Janet Snyder

title.none: Rudy and Baert, eds., Weaving, Veiling, and Dressing (Janet Snyder)

identifier.other: baj9928.0805.003 08.05.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Janet Snyder, West Virginia University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Rudy, Katherine M., and Barbara Baert. Weaving, Dressing, and Veiling: Textiles and their Metaphors in the Late Middle Ages. Medieval Church Studies, v. 12. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007. Pp. xx, 364. $125 $125 978-2-503-51527-4. ISBN: 978-2-503-51527-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.05.03

Rudy, Katherine M., and Barbara Baert. Weaving, Dressing, and Veiling: Textiles and their Metaphors in the Late Middle Ages. Medieval Church Studies, v. 12. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007. Pp. xx, 364. $125 $125 978-2-503-51527-4. ISBN: 978-2-503-51527-4.

Reviewed by:

Janet Snyder
West Virginia University

Weaving, Veiling, and Dressing is a welcome addition to the list of recent publications foregrounding the significance of textiles in monuments of Western art. For many in the West, textiles remain marginalized as women's work, decorative, and of secondary value. This interdisciplinary anthology will be welcomed by scholars as a fresh approach to a significant aspect of material culture of the Middle Ages. The editors have brought together the work of ten authors who write about text and textiles, sculpture and ritual, and iconography and material culture. While each of the ten concise and erudite scholarly articles examines a number of specific monuments, their authors draw upon art history, anthropology, medieval text history, theology, and gender and performance studies. The anthology essays are very accessible to a broad range of readers and readings. The essays are useful for their compelling evaluations of significant known works and also previously rarely-seen material. Their new interpretations are founded upon solid understandings of conventional readings of these kinds of images. The editors' introductions of these eminently- accessible papers make this a particularly appropriate introductory text to be used to foster the discussion of late medieval and Renaissance European visual culture among non-experts. The textile metaphors--clothing, veiling, unveiling, weaving, stitching, binding, threading, swaddling, shrouding--are grounded in images, texts, and events that are solidly documented with extensive discursive notes and illustrations. The authors present challenging and new elucidations of material long considered secure in its oblivion--terra cotta altarpieces, tomb sculpture of children; manuscripts interleaved with silks; undergarments, undressed martyrs, and clerical costume.

For medievalists who skirt the edges of manuscripts and sculpture, an insurmountable roadblock concerning textiles normally arises because essential images are not available. Brepols and these editors resolved this difficulty by publishing 101 figures and eight color plates. Nearly every image named in an essay is presented in the book. The reader is able to engage with the authors' ideas because, even in soft black-and-white photos, the essential content of the figures is legible. The language of textiles and dress has been emphasized and defined. Many exceptional illustrations--clearly and concisely cited-- from works housed in extraordinary manuscript collections illustrate cogent, original arguments. Quotations from medieval texts are rendered both in the original language and in English, providing access to the images in their contemporary contexts for a broad spectrum of readers.

The anthology begins with an excellent introduction built on metaphors of sight: the open book, the curtain pulled back, the experience of revelation, and this use of metaphors continues through the book. Kathryn Rudy's essay stands out, gracefully engaging the reader with methods and ideas of the essays to come, calling them part of a three- act miracle play. The nine essays introduced by Rudy through a fascinating series of images from the Utrecht Pontifical are assembled into the three sections of the book: "Weaving," "Veiling," and "Dressing." Each of these sections is briefly previewed by Barbara Baert who offers tantalizing glimpses of the contents of the three essays to come. One of the unforeseen pleasures of this book is its delicious use of language: clearly the words were chosen as carefully as one might select luxury textiles, and the reader is provided with a sumptuous experience throughout. Textile metaphors infuse each essay: the authors "tease out" meaning from the images and texts in ways that present the reader with understandings of the ritual and ceremonial uses and functions of textiles and represented textiles in various mediums.

In the first section, weaving is equated with creation, while the metaphors for manuscripts and illustration--skin (parchment) and fabric (decoration)--compare with human beings clothed with skin and fabric. The essays examine the intersection between the textiles and manuscript paintings and prints, and the rosary is central to the first two essays. Anne Margreet As-Vijvers demonstrates the rosary's affiliation with the activities of weaving in late fifteenth-century manuscripts and prints. In her consideration of feminine devotion and feminine visual culture, Hanneke van Asperen looks at allegorical uses of textiles and addresses the material nature of the sewn-in woodcuts. In her essay, Margaret Goehring extends beyond the established associations of luxury goods in manuscript paintings, and concerns the reader with the symbolic value of textiles, raising new issues about the representation of textiles in Franco-Flemish manuscript illumination.

In the second section the authors consider how the nature of veiling protects, conceals and reveals. Aspects of theology, iconography, and devotion are central to these arguments. The essays each demonstrate contemporary beliefs: as the veil of the invisible Father, the image of the visible Son leads to the Father. Linking symbolic meaning with actual sewn-in textiles, Christine Sciacca guides the reader through the use of woven tissues such as bound-in silk for conservation of precious materials to their more important devotional purpose: to ensure the intensity and intimacy of meditation. In an essay considering late medieval and early Renaissance altarpieces and miraculous images, Victor Schmidt breathes life into images of curtains. The real or imagined veil, outside the painting or altarpiece, once intended to protect the monument, moved inside the picture as part of the movement toward depiction of "realistic" space. At the same time that Schmidt's essay is about images of Christ, it considers how the exaggerated opulence of the represented textiles and the idea of pictorial unveiling call attention to the nature of painting. Barbara Baert's essay reiterates the anthology's division into sections, calling them fibre, veiling/unveiling, and investiture. The association of textiles with women's dress extends beyond a cloth covering to the choice to uncover. She stresses the symbolism of veiling in the reception and perception of the body of the martyr Agnes of Rome. For Agnes, it is a hirsute veil that signals divine revelation through mystical union. Baert extends the symbol of Agnes, the lamb, to the papal pallium woven of pure lambswool.

The final section begins with the reasons for dressing and extends to how clothing differentiates the clothed, concluding that the clothed person anticipates the Resurrection of the Dead and life everlasting. In an anthropologically-oriented essay, Philine Helas considers the social and devotional function of clothing of the poor in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italy. Using a series of murals, the nature of the gifting of clothing by Saints Martin, Catherine of Siena, and Margaret of Cortona are explicated. Once again, the lexicon of dress is central: the act of donation, handing over one's clothing, was synonymous with joining a religious order with its promise of eternal life. Margaret Bayless analyzes text and panel paintings to apprehend the meaning of the interaction between clothing and the notion of sin. Since the body was divided into four zones, an exhibitionistic display of the body was a sign of impiety. Painters of scenes of the Passion made moral character visible: the vile torturers of Christ are slovenly and obscene in their negative zones, revealing their vice and culpability. In a carefully structured essay, Sophie Oosterwijk appraises the semantics of the textiles of the rites of passage, at the beginning and end of life. Through evidence in texts, illustrations, archival sources, dating, and archaeological findings, the significance of the Chrysom, that white linen of newborn innocence and hope everlasting, is sorted out. The essay clarifies the forms and materials used for shrouds and swaddling bands and reveals how these textiles transmit meaning based on social expectations.

This volume presents a wide variety of new approaches to significant material, using textiles as a means to access an understanding of the many shades of meaning in the European Middle Ages.