[Table of Contents] [Search]


[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

BMR: Brown and McKendrick, eds., Illuminating the Book...



of possible interest...

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------

(from TMR 99.09.03)

Michelle P. Brown and Scot McKendrick, eds.  <i>Illuminating
the Book: Makers and Interpreters. Essays in Honour of Janet
Backhouse.</i>  Toronto:  The British Library and University of
Toronto Press, 1998.  Pp. 314.  $75.00.  ISBN 0-8020-4411-5.

   Reviewed by Anna Roberts
        Miami University, Ohio
        roberta2@muohio.edu


With 12 color plates, 173 illustrations, and essays by
continental and American curators and scholars, <i>Illuminating
the Book</i> is a fitting offering to honor Janet Backhouse,
retiring after thirty-five years' career in the Department of
Manuscripts at the British Library.  The editors and the
publishers have done an admirable job, and there are few errors
and omissions, minor and mostly in the footnotes.  The quality
of production and editorial standards match those of the series
(The British Library Studies in Medieval Culture).  The
editors, however, have not achieved the elusive goal of
creating a coherent volume.  The presence of a more detailed
introduction, or of articles' abstracts, would have increased
the value of the volume, while the presence of contributors'
brief vitae would have better highlighted Janet Backhouse's
role in fostering a "network of scholarly colleagues"
(Preface).

The essays are divided into three parts--Interpreters, Makers,
and Owners.  The book also contains a preface, an account of
Janet Backhouse's career and a list of her publications, a list
of illustrations, and an index.  Part One contains four
articles, focusing on "iconography and style;" Part Two--seven
essays on "patrons, named artists or schools and their
relationships;" Part Three--four contributions on "provenance
and collecting history."  In describing the contributions, I
follow the order of the volume.

Ruth Melinkoff's "Sarah and Hagar: Laughter and Tears," a wide-
ranging comparison (from the eleventh-century Old English
Hextateuch to a seventeenth century Netherlandish engraving),
argues for an evolution towards a more autonomous presence of
Sarah and a more sympathetic portrayal of Hagar.  Such
preliminary periodization of both the pictorial tradition of
Sarah's laughter and the sympathy to Hagar's plight is nothing
short of exciting, but the focus on iconography alone limits
its usefulness.  Melinkoff attributes the persistence of the
agonistic representation of the relationship between the two
women to commentaries, and one hopes that future research will
elaborate on that point and determine the influence of the
different textual traditions (biblical text, paraphrase,
translation, and text-free pictorial narrative) and their
public on the trends Melinkoff notes in the iconography.

In "Pictorial and Verbal Play in the Margins: The Case of
British Library, Stowe MS 49," Lucy Freeman Sandler argues that
the marginalia in this manuscript relate the tensions between
the town and the abbey.  This argument appears somewhat
circular: Sandler's identification of the scribe and the public
as Benedictine monks (which justifies her reading of the
marginalia as hostile cartoons of the townsfolk and transients)
depends on her primary identification of these portrayals as
(1) hostile and (2) oriented solely against the secular world.
Still, it is a very interesting argument in view of the
discussion on the status of marginalia.  Marginalia incongruous
with the sacred, or at least with the orthodox body of the text
and the main pictorial stratum, are generally thought by modern
readers to relate repressed drives and viewpoints.  Although
Sandler does not explicitly say so, her essay implies that
marginalia can be parallel to the main narrative, a place where
the manuscript "author" affirms the connection with the public
by the expression of common concerns and prejudices.  The
apparent incongruity (representation of transgressive
sexuality, for instance) is here in fact another form of
coherence (transgression is ascribed to the outsiders--the
secular world--in this manuscript produced by and for the
abbey).  This would be an important conclusion, allowing us to
qualify our perception of marginalia as transgressive: where
the purpose of the "author" and the public coincide, the
marginalia express a community's contempt for the outsiders.

In "The Master of Francois de Rohan: A Familiar French
Renaissance Miniaturist with a New Name," Myra D. Orth gives a
chronology of miniatures and woodcuts (Appendix) and discusses
some of the examples she ascribes to the Master of Francois de
Rohan.  Based on iconography (figures, architectural frames),
she argues for the artist's "Swiss or Germanic origin," and
speculates on the channels of influence: the presence of German
and Swiss woodcuts in Paris, close cultural interactions in the
period she describes (second quarter of the sixteenth century),
the migration of Swiss and German craftsmen to Paris.  The
chronology lists twenty three items, including details of size
and script or type face.

Nicole Reynaud's short contribution, "An Unknown Manuscript
Made for Philip the Good," discusses a prayer book, <i>LXV
oroisons de la tresamere passion de nostre benoit sauveur
Jhesucrist</i>, in the collection of the Bibliotheque
Municipale in Roubaix.  The article proposes a history of
provenance and date (around 1460), and discusses the
decorations: border on folio 4 and eight large historiated
initials with scenes of Passion; three rare examples of gold on
black ground, the rest camaieu on colored ground.  This is
compared to similar camaieu decoration, particularly in the
"Sforza" Black Book of Hours in Vienna and the Flemish Book of
Hours in Baltimore (Walters Art Gallery W. 190).  Reynaud
suggests that the outstanding gold on black camaieu historiated
initials are either specifically an early work of the Master of
the Black Book of Hours, or the product of the trend for
similar techniques (camaieu and grisaille), well defined
chronologically and geographically (Bruges, 1460-1470).  In
addition, Reynaud provides a full and subtle assessment of the
eight historiated initials, with comparisons of technique
within the manuscript and in the wider context of examples of
this type.

Pamela Tudor-Craig's article, "The 'Large Letters' of the
Litlington Missal and Westminster Abbey in 1383-84," links
decorations in the missal with architectural detail,
decorations, particular devotions, and other properties of the
Abbey at the time of Nicholas Litlington.  Like Sandler's
argument, this one is somewhat circular: the missal serves as a
means to interpret the earlier iconography of the Abbey, or
even hypothesize how lost or destroyed objects looked like,
while the necessary presupposition that there exists a close
relationship between the missal and its surroundings is being
argued on the basis of these same examples.  However, again as
in Sandler's case, the argument is detailed, and the number of
positive correlations may justify the leap of faith in the
logic.  The discussion includes, among others, the
reinterpretation, based on the evidence of the Missal, of two
North Transept spandrels; the identification of the relics in
the initial for the Feast of the Relics, based on the lists of
relics; the Ascension initial is linked to the relic tombstone
of the royal children; the Holy Cross and the Blessing of the
Salt initial, according to Tudor-Craig, represent the
furnishings (no longer extant) of the Abbey at the time of
Litlington.

Richard Marks discusses two Bedfordshire illuminated guild
registers, heeding Janet Backhouse's call for a serious study
of native English fifteenth and sixteenth century manuscripts,
"preferably by someone prepared to enjoy rather than to
despise" them.  Marks does not stop at the analysis, but rather
uses his research to hypothesize the social functioning of
these registers.  Among the strengths of this article are the
scope and objectives of research, congruous with the article
format; the collaboration with regional antiquarians; the
relevance to a wider set of issues in medieval studies.  The
surprise of finding so much wealth in a subject where one
anticipated limited interest, made it one of the most valuable
articles in the volume for this reviewer.

A similar surprise is offered in Ann Payne's "Sir Thomas
Wriothesley and his Heraldic Artists."  Her detailed account of
Wriothesley's activity includes the discussion of his
participation in the social, political, economic and
architectural fabric of London in the first quarter of the
sixteenth century.  Payne gives details on heraldic painters'
production, including the infrastructure which sustained it,
the processes through which it was carried out, and the social
consumption and significance of their products.  In the
appendix, she edits painters' bills relating to funeral
ceremonies connected with Wriothesley.

Mark L. Evans's extensive article focuses on Fouquet's Italian
connections, with details on Italian sources of his
iconography.  While the discussion of Fouquet's career centers
on the lost portrait of pope Eugenius IV, the article sheds
much light on questions of patronage and Fouquet's early years,
in the context of the political and cultural interaction
between France and Italy in fifteenth century.  The article
closes with an excellent argument for reevaluating the role of
Fouquet as an artist.  Through the analysis of Fouquet's self-
portraits, Evans argues for the French artist's investment in
the new, powerful stature of the artist advocated by the
Florentine humanist avant-garde.

Jonathan Alexander's contribution, "Illumination for Cardinal
Antoniotto Pallavicini (1442-1507)," reassembles a Missal whose
decorations are now present in the form of cuttings and
fragments in at least six collections.  Alexander traces in
detail the history of the Missal's dispersal, discusses the
illuminator's style, the sources of the iconography (which
allows him, among others, to narrow the date to 1506-7), and
closes with a tantalizingly brief reflection on subjectivity in
donor portraits: on one hand, increasing realism and "emphasis
on personal ownership;" on the other hand, limitations immanent
in the pious purpose of these representations.

Thomas Kren's "Landscape as Leitmotif: A Reintegrated Book of
Hours Illuminated by Simon Bening" reconstructs the
Munich/Monserrat manuscript, placing it in the context of the
demand for landscapes by the Peninsular patrons of Flemish
illumination in the first half of the sixteenth century.  This
substantial article cogently argues for the placing of the
detached illuminations, including two unusual themes:  the
Flood and the Creation of Eve.  Kren convincingly calls for the
recognition of Bening as a major artist, in the section
discussing his innovative use of landscape.  The article is
followed by a chart reconstructing the dismembered manuscript.

William M. Voelkle traces some of the unexplored pictorial
motifs in the Farnese Book of Hours (Morgan Library M. 69),
including in particular two preparatory drawings by Clovio
unknown to scholarship.  The publication of these drawings and
Voelkle's discussion of the patron's presence in the borders
justify Voelkle's call for more extensive study of this major
manuscript.

Christopher de Hamel discusses the "Rogers" leaf of the Hours
of Etienne Chevalier, and the ownership history of this and
other fragments of this superb work.  The article provides
extraordinarily complete details concerning the alterations to
the manuscript (opening with a delicious vignette on the
modalities of viewing the "Rogers" leaf at the British
Library), and convincingly argues that the Hours must have been
dismembered before the French Revolution, in the mid-eighteenth
century.  This, and the recent (1969) appearance of an
illuminated text bifolium, allows de Hamel to hope that the
"parent manuscript" will emerge.

James P. Carley examines Anne Boleyn's and her brother George's
patronage of French texts associated with the Reformation
milieu, focusing on two books: a version of Jacques Lefevre
d'Etaples's <i>Epistres et Evangiles des cinquante et deux
sepmaines de l'an</i> (1552-3), and his translation (with a
commentary based on Johannes Brenz) of the <i>Ecclesiastes</i>
(1553-6).  This article is interesting in a number of ways.  In
analyzing the (almost immediate) appearance in England of
bilingual versions of French pre-Reformation texts, it not only
elucidates Anne Boleyn's religious preferences, but also bears
on the role of the court in the cultural dialogue between
France and England during the Reformation.  Since these texts
appear in the form of manuscripts destined for personal
consumption by Anne and her circle, they cast the court in a
role both pioneering and limited.  As an analysis of
manuscripts based on printed books, the article bears on
aristocratic book patronage in the sixteenth century.  Carley's
attribution of the dedication from <i>Epistres et Evangiles</i>
to George Boleyn is irresistible in the light of his
substantial and detailed discussion.

It is obligatory for a Festschrift reviewer to deplore the
institution of Festschrift, a book whose only coherence is in
that the authors and the dedicatee know and like each other.
Attempts at coherence--imposing a theme, or arranging the
contributions in chronological or thematic order--always fail.
This, in turn, affects the individual essays, rich in analysis
but short on conclusions.  Such collections are at worst
inconsequential, and at best become a resting place for
valuable research which would be better set off in a theme-
oriented volume or a monograph.  This book is among the best
possible, and it is rich in valuable new findings.


                                >>> I love working in a library <<<
>>There's something to be said for working in a place bound in leather.<<

Peter D. Verheyen  <Email> mailto:pdverhey@dreamscape.com
<Webmaster: Book Arts Web>  http://www.dreamscape.com/pdverhey
<Listowner: Book_Arts-L>            mailto:Book_Arts-L-request@listserv.syr.edu

             ***********************************************
            BOOK_ARTS-L: The listserv for all the book arts.
      For subscription information, the Archive, and other related
            resources and links go to the Book_Arts-L FAQ at:
                  <http://www.dreamscape.com/pdverhey>
             ***********************************************


[Subject index] [Index for current month] [Table of Contents] [Search]