James Palmitessa

title.none: Jaritz, ed., Pictura quasi fictura (Palmitessa)

identifier.other: baj9928.9806.015 98.06.15

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: James Palmitessa , Western Michigan University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Jaritz, Gerhard, ed. Pictura quasi fictura. Die Rolle des Bildes in der Erforschung von Alltag und Sachkultur des Mittelalters und der fruehen Neuzeit. Series: Forschungen des Instituts für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der Frühen Neuzeit; Diskussionen und Materialen, No. 1. Vienna: Verlag Der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1996. Pp. 208. $350.00. ISBN: ISBN 3-700-12604-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.06.15

Jaritz, Gerhard, ed. Pictura quasi fictura. Die Rolle des Bildes in der Erforschung von Alltag und Sachkultur des Mittelalters und der fruehen Neuzeit. Series: Forschungen des Instituts für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der Frühen Neuzeit; Diskussionen und Materialen, No. 1. Vienna: Verlag Der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1996. Pp. 208. $350.00. ISBN: ISBN 3-700-12604-2.

Reviewed by:

James Palmitessa
Western Michigan University

This volume is the first publication in a new series presenting the round-table talks of the Institute for the Study of Material Culture of the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The purpose of the talks is to provide an informal forum where a small number of scholars representing different disciplines can come together to explore a topic of early European history through the lens of material culture. What is exceptional about the talks is that they bring together not only material culture researchers but also prominent scholars on a subject who may never have considered material culture sources or approaches before. This volume, named after a formulary of Isidore of Seville ("Pictura quasi fictura"), presents contributions of a round-table talk of 3 October 1994 on pictorial representation.

Gerhard Jaritz (Austria) opens the volume with a discussion of the "reality" of pictures. According to Jaritz, the portrait character of pictures -- the notion that pictures reflect reality -- has been taken too much for granted. Pictures should not be viewed as attempts to reproduce reality, but as archetypes intended for specific purposes, such as veneration, contemplation, or to evoke negative or positive responses. Jaritz states that images depicted in art can be useful in reconstructing the material culture of the past, but must be approached critically. For example, objects represented in art can be considered real, but not the depicted situations. Jaritz proposes a systematic computer analysis of objects depicted in art by region and period, a project that he is developing at the Institute for the Study of Material Culture.

Keith Moxey (USA) comments on theoretical concepts of the "reality" of pictures in art historical scholarship. Moxey states that the description of late medieval images as realistic has traditionally implied that the pictorial characteristics of such images coincide with our perceptual experience and that this coincidence was the most important representational goal of the artists. Moxey goes on to explain that this view has come under criticism from a number of fronts. Critics, such as Norman Bryson, Nelson Goodman, and W.J.T. Mitchell, have argued that realistic art relates not so much to the world it represents but to historical social and cultural forces that prompted artists to produce them. David Freedberg has boldly claimed that pictures possess a power to move us emotionally which is independent of the age in which they are produced. Moxey sides with the former, arguing that one must view late medieval realism not as reality per se, but as a "reality effect," a strategy adopted by a particular culture and age that deploys a realistic visual rhetoric to create a specific effect.

Nils-Arvid Bringeus (Sweden) introduces Swedish art, a subject that has been neglected not only in traditional European surveys, but, one is surprised to read, until the beginning of this century had been in Sweden as well. Bringeus argues that Swedish art particularly lends itself to ethnographic analysis. Images from wall frescoes, sculptures, and printed books, many containing Christian and Germanic themes, illustrate the distinctive, local character of Swedish art, but show, at the same time, that Swedish art also belongs to a larger European tradition. Concluding with remarks on the continuity of images, Bringeus asks: How long did the Middle Ages and Renaissance last?

A number of the papers takes up this issue. Norbert Schnitzler (Germany) studies changes in the veneration of religious pictures. Schnitzler states that throughout the Middle Ages the views of Christian theologians on religious pictures existed in a state of tension between idolatry on the one hand, and iconoclasm on the other; but in the late 14th and early 15th-century an intense debate took place, centered in England and Bohemia, which led to polarization of views on the subject. Although many theologians and church officials concluded that it was possible to pray to a saint through pictures and that pictures in churches are acceptable as long as they do not take away from the veneration of the Eucharist, dissenting voices argued that they indeed distract the faithful. These dissenters called for the careful removal of certain "objectional" pictures. Schnitzler says that this set the background for the violent iconoclastic acts of the Reformation, a few of which he surveys in the last part of the paper.

Wolfgang Schmid (Germany) examines the impact of the Reformation on Albrecht Duerer's "The Four Apostles," two panels containing representations of John, Peter, Mark, and Paul, and a small scroll of verses warning against false prophets and teachers. In 1526, at a high point of Reformation struggle in Nuremberg and a late point in his career as an artist, Duerer completed the panels and donated them to the city council of his native Nuremberg where they were placed in an antechamber of the city hall along with works of other local artists. Schmid states that the message of the images and the verses generally reflect Reformation ideals, but the panels should not be seen as a direct response to the Reformation because the imagery does not exactly address Reformation themes, and because the panels were conceived and begun long before the Reformation engulfed Nuremberg. For Duerer the completion of the panels came at an appropriate time, providing him with an opportunity to show his support for the Reformation and underscore his reputation for posterity. For the city council, the paintings served as a suitable addition to a "Civic Kunstkammer" which, according to Schmid, signals a new profane function of art.

Palma Martinez Burgos-Garcia (Spain) explores the content, function, and meaning of religious pictures in Spain during the 16th and early 17th centuries, the period of the Counter- Reformation. Garcia states that the Counter-Reformation revived the world of the senses and its relationship to the soul, renewing the important religious functions of art to provide examples, teach, and "excite" the spirit. In response to Ignatius Loyola's "Spiritual Exercises" emerged new genres, such as pictures in printed prayer books, and a new expressive style of painting ("imagines-tipo"). According to Garcia, this art presented not only new models for devotion, but also evoked new patterns of behavior. By gazing at religious art one could gain a deep religious experience through emotional identification with the picture, whereby one loses one's identity; or through imitatio, attempting to personally imitate the figure in the picture (imitatio).

Jean-Claude Schmitt (France) and Klaus Schreiner (Germany) study the historical textual and visual traditions behind two popular subjects of religious art: the legend of Santo Volto of Lucca and pictures of the breast-feeding Mary, respectively. The legend of Santo Volto is based on a 13th-century story of a French juggler who entered a church in Lucca and had a conversation with Christ on the cross, during which Christ presents the juggler with his sandal. Schmitt writes that elements of the legend can be found in biblical and post- biblical stories involving sandals, usually relating to Mary, and a Tuscan marriage custom involving the bride's sandal; and that the legend itself is the product of the joining of these elements, whereby the main figure is changed from Mary to Christ through a symbolic act of "religious transvestism." A similar process can be seen at work in representations of the breast-feeding Madonna. Schreiner states that milk and breasts had long traditions in the scriptures as theological metaphors, but the earliest images of Mary and the baby Jesus in early Byzantium did not involve breast-feeding but a simple lifting of Jesus from Mary's lap to her breasts. According to Schreiner, the transformation from lifting to the breasts to breast-feeding was an innovation of early medieval European society which drew on theological discussions claiming that Christ's early development after the divine conception took place naturally.

The volume ends with a methodological paper by Elisabeth Vavra (Austria) on the possibilities and limits of using pictures as sources for serial analysis, drawing on the preliminary results of a working project on images on grave stones and bequeathed panel pictures. Vavra provides a methodic approach to a complex body of data, examining the number and qualities of various bequeathed objects by estate over time. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of her statistical findings on color.

The papers hold together extremely well considering their diversity. The geographic diversity and broad periodic scope of the papers raise fundamental issues and questions about the relationship between regional and larger European pictorial traditions, the complex ways religious and artistic developments intersect, and continuity and change during the late Middle Ages and early modern period. Individual readers will have their own responses to the many methodological approaches presented. Historical anthropology will be welcome to some, while others will bemoan the absence of more traditional iconographic studies which have made important contributions to our understanding of realism. The use of art as sources for serial analysis may touch a nerve even in some proponents of material culture who see a need for studies of vernacular culture and a less sharp division between the vernacular and the "high," but who nevertheless acknowledge that some objects are exceptional. At the same time, the volume makes a convincing argument for the use of serial analysis of pictures to support (not replace) iconographic studies, and draws attention in a striking way to the large amount and wide variety of sources of vernacular pictorial culture that are yet to be identified and studied.

In the end, a fair appraisal of this volume should focus not on a comparison and contrast of its strengths and shortcomings vis-a-vis those of other approaches, but rather on its success in showing the contributions that the study of vernacular images and culture brings to our understanding of exceptional art (and vice versa), and the value of dialogue between practitioners of all approaches, methodological, disciplinary, and otherwise. Methodological disputes aside, the vast growth in the number of titles each year in history, art history, anthropology make interdisciplinary dialogue increasingly difficult. Readers of The Medieval Review will have to agree with Karl Brunner, writing in the foreward, that "[interdisciplinary] discussions such as these are even more important today, in a time in which all secure notions, especially in the methodological area, and formal means of communication are called into question." (p. 7).