Book Heritage Lab

In 2016, Prof. Lieve Watteeuw launched the Book Heritage Lab – KU Leuven. The BHL is an innovative expertise lab of KU Leuven for research and conservation of manuscripts, early printed books and documentary heritage. Illuminare and the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies – as experts and keepers of the KU Leuven’s documentary heritage – took the initiative to establish the BHL for diagnosis and research of the material history of medieval and early modern paper and parchment artefacts, with a special focus on production, preservation, scientific imaging and conservation. The researchers of the BHL and the Imaging Lab (University Library) are closely collaborating to establish protocols and data to reveal sources of artistic production and degradation characteristics of fragile documentary cultural heritage artefacts. The BHL is embedded in several ongoing and recently obtained research and conservation projects such as RICH, FINGERPRINT, ArtGarden and the Cardinal d’Alsace Library Project.

Iconology Research Group

Illuminare is closely connected to the Iconology Research Group, a research platform founded by Barbara Baert that explores the role of iconology in relation to Visual Studies and Bildwissenschaften. Their projects focus on the making, meaning and migration of images from the Middle Ages to the present day.

Iconology is a two-faced beast. To students, it is often presented as a functional subordinate to art history. In the practice of research, it transgresses the borders of its discipline and can devour whole universes of images. Indeed, iconology, as envisioned by Aby Warburg, is supposed to study images produced inside and outside the realm of art. And in order to trace the meanings, histories and transformations of images, iconology is in essence interdisciplinary. Warburg therefore explored anthropology, Erwin Panofsky looked into film, and Ernst Gombrich put psychology and social sciences to his service. After these famous ventures from within, the pictorial turn however was announced by other disciplines, and implied a critique of art histories’ conservative approach to images. Visual studies was formed and opened the realm of images to literary theory, gender studies, performance and film studies and many others. Yet, in the endeavour to study visuality in all its facets the field remains somewhat indistinct. More recently, Bildwissenschaften has turned to focus on the image as object again, and in doing so has moved beyond the humanities highlighting image production in all fields. Facing a possible visual illiteracy, methods to study images are also developed outside academia. In other words, the need to unravel the meaning of past, present and future images has become omnipresent. The Iconology Research Group (IRG) wants to investigate how iconology as a field and method, which originated within art history, relates to these recent developments. It wants to review and rethink original methodologies in the light of new approaches. How has iconology evolved in the past decennia, could it incorporate visual studies or a science of images? How have new disciplines profited from iconology and how can they in turn inspire and/or reinvent iconology? Beyond methodological reflection, the IRG singles out three central research themes: the production and technologies of pictures (i), the significance and agency of images (ii), and the transfer and migration of motives (iii). These will be addressed within a wide historical and geographical scope, as we regard the tracing of pictorial meaning throughout time and space an essential characteristic of iconology. Please contact Annelies Vogels and Stephanie Heremans for further information regarding the IRG.

Barbara Baert is founder and editor-in-chief of several IRG series: Studies in Iconology (Peeters Publishers), Art&Religion (Peeters Publishers) and Iconologies (ASP Editions). 


Advisory Board

Claudia Benthien (Hamburg), Ralph Dekoninck (Louvain-la-Neuve), James Elkins (Chicago), Jeffrey Hamburger (Cambridge, MA), Bianca Kuehnel (Jerusalem), Han Lamers (Oslo), John Lowden (London), Anneke Smelik (Nijmegen), Victor Stoichita (Fribourg), Jeroen Stumpel (Utrecht), Paul Vandenbroeck (Leuven), Jan Van der Stock (Leuven), Gerhard Wolf (Florence)


Partner Institutions

Center for Iconographic Studies - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - University of Rijeka (

Centre for Women’s Studies in Theology - KU Leuven (

European Network on the Instruments of Devotion (ENID) (

GEMCA - Group for Early Modern Cultural Analysis - Université catholique de Louvain (

Illuminare - Centre for the Study of Medieval Art - KU Leuven (

LECTIO -Leuven Centre for the Study of the Transmission of Texts and Ideas in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance - KU Leuven (

Litterære tradisjoner og tekstkulturer i det tidligmoderne Europa - Universitetet i Oslo (

Ruusbroecgenootschap - University of Antwerp (

The Interior: Art, Space, and Performance (Early Modern to Postmodern) - Research Project Universität Bern (

The Lieven Gevaert Centre for Photography and Visual Studies - KU Leuven & Université catholique de Louvain (

Werkgroep Visuele Cultuur Nederland - Huizinga Instituut (


From antiquity to the present day, the Greek term kairós, which expresses the complex idea of ‘grasping the right moment’, travelled through art and literature. This project explores the artistic reception of this notion in the visual arts by bringing insights from Classical Reception Studies and Iconology to bear on how we can understand processes of visual transformation through time. As such, it is the very first extensive, inter-disciplinary research into kairós afterlife in the history of ideas of the Middle Ages and Early Modernity in Europe, drawing extensively upon literary, archaeological, and iconographical sources. As the figure of kairós has been interpreted variously throughout history, from antiquity to the modern era, this research project not only sheds light on how text and image work together to transform the classical heritage but also problematizes the wide-spread idea that iconographies are essentially stable and static. Stephanie Heremans and Laura Tack are affiliated researchers contributing to this project, which is directed by Barbara Baert and Han Lamers (University of Oslo).

To read "Kairos: The Right Moment or Occasion" by Barbara Baert on the website of the Institute for Advanced Study, click here.

Ornamenta sacra

This collective project, gathering scholars from different institutions (IRPA/KIK, UCL and KU Leuven), aims at conducting an iconological and anthropological research devoted to the late medieval and early modern liturgical heritage (ornamenta sacra) from the Southern Netherlands (1400-1700). It is concerned with different kinds of objects fundamental to the ceremonial, which occupied a central place in the religious art of the past. We will investigate the provenance, the (material, technical, stylistic, iconographic etc.) nature and the evolution of this production in order to better understand its religious, social and artistic importance for a time span characterized by profound transformations of the liturgy and by religious reforms and conflicts. The historical anthropology of the visual, the sensible and the ritual will offer a methodological framework within which we will consider the material and symbolic nature as well as the spatial and ritual context of these objects, so as to provide a renewed analysis of their forms and functions. Wendy Wauters conducts her doctoral research in the context of the Brain-Belspo project Ornamenta sacra.

Leuven Louvain Illuminations

Since 2015 Lieve Watteeuw and Catherine Reynolds are researching the collection of medieval illuminated manuscripts of the Leuven University. The Catalogue of Western Book Illumination in the Universities of Leuven – Louvain involves the holdings of medieval illuminated manuscripts in both sister University collections: in KU Leuven kept in the Special Collections, in the University Archive and in the Library of the Faculty of Theology (the Maurits Sabbe Library), and in UCL, Louvain-la-Neuve kept in the University Archives. In total ca. seventy medieval illuminated manuscripts. with miniatures and decorated folios are studied and described in detail. Beside the renowned and richly illuminated Neapolitan Bible made for Robert of Anjou (ca. 1340), there are illuminated Books of Hours of Flemish, Dutch, Italian and French origin, Antiphonaries, Prayer books, liturgical, legal and scientific works. Rosamunde Baele and Floortje Clerix are junior collaborators in this project, together with dr. Anne Dubois of UCL. The richly illuminated catalogue will be published in 2021 by Peeters Publishers.

The Dunes Manuscripts Research and Conservation

The former Cistercian abbey of the Dunes had an important collection of manuscripts dating from the 12th to the 16th centuries. From June 2020 on the manuscripts of the collection of the Mayor Seminary in Bruges are studied and conserved by Lieve Watteeuw and the team of the Book Heritage Lab (2020-2023). The project is supported by the the Fund Baillet-Latour of the King Baudouin Foundation and the Topstukkenraad. The first phase of the project is focusing on the conservation of the 13th century manuscript of Hugo de Folieto, the 14th century Ritual of the  Duines Abbey and 8 other manuscripts dating from the 13th to the late 15th century.

The abbey of the Dunes was one of the oldest and main Cistercian abbeys of the Low Countries. It was founded in 1128 in Koksijde and joined the Cistercian order in 1138. The Dunes had close connections to its motherhouse Clairvaux, but also to its two daughter houses Ter Doest (Lissewege) and Clairmarais (Saint-Omer). The Dunes and Ter Doest were both established with the support of the Count of Flanders, Clairmarais was encouraged by the Bishop of Tournai. The most precious possession of The Dunes was its collection of manuscripts (the so-called “Dunes’ manuscripts”), dating from the 12th to the 16th century. During the 17th century, the collection was expanded because the library of Ter Doest was incorporated with the one of the Dunes. As such, the library of the Dunes contained a wide range of books which the monks required for their daily religious life, such as religious treatises, Bibles, sermons, prayerbooks, but also various subjects as ancient literature, philosophy, law and science.

The 3Pi Project

The 3Pi Project (Diagnosis of Papyrus, Parchment, Paper through Advanced Imaging/ FWO Funded, Medium Scale Infrastructure, 2018-2022 ) is coordinated by Prof. dr. Lieve Watteeuw from the Book Heritage Lab (Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, Faculty of Arts), in collaboration with ESAT, LIBIS and the Digital Lab from the University Library. 3Pi is focusing on interdisciplinary research on fragile historic documentary heritage as manuscripts on papyrus, parchment and paper, involving scientific imaging, analytical data, conservation science and  dissemination. The 3Pi Data creation will allow characterization of materials between micro and full object level from the oldest documents written on papyrus, to medieval and early modern parchment and paper manuscripts.



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