Thomas Noble wins 2011 Otto Gründler Book Prize

Author: Joanna Basile

Thomas Noble

Notre Dame historian Thomas F.X. Noble has won the 2011 Otto Gründler Book Prize for his work “Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).

This award is given annually to the author of a book or monograph “in any area of medieval studies that is judged by the selection committee to be an outstanding contribution to its field.”

“Thomas Noble’s achievement in this magisterial book is to set the particular issues of iconoclasm, East and West, in a big historical framework that makes sense,” notes the prize committee.

“Readers are following a master historian as he plies his craft, squeezing recalcitrant documents for meaning, challenging conventional wisdom on old topics, and changing the way they will now view sacred images in the medieval world.”

A professor and chair in the College of Arts and Letters’ Department of History and the former director of the Medieval Institute, Noble says “Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians” focuses on the controversies surrounding religious art from approximately A.D. 300 to A.D. 900.

Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians

“I grapple with historical questions, ideological questions, theological questions, and art historical questions,” he says. “The book reaches across a whole group of traditional academic disciplines.”

Noble says the book examines a time when the Christian church was just learning how to talk about the visual arts—while devotees were also grappling with how to discuss God and essential doctrines such as the Trinity, sin and redemption.

“[Christian art] evoked pleasure and approval in some circles, and horror and disapproval in other circles,” he says. “It became a matter of considerable contention.”

This trend, Noble says, continues into modern day, as many discussions about art have nothing to do with aesthetics, quality or the method of production. More frequently, politics, values and religion fuel such conversations.

“When you find a society arguing about art, listen carefully. They’re not going to be talking about art—they’re going to be talking about lots of other things,” he says.

“So, I simply backed up 1,000 years and eavesdropped on people arguing about art and asked: What are they actually talking about here? What’s really going on?”

Winning the Gründler prize is a real honor, Noble says. “Basically, in the whole field of medieval studies, there are two big book prizes: the Gründler prize and the Haskins Medal. So, to win one of these is wonderful.”

Noble’s accomplishment also marks the first time the Gründler prize has been awarded twice to faculty from one university—let alone a single department in back-to-back years. His colleague John Van Engen, the Andrew V. Tackes Professor of History, won the 2010 Gründler Book Prize for “Sisters and Brothers of the Common Life: The Devotio Moderna and the World of the Later Middle Ages” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

“We’re on a roll,” says Noble, who accepted the Gründler prize on May 13 at the 46th annual International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Currently vice president of the American Catholic Historical Association, Noble will become the organization’s president in 2012. He was also recently awarded his third National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship and named winner of the 2011 Sheedy Excellence in Teaching Award — the highest teaching honor in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters.

In addition to his work on religious art and the Carolingians, Noble specializes in the early medieval era, late antiquity, the papacy and the city of Rome. His books include “Charlemagne and Louis the Pious: Lives by Einhard, Notker, Ermoldus, Thegan, and the Astronomer” (Penn State Press), and “From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms” (Taylor and Francis Group).

His next book project, “Rome in the Medieval Imagination,” will explore how writers from Constantine to Petrarch talked about Rome.

Originally published by Joanna Basile at on May 24, 2011.