Anne Derbes

title.none: Weiss, Art and Crusade in the Age of Saint Louis (Derbes)

identifier.other: baj9928.9908.016 99.08.16

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Anne Derbes, Hood College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Weiss, Daniel. Art and Crusade in the Age of Saint Louis. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Pp. xxiv, 279. $85.00. ISBN: 0-521-62130-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.08.16

Weiss, Daniel. Art and Crusade in the Age of Saint Louis. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Pp. xxiv, 279. $85.00. ISBN: 0-521-62130-5.

Reviewed by:

Anne Derbes
Hood College

In this superb volume, Daniel Weiss offers a compelling account of two major monuments associated with the great French king, Louis IX. The first is the king's palace chapel, the Sainte- Chapelle in Paris; consecrated in 1248, it remains one of the most spectacular buildings in the world. As every student of medieval art knows, the building was constructed to house Louis's great treasure, a group of Passion relics, the most famous of which was the crown of thorns. The second subject of Weiss's study, if less celebrated than the Sainte-Chapelle, is no less intriguing: a lavish manuscript known as the Arsenal Old Testament (Paris, Bibliotheque de l'Arsenal, MS 5211), produced at Acre, capital of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, almost certainly for the king while he was on crusade (1250- 54). The structure of the book reflects this dual focus: Part I consists of four chapters on the Sainte-Chapelle; Part II, again four chapters, is devoted to the Arsenal Old Testament.

As Weiss demonstrates, the chapel and the manuscript share not only a patron but much more. The stained glass of the Sainte- Chapelle includes an extensive selection from the Old Testament, illustrating many of the books that appear in the Arsenal manuscript; the organization of the cycles is similar, and so, too, is much of the iconography. Furthermore, both the chapel and the manuscript are fascinating amalgams of France and Byzantium. The Arsenal Old Testament is stylistically and iconographically a hybrid of east and west, typical of crusader art (as the pioneering work of Hugo Buchthal, Kurt Weitzmann, and Jaroslav Folda has shown). But Weiss demonstrates that the Sainte-Chapelle, usually considered a quintessential example of French Gothic architecture, is in fact also a kind of hybrid: as he states, "the innovative conception of the shrinelike interior finds close parallels in Byzantine imperial art" (30). Most strikingly, Weiss points to a Byzantine palace chapel, a chapel of the Boukoleon palace in Constantinople, which was also known as the "Holy Chapel" [Sainte Capele], and which had housed the very Passion relics that Louis would acquire.

But the most important link between the Sainte-Chapelle and the Arsenal Old Testament is their common ideology. Weiss makes a powerful case that both monuments give visual expression to Louis's most fervent desire: to unite "the kingdom of France with that of David and Solomon through a great holy war" (3). Contemporary accounts make explicit the notion of France as a new Holy Land and the Franks as the new Chosen People. Fittingly, then, Louis--both as a tireless sponsor of buildings and as a wise ruler ("Ludovicus Justus")--became known as a new Solomon. Associating the king with the biblical ruler may, in fact, have been a brilliant act of self-promotion; as Weiss asserts, "the identification of Louis as the 'new Solomon' was not merely a flattering epithet; it was a carefully constructed identity orchestrated most likely by the king himself" (55). Whatever its origins, its implications for art at the court of Louis are compelling: as Weiss demonstrates, Solomon figures prominently in both the Sainte-Chapelle and the Arsenal Old Testament.

Weiss meticulously examines the Sainte-Chapelle in Part I of his study ("Structuring the Ideal"). In the first chapter, he reviews the construction history of the chapel, then makes telling comparisons to two architectural precedents, both themselves palace chapels: the Norman ruler Roger II's Capella Palatina in Palermo and Charlemagne's chapel in Aachen. As Weiss demonstrates, both of these earlier structures included thrones that were based on the six-stepped throne of Solomon. He next argues that in constructing the Sainte-Chapelle, Louis took these ideas farther: the king intended "to create in architecture a Christian and Capetian equivalent to the building complex of King Solomon in Jerusalem" (31).

The third chapter, "Solomonic Kingship and the New Temple," details Louis's identification with Solomon and the ways this idea was made manifest in his palace chapel. Weiss persuasively asserts that the Sainte-Chapelle must have been one key to Louis's strategy, for the liturgical center of the chapel--the tribune and baldachin--clearly evokes both thirteenth-century painted images of Solomon's throne (a fresco in Gurk Cathedral, a miniature from the Verger de Soulas) and the crusader Templum Salomonis, the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem that crusaders had traditionally called the Palace of Solomon.

In Part II, "Recording the Experience," Weiss turns his attention to Louis's four years in the Holy Land and to the manuscript produced there, the Arsenal Old Testament. After reviewing Louis's catastrophic losses, humiliating capture, and release, Weiss examines Acre as a cultural center and especially as a center of manuscript production. He then takes up the Arsenal Old Testament; Hugo Buchthal's seminal work on the manuscript is his necessary starting point, but Weiss moves the analysis to a new interpretive level. The illuminations, three of which are illustrated in color here, consist of twenty frontispieces; seventeen of the twenty are divided into a series of narrative scenes, but three contain full-page images all portraits of King Solomon. The text, he notes, is "highly selective and idiosyncratic" (112), and reveals a "significant preoccupation. . . with the Old Testament conquest of Palestine and the kingship of David, and especially of Solomon" (108).

Before considering the Solomonic frontispieces, Weiss lays the groundwork with a careful consideration of the production of the full pictorial cycle (chapter 6), examining both the Gothic and the Byzantine sources of the images. This section is in itself fascinating; art historians increasingly understand that our old notion of "Byzantine influence" in fact masks a far more complex phenomenon, and nowhere are the complexities more interesting than in crusader art. Weiss stresses the heterogeneity of the miniatures, arguing that they stem from a "conscious manipulation of a vocabulary of visual elements derived from Byzantium, Islam, and the Latin West" (117). He then proceeds to a close analysis of the sources, both Gothic and Byzantine, that must have been available to the Acre illuminators, and he is able to identify them with remarkable precision. A major Gothic source must have been something much like a moralized Bible now in Oxford, and Weiss offers a plausible scenario in which this very manuscript was commissioned for Louis to take with him on crusade (147-50). Byzantine sources were more diverse, but must have included works similar to the Vatopedi Octateuch and the Paris Psalter. Again, Weiss presents a plausible argument for the availability of manuscripts close to these or rather, images copied from them in Acre. We know that works like these were in Constantinople in the thirteenth century, perhaps in the hands of the Latin Emperor, Baldwin II, Louis's cousin; we know, too, that an itinerant member of the Acre workshop was also in Constantinople, for he produced the remarkable Franciscan frescoes in the Kalenderhane Camii published by Cecil Striker. It may well be, as Weiss proposes, that this painter sketched selections from these Byzantine manuscripts while in Constantinople, then returned to Acre (151-53).

It is in the following two chapters (chapter 7, "Pictorial Language in Crusader Painting," and chapter 8, "The Search for Meaning: Biblical History and the Ideological Paradox") and in the Conclusion that Weiss turns to interpreting the impressive material that he has amassed. He considers the full pictorial cycle, grouping the frontispieces thematically: creation; the covenant with the Jews; holy war; holy women; the mysteries of faith; kingship. Some of this, such as the emphasis on warfare, is unsurprising. But parts are especially intriguing; I found the images depicting loss, and Weiss's analysis of them, poignant in the context of Louis's devastating reversals. For instance, Weiss notes the presence of the Sacrifice of Jephthah's Daughter in the Judges frontispiece, observing that "in this case, a leader of the Chosen People is granted victory with divine assistance, but not without great loss" (161). Poignant, too, are the frontispieces to Job and Tobit in which "pious and faithful men are tested by substantial hardship" (169).

The most important section here, though, is the discussion of the three frontispieces of Solomon (180-86). Full-page portraits rather than the narratives seen in the other frontispieces, these "clearly disrupt the narrative rhythm of the pictorial cycle" (180). Unquestionably they confirm Louis's extraordinary preoccupation with Solomon, but they do more than that; Weiss asserts that "these highly complex and iconographically rich portraits hold the key to important aspects of the manuscript's function and meaning" (180), and he goes on to demonstrate precisely that. Though the portraits are at first glance very similar, Weiss skillfully delineates subtle but significant differences. Like the rest of the images in the manuscript, the portraits of Solomon incorporate elements both Gothic and Byzantine, and now Islamic as well, and the heterogeneity is very likely purposeful. Each of the three portraits depicts the king with a boy seated or standing beside him; the gesture and stance of the boy differs in each, and as Weiss demonstrates, those differences point to French, Byzantine, and Islamic images or customs respectively. Weiss concludes: "By implication, then, . . . the illuminator has subtly alluded to the three dominant cultures that constituted the polyglot crusader community in Acre" (184). Weiss later points to other references to the Moslem presence in Acre-- camels drawn from life, the friends of Job wearing the garb of Palestinian Jews--but he considers these "geographic signifiers" (193), rightly pointing out that "the pictorial language that was constructed from these disparate cultures. . . clearly privileged the art of the Christian world and accorded special prominence to that of Byzantium" (194).

This elegantly argued study, then, offers a highly convincing interpretation of a central architectural monument of Gothic France, an equally convincing reading of a crusader manuscript of the first importance, and a penetrating analysis of the elements stylistic, thematic, and ideological that unite them. Any book as thoughtful as this one will inevitably suggest avenues for future research, and some of the most intriguing questions prompted by the Arsenal Old Testament concern gender. Weiss notes a number of striking or anomalous elements in the Judith, Esther, and Ruth frontispieces (166-68); perhaps the most arresting is the image of Judith, brandishing the severed head of Holofernes as the now liberated citizens of Bethulia kneel at her feet. Images like these have important implications for some of the manuscripts produced later at Acre, which raise analogous questions about gender construction in the crusader court. Indeed, the very richness of this material, and the sophistication of the arguments here, are certain to stimulate new interest in the extraordinary art of the Latin Kingdom. Art and Crusade in the Age of Saint Louis is essential reading for anyone concerned with Capetian history, Gothic art, or the history and culture of the crusades.