Diane Reilly

title.none: Owen-Crocker and Graham, eds., Medieval Art: Recent Perspectives (Reilly )

identifier.other: baj9928.0003.008 00.03.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Diane Reilly , Indiana University Art,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Owen-Crocker, Gale and Timothy Graham, eds. Medieval Art: Recent Perspectives; A Memorial Tribute to C.R. Dodwell. New York: Manchester University Press, 1998. Pp. xv, 253. $79.95. ISBN: 0-719-04992-X.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.03.08

Owen-Crocker, Gale and Timothy Graham, eds. Medieval Art: Recent Perspectives; A Memorial Tribute to C.R. Dodwell. New York: Manchester University Press, 1998. Pp. xv, 253. $79.95. ISBN: 0-719-04992-X.

Reviewed by:

Diane Reilly
Indiana University Art

In this book, editors Gale R. Owen-Crocker and Timothy Graham have designed a fitting monument to undoubtedly one of the most important twentieth-century scholars of English medieval manuscripts. From his first publications in the 1950s, Charles Reginald Dodwell's scholarship set the standard for studies in manuscripts as well as other fields, and still provides a foundation for anyone wishing to explore the painting and textiles of the Anglo-Saxon and Romanesque eras in England. Dodwell's first book, The Canterbury School of Manuscript Illumination (1954), for instance, is still fundamental to the study of English Romanesque manuscripts. His collaborative investigation, The St. Albans Psalter (1960), with Otto Pächt and Francis Wormald, was one of the earliest models for the multidimensional study of a single manuscript. Dodwell also amply demonstrated his mastery of the fields of medieval painting and associated media in other areas of Europe. His survey volume, published first as Painting in Europe 800-1200 for the Pelican History of Art in 1971, and revised for Yale as The Pictorial Arts of the West, 800-1200 in 1993, remains an essential handbook of manuscript and monumental painting as well as stained glass. In addition, Dodwell made many valuable contributions to other fields. His 1966 "The Bayeux Tapestry and French Secular Epic" is required reading on a subject matter seemingly studied to exhaustion. The same can be said of the controversial 1965 Reichenau Reconsidered, with D.H. Turner. Although the thesis of the book is by no means universally accepted, it must be acknowledged by anyone writing on the subject. The writings in Medieval Art: Recent Perspectives certainly pay tribute to many of C.R. Dodwell's areas of interest as well as some beyond the foundations laid by his own scholarship. It is surprising, however, that the primary focus of Dodwell's research, Anglo-Saxon and English Romanesque manuscripts, was not acknowledged with some sort of contribution.

The studies in Medieval Art: Recent Perspectives are, in general, organized chronologically. After an introduction to C.R. Dodwell's life and work, the next twelve chapters pay tribute to his scholarly achievements. Ten survey problems in art and architecture from the Anglo-Saxon through the Gothic periods. Two more look back on the art of the period from an historiographic perspective. A final essay, a look at Dodwell's critical work in rebuilding the Lambeth Palace library in the post-war years, acknowledges the scholar's other contribution to the world of knowledge, a lifetime of administrative duties, including, among his many other responsibilities, his posts as head of the History of Art department at the University of Manchester and director of the Whitworth Art Gallery. As a closing bracket to a series of scholarly investigations, this essay forms an unusual but highly appropriate inclusion in a festschrift in honor of such an accomplished and wide-ranging academic and administrator.

Although arranged chronologically, however, the studies can be more usefully grouped and evaluated according to medium and method. A stunning total of five chapters address issues surrounding the study of medieval textiles or the motif of spinning. Two chapters, Elizabeth Coatsworths "Clothmaking and the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon Literature and Art," and Jennifer Harriss "Estroit vestu et menu cosu: evidence for the construction of 12th century dress," valiantly attempt to overcome the difficulties presented by the battered remnants or lack altogether of material evidence. Both seek to understand several related issues: attitudes towards spinning, towards brightly colored or tightly fitting garments and towards changes in style of dress in the Anglo-Saxon and Romanesque periods. Coatsworth collects surviving Early Medieval depictions of the Annunciation and the Virgin Mary enthroned, as well as writings by Anglo-Saxon clerics about cloth, clothmaking, and religious metaphors related to both. She posits that the Anglo-Saxons were aware of the apocryphal description of Mary spinning at the Annunciation, and occasionally quoted visual models that included this motif. Nonetheless, they rejected the apocrypha and demonstrated ambivalent attitudes towards weaving and wearing of brightly colored fabric, leading contemporary artists more often than not to avoid showing this detail. Coatsworth's argument is complicated by the loss of most visual evidence from the period, forcing her to a seemingly negative conclusion; that the lack of a motif proves that the artists consciously decided not to include it, despite the fact that she illustrates at least three surviving Anglo-Saxon artworks that do depict spinning implements. Harris, faced with a similar paucity of evidence, attempts to reconstruct the reaction of twelfth-century men and women of fashion to changes in style of dress. Using evidence from surviving textile fragments and contemporary sculptures and paintings, Harris compellingly argues that the twelfth century was an era of adaptation. As it was not yet customary to tailor garments individually, tailors exercised their ingenuity in changing the older, loose-fitting, sack-like garments into the newly fashionable, tightly-fitted, figure-flattering tunics of the twelfth century. Handy closures such as buttons had not yet been invented, so clothing-makers adapted gores, lacing, pleats and the stitching tight of garments to the body to create form-fitting clothes. Visual comparisons to the earlier style of garment would have made this argument even more concrete.

Two chapters address that crucible of art historical methodologies, the Bayeux Tapestry. Peter Lasko, in "The Bayeux Tapestry and the Representation of Space," observes that seeming inconsistencies of size, placement and color in the depiction of figures, animals and objects were actually the designers attempt to represent depth. Lasko identifies one technique in particular, the representation of diminution into depth, and convincingly compares it with similar details found in the Old English Hexateuch, thus reinforcing what is fast becoming a scholarly consensus, that the Bayeux Tapestry was embroidered by artisans based in Southern England in the late eleventh century. Furthermore, as this technique was undeniably employed in antiquity but not in the intervening periods, Lasko argues that the creators of both artworks probably observed this technique in Late Antique manuscripts which must have then survived at Canterbury. Hampered by the lack of any existing antique manuscripts that display diminution into depth, Lasko rather surprisingly falls back on the long-outdated hypothesis that the late tenth-century Byzantine Joshua Roll, which displays the same use of multiple groundlines, was itself based on an ancient model. A copy of such a model, according to Lasko, must have been available at Canterbury, and inspired not only use of this technique but also the scroll-like format of the tapestry. The second chapter on the Bayeux Tapestry, Gale Owen-Crocker's "Telling a tale: narrative techniques in the Bayeux Tapestry and the Old English Epic Beowulf," instead approaches the embroidery from the viewpoint of the literary historian. Owen-Crocker skillfully identifies a variety of narrative arrangements in visual form, such as seeming divisions into chapters, binary, triple and cyclic structures, the use of supporting digressions in the story line, and ring structures. She connects these to their literary equivalents in Beowulf, for which Owen-Crocker accepts a dating in the late Anglo-Saxon era, thus almost contemporary with the Bayeux Tapestry. Owen-Crocker's discussion of the similarities in structure noted between the two works organically leads one to several questions about the design and manufacture of the tapestry which she neither asks nor answers. For instance, was this parallelism intentional? Does it signal that the tapestry's narrative is based on a pre-existing written or oral history? Are there contemporary works that exhibit similar structures from Northern France? If not, what does this tell us about the origins of the designer, as opposed to the artisans who created the tapestry? One final brief foray into the world of dress and textile is E.H. Gombrich's "An Islamic Motif in a Gothic Setting." Gombrich observes that a pattern of counterchange designs was repeatedly employed by the Salembeni in fifteenth-century frescoes of the Oratorio di San Giovanni in Urbino as a fabric pattern. While unique in fifteenth-century art, this design probably copies Hispano-Islamic fabrics then being imported from Italy, and testifies to the love of gothic artists for the exotic.

Two chapters deal with regional English schools of style in the Romanesque period. George Zarnecki's "The Romanesque Sculpture of the Welsh Marches," surveys carving carried out after the Norman takeover of Herefordshire, and the subsequent development of the "Herefordshire School," which he renames the "School of the Welsh Marches." Cogently separating the remaining sculptures in the area into lines of influence, he suggests that the strikingly international iconography of most are intimately tied to patronage. The first carvings were manufactured by sculptors imported by the ruling Norman families and are generally relatively simple. After the pilgrimage of Oliver de Merlimond to Santiago by way of Aquitaine, however, sculptures in the region adopted both French and Italian style and iconography. A sophisticated workshop roamed Herefordshire carrying out programs for a clientele of wealthy Norman landholders interested mostly in the secular pursuits of the warrior and hunter and happy to let hired masons design religious programs with occasional motifs inserted as nods to their interests. Like Zarnecki, David O'Connor's "Twelfth-century stained glass in Easby-Parish Church, North Yorkshire," despite its restrictive title, investigates regional style in the manufacture of a certain medium. O'Connor's study underlines the depressing treatment afforded medieval stained glass in England well into the twentieth century. This has left us very few surviving examples of glass from an era when, like their contemporaries across the channel, the Romanesque and early Gothic building boom provided English glassmakers many new opportunities to practice their arts. O'Connor draws the tiny but beautiful fragments of a once much larger program of glass from the parish church into the circle of Northern Romanesque wall, manuscript and glass painting centered around the cities of York and Durham, using primarily comparisons to the almost equally sketchy survivals at York Minster.

Two chapters discuss the iconography of gothic church interiors. In "The Unicorn on English Misericords," Christa Grössinger surveys the symbolism of both the unicorn and the wild man, drawing connections between carved versions of the theme and those found in contemporary drawings, prints and tapestries. Paul Crossly instead examines one church's choir as a Gesamtkunstwerk in "The man from inner space: architecture and meditation in the choir of St. Laurence in Nuremberg." Reconstructing a program of altar dedications, retables, relics, architectural sculpture and glass, Crossley sees the various axes of the church as defining a polyphonic conversation meant to be appreciated sequentially as an aid to meditation, an architectural rosary of sorts. Although no evidence for such devotional practices survives specific to Nuremberg, he convincingly sets this program within the religious climate attested by Late Gothic artworks, including those meant for devotion such as Andachtsbilder, and contemporary sermons.

A final three chapters deal with the later appreciation or reception of art from earlier periods. T.A. Heslop's "Late twelfth-century writing about art, and aesthetic relativity," explores the relationship between writing about authoritative artworks of the distant and not so distant past and its textual and visual models. Taking as case studies twelfth-century descriptions of three surviving artworks, Heslop amply demonstrates that despite the apparent accuracy of these descriptions by modern standards, they can't be taken at face value as simple responses to visual experience. Rather, the writers used these opportunities to express their concerns about contemporary artworks by echoing formulae borrowed from older textual models. Timothy Graham, in "Changing the Context of Medieval Manuscript Art," investigates a considerably more destructive form of appreciation. Archaeologically deconstructing a series of books owned by one sixteenth-century collector, Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker, Graham shows how some manuscripts were, in effect, cannibalized to refurbish or embellish other manuscripts more valued to the owner, a practice apparently relatively common among sixteenth-century antiquarians. Graham's suggestion that Parker's method was most lethal to outmoded liturgical manuscripts then being rejected by the reformed English church deserves closer attention. J.J.G. Alexander's chapter, "Medieval Art and Modern Nationalism," in contrast, takes Nikolaus Pevsner's "The Englishness of English Art," as a jumping-off point to question the old-fashioned assumption that style can be linked to national identity. Alexander does not restrict himself to modern approaches to nationalism. Rather, he gathers a series of twelfth-century texts and images to demonstrate that the idea of ethnically based allegiances was relatively alien to Europeans, who only began to identify ethnic groups through dress and hairstyle in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Only in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, apparently, did artists begin to depict foreigners with distinguishing skin colors. Groups instead identified themselves based on personal allegiances to leaders and geographic origin, demonstrated in art by the use of heraldic signs and by descriptive terms such as opus anglicanum.

Taken together, the essays included in this volume complement many of the issues studied by Dodwell in his own lifetime, if not building on the work he himself so ably carried out. The editors are to be congratulated for gathering together such a varied and thought-provoking series of studies, and producing such an attractive tribute to Dodwell's oeuvre. The production qualities of the book are generally excellent. A beautiful set of high quality color plates at the front of the volume is supplemented by black and white illustrations included within the chapters themselves. The book also includes a complete bibliography of published writings of C.R. Dodwell, and a useful if not particularly detailed index.