Karen Gould

title.none: Friedman, Medieval Iconography (Gould)

identifier.other: baj9928.9904.018 99.04.18

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Karen Gould, Idependent Scholar,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Friedman, John B. and Jessica M Wegmann, eds. Medieval Iconography: A Research Guide. Garland Medieval Bibliographies, Vol. 20. New York: Garland, 1998. Pp. xxiv, 437. $95.00. ISBN: 0-815-31753-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.04.18

Friedman, John B. and Jessica M Wegmann, eds. Medieval Iconography: A Research Guide. Garland Medieval Bibliographies, Vol. 20. New York: Garland, 1998. Pp. xxiv, 437. $95.00. ISBN: 0-815-31753-0.

Reviewed by:

Karen Gould
Idependent Scholar

Medieval Iconography. A Research Guide is part of the series of Garland Medieval Bibliographies. Unlike many of the other bibliographies in this series which have a more specific focus such as a literary work, medieval iconography is a vast subject. It encompasses not only concrete representations from the visual arts in all media but also visual imagery that is described or evoked by verbal means in literature. During the Middle Ages, visual motifs in art and literature were used widely. Their scope includes the entire Christian tradition, much of the classical heritage, as well as the natural and imaginary worlds and objects and activities of daily life.

In addition to the encyclopedic nature of subjects, the methodology of iconographical investigation is complex. Two primary approaches come from the disciplines of art history and literary studies. The practice of iconography has a distinguished and erudite historiographical tradition. In recent years, like other methodologies of medieval studies, iconography has undergone re-examination and is being taken in new directions. The introductory essay by Brendan Cassidy to Iconography at the Crossroads (Princeton, 1993) presents some of the new approaches and interests in iconographical research. As he explains, the term "crossroads" was carefully chosen to express the idea of greater interdisciplinary interaction among such varied fields as art history, literature, history, musicology, and history of science and medicine and to indicate the widening scope of iconographical inquiry to include greater concern for the reception by audiences drawn from all social and intellectual levels and more openness to multiple interpretative viewpoints.

Therefore, a bibliographical research guide to the study of medieval iconography is much needed. However, the problems of large scope of subject matter, interdisciplinary expertise, and presentation of new methodological initiatives makes the compilation of such a guide very difficult. While Medieval Iconography. A Research Guide provides good access to sources on some topics, several problems limit its usefulness as a research guide that fully reflects both the scholarly traditions and expanding approaches to iconographical analysis.

This bibliographical research guide consists of a brief (4-page) introduction and list of abbreviations followed by two major parts. Part 1 is devoted to the tools of iconographical research. Chapter 1, entitled "Art," contains listings for resources to find visual representations drawn from all the media of the visual arts which form most of the subsections of this chapter with categories ranging from architecture, sculpture, painting, manuscript illumination, stained glass to the so-called minor arts of ivories, enamels, ceramics and tiles, brasses, jewelry. Additional subsections cover aesthetics, the antique heritage, female artists, and Anglo-Saxon art. Chapter 2 lists other tools such as medieval encyclopedias, sermons, and exempla as sources for imagery that might have influenced artists through direct or indirect access. Part 2 is organized according to iconographical themes. The chapter divisions are: "Learned Imagery" in Chapter 3, "The Christian Tradition" in Chapter 4, "The Natural World" in Chapter 5, and "Medieval Daily Life" in Chapter 6. An index completes this bibliographical guide. Entries are annotated and, in many cases, refer to reviews of the book under discussion. A number of items are cross-referenced. These commentaries enhance the usefulness of the bibliographical entries since they give a brief summary of the work and indicate information about the inclusion of plates, bibliography and other research aids.

Of the two main divisions, Part 2 is the more successful. Perhaps because iconographical themes are more specific and focused, it is more clearly organized, topics are easier to locate, and the entries are more complete. Because medieval iconography is associated primarily with Christian or classical themes, the last two chapters on the natural world and daily life are particularly valuable in bringing together a considerable amount of information that demonstrates the importance of these topics in medieval iconography. The natural world includes animals, birds, plants, stones, geographical features of the landscape, and the seasons. Daily life covers the body, clothing, household furnishings, food and eating, magic, music, madness and marginal groups to name some of the key topics. With such a varied number of themes almost any reader could think of additional references. For example, the entries about marginal groups deal primarily with Jews and lepers. Inclusion of studies about representations of blacks would be a worthwhile addition. One useful reference is Jean Devisse, The Image of the Black in Western Art. II: From the Early Christian Era to the "Age of Discovery" (New York, 1979).

In Part 2, Chapters 3 and 4 on "Learned Imagery" and "The Christian Tradition" appear more selective. However, these topics have been extensively covered in a number of iconographical handbooks and reference works. Even so, some additional themes could be mentioned. For instance, iconography associated with some of the monastic orders especially the Cistercians, Franciscans, and Dominicans was important in the later Middle Ages. For the New Testament, more infancy cycles, the life of Christ, and the Passion could have been included. Works such as Isa Ragusa and Rosalie B. Green, Meditations on the Life of Christ: An Illustrated Manuscript of the Fourteenth Century (Princeton, 1961); James Marrow, Passion Iconography in Northern European Art of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance (Kortrijk, 1979), and Thomas H. Bestul, Texts of the Passion: Latin Devotional Literature and Medieval Society (Philadelphia, 1996) are just a few examples of sources that would add to this aspect of New Testament iconography. In Chapter 3 on "Learned Imagery", "Queenship" is one category under "Topoi and Specific Figures", but there is no corresponding category on kingship where a number of works such as Anne D. Hedeman, The Royal Image: Illustrations of the Grandes Chroniques de France 1274-1422 (Berkeley, 1991) could be cited. There is a category about "Aristotle Ridden by Phyllis or Campaspe" but nothing on visual imagery connected with Aristotle's works as discussed by Claire Sherman, Imaging Aristotle: Verbal and Visual Representation in Fourteenth Century France (Berkeley, 1995). Also not included is a category on the Liberal Arts.

Other more fundamental problems affect the usefulness of this bibliographical guide as a whole. First, the bibliography lacks a clear presentation of the historiographical traditions of medieval iconography and its methodological approaches. Chapter 1 on "Art" includes two sections, "General Reference" and "Iconography." Both of these categories include representative works that engage the concept of iconography from various viewpoints. However, these sections give little sense of the history of the discipline. Missing are works by key scholars such as Erwin Panofsky, Aby Warburg, Ernst Robert Curtius, or Rosamond Tuve. Except for Panofsky, some of the works by these scholars are found in Part 2 on iconographical themes, but these isolated instances do not convey their contributions to the method and theory of iconography. Two important works that could be mentioned are Erwin Panofsky, Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character (Cambridge, MA, 1953) and Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (repr. Princeton, 1990). Admittedly, for medieval iconography, in particular, these scholars did not always leave published theoretical expositions of their methods and concept of iconography. However, recent historiographical research such as the work of Michael Holly on Panofsky or E.H. Gombrich on Aby Warburg has begun to analyze their contributions, and it would have been helpful either to include some of these studies under the general heading of "Iconography" or to have added a section on the history of the discipline. In addition, some recent work on the theory of images and literary iconography is omitted such as Hans Belting, Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art (Chicago, 1994) or V.A. Kolve, Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative (Stanford, 1984).

Another problem is chronological coverage. The entries in this bibliographical guide lean toward the later medieval period, after 1200. Chapter 1 includes a category on "Anglo-Saxon Art," and there are some entries for Carolingian and Romanesque manuscripts and a few on art in other media from these periods. Overall, however, entries for the early Christian, early medieval, Carolingian, and Romanesque periods are sparse, especially in the monumental arts of architecture, sculpture, wall paintings, and mosaics where the most significant visual statements, particularly of Christian themes, occur. The listings for wall paintings, for example, do not include studies of major cycles, particularly from France and Italy, before 1200. Similarly, monumental sculpture is under-represented. This problem becomes apparent when the reader locates specific themes in Part 2. One example is the "Last Judgment" where three entries deal with specific aspects of this subject (two are on the fifteen signs before doomsday). Even cross-checking entries in Chapter 1 on "Art," the user of this guide would have some difficulty finding the major representations of the Last Judgment in monumental sculpture and painting from the Romanesque period along with the considerable body of iconographical analysis of these images. The limited number of entries for the Carolingian period is unfortunate from the standpoints of both literature and the visual arts because one outstanding characteristic of Carolingian iconography is a complex interplay between word and image that is at the heart of the iconographical enterprise.

In the introduction, the authors state their hope that this bibliographical guide will serve as a resource for the researcher "whom we envision as the advanced undergraduate, the graduate student, or the literary scholar challenged by a complex visual idea" (p. x). For some of the specific topics and themes, especially on the natural world and daily life, and as a general guide to some basic iconographical reference works and published catalogues of medieval manuscripts, this bibliographical guide is quite useful. However, some of the omissions, the uneven chronological coverage, and the lack of attention to methodological foundations present difficulties for scholars and especially for students without background in the theory and practice of iconographical research.