Camille, Michael 1958–2002

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Camille, Michael

Born in Yorkshire into a working-class family, Michael Camille earned a first-class B.A. (1980), an M.A. (1982), and a Ph.D. (1985) at Cambridge University. He then moved to the University of Chicago, where he taught medieval art history until his death of a brain tumor.

From the start, Camille's work took up questions of marginality, shifting attention from "official" culture and the great monuments of the past to images and objects that had previously been ignored by mainstream art history. In doing so, Camille was concerned to analyze representations—especially "monstrous" representations connected to marginalized, "othered" sexualities and religious groups—that exceeded and resisted, but also potentially bolstered, dominant cultural constructions. Camille's first book, The Gothic Idol: Ideology and Image-Making in Medieval Art (1989), considered depictions of idols and idolatry that showed Christianity grappling with, and in many ways demonizing, its religious and sexual others—homosexuals or sodomites, pagans and heretics, Muslims and Jews. Here, he emphasized how closely related to each other were medieval sexual and religious otherness. Camille's next book, Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art (1992), moved even more fully to examine scandalous, scatological, and sexual images in the margins of architecture and manuscript illustration. Camille developed a complex argument that shares much with queer theory about how the center or dominant depends for its very existence upon the abjected and disavowed material pushed to the margins. Master of Death: The Lifeless Art of Pierre Remiet, Illuminator (1996), while it shifted its attention away from sexuality, continued to think about how the Middle Ages represented bodies—here, bodies subjected, often grotesquely, to old age, death, and decay. Considering the time of the Black Death, the book might also be read as reflecting Camille's experience as a gay man living during the AIDS crisis. In addition, Camille coedited, with Adrian Rifkin, Other Objects of Desire: Collectors and Collecting Queerly (2001), a volume on the collecting of art as a queer practice.

Late in his life, Camille was engaged intensively in thinking about disallowed medieval sexualities, working on an unfinished book entitled Stones of Sodom, which was to trace medieval representations of sodomy. Glimpses of what this project might have looked like are available in some of Camille's later published work. Thus, in "The Pose of the Queer: Dante's Gaze, Brunetto Latini's Body" (2001), Camille closely examines one manuscript illumination of the circle of the sodomites in Dante's Inferno, analyzing the physical pose given there to Dante's former teacher Brunetto Latini as Dante the pilgrim gazes down at Brunetto's body. Comparing Brunetto's pose, one arm akimbo, to twentieth-century visual stereotypes of gay men, Camille's essay reflects on the resonances and differences between the medieval moment, with its understanding of sodomy, and the modern moment of gay identity, concluding that "I would rather call Brunetto a queer or a queen than a homosexual (or a heterosexual), precisely because these terms do not so much define modern rigid stereotypes as open up possibilities" (p. 79).

see also Gay.


Boeye, Kerry. 2002. "A Bibliography of the Writings of Michael Camille." Gesta 41(1): 141-144.

Camille, Michael. 1989. The Gothic Idol: Ideology and Image-Making in Medieval Art. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Camille, Michael. 1992. Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Camille, Michael. 2001. "The Pose of the Queer: Dante's Gaze, Brunetto Latini's Body." In Queering the Middle Ages, edited by Glenn Burger and Steven F. Kruger. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

                                      Steven F. Kruger