Portrait of Lena Liepe

New professor curious on the value of cultural heritage

Lena Liepe, new professor in art history and visual studies, wants to contribute to ensuring that medieval art history continues to be relevant today and in the future. After having worked 20 years abroad, she could not resist the opportunity to return back home to Småland and a research and teaching environment she has been missing. She brings with her a curiosity and a will to develop the subject further together with her colleagues.

Lena Liepe's research is specialised on medieval visual and material art. She carries out research on illustrations, church art, sculptures, church construction and the human body as a subject. Although much of her research deals with the visual culture of the church, Lena is driven by a curiosity for new fields of research within art history and visual studies.

"When I look at my own research, I can see that I have done a lot of different things. I like to test new things, to develop new themes. This has made me very motivated in my research and for the subject", says Liepe.

At the moment, Liepe is writing a book about saint relics. Saint relics as a phenomenon and their role in the Nordic countries is a relatively unexplored field of research. However, the last few years have seen somewhat of a boom for international relics research – which is now also starting to spread to the Nordic countries.

"My research is part of this development. I study what has been documented about relics throughout the Nordic countries. I've found exciting written sources in Iceland describing how the bishop Gudmundur Arason travelled the country to heal people, and even livestock! That says quite a lot about how dependent people were on help from saints in the Middle Ages. Relics were something concrete you could relate to", Liepe explains.

Liepe's ambition is to work to promote the relevance of the medieval visualisation of church culture, today as well as in the future. In order to succeed with his, she wants to work with both research and teaching. In the society of today, we can no longer take for granted that all students have a background where they view churches as their own cultural heritage. Liepe wants to develop strategies for how the cultural heritage can be made important and relevant in the future for all categories of citizens. During her 20 years in Norway, first at University of Tromsø and later at Oslo University, she noticed that the composition of her student group was not representative; it did not correspond to the composition of the population as a whole.

"This is a threat to the field of study itself. I must mediate the history of the older art in a way that is relevant for all categories of students. I must try to make sure that it is not excluding or feels too narrow", Lena continues.

What is most exciting about having been appointed professor at Linnaeus University?

"It means the world to me! Partly because I am the first professor within this field of study at Linnaeus University and partly because I grew up in Växjö. My dad worked as a librarian at the university branch, which later on became the university college, and we moved to Växjö because of this. I wanted to take the opportunity to return back home to Småland and there is a dynamics here that is really compelling – my colleagues have the energy and the will to build something new. That's something I was missing to some extent in Norway – so I'm very much looking forward to contributing", Liepe concludes.