Research Summary

Research Summary

Ed Gyllenhaal researched, wrote, and produced an online Web resource titled, “Do You See What I See? Imagery in Nativity Scenes.” A Nativity scene or crèche is based on the accounts of the birth of Jesus Christ found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. However, many Nativities also incorporate non-biblical Christian texts and legends. Although Nativity scenes can be enjoyed on purely aesthetic and spiritual grounds, to fully appreciate a Nativity it is necessary to understand the origins of the imagery and the context in which it was created. This website was created to provide visitors to Glencairn Museum’s annual World Nativities exhibition with additional biblical, historical, cultural, and art historical information, as well as to serve as a general introduction to the subject for anyone interested in the subject of Nativities. “Do You See What I See? Imagery in Nativity Scenes,” which is illustrated by photographs of Nativities in Glencairn Museum’s collection, includes modules about “Biblical Sources for the Nativity,” “Apocryphal Sources for the Nativity,” “Visual Elements in Nativity Scenes,” and “Two Nativity Traditions in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.” This resource can be accessed through Glencairn Museum’s website, or directly at

Eugene Potapov focused his research on the Steller’s Sea Eagle, which is an endangered raptor with limited distribution. In 2011, the Bryn Athyn research grant facilitated monitoring of the Steller’s Sea Eagle; the 20th field season in a long-term monitoring program of the Sea Eagle population of the Magadan District, Russia and adjoining territories.

Overall results from the 2011 season are that the breeding numbers and success of the eagles at the sea coast are average, whereas there was no reproductive success on the rivers. In general, the results of the 2011 summer season were in-line with the hypothesis that high spring floods prevent the Steller’s Sea Eagle to breed successfully. It is not clear what governs the breeding success of the eagles at the sea coast. It is suspected that the ice distribution in the spring might affect the eagles; this hypothesis will be tested by examining parameters of ice cover using GIS and remote-sensing methods.

Dr. Potapov presented the results of his summer research at a public meeting of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (est. 1890) at the Academy of the Natural Sciences of Philadelphia on September 15, 2011. He also prepared a draft paper for submission for publication: Potapov, E., I. Utekhina, M. McGrady, and D. Rimlinger. 2011 (draft). Impact of global warming on the Steller’s Sea Eagles (Haliaetus pelagicus) in the northern part of the Sea of Okhotsk.

Martha Gyllenhaal researched Rembrandt’s studio practices and working methods. Although Rembrandt van Rijn owned over eighty pieces of sculpture, studies regarding his use of the collection are in short supply and tend to be either formal, or else they refer to his use of classical sculpture in general terms as an inspiration for his history paintings. Dr. Gyllenhaal’s research examined Rembrandt’s manipulation of the border between reality and illusion (what Ovid termed “the art that conceals art”): his effort to “incarnate” his sculptural sources by wrapping them in textiles and giving them the appearance of flesh.

Gyllenhaal observed patterns in Rembrandt’s use of sculpture: several etchings of his studio show busts adorned with hats or wrapped in fabric (a practice also described in a seventeenth-century poem about Rembrandt); a number of his head studies, genre, and history paintings suggest that he used busts of Roman emperors for models. The less subtle artistry of his students and his colleague Jan Lievens also exposes their use of clothed statues and thereby corroborates the hypothesis that Rembrandt’s reliance on sculpture for models was more prevalent and artful (in the sense of covert) than has previously been noted.

Dr. Gyllenhaal presented some of her research at the Renaissance Society of America conference in Washington in March 2012. Martha Gyllenhaal also prepared a manuscript for submission to the Rembrandt House Museum: Gyllenhaal, M. 2012 (submitted). Rembrant’s use of statues and casts: New insights into his studio practices and working methods. Submitted for publication to De Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis.

Sean Lawing researched “Christianity and Infant Abandonment in Old Norse Culture.” According to Mr. Lawing, the exposure (abandonment) of infants was generally outlawed in Scandinavia with the conversion to Christianity around the year 1000. Nevertheless, the practice lawfully persisted into the 12th century in special cases of severely deformed infants. In one case, the laws prescribed that infants be taken to a remote location, presumably the flood-mark and covered in stones. This place was to be shunned as the place of the ‘evil-one.’ The aim of Mr. Lawing’s project was to investigate the nature of such practices and the effect Christianity had on them, primarily through examining Old Norse law codes. Mr. Lawing proposes an initial convergence of Christian and prevailing attitudes towards supernatural beings that saw deformed children as evil beings. This attitude gradually softened until infant abandonment was entirely criminalized. Indeed, as the Sturlunga saga attests, by the 13th century this ameliorating effect of Christianity ensured the survival of deformed infants past birth, making it possible for them to attain high social status.

Due to its unique subject matter, research for this project was carried out in Iceland using the facilities at the University of Iceland, namely the National Museum and National Library. This project yielded two conference papers, one titled “The Place of the Evil One: Infant Abandonment in Old Norse Society” presented to the Society of Advancement of Scandinavian Studies conference, May 3-5, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the other titled “Revenant Child: Demon Possession in Old Norse Borgarþing Law” to be presented at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI. 9-12 May 2013.