Warja Tolstoj wins Ted Meijer prize
Warja Tolstoj, alumna Art History, has been awarded the 2021 edition of the Ted Meijerprijs. Named after the former director of the KNIR (Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome), the prize is awarded yearly to the best MA/ReMa thesis or PhD in the Humanities.
Tolstoj won the prize with her thesis “Domine Quo Vadis: Appropriation, Veneration and Fabrication, Traces of the Divine”, which she wrote under the supervision of Prof. dr. Stijn Bussels as part of her graduation in the Research Master Arts & Culture.
Tolstoj used the relic of Christ’s footsteps in the Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis on the Via Appia in Rome as a case study to investigate the reproduction and reuse of sacred objects in Early Modern Rome. The relic, a slab of white marble with footsteps in counter-relief, is a copy of a Roman ex-voto. In the course of the Christianization of Rome both copy and original were appropriated as a Christian relic. Since the ninth century, these objects have been venerated as the footsteps left by Christ during his meeting with Saint Peter on the Via Appia, and served as material evidence of Saint Peter’s presence in the Eternal City. Tolstoj was intrigued by questions as: can we consider such re-productions as a production of the sacred and if so, what does this mean for the religious value of the relic, the credibility of the site of veneration, and, in the case of relics related to Saint Peter, for the authority of the Catholic Church in Rome?
The award came as a surprise as she had to drastically change the focal point of her thesis due to the Covid pandemic: “I was lucky to conduct much of the research in Rome, thanks to the KNIR RMA Scholarship. However, most of the libraries and archives remained closed during the pandemic. I had envisioned roaming Rome’s wonderful archives for historical treasures. Instead, I decided to explore the methodological possibilities of conceptualizing a multi-layered and historically dense case study in its entirety without losing focus on the parts, and vice versa. This enabled me to not only focus on the historical record, but also highlight the religious dimension of my case study. I discovered how objects can become mediators of the divine, embodying the religious practices of believers.”
Substantiate the findings
With the Ted Meijer award, Tolstoj hopes to substantiate her findings with source analysis and deepen her research on the construction of institutional religious identity and the production of the sacred in Late Medieval and Early Modern Rome.