Mark Johnson

title.none: Emerick, The Tempietto Del Clitunno Near Spoleto (Johnson)

identifier.other: baj9928.9907.006 99.07.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Mark Johnson, Brigham Young University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Emerick, Judson J. The Tempietto Del Clitunno Near Spoleto. Pittsburgh: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998. Pp. xiv, 446. $105.00. ISBN: 0-271-01728-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.07.06

Emerick, Judson J. The Tempietto Del Clitunno Near Spoleto. Pittsburgh: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998. Pp. xiv, 446. $105.00. ISBN: 0-271-01728-7.

Reviewed by:

Mark Johnson
Brigham Young University

When I agreed to review this book, I figured I was in for a quick read and and a few quick lines dashed out on my Mac. After all, how much could one say about a building known as the 'Little Temple' that is only 4.50 by 11.00 meters in plan and has no contemporary documentation? As I soon discovered, one can say a lot.

This study had its origins in a Ph.D. dissertation completed twenty-five years ago and represents the author's continued fascination with and exploration of a very interesting structure. In this version one finds a big weeping willow of a book, full of limbs, branches, shoots and leaves. Not content to limit the study to the particulars of the building itself, Emerick begins each chapter with a discussion of every detail of the Tempietto and then meticulously traces and compares numerous related examples from the first century B.C.E. to the twelfth century C.E.

The book begins with a straightforward description of the building. This is followed in the next chapter by a lengthy (57 pages) review of the literature regarding the building, the kind of thing which one might expect in a thesis or dissertation, but which could have been drastically shortened for the purposes of this book. A short review of the significant issues concerning the Tempietto would have sufficed. The discussion of the written records in Chapter III could also have been edited to touch upon only the salient points, as could the trotting out of every drawing and early photograph of the building in Chapter IV. Their real value is in demonstrating changes to the building and this could have been done in a focused discussion of those written records and images that supply information in that regard. Other chapters consider the structural history of the building, its reconstruction, its use of the Corinthian order, the tympana, the inscriptions, the frescoes, and finally the date of the building, all written in painstaking detail. For example, the chapter on the orders contains a lengthy discussion of the use of the Corinthian order from the Augustan period down to the twelfth century; that on the tympana has an equally long discussion on acanthus and neo-attic scrolls and acanthus whorls covering the same period; the chapter on the frescoes includes, among other things, a long review of Thomas Mathews' book, The Clash of Gods; that on dating contains a detailed historical account of the Duchy of Spoleto.

The fame of the building derives from the fact that at first look, it appears to be a classical Roman temple, later converted for use as a church. The author demonstrates, as others have before him, that the Tempietto was in fact built as a Christian building. Emerick also shows that there were two building phases, the first resulting in a simple one-room rectangular structure, the second adding the apse and front and lateral porches with their classicizing architecture and decoration. While every scholar has seen the building as evidence of a classical revival, Emerick argues first that it is different from classical temples in possessing lateral porches and having a facade rising from a parapet and, second, that its design actually consists of components which had been long in use in churches before it was erected. "People living in Europe between about the fourth and end of the twelfth centuries," he writes, "would have found the Tempietto .. a normal, even a conventional sort of Christian structure." (p. 347) In the first case, while it is true that no known Roman temple has lateral porches, there is a close parallel in the rostrum temple type, not mentioned by Emerick, which has lateral stairs and a front facade rising from a parapet (see Roger Ulrich, The Roman Orator and the Sacred Stage: the Roman Templum Rostratum (Brussels, 1994)). While it is also true that other churches use classical orders, neo-attic vine scrolls, and 'Augustan' lettering in inscriptions, when taken in their totality, the components of the Tempietto make up a structure that does look like a classical temple, and not like the standard basilica found in Europe in this time period. One would be hard pressed to find another example of an early medieval church of this form. No early Christian church to my knowledge was built in the form of a temple, a fact that could be construed as evidence that Christians deliberately avoided the type because of its pagan associations. In fact, the only other churches in the early middle ages that looked like temples were, in fact, temples that had been converted into churches. This phenomenon, which occured in Italy from the sixth century on, might indeed have been one of the influences on the design of the Tempietto, though Emerick makes no mention of it.

The models for the building seem to have come from the late first century B.C.E. The architrave, cornices, and lettering find their closest parallels with Augustan monuments. The author points out (p. 193) that there was a slightly post- Augustan Arch of Drusus and Germanicus at nearby Spoleto, which seemingly might have been a significant influnce on the Tempietto, but it is barely mentioned and much more space is given over to Augustan monuments in Rome.

The chapter on the building's inscriptions contains detailed discussion of the lettering and its prototypes and related examples from the usual broad framework. Emerick rightly points out that the three inscriptions are invocations to God, but claims that prayers do not usually appear on the exteriors of buildings. This may be true for the early medieval Latin west, but appears to be a common enough practice in the Byzantine east. Truth be known, this is a topic which has not received much attention from scholars, though some extremely interesting findings and observations have been made by Amy Papalexandrou ("Byzantine Monuments and Their Inscriptions: Reading, Speaking, and the Participatory Experience," Byzantine Studies Conference. Abstracts, 24 (Lexington, 1998), 32-33). Given the Byzantine rule of Italy in the sixth century and the continued Byzantine influence in the art of Rome and the paintings of the Tempietto, there may well be a connection worth exploring in further detail.

The sanctuary of the Tempietto is decorated with frescoes, restored in 1983-85. The tiny apse has panels depicting Peter and Paul flanking a small aedicula; the conch contains an image of Christ, while medallions with busts of angels and a cross appear on the upper wall. E.'s discussion of the iconographical prototypes of the images leads to the conclusion that all of the images are derived from familiar iconic images and are, indeed to be seen as icons. This is easy enough to accept in the case of the panels of the two apostles, because they have been given frames and appear as panels hung on the wall. There is not a valid reason to see the other images as icons, even if the specific iconography of the angels and of Christ may ultimately derive from iconic protoypes. These are nothing more than an expression of the common practice of depicting Christ and his angels in the apse found from the early Christian period on. What is surprising here is the lack of a detailed stylistic analysis of the paintings, which may be as important a clue to dating the monument as any other. There seem to be some close parallels with the some of the frescoes in Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome, but nothing is made of them.

One of the large questions concerning the Tempietto is its date, with previous scholarship placing it anywhere from the fourth to the ninth century. Throughout the book are numerous references to possible dates. One (p. 205) says it could date between A.D. 312 and 1333 (when the building is mentioned in a document); another (p. 271) concludes that the whorls found in the sculpture would date the building to c. 450 to c. 900. The culminating chapter deals with the issue and draws attention to three likely periods: 600-729, 729-779 (both periods corresponding to Lombard rule), and after 779, during the period of Frankish domination, and Emerick suggests possible scenarios for all three. Emerick claims to have established a late seventh or early eighth century terminus post quem for the construction of the building, arguing that the 'icons' would not have been used before that time and that the political conditions in the Duchy of Spoleto were not right until then. In short, the evidence of the building's form, its architectural details, its inscriptions and frescoes can supply nothing but a broad date, anywhere from c. 670 to c. 820. An appendix describes what might be the most promising avenue for fixing the date of the Tempietto's construction. Lime mortar, such as that used in the building, absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide as it sets and so the carbon in it can be dated by the C-14 method. Lime mortar from the building yielded the following dates: Phase One dated to A.D. 712 ± 34 years and Phase II to A.D. 658 ± 55 years. Though one would expect Phase II to postdate Phase I, the yielded dates permit a scenario in which Phase I was begun after 678 and Phase II completed by 713, a period corresponding with the terminus post quem argued on other grounds.

Two final points should be made. Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I feel that a scholarly tone and correct grammar should still have a place in art historical writing. The numerous "I's" and "we's" seem more appropriate for a classroom lecture, or better, an on-site tour. This informal, chatty style of writing is supposed to engage the reader, but it can become irritating as in phrases like 'the figure on our left' (my left?) or, in introducing a long quotation (p. 343): "Listen to how Kitzinger summed up ...." (Listen?!). There is also the occasional split infinitive. And far too many sentences begin with conjunctions. I don't let my students write this way and am left wondering how active a role the editor had in producing this book. The lack of a bibliography, which would aid the reader and have allowed the author to do away with long complete citations in the footnotes, is a further disappointment.

Second, after 425 pages of text, still unanswered is why the Tempietto's builders chose this particular design. It is not a commonplace architectural type for a church built in Italy during the seventh-ninth centuries, as a discussion of Lombard/Frankish architecture, here lacking, would have shown. While the author's argument (p. 422) that "forms do not have meaning; people put meaning into them," is well taken, the reader is ultimately left wondering about what possible meaning was intended by the builders in the choice of this architecture.

I am left with mixed feelings about this book. I admire the amount of work, solid research and clear explanations that have come from following every branch and limb connnected with this subject. The book will remain the definitive encyclopedia of information on this building for a long time. Too often, however, the discussion becomes so removed from the Tempietto, that one must seriously question the editorial decision to not pull out the shears and trim the extended discussions back. The reader interested in the Tempietto itself will find that this is a book that could have dealt effectively with its topic in a much more economical way.