Adam Cohen

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2014/2015
discipline Art History
Associate Professor, The University of Toronto

Research project

The Diagrammatic Turn in the Twelfth Century


In his introductory overview to manuscript illumination between the years 1066 and 1190, C. M. Kauffmann succinctly stated: “Indeed, the pictorial diagram, in which the picture plane is divided into a series of carefully organized circles, squares and other geometric shapes, became one of the typical features of Romanesque art.” Although early medieval art contained books in which diagrams played a role, it is reasonable to say that the long twelfth century experienced what we might call a decided “diagrammatic turn” toward the visualization of abstract concepts through pictorial means. I propose to investigate several aspects of pictorial diagrams that have received little attention by probing the larger cultural and intellectual contexts in which this occurred. Specifically, I seek to link the twelfth-century development of diagrams and, more broadly, a diagrammatic way of thinking, to contemporaneous trends in exegesis that newly privileged a typological approach to scripture and a critical stance toward wisdom of all kinds. Scholars have associated these modes of thought with the Abbey of St. Victor, near Paris, and it cannot be overlooked that a central expression of this intellectual endeavor was Hugh of St. Victor’s ambitious diagram of the Arce Noe, which towers over twelfth-century hermeneutics whether it was ever produced or not. As a series of manuscripts from Regensburg (Bavaria) demonstrate, however, the diagrammatic turn was not only a feature of the northern French schools but also played a prominent role in more traditional monastic educational settings. Many of these manuscripts, which I will consider alongside several from Zwiefalten (Swabia), are devoted to such encyclopedic topics as computation and history—traditional subjects for the application of a diagrammatic mode of visualization—but it is intriguing that some are also typological treatises that use pictorial diagrams to make explicit the nexus of Christianity, knowledge, and the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. A growing literature demonstrates the close intellectual correspondence between the Victorine trends and concurrent changes in Jewish intellectualist-legal scholarship exemplified by Rashi and the Tosafist school in northern France and the Rhineland, whose manuscripts also sometimes contained diagrams. Regensburg, meanwhile, had an important Jewish community and was home to the Hasidei Ashkenaz, the nascent German Pietist school.

My project will investigate the degree to which the diagrammatic mode is evident in these Jewish intellectual contexts; consider how the development of pictorial diagrams might be related to changing interactions between Christians and Jews in the twelfth century; and compare the southern German and northern French material to discern similarities and differences in the use of such diagrams.




Adam Cohen is Associate Professor at the College of Arts and Science, Department of Art of The University of Toronto.  He holds a Ph.D in History of Art from The Johns Hopkins University. 


His main research interests are Art History, History of the Book, Medieval Art, Early Medieval Art, Manuscripts, and Jewish Art.


Selected publications


‘Monastic Art and Architecture: 700–1050’, in A. Beach & I. Cochelin (eds), Cambridge History of Medieval Western Monasticism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, forthcoming.


'The Art of Regensburg Miscellanies', in L. Dolezalova & K. Rivers (eds), Manuscript Miscellanies: Composition, Authorship, Use, Medium aevum quotidianum, Sonderband 31, Krems, 2013, pp. 34-69.


Confronting the Borders of Medieval Art, with J. Caskey & L. Safran (eds), Brill, Leiden, 2011.


Eye and Mind: Essays in Anglo-Saxon and Early Medieval Art by Robert Deshman, The Medieval Institute, Richard Rawlinson Center, Kalamazoo, 2010.


'L’arte dell'alto medioevo in Europa', in R. Cassanelli & J. Sureda (eds), L'arte occidentale: Europa mediterraneo e mondo contemporaneo, Jaca, Milan, 2008, pp. 175–189.


‘The Historiography of Romanesque Manuscript Illumination’, in C. Rudolph (ed.), A Companion to Medieval Art: Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Europe, Blackwell, Oxford, 2006, pp. 357–81.


The Uta Codex: Art, Philosophy, and Reform in Eleventh-Century Germany, Penn State University Press, University Park, 2000.



senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline Mathematics
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline Indian Philosophy and Intellectual History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History