Béla Zsolt Szakács

title.none: Baragli, European Art (Béla Zsolt Szakács)

identifier.other: baj9928.0801.016 08.01.16

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Béla Zsolt Szakács, Central European University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Baragli, Sandra. Translated by Briad D. Phillips. European Art of the Fourteenth Century. Art through the Centuries. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2007. Pp. 383, 400 color illustrations. ISBN: $24.95 (pb) ISBN 13: 978-0-89236-859-4, ISBN 10: 0-89236-859-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.01.16

Baragli, Sandra. Translated by Briad D. Phillips. European Art of the Fourteenth Century. Art through the Centuries. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2007. Pp. 383, 400 color illustrations. ISBN: $24.95 (pb) ISBN 13: 978-0-89236-859-4, ISBN 10: 0-89236-859-4.

Reviewed by:

Béla Zsolt Szakács
Central European University

This eye-catching book is the third volume of a series entitled Art through the Centuries, published by The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Previous volumes covered the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, thus this is the first one dedicated fully to medieval art. The original, Italian version dates from 2005 and was published by Electa, in Milan. Therefore the conception of the volume goes back to the Italian original. This book represents a new type of art historical books--if we can call it art history at all, since history is rather neglected. The book does not contain a main, narrative text but falls into brief chapters not linked to each other directly. These chapters are arranged according to keywords, places and artists.

Certainly, the chosen periodisation of the series, presenting art from each century, permits no traditional art historical discussion. The fourteenth century is not a stylistic unit. 1300 and 1400 do not divide artistic periods at all. High Gothic was still flourishing in the first decades of the 14th century while 1400 is right in the middle of International Gothic. That can be the reason for presenting many issues from the thirteenth century (the art of Rome is illustrated by the duecento works of Cavallini and Torriti on pages 254-55, Strasbourg and Cologne by thirteenth-century pieces on pages 166 and 174, the role of the architect by two representations dated to the late 13th century on pages 60-61, the woodworkers by a miniature of 1270 on page 106, etc.), and quoting sources from the previous century (e.g. a nice text from Ramon Lull, page 29; descriptions of Venice and Bologna, pages 223 and 227). Some works of art are wrongly dated to the 14th century (e.g. the Saint Francis cycle of Assisi, which is probably not intentional although it appears twice, pages 13 and 18). Since the author mentions that "Thomas Aquinas, a member of the Dominican order, was a very important figure of the 14th century" (page 40), at least his biographical dates (1224/5-1274) should have been given. On the other hand, pieces from the 15th century are also included, such as an Arras tapestry (35) or all the quoted works of Konrad von Soest (330-31).

Instead of a historical discussion, the author presents selected problems from the 14th century. The first part, dedicated to keywords, is an overview in an associative order. The first item in this enumeration is the term Gothic. In fact, she does not give a definition of the style but circumscribes its chronological (starting with 1140 but ending when?) and territorial limits (starting in France, reaching England, Spain, and Germany--nowhere else?). Mentioning the periodisation of this long-lived style, the different national traditions (French, English) are taken into consideration, arriving at a period which is truly international (1370/80-1430). Instead of describing and classifying the stylistic periods, the author focuses on different social groups and their locations. Thus the next key words present the city, the palace, and the castle. The two ends of this chain are missing: on the one hand, there is no village, although significant and typical works of art were created there. On the other hand, a separate chapter could have been dedicated to the court, which was so significant in the period (see, for example, page 144). Not only kings and princes played important role in artistic commission but queens too, especially the great widows such as Jeanne d'Évreux or Elisabeth of Hungary (wife of Charles I of Hungary from 1320, mother queen between 1342 and 1380). Nevertheless, the role of women is explained in a separate chapter although the representation is somewhat schematic.

Among the key words one can find more related to the secular world than the sacred, which is a real tendency of the 14th century, however, beside the mendicant orders (38-42) other concepts (e.g. reform movements of the church, devotio moderna) could have been also included. Writing about Rome, the presence of the pope should not be overemphasized since it was not typical in the given century (16).

Other key words are dedicated to artistic genres, such as those of the applied art and manuscript illumination. These chapters present rich material and rightly underline the importance of the "minor arts" in the period. The author quotes miniatures frequently, selected not only from the best known examples. Seemingly she is well informed in this field and can include such amazing manuscripts as those of the Tacuinum Sanitatis (pages 36, 72, 214; unfortunately the type of the manuscript is explained as late as page 218). Italian manuscripts dominate the quoted examples, however, the importance of less known branches are also mentioned (e.g. in Lorraine although without illustration, page 152). Architecture, the still leading genre of 14th-century art, is naturally well represented, too. However, smaller mistakes can be found. The statement that "all such early architectural drawings have been lost" (60) is surprising, since a beautiful example is reproduced on page 62. The jubé is known not only in France, Germany, and Flanders (151) but all over Latin Europe. The cathedral of Prague has seemingly not a Hallenchor (which is correctly defined on page 183) but a basilical structure. Regarding the hall choir, one of the most striking lacunae of the volume is the complete omission of the Münster of Schwäbisch Gmünd, a ground breaking building of the 14th century.

As the last item of this series of key words, one iconographic term is described. The author chose the Vesperbild or Pietà (pages 114-15) which was undoubtedly a typical and important innovation. Other iconographic terms are also present in the subsequent chapters, such as the Beautiful Madonna (page 152), the Crucifixus Dolorosus (page 165, image on page 177), and the Madonna of the Vine (170 and 172), however, their definition is not always satisfying. The explanation of single pictures is also a good opportunity for iconographic discussion (e.g. the lower half of a panel painting on page 175; the upper part is not explained). Sometimes the iconographic identification is questionable, e.g. in The Entombment of Simone Martini (358) a crying woman is erroneously called Mary Magdalene since she has no halo.

The second part of the book is dedicated to artistic regions. This is the most traditional part of the volume and offers the most systematic overview of the art production of the 14th century. Each chapter concisely presents the political situation and the major artistic characteristics of each region. Regions are grouped according to countries: England, France, the Holy Roman Empire, the Iberian Kingdoms, and Italy are included. Lorraine, although it belonged to the Empire, is discussed under France, while Strasbourg, also a French city in recent centuries, is correctly attached to Germany. Italy is presented by its towns, the other countries by regions (only London, Paris, and Avignon are given separate chapters). The most extensive part is dedicated to Italy (11 chapters) while the Empire (with Bohemia and the Netherlands) has 7, France 6, England and Hispania 3-3 chapters. A new and exciting discovery is the importance of Catalonia. In the Iberian part (13 pages), six pages are dedicated to this region, and further four to Majorca which formed part of the same kingdom before 1276 and after 1349. Other regions of Iberia are presented laconically (Castile) or omitted. Another geographical unit emphasized in this book justly is the Czech Kingdom, being an extremely flourishing artistic center during the Luxembourg dynasty. Smaller mistakes indicate that the knowledge of this region is still not deep enough in the West. E.g. the cathedral of Prague was not intended to be a palace church at all, it was the seat of a bishop from 972 (188); Karlstejn Castle is not in Prague but 26 km to the south-west (pages 25 and 187); and the commissioner of the Vyssí Brod cycle was not a "Romzberk" but a Rosenberg or Rozmberk (page 190).

While the presence of some underrepresented regions is rewarding, the geographic narrowness of the book is disappointing. If it really intended to present the "European Art of the Fourteenth Century," it could not exclude such territories as the Orthodox world. Europe is more than its western part and the artistic movements (especially in Italy) cannot be understood without the splendid Byzantine production of the period (see the exhibition of "Faith and Power" in the Metropolitan Museum of New York). Even if limited to "Western art," i.e. the Latin part of Europe, one cannot neglect such vast territories as Scandinavia, the Baltic countries, or East-Central Europe. Not only the recent enlargement of the EU calls attention to these so far unknown territories but the richness of the artistic production of Poland and the Kingdom of Hungary (including Croatia and Dalmatia) urges further exploration. Bohemia represents only one, although brilliant, part of the great 14th-century flourishing of East-Central European art which was presented for international public in grandiose exhibitions e.g. in Fontevrault (L'Europe des Anjou, 2001), Budapest and Luxembourg (Sigismundus Rex and Imperator, 2006). The only presented piece from these countries is the Saint George statue in Prague (189). The authorship of this work of art is debated but attributing it to the Parler workshop seems improbable while the (lost) inscription connects it to Martin and George. The caption does not mention that these were brothers from Kolozsvár (at that time part of Hungary, today Cluj-Napoca in Romania) who were not merely casters, since other (destroyed) statues of theirs are known from the Hungarian Várad (Oradea).

The third major part of the book enumerates the leading artists of the century. They are presented in alphabetical order (to which we shall return), which makes this part a lexicon rather than a didactic introduction. Similarly to the previous two parts, a thematic grouping (such as Giotto and his pupils; Catalan artists) would be more instructive for the ordinary reader. The majority of the artists are from Italy: 22 of the 40. Their presentation is more detailed (Simone Martini in 8 pages, Duccio in 7 pages) and here one can find some lesser-known names too (e.g. Jacopo Avanzi, Puccio Capanna). This reflects tendencies in recent research which are very profitable.

All these pieces of information are presented in a specially designed form. As the back cover of the book explains, each chapter consists of a short text not longer than one page, a brief description at the beginning (frequently well-selected quotations), and further essential information in the margin. These three types of texts are intended to be the most condensed; therefore in some cases they repeat the same basic information (e.g. header: "While the 14th-century castle continued to function as a fortified building with defensive structures, it was increasingly a noble residence as well;" margin: castrum "indicates a fortified structure intended for defense but sometimes for habitation as well;" main text: "Throughout Europe, the 14th-century castle provided not only security but also comfort. These were elegant, sumptuous, richly decorated residences, whose defensive military purpose was often concealed behind their civil function," 23).

The second part of each chapter contains some well-selected images with explanation. The pictorial part of the book is abundant and high-quality (with one exception on page 181). All of them are in full color (with the exception of an image on page 285 which repeats the color picture of page 216). Almost all the works of art mentioned are depicted (a noticeable exception on page 256 which describes the back side of the altar without illustrating it). The selection of the illustration is careful and beside well-known key-works less famous but fascinating pieces are also included. As a result of the richness of the illustration, pictures related to one and the same artist or subject appear in different chapters. In these cases a direct reference would be very useful; however, this method is rarely applied. The frescos of the town hall of Siena are often quoted and the cycle of Ambrogio Lorenzetti is depicted completely (pages 14-15, 70, 336) but only the last caption refers to page 14.

The explanatory texts are connected to the relevant part of the images by subtle lines. This can be a helpful didactic tool (although hurting the integrity of the image), however, the usage of it is contradictory. Frequently a considerable part of the information cannot be connected directly to one or another part of a picture; in these cases the lines are pointing arbitrarily to somewhere. E.g. there are five statements about Westminster Hall (129), of which two cannot be connected to concrete parts, two are correctly pointing to the relevant elements and one, related to the statutes, is attached to the floor (!). Other cases are misleading, e.g. the description of the windows of the apse in the Santa Maria Donnaregina in Naples is connected to the western entrance (259), or explaining the iconography of the falling idols is attached to a town in the background (287). The strangest case is a picture on page 177 where the lines are pointing to the black background. On the other hand, it could have been really of great use, e.g. in the explanation of such complex pictures as The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas by Andrea da Firenze (42). The arrangement of the explanatory text is naturally determined by these lines, which makes sometimes the order of information confusing (e.g. 46).

This aspect seems to be typical for the volume in general. It is designed to be very didactic and laconic, however, the fragmented text became repetitive and disordered. The lack of a main line cuts the structure of the book into small, independent pieces. Thus it is rather a kaleidoscope of the rich world of 14th-century art than a tool for understanding it.

The lack of historical analysis is only partially counterbalanced by the chronology which is grouped together with the index of artists in the appendix. The handling of the index is not easy since this is the transitory period between the usage of Christian name to family name. Therefore Andrea Pisano is found under A and Jan Boudolf under J but Bernardo Daddi and Mathieu d'Arras are placed under D. A third possibility is to order the artist under M as Master (e.g. Master of Rieux but also Master Theodoric; Isaac Master is at I). Some of the artists named in the text are missing from the index (e.g. the brothers Martin and George [of Kolozsvár], page 189, or Guy de Damartin, 21). In the case of the Master of Wittingau the German name version was preferred, while the Master of the Vyssí Brod Cycle (alias Master of Hohenfurt) is named in Czech. Nevertheless, the index is very useful, since the same master is often mentioned several times (Simone Martini has 7, Giotto 11 references). Other indexes could have been equally practical, such as an index of place names, iconographic subjects or historical persons. A map of Europe would have also been informative. A brief list of further readings could have been added, too. Even if the basic structure of the series cannot be changed, such smaller additions would ameliorate considerably the use of the next volumes among which others related to the Middle Ages are awaited with great excitement.