A Drury professor studies baptismal fonts of the Middle Ages

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., April 2, 2013 — When most people think about fonts, Times New Roman and Garamond may come to mind, but one Drury professor is interested in a different type of font used long ago, baptismal fonts. Drury Art History Professor Tom Russo has received a $4,500 grant from Yale University’s Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art (London) to research a previously unknown group of baptismal fonts from the Middle Ages.

Dr. Russo has already conducted research in Britain to document surviving sculpture from 1066-1200. During his research, Dr. Russo believes he has discovered a group of nine fonts that appear to come from the same workshop.

“Around the 11th century, infant baptism of Christians increased tremendously with the population boom in Europe” Russo said. “As a result, we see a massive growth in the production of baptismal fonts and baptism develops from a privilege of the bishops to one regularly performed by priests in their parish churches. Only a handful of font ‘groups’ have been identified and all are in the south of England; the fonts in the group I’m analyzing all come from the same quarry in the east midlands region and that, along with their design, indicates a different workshop from any historians had previously known.”

Dr. Russo’s research will seek to locate the production of the fonts in the medieval quarrying industry, and the economic expansion of the time reflected in the rebuilding of parochial churches.

Dr. Russo studies a baptismal font from the Middle Ages

“This discovery has the potential to give us insight into the connection between rural religious practices and economic development of the time,” Russo said.  “We don’t have a lot of written records for rural activities then.  Yet thousands of parish churches are being built across the countryside and furnished with fonts. I suspect this group of fonts was made by a local workshop, rather than a team of traveling stone carvers. If so, it gives us a window into rural manufacturing and how it tied in with the church building craze. The parish church system is emerging at this time and having a transformative effect on the social, economic, and religious fabric of medieval life in the relations among villagers, clergy, and the lords that controlled the churches.”

Dr. Russo will conduct the bulk of his research this summer in the villages of the county of Lincolnshire, England as well as in research libraries in London.

Media Contact: Dr. Tom Russo, Professor of Art History, Office: (417) 873-7413, Email: trusso@drury.edu