Shelley Wolbrink

title.none: Cannon and Vauchez, Margherita of Cortona and the Lorrenzetti (Wolbrink)

identifier.other: baj9928.9911.001 99.11.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Shelley Wolbrink, Drury College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Cannon , Joanna and Andre Vauchez. Margherita of Cortona and the Lorrenzetti: Sienese Art and the Cult of a Holy Woman in Medieval Tuscany. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. Pp. xiv, 275. $80.00. ISBN: 0-271-01756-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.11.01

Cannon , Joanna and Andre Vauchez. Margherita of Cortona and the Lorrenzetti: Sienese Art and the Cult of a Holy Woman in Medieval Tuscany. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. Pp. xiv, 275. $80.00. ISBN: 0-271-01756-2.

Reviewed by:

Shelley Wolbrink
Drury College

"How did they do that?" This is the question posed most frequently by my students as they ponder a postcard of Margaret of Cortona hanging on the outside of my office door. Clothed in purple, her body seemingly intact despite having died in 1297, Margaret's visual image draws immediate responses from students puzzled by this "modern" depiction of a medieval saint. Was she embalmed? How did she become a saint? "Is this for real?" they ask.

For scholars in need of ready responses to these questions, the book Margherita of Cortona and the Lorenzetti: Sienese Art and the Cult of a Holy Woman in Medieval Tuscany, by Joanna Cannon and Andre Vauchez, provides a useful overview of Margaret's life. But the intent of this interdisciplinary work goes beyond a mere retelling of another saint's story. In this study, the life of Margaret is explored within the social context of artistic renderings and the production of a cult of civic sainthood in the centuries following her death. Detailed analyses of a panel painting, her tomb relief, and a fresco cycle allow the authors to draw contrasts between the written Franciscan account of Margaret's life and these previously unstudied visual depictions of a later period. In doing so the authors place Margaret of Cortona within a much broader context--that of the town of Cortona--and especially Cortona's civic religiosity as it strove to remake Margaret from an uncanonized lay saint to an "official" papally-authorized saint, a project finally successful in 1728.

Despite producing a co-authored account of the life and visual depictions of Margaret of Cortona, the book is clearly divided along the lines of scholarly interests. In two opening chapters and a conclusion, Vauchez offers an analysis of the life of Margaret, relying primarily on the early-fourteenth century Legenda and more recent Italian interpretations. As Cannon admits in the acknowledgements, the bulk of the writing was her responsibility, although she credits Vauchez for his unfailing "support and participation throughout the project." In twelve additional chapters, Cannon provides an exhaustive analysis of all the architectural monuments and artwork that relates to Margaret and her cult, including the provision within the book of over 200 plates that clearly demonstrate the historical importance of these illustrations in shaping the larger civic memory of this lay saint.

Vauchez' discussion of the politics and religion of Cortona and the life and cult of Margaret provide a useful introduction to the subject, especially since specialists unfamiliar with Italian will benefit from his heavy coverage of Italian research on Margaret, Cortona, and other religious within the Italian countryside. His contribution is not a particularly lengthy one (the first two chapters number only twenty-three pages in a book over 250 pages long), nor does he place Margaret within the general context of European sainthood; however, these chapters would prove beneficial in a college course on the lives of saints or Italian religious. In particular, Vauchez offers an illuminating discussion of Margaret's Legenda, as drawn up by her confessor Fra Giunta Bevegnati soon after her death, and of the growing civic cult that developed almost immediately and continues up to today with the display of Margaret's body by the Commune of Cortona.

The examination of Margaret of Cortona is not limited to the Legenda. Positing that visual depictions offer significant primary sources for historians, Cannon examines the surviving fragments and frescoes of artwork that relate to the life of Margaret, particularly a lost mural cycle that has been kept alive in a series of seventeenth-century watercolors. In this endeavor, Cannon explores at length the churches of Cortona and the burial places of Margaret, arguing that the changing notions of how and where her body should be displayed indicates "a move toward commemorations of a markedly civic character." (54) Several chapters are dedicated to an exploration of the mural depictions of the church of St. Margherita, in which Cannon reveals the continuing need to attribute possible authorship of these murals to the Lorenzetti brothers despite the recent challenge by Daniel Bornstein. How does the artwork differ from the Legenda? She claims that "while the Legenda provides a guide to the inner life of asceticism, penance, mysticism, and reclusion, the frescoes propose the outward life of a good citizen and member of the Third Order, assisting members of many parts of the community in life--and after death." (212) It is this final argument that allows historians--typically stuck on the written word--to make valuable use of the visual image, especially when attempting to reveal the intersection between the people of Cortona and the cult of Margaret long after her death.

This book has obvious significance for art historians; it is a book that details "the arguments for the art-historical importance" of the lost murals. The authors hope that "students of artistic style, narrative style, narrative painting, hagiographical iconography, workshop organization among fourteenth-century painters, or of the history of civic cults, of female sanctity or of the spirituality of late medieval women--will have access to this rich material, previously little known or largely unpublished." (8) Scholars of sainthood and historians of religion will no doubt savor the pages of this oversize book, yet they should be aware that its exhaustive analysis and detailed descriptions of the remaining visual images of Margaret targets a more specialized audience. Although smaller, student-oriented libraries like my own might wish to consider spending the money elsewhere, this is a book that larger research libraries should purchase. It clearly details the role that art played in creating a saint worthy of the commune of Cortona and eventually even of the papacy.