Christine Havice

title.none: Kelly, The Exultet in Southern Italy (Havice)

identifier.other: baj9928.9801.005 98.01.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Christine Havice, University of Kentucky,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Kelly, Thomas Forrest. The Exultet in Southern Italy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Pp. xvi, 352. $95.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-195-09527-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.01.05

Kelly, Thomas Forrest. The Exultet in Southern Italy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Pp. xvi, 352. $95.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-195-09527-8.

Reviewed by:

Christine Havice
University of Kentucky

"Exultet iam angelica turba celorum..." begins the blessing sung by the deacon as the bishop lights the Paschal candle during the Easter vigil on Holy Saturday. The two-part text of the Exultet appears in a number of medieval liturgical books -- missals, rituals, graduals, pontificals, processionals and lectionaries -- but it is in its solo appearance in the vertical rotulus format, the Exultet roll, that we know it most distinctively. As Thomas Forrest Kelly reminds us in the preface to his authoritative The Exultet in Southern Italy (hereafter TESI), art historians (of which this reviewer is one) have been the primary group to whom these often highly decorated rotuli have been of interest. However, a series of studies over the past twenty- five years, mostly on the part of Italian historians and palaeographers, have made these manuscripts available to a wider circle. Kelly uses his preface to set the historiographic context of the Exultet roll through the 1994 exhibition and catalogue, Exultet: Rotoli liturgici del medioevo meridionale[1], which not only reproduces complete facsimiles of all the surviving Exultet rotuli but also provides ample technical information on each. Thus the way was prepared for a consideration of the Exultet within the broader context of its text, music, liturgical use, and manufacture. Such a synthesis, embracing all surviving Exultet texts in southern Italian liturgical codices as well as rotuli, dating from the tenth through fifteenth centuries, is the aim of TESI.

Exultet rolls are a southern European, and in fact Italian, phenomenon. Kelly argues that, as the capital of the southern Lombards, the city of Benevento played a key role in what emerges as the Lombard -- southern and Milanese -- contribution to the origin of the Exultet itself. His prize- winning monograph on The Beneventan Chant(1989) led the author to examine all 55 manuscript witnesses to 58 texts of the Exultet (summarized in Table 1) and to offer a detailed summary of its multiple facets in a series of topically organized chapters that he suggests can be read more or less independently, as individual interests dictate. And in fact, I found myself better prepared to tackle chapter 4, "The Music," after skipping ahead to the chapters on the miniatures (5), the liturgy (6), and, most important, those on the manufacture and use of the Exultet rolls (7) and Kelly's conclusions (8). Chapter 1 introduces the Exultet ritual and the main features of the Exultet roll, although the author assumes that his reader has some familiarity with the material and omits some basic definitions that might have made the book more accessible from the outset. Kelly's second chapter, "The Rotulus," summarizes the current state- of-research on the development of medieval texts in that format and then focuses on the contexts and uses of rotuli in the liturgy, drawing important insights from Byzantine as well as western European practice. He brings to the discussion a range of external evidence, as well as rubrics and images in the surviving rolls themselves. As part of the case he builds for the key role of Benevento in the creation of the Exultet roll, Kelly concludes this chapter with the transcription and discussion of a portion of an inventory of rotuli from its Biblioteca Capitolare, of 1430-35 (29). This extract serves the dual purpose of giving the reader direct evidence of the range of precision with which the late medieval librarian described books and their formats and of supplying a primary-source context within which Kelly then zooms in on the Exultet roll as a subgroup.

Chapter 3, "The Texts," holds the key to understanding the rest of Kelly's treatment of the Exultet and is paradigmatic of what he does best: It opens with a full side-by-side Latin transcription and English translation of the two parts of the Exultet, the Prologue and then the Preface, this latter known in two distinct versions, the Beneventan and the Franco- Roman. That the author keeps this critical primary text right where he needs it, in his exposition, rather than moving it to an appendix as one might be tempted for the sake of form, emphasizes that this is a text that every reader needs to be familiar with in order to proceed; and that he provides both the full Latin transcription and the English translation indicates a generosity that indeed makes this study available to a wide range of interested readers (and that would include advanced undergraduates without Latin -- we know how valuable parallel translations can be as pedagogical devices). In fact, throughout TESI, Kelly liberally interlards the text with most useful tabular summaries of data on or from his source material. My only quibble regarding them is directed to the book's designer, who might have distinguished more clearly the beginnings and endings of these tables: The first several times a table begins overleaf (for example, on pages 8, 32, and 48), and particularly when tables run several pages long, the reader finds the text rather abruptly interrupted with no indication of where it resumes. On the other hand, the author has divided each chapter into labelled sections and subsections that aid the reader in following the major elements of Kelly's argument. These function less well when framed as rhetorical questions, as in chapters 5 and 8 -- which I found most difficult to follow in terms of coherence of argument -- but are prompted, as Kelly alerts us in his preface, by the awareness that the study's very scope makes guideposts essential for readers willing to venture into disciplines beyond their own, a willingness essential to appreciating Kelly's main points.

Which main points are, as I understand them, that the southern Italian Exultet roll belonged to the bishop -- as did so many other liturgical books in rotulus format -- and that when the images on it are inverted with respect to the text, this was done to permit the bishop, seated or standing a short distance away, to view them upright while the deacon sings the benediction. Kelly's recontextualization of the Exultet roll as an episcopal book, closer to the pontifical or the sacramentary than to the missal, grows out of many detailed observations about the ritual accompanying the blessing and is fully convincing. Not only, he points out, were a large number of the surviving Exultets originally created explicitly for bishops or for use in the cathedrals in which the rolls are still preserved (198), but also reconstruction of the Holy Saturday ritual itself makes this clear: The bishop first blesses the new fire, then goes to light and touch with chrism the Paschal candle, while the deacon performs the benediction (a most unusual task for a deacon). Subsequently, the bishop returns to read the blessing of the baptismal water. Kelly postulates that these sequential liturgical events meant that the bishop would hand off the roll to the deacon before moving to the candle to light it; now the bishop's deputy, the deacon sings the Exultet from the roll; and then the bishop would reprise the roll to lead the benediction of the waters (197). Kelly finds additional support for such a conclusion in the fact that the mid-eleventh-century Bari Exultet [[1]] once was attached to a complete benedictional. The Exultet roll typical of the XI-XIIth centuries contains text, musical notation, and sometimes ornamentation for the Exultet alone and would have come into use, according to Kelly's proposal, to solve the problem of trading a single rotulus back and forth from bishop to deacon and then back to the bishop.

Other features of the Exultet rolls -- their decoration, the large scale of the script, the occasional elaborate picture cycles prefixed to their openings, even the fact of the unusual rotulus format -- Kelly understands as expressions of the solemnity of the Easter vigil in which they were used and of episcopal dignity, and he adduces other luxury episcopal books as parallels. The music of the Exultet is written out, he suggests, because it is sung by the deacon only once each year (191), and one of his rather surprising but inescapable conclusions from analysis of the relationshiop between text and music is that the deacon himself, or at least someone familiar with musical performance, probably wrote out many of the surviving Exultets (192-193). In chapter 4, Kelly compares music in rolls from different localities and in a series of rolls executed for a single city (Bari) to make observations on the nature of medieval musical elaboration and to raise questions of interest to music historians and other students of manuscript production, such as whether such variations constitute record of a particular performance or a broader "change of writing habit" (112, 114). Kelly commands a wealth of detail and resists the temptation to overgeneralize, noting larger patterns but recognizing, too, how differences in locality, tradition, scribal practice, and destination play themselves out in varying combination among individual manuscripts. The synthesis of these multiple observations comes with chapter 7 on "Making and Using Exultet Rolls." The evidence and reasoning here are so tightly interwoven that I recommend the reader simultaneously consult the 1994 Roman catalogue for its reproductions.

It is Kelly's painstaking observation of the Exultet in its manuscript manifestations, along with his ability to make sense of the many differing kinds of data offered by each, that makes TESI particularly valuable. His first Appendix (212-262) in essence presents us with a systematized summary of his notes on all the southern Italian Exultets included in the study, providing for each extensive physical description, dates, history and provenance, and notes relevant to manufacture, as well as individualized bibliography. Here he lays out careful analyses that will have to be taken into account as art and social historians write the complete story of how medieval scribes and illuminators worked. For example, he notes of the missal Vatican Ms. Ottob. Lat. 576 that "a certain amount of non-standard grammar and case endings ... suggest aural transcription ... but the copying of the line "ille inquam" twice is really a visual error: so perhaps the Exultet at least is made by an illiterate scribe copying an aurally transcribed document." (259) This kind of manuscript detective work, resonant of archetypal Holmes and Wimsey, evokes considerable admiration, and Kelly's detailed observations, along with two further appendices containing several editions of the Exultet and related texts, make TESI a rich mine of data and no less valuable synthesis, for which we can thank Kelly's generosity and Oxford's editorial wisdom in including them.

In some ways, Appendix 1 is far more rewarding than some of the exposition in the chapters, which exposition has to be worked over several times before yielding its full sense. Away from his most familiar turf (music and text), Kelly writes with the connnections in his head but less regularly apparent to the reader, a familiar shortcoming of those long immersed in their subject and one that an active editor might have coordinated and subordinated away. The author knows his manuscripts so well that he sometimes cites them ambiguously or inconsistently -- references to "Avezzano, Archivio Diocesano" and "Avezzano, Curia vescovile" for example, invoke a single rotulus, but only a careful reading of the relevant entry in Appendix I resolves the doubt -- and does not regularly provide the reader with the chronological references that would help to reveal relationships and historical context (I found it helpful to mark his Table 1, "Texts of the Exultet in sources related to southern Italy, in roughly chronological order," as I continually referred back to it as one of the 58 Exultets was cited). A somewhat more substantial criticism lies with what was certainly an unintended slipperiness of terminology -- particularly when the author discusses "The Pictures" in chapter 5 -- that suggests differentiation where in fact none seems intended: In discussing the vexed matter of images which the artist inverts with respect to the direction of the text, Kelly describes them as "reversed" (126), "inverted" (127), or "oriented opposite to the main text" (126), without making it explicit that he uses the terms synonymously. Apart from the fact that not all Exultet rotuli do invert their images and some rotuli invert some but not all images, there are also Exultet rolls that invert not just single images but an entire series of them (usually collectively construed as frontispiece to the Exultet text) in such as way that both individual images and the sequence of their presentation are inverted (that is, they are both "upside down" and "read" in the direction opposite that of the Exultet text itself). This is the case of the eleventh-century Pisa Exultet [[2]] from Montecassino, which seems to have been hung "upside down" with respect to the Exultet text, in order that its inverted frontispiece, a series of Christological scenes, be displayed throughout the year (129). Such inversion is also why readers new to Exultets may be disconcerted by some of the black-and-white reproductions in TESI, which reproductions at first glance appear to have been printed "upside down" with respect to their miniatures (but not their text). On occasion in this fifth chapter, the art historian wishes for a little tighter reign on terminology and methodology (for example, including both images and non- representational decoration under some broader chapter heading than "pictures"; using "initials" as a subset of "letters" [121]; or distinguishing "headpiece" from "frontispiece" [126]). Such fuzziness represents a minor problem but one that creates avoidable ambiguity.

Kelly explains the motive for inverting some, but not all, Exultet miniatures in a context of the development of the rotulus format from the tenth century onward. He dismisses the commonplace that the inverted images were meant for "the people" to see, demonstrating that the people were too far away and the lighting in the church too dim (200-202); and he also shows that the spacing of the components of most rotuli does not permit a beholder to view an image over the front of the ambo at the same time as the relevant text is sung out (202-203). This fact eliminates the simultaneity claimed for visual and aural experience, what some enthusiasts had identified as the first "talking pictures" (200). These conclusions seem well-founded. On the other hand, it is not altogether clear from the organization and labelling of some of sections in chapter 8 what Kelly finally understands as the function of the images, beyond increasing the luxury of the rotulus. He rejects the suggestion that scenes of the celebration of the Exultet, a prominent feature of many of the rotuli, were meant to be viewed during the celebration of the Exultet itself, on the grounds of redundancy (203), and asserts that such scenes served as teaching models, parallel to Belting's conclusions for liturgical scenes in a Xth century pontifical.[2] Yet Kelly subsequently claims that (apparently all) images are inverted for the bishop's viewing during the Exultet ritual (205). Then he examines images depicting the bishop during the Exultet ritual to conclude that they represent the bishop looking at the miniatures on a rotulus (206), despite the fact two pages earlier he argued (ex silentio, in fact, based on a representation of a rotulus lacking miniatures) that "if seeing the pictures were important, [the artist] might have found a way to represent the act of seeing the pictures" (204). I doubt that Kelly's conclusions are in fact as contradictory as the exposition here and wonder whether some late editorial intervention in this final chapter underlies some of these inconsistencies.

In spite of these objections and a few typos that weren't caught, the work under review constitutes a magisterial contribution, a synthesis the scope of which would daunt many scholars. Kelly's erudition is reflected in his extensive bibliography: He slights none of the disciplines involved, from what I could judge by the art historical and manuscript sources, and he repeatedly provides insights useful to many, insights too numerous to list here. Measured by the aims the author set for himself in the preface, The Exultet in Southern Italy succeeds handsomely in providing a much broader and more satisfying understanding of that distinctive liturgical book and, as well, offers a wealth of description, analysis, summary, primary source material, and cross- reference that will facilitate its fuller integration into medieval studies.


1. Edited by Guglielmo Cavallo, Giulia Orofino and Oronzo Pecere (Rome: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato).

2. "Schau- und Lehrbilder fuer die liturgische Praxis," in Studien zum beneventanischen Malerei (Wiesbaden: 1968).