Thomas Dale

title.none: Hourihane, Image and Belief (Thomas Dale)

identifier.other: baj9928.0109.009 01.09.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Thomas Dale, University of Wisconsin-Madison

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Hourihane, Colum. Image and Belief. Ewing: Princeton University Press, 2000. Pp. iv, 312. 29.95. ISBN: 0-691-01003-x.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.09.09

Hourihane, Colum. Image and Belief. Ewing: Princeton University Press, 2000. Pp. iv, 312. 29.95. ISBN: 0-691-01003-x.

Reviewed by:

Thomas Dale
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Iconography has increasingly come under attack since the 1980's (see Brendon Cassidy, "Introduction," Iconography at the Crossroads. Index of Christian Art, Occasional Papers, II [Princeton, 1993], 3-15). In the previous volume of the series to which Image and Belief belongs, for example, Michael Ann Holly and Keith Moxey question the basic assumption that one can decode the intended meaning of the work of art by recourse to historical documents and texts; following the logic of post-structuralism, they argue that all sign systems-- textual or visual--are inherently unstable ("Unwriting Iconology", and "The Politics of Iconology", in Iconography at the Crossroads, 17-25; 27-31) Furthermore, iconography and its sister discipline, iconology, once hailed for their objectivity, are said to be no less free from the politics of interpretation than any other approach. In a third essay from the same volume, Michael Camille adds that iconography is inherently flawed because it fails to "take enough account for the uninscribed codes and cultural practices that are generated orally and performatively" ("Mouths and Meanings: Towards an Anti-Iconography of Medieval Art," in ibid., 43-54).

Although Colum Hourihane acknowledges these recent critiques in the introduction to the present volume, he emphasizes that its focus is on the "practice of iconography" rather than its theoretical assumptions. Based on a 1997 conference in Princeton, "Iconography at the Index", the collection of seventeen papers is broadly grouped into two parts, the first ("Iconography") dealing with disparate case studies in iconographical analysis, the second ("Methodology"), focusing on the use of ICONCLASS for the classification and practice of iconography. While all the authors appear to endorse the general aims of traditional iconography, explicating pictorial images and narratives by recourse to texts, it is the great strength of the collection that its individual contributions extend the focus in subject matter and period beyond the Christian Middle Ages, and adapt its application to more recent concerns of the discipline such as race, gender, narrative structure, and visuality. Complementing the sponsoring institution's ongoing project to digitize and disseminate its archives on-line, the volume also addresses issues arising from recent technological developments in iconographical databases.

From the outset, it must be recognized that Image and Belief is essentially the record of a conference. There is no attempt to adhere to an overarching theme, and no explicit rationale for the sequence of the papers within the volume. The promising title is never explained as a concept. It is also to be lamented that no attempt was made to sketch the history of the Index of Christian Art, its role in iconographical studies, and the specific beliefs and methods of its founder, Charles Rufus Morey. Despite these shortcomings, Colum Hourihane is to be congratulated for bringing together a varied and engaging collection of essays. What is more, although theory is not a primary focus here, many individual authors do suggest quite creative adaptations as well as revealing critiques of the more conventional methods of iconography. In order to emphasize the contributions made to the changing practice of iconography, the papers will be reviewed here according to thematic groupings which do not necessarily coincide with the order in which the papers appear within the book.

Three papers in the first part explicitly deal with issues of race and ethnic identity. The collection opens with an essay on the multicultural art of the Crusader Kingdom by Jaroslav Folda, "Problems in the Iconography of the Art of the Crusaders in the Holy Land: 1098-1291/1917-1997" (11-24). Taking the south portal of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem as his principal case study, Folda extends Krautheimer's classic definition of architectural iconography to the realm of ornament. He proposes that the selection of distinctive ornamental types based on models from Early Christian Syria, Byzantium, the Arab Near East and Romanesque Europe worked programmatically in conjunction with the now lost figural sculpture to reinforce Crusader control over diverse ethnic constituencies in the Holy Land. Such an ideological argument, Folda reasons, is corroborated by more explicit figural imagery found in other Crusader commissions such as the Melisende Psalter and the icon/altarpiece of the Carmelites from the church of St. Kassinos in Nicosia.

Debra Hassig considers the pejorative iconography of race in her paper, "The Iconography of Rejection: Jews and Other Monstrous Races" (25-46). Building upon the scholarship of John Block Friedman and Ruth Mellinkoff, Hassig shows that English art between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries consistently deploys corporeal deformity as a means of representing spiritual depravity of individual Christians and non-Christian races. Thus, in well-known Gothic manuscripts such as the Luttrell and Rutland Psalters, religious books designed for prominent lay patrons, Jews and other denigrated social groups such as Moslems are assimilated in appearance to the monstrous races and demons through grotesque exaggeration of facial features and hybridity.

A third paper to touch on the iconography of race is that of Andreas Petzold: "'Of the Significance of Colours': The Iconography of Colour in Romanesque and Early Gothic Book Illumination" (125-134). At first, Petzold seems to confirm some of the deepest suspicions harbored by the critics of iconography when he demonstrates just how fluid the meanings ascribed to individual colors can be. Green, for example, may have diabolical associations but is also associated with re- birth and resurrection. Petzold also points out that the availability of pigments, specifications of a given patron, and sheer aesthetics all have an important impact on the colors selected for the garments worn by figures in biblical narrative. Nonetheless, he goes on to show that certain conventional meanings ascribed to color are remarkably consistent over time. Focusing on Judas and Synagogue, he observes that, from the twelfth century on, yellow is commonly used for the garments of these two negative figures. Petzold traces the roots of this color symbolism to the practice of compelling Jews to wear one distinct item of clothing that was yellow in color. Dating back to the eighth century in regions under Islamic rule, this use of color to visually segregate the Jews was common in the West from the eleventh through the eighteenth centuries and was notoriously revived by the Nazis in the twentieth.

Another fruitful social context for iconography is revealed in two papers which consider the impact of female patrons/users on the pictorial programs of Books of Hours. In her essay, "Nipples, Entrails, Severed Heads, and Skin: Devotional Images for Madame Marie" (47-70), Alison Stones seeks to explain the appearance of particularly graphic scenes of martyrdom in a late thirteenth-century book made for "Madame Marie" in the diocese of Cambrai (Paris, B.N.F., MS. nouv. acq. fr. 16251). Stones argues that the unusually forceful representations of decapitating the Innocents, flaying the skin of St. Bartholomew, wrenching the nipples from St. Agatha's breasts, and eviscerating St. Vincent all aided the female user's devotion and emotive response by alluding to the realm of her own experience. The focus on the nipples of Agatha, for example, would have suggested a poignant reversal of Marie's own maternal nourishment; likewise, the very rare depiction of Saint Vincent with his stomach cut open to reveal his entrails, appears to evoke contemporary medical illustrations of cesarian sections. Stones also points out that the graphic iconography of martyrdom in this manuscript must have been influenced by the proliferation of gruesome tortures in real life--an argument that has been forcefully made elsewhere by Mitchell Merback ( The Thief, the Cross and the Wheel. Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval and Renaissance Europe [Chicago, 1998]). One might question, however, the extent to which the iconography of specific tortures such as that of Agatha are tailored for an exclusively female audience in this manuscript: as Martha Easton has suggested, this unusually sensual iconography may also have appealed to a male viewer's sensibilities ("Saint Agatha and the Sanctification of Violence," Studies in Iconography 16 [1994], 83-114).

A second example of gendered iconography is proposed in Adelaide Bennett's paper on a northeast French manuscript of ca. 1300 now in Cambrai (B.M., MS. 87): "A Woman's Power of Prayer versus the Devil in a Book of Hours of ca. 1300" (89- 108). In this case, not only are the prayers customized to include feminine endings, the female patron and user of the manuscript herself appears in the form of a kneeling portrait within the extensive series of historiated initials no less than 108 times. As Bennett demonstrates, the initials accompanying the Hours of the Virgin Mary depart from the standard repertoire of biblical narratives by showing a series of confrontations between the female patron and individual temptations of the flesh to which women were believed to be especially prone. Visually complementing the textual prayers to the Virgin, the images serve as an explicit behavioral model for the female user, who is shown in each instance, resisting the diabolical apparition by turning her back to it and praying.

Alternative strategies for "reading" or viewing pictorial narrative are explored in four papers. Dorothy Hoogland Verkerk seeks to explain the unexpected, rather erratic patterns of selection and ordering Old Testament narratives in her paper on "Moral Structure in the Ashburnham Pentateuch" (71-88). Rejecting the traditional assumption that biblical narratives in early illuminated manuscripts followed densely illustrated archetypes in which images were closely connected to textual order, Verkerk contends that the illustrator deliberately manipulated both the sequence and the selection of the narrative for didactic purposes. Within the larger cycle, greater emphasis is given to episodes such as the Deluge and the Crossing of the Red Sea, because these episodes constitute the "cardinal moments" of the biblical narrative as it would have been retold for the purposes of catechetical instruction. Likewise, within a single, full-page miniature such as that devoted to the stories of Esau and Jacob, Cain and Abel, Verkerk argues that different colour zones undermine the biblical chronology and suggest thematic groupings that underline the moral import of the narrative--in this case, the consequences of fraternal conflict. Ultimately, these devices together guide the viewer to read beyond the surface and to uncover standard biblical typologies.

Cynthia Hahn explores further the ways in which alternative narrative strategies help to engage the viewer in her essay, "Interpictoriality in the Limoges chasses of Stephen, Marital and Valerie" (109-124). Adapting the literary model of intertextuality, Hahn proposes the term, "interpictoriality" to explain the "visual dynamics of viewer reception" in twelfth- century Limoges. In short, Hahn argues that the hagiographic narratives on each of the three Limoges caskets deliberately allude to, and assume that the viewer has a memory of, the iconography of the other two pictorial narratives. Each of the three narratives has a distinct function that must be understood within the political framework of the local cult of saints. The casket of St. Stephen depicts conventional episodes of the saint's preaching, martyrdom and appearances in visions to demonstrate his role as a universal patron of the Church. The Martial narrative is more anecdotal and focuses on the saint's specific connection to Limoges both as founding bishop, presiding at the cathedral, and as revered object of pilgrimage at his burial site in the monastery of Saint- Martial. The third and latest of the caskets is devoted to a local noblewoman named Valerie. Taking up the story where the Martial casket ends, this narrative shows how Valerie responds to Martial's Christian gospel, is decapitated by, and posthumously converts the pagan Count Stephen. Here the narrative is structured to emphasize the female saint's mediating role as conciliatory figure between cathedral and monastery, church and laity. Since the Valerie narrative follows no single text and there is little documentation of her cult in the twelfth century, it is the pictorial references amongst the three caskets, that help the viewer reconstruct the larger narrative of her posthumous role in Limoges.

In "Looking Eastward: The Story of Noe at Monreale Cathedral"(135-150), James d'Emilio investigates the adaptations of narrative structure to the exigencies of monumental church decoration. Extending Ernst Kitzinger's analysis, d'Emilio emphasizes the ways in which the artists of Monreale creatively adapt the Old Testament narratives of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo to suit the cathedral's more emphatic eastward focus on the Pantocrator in the apse. He argues, in particular, that the natural tendency of the eye to read the narrative from left to right is mitigated in the Noah cycle on the south (right) wall by compositional devices, either by centralizing the composition or by weighting it with clusters of figures to the left. In this way, the eyes are encouraged to look eastward to the apse. This is an interesting theory, which is undoubtedly inspired by the contemporary art historian's experience of viewing the narratives attentively while walking down the nave. More research needs to be undertaken, however, that would establish how medieval spectators viewed visual narratives in churches, both during and outside the communal liturgy.

Avril Henry's paper, "Daring Conflation? A Difficult Image in the Genesis Sequence of the Eton Roundels (Eton College, Ms. 177. f. 2r)"(169-203), takes account of varying narrative structures in an attempt to decipher an iconographically ambiguous biblical scene in a late thirteenth-century English manuscript. The scene in question depicts a bearded, fully clothed male conversing with the frontally enthroned Logos- Creator. It occupies the central roundel of a series narrating the Fall of Adam and Eve, their labors and the murder of Abel. Since the Genesis cycle on the opposite page begins in the central roundel with the Creation of the World, it has been assumed that this page follows the same pattern and takes up the story after the Creation of Eve. Such assumptions are called into question, however, because the rest of the narrative on the first page is not arranged chronologically but rather in typological pairs. After exploring a number of alternatives, Henry concludes that it is difficult to identify the enigmatic roundel with any major episode between the Creation of Eve and the Temptation of Adam and Eve, especially since the Creator's interlocutor is shown fully clothed. Turning to the end of the cycle, Henry explores further alternatives, such as the Condemnation of Cain and the Covenant with Noah, which would serve as likely typological transitions to the New Testament cycle in subsequent pages of the manuscript. In the absence of precise attributes or tituli, she concludes that the iconography of the enigmatic roundel is deliberately ambiguous. Like Hahn, Henry casts the medieval viewer as an active participant in reconstituting the narrative and uncovering layers of meaning beyond the literal sense.

Two further papers in Part I stand outside the thematic frameworks discussed thus far. John Fleming's contribution, "The Personal Appropriation of Iconographic Forms: Two Franciscan Signatures" (205-12), considers the "confrontations of the universal and the particular or the personal" in the signs that constitute the signatures of Saint Francis of Assisi and Christopher Columbus. The "tau," with which Francis signs a prayer for brother Leo, works on a number of different levels. It is literally the mark which the saint humbly chose as his signature to identify himself with the unlettered "idiota", but it also casts Francis and his order in a broader salvific role for society as a whole. It was the tau that marked the Israelites to be saved from the wrathful angels at Passover, and those who would be spared the general slaughter of a sinful Jerusalem described in Ezekiel's prophecy. Within the specific context of Francis's prayer, the tau suggests the therapeutic protection granted to Leo and serves as a pictorial prompt for making the sign of the cross. In his more complex cruciform monogram, Christopher Columbus identifies his voyages to the Americas with a Christian mission to save the heathen peoples of the world, but he also plays on the Greek meaning of his Christian name, Christopher, as "Christ-bearer".

Giovanni Freni's paper, "The Architecture and Sculpture of the Portal of the South Side of Arezzo Cathedral" (151-168), focuses on style rather than iconography. In contrast to earlier studies, Freni argues that the architecture and sculpture of the exterior south portal should be dated to two distinct periods: the architecture to ca. 1337 and the tympanum sculpture depicting the Madonna Lactans to the later fourteenth century. Freni follows Vasari in attributing this sculpture to a native Aretine artist, Niccolo, but he takes care to distinguish this artist (Niccolo di Luca Spinelli) from Niccolo di Pietro Lamberti with whom he was incorrectly confused by Vasari. Freni further attributes both the architecture and the sculptural group of the Annunciation on the interior south portal to the same period as the architecture of the exterior portal. In the present context, it is a pity that the author did not touch on some potentially intriguing iconographical problems, including the curious context and composition of the Madonna Lactans presented before a (eucharistic?) veil by two angels within the tympanum.

Part II of the collection, entitled "Methodology," includes papers that deploy image databases conforming to the ICONCLASS system. The first paper in this section by Lutz Heusinger, "How to Improve Art-Historical Services" ( 215-225) addresses philosophical and practical issues raised by the recent dissemination of photographic archives on the Web. The author emphasizes the need to reduce the cost of research materials and guarantee broader access. Disparate databases, he observes, could be more readily integrated by the adoption of compatible formats such as that of ICONCLASS. Finally, he insists on the need for classification systems to accommodate greater precision in iconographic description, including, in the case of prints, the identification of distinct imprints and changes in meaning from one edition to another.

Helene E. Robert's paper, "The persistence of mythological, religious, and literary narratives as subjects of works of art" (227-242) uses the thematic classification system of the Encyclopedia of Comparative Mythology to explore the appropriation and transformation of narrative iconography in literature and music as well as the visual arts over time. Focusing on the theme of "abandonment", Roberts shows, for example, how the medieval iconography of the abandoned Moses, wrapped in swaddling clothes, came to be excerpted as an emblem for abandoned children, ranging from the early fifteenth- century reliefs by Andrea della Robbia adorning the facade of the Foundling Hospital in Florence to the emblem of a Poor House established in eighteenth-century London. The author concludes that cross-cultural comparisons spanning such vast time periods and geographical locations will be greatly enabled by the dissemination of iconographic archives on-line.

Peter Van Huisstede applies iconographic databases to the more specific project of decoding emblems in his essay on "The Iconography of The Ship of State by Peter Paul Rubens: A Variant on the Theme of 'Hercules am Scheidewege'" (243-57). Using two ICONCLASS-based databases--the "Corpus of Dutch Fifteenth-, Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Printers' Devices" and the "Collection of Sixteenth-Century Emblem Books in the Royal Library in the Hague"--Van Huisstede is able to identify more precisely the meaning and context of an enigmatic shield depicting a lion embracing a column. The device in question is associated in Rubens' painting with one of four female personifications who row Louis XIV's ship of state. It is usually interpreted as the symbol of fortitude, and on this basis, the other three are identified with standard virtues. Van Huisstede shows, on the contrary, that the lion and column derive from a sixteenth-century Dutch printing device accompanied by the motto, "Ingenio superatur". In light of this emblem, the shield may be seen as representing Force (the column) overcome by Ingenuity (the lion). Searching for descriptions of the other shields, the author likewise connects them not with simple personifications of virtues but with complex emblems of Alciati. Placed within the larger iconographic context of the painting, and set against the historical backdrop of Louis XIV's succession of his mother, Marie de' Medici, the shields suggest a more complex interpretation of the painting as a whole. The painting's "emblematic game" appears to admonish the young king for his somewhat rash and belligerent style of governance and urges him to exercise proper judgement in a series of moral and political choices as he guides the French ship of state.

In her paper, "ICONCLASS and its Application to Primary Documents" (259-270), Carol Togneri shows how the standardized language of ICONCLASS used in the Getty Provenance Index's Inventories Project allows one to search a wide range of documents in Dutch, Spanish and Italian for a particular iconographic type and ultimately to help narrow down attributions. Taking Guido Reni's "Christ Child Sleeping on the Cross" as her case-study, Togneri finds two surviving versions of the painting, one in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, the other in the University Art Museum, Princeton. The Princeton composition has been accepted by Stephen Pepper as the closest copy of Guido's lost original. Drawing upon all of the known textual references to the same subject in the database, Togneri is further able to associate the Princeton picture with a copy of Guido's composition made by his pupil Simone Cantarini ("il Pesarese").

Hans Brandhorst's enigmatically titled study, "Ululas Athenas: Owls to Athens" (271-290), is one of the few papers in this volume that explicitly raises questions about the limitations of iconographic analysis. Drawing on his own ICONCLASS-based archive of late twelfth-century English Psalter illustrations, Brandhorst questions the standard practice of comparing iconographic details to demonstrate "family relationships" amongst different manuscripts. Such analysis, he warns, isolates details such as gestures from their larger formal contexts and reflects modern perceptions of similarity rather than medieval ones. He suggests, alternatively, that pictorial elements could be said to function "like words in a sentence" with their own distinctive meanings that may appear in different contexts. He takes as his primary case study the figure of the shepherd "who draws back in surprise" in the Winchester Psalter's image of the Annunciation to the Shepherds. This figure, who holds his hand in front of his face in a "protective manner" is generally taken as evidence of the influence of Anglo-Saxon models, such as the Sacramentary of Robert of Jumieges. A search for this particular gesture in the database reveals that it occurs not only in scenes of the Annunciation to the Shepherds but also in a variety of other contexts, including Moses before the burning bush, the magi observing the star, the disciples watching Christ's disappearance at Emmaus and at the Ascension. According to Brandhorst, this shows that the gesture is not particular to one iconographic source or tradition but, in fact, has a more general narrative function: to represent the response to phenomena such as supernatural light or emotions of awe and fear. Brandhorst's examination of another shepherd's pose in the Annunciation scene, leads to similar conclusions.

The last paper focuses on applications of the most recent version of the ICONCLASS browser. In their paper, "Translating ICONCLASS and the Connectivity Concept of the Iconclass2000 Browser"(291-306), Jorgen van den Berg and Gerda G. J. Duijfjes-Vellekoop discuss the challenges of translating the classification system into other European languages. The authors affirm that the extension of ICONCLASS to other languages will ultimately enhance the "connectivity" of the system with other Windows-based applications, making it possible for all users to draw upon a much broader range of archives without sacrificing the descriptive nuances of individual languages.

Collectively, the papers in Image and Belief show that iconography is still a very vital part of current art- historical practice, even if some of its basic assumptions may be called into question. Just as conventional stylistic analysis has remained an crucial tool for evaluating the quality and attributions of works of art, so iconography remains an essential starting point for understanding the distinctively pictorial language of art. The emergence of the World Wide Web and the computerization of such encyclopedic archives as the Index of Christian Art in Princeton, have begun to facilitate access to the iconography of medieval and Renaissance art on an unprecedented scale. This ensures that the images catalogued in the Index, much like the digitized texts of the Patrologia Latina, will continue to play a central role in the ongoing study of visual culture.