ventures held in conjunction with universities or museums, including Cologne , Barcelona, Amiens, Angers, Sheffield, Rouen, Basel, Paris and Nijmegen. The next such event will be in Gdansk in June 2012.

Elaine Block was also the founder, editor, and chief contributor of the publication, Profane Arts. This journal started life as a slim paperback and many of its articles are now available on the Misericordia International website. Recent issues have been more substantial and devoted to single topics such as Les stalles de Picardie, published by Encrage éditions, or Les Stalles de la Cathédrale de Rouen: Histoire et Iconographie, published by Presses universitaires de Rouen. This journal, Profane Arts of the Middle Ages, is now directed by Frédéric Billiet and Paul Hardwick.

Elaine’s scholarly work culminated in a projected five-volume Corpus of Medieval Misericords, published by Brepols. For each choir stall ensemble, Elaine lists the misericords in order, and provides a description as well as an interpretation which explains their origin. The second part of each volume consists of images of the sites discussed. The first three volumes covering France, Iberia and the Netherlands are now available. The remaining volumes will be undertaken by the board of Misericordia International. A Lexicon, which will standardize the terminology for misericords and choir stalls, will accompany the Corpus.

Elaine C. Block died in New York on March 7, 2008.

Frédéric Billiet, with the collaboration of Judith Bronfman.

Selected Bibliography

"Les Stalles de choeur du château de Gaillon: Leurs secrets," in M. Pastre, ed La Vie castrale au Moyen Age, Université de Rouen: PUR, 1998.

"Choir stall carvings of Reynard and other foxes," in K. Varty ed, Reynard the Fox, New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000, p. 125 – 162.

Les Stalles de la cathédrale de Rouen, E. Block, F. Billiet (ed.), Université de Rouen : PUR, 2003. 317 p.

Corpus of Medieval Misericords : France. Tournhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2003

“Liturgical and Anti-Liturgical Elements on Medieval Choir Stalls,” in C. Hourihane ed, The Word, the Object: Art in the Service of the Liturgy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

"Les chemins vers le Ciel ou l'Enfer représentés sur les miséricordes médiévales," in F. Billiet, ed, Bible de Bois du Moyen Age, Angers: Revue Impacts, les Editions de UCO, 2003, 272 p.

Corpus of Medieval Misericords: Iberia. Tournhout: Brepols: Brepols,. 2004.

Corpus of Medieval Misericords: Belgium and Netherlands: Tournhout, Brepols, 2010.