Maidie Hilmo

title.none: Marks and Williamson, eds., Gothic (Maidie Hilmo)

identifier.other: baj9928.0412.008 04.12.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Maidie Hilmo, University of Victoria,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Marks, Richard, and Paul Williamson, eds. Gothic: Art for England 1400-1547. London: V and A Publications, 2003. Pp. 496. $75.00 0-8109-6557-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.12.08

Marks, Richard, and Paul Williamson, eds. Gothic: Art for England 1400-1547. London: V and A Publications, 2003. Pp. 496. $75.00 0-8109-6557-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Maidie Hilmo
University of Victoria

There is such a wealth of photographs of late medieval artifacts, accompanied by informative articles and descriptions by an impressive array of specialists from across many disciplines, that new discoveries and clarification of thorny issues await all readers of this lavish book. It was written to accompany an ambitious exhibition of Gothic art at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2003, but it will remain as a permanent and major contribution to our knowledge of the material culture of the Gothic art in England. Covering the period from 1400 (just after the usurpation of the throne by Henry IV) to 1547 (when Henry VIII died), the artistic works of the period are seen to reflect not only the political, religious, technological, economic, and social trends of the times but also, in some instances, to influence their direction. This book is a major corrective to the sort of thinking that has been dismissive of the cultural achievements of the fifteenth century in England.

The book is divided into two parts, the first consisting of eleven illustrated articles and the second of a descriptive and illustrated Catalogue organized according to specific topics, each of which has a short introduction. What is remarkable about the whole collection is the excellent scholarship underpinning each entry, whether long or short. The task of organizing the extensive exhibits, including loans from numerous international collections, is matched by that of assembling the contributions of some 85 scholars. Included near the beginning is a useful "Timeline" (10-11) and near the end, a "Select Glossary" (466-67).

The first article by Richard Marks gives something of an overview of the age and is appropriately entitled "An Age of Consumption: Art for England c.1400-1547" (12-25). The richness of the artifacts in this exhibition is testimony to the unparalleled consumerism of the age. The art "for" England, repeated from the volume's title, becomes apparent in this and many of the other articles detailing the extensive importation of goods and artisans into England from abroad, especially from the Netherlands. This contributes to the "hybrid nature" (16) of much of the art of the period. English art, nevertheless, resisted the naturalistic art of the Netherlands and maintained a linear and conservative character.

John Watts, in the next article on "Politics, War and Public Life" (26-37), argues against the traditional view that there was a fault line between the early part of the period and the establishment of the Tudor dynasty under Henry VII in 1485. He deals with the periods of unrest, usurpations, and warfare during which the gains and then loses on the continent ending the Hundred Years War led to the civil Wars of the Roses, which in turn culminated in a greater emphasis on the central authority of the crown at the expense of the aristocracy. Nevertheless, he emphasizes the continuities between the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries, with Tudor rule responding better than its predecessors to "the first age of mass public consciousness" (29). He suggests that Thomas Hoccleve's Regiment of Princes presented to Henry V as Prince of Wales performed the same time-honored function of flattering to inspire the desired behavior as Thomas More's verses written for Henry VIII's accession, despite the humanist rhetoric of the latter. The Hoccleve presentation miniature is illustrated in color (34). The caption refers, in brackets, to Catalogue number 41 (182), which gives more detail about this English poem in Arundel MS 38 in the section on "Royal Books," introduced by Jenny Stratford (180-81), a good example of how the images in the articles are integrated with the Catalogue entries.

The third article by Rosemary Horrox on "Kingship and Queenship" (38-45) also emphasizes the role of the crown throughout the period covered. Although kings were answerable only to God, and so were theoretically unassailable, the usurpers of the fifteenth century justified the transfer of power "by dynastic considerations" (41). And there were certainly a number of usurpers, from the Lancastrians to the Yorkists and finally the Tudors, but the interesting thing is that the Tudors were "descendants in the female line of the illegitimate branch of the Lancastrians, the Beauforts" (40). Horrox discusses the personal nature of power in relation to queens as well as kings. As an example of the practicalities of power which depended on allegiance and "establishing obligations" (43), she refers to the Lancastrian livery collar with the linked SS design held by Edward Grimston in the panel portrait by Pertrus Christus. Painted in 1446 in the Netherlands when Grimston was on a diplomatic mission for Henry VI, it is an example of art made "for" an Englishman. One of the useful features of the many illustrations in this book is that there are other illustrations of the Lancastrian SS collar, reinforcing Horrox's point (see also the silver collar on page 206, a cheaper version around a lead badge on page 204, and on page 28 the SS design on the edge of the cope of Henry VII, who revived its use).

England had a more centralized political and cultural structure than the rest of Europe, according to Derek Keene in the fourth article on "National and Regional Identities" (46-55). He attributes this cohesiveness to such characteristics as its insular nature, the primacy of London over other towns, and the sparseness of its population in comparison to nearest its continental neighbors. He emphasizes the importance of trade with the markets of Bruges and Antwerp, adding to the prosperity of London and the southeast while shifting wealth from the Midlands. York, which occasionally served as an alternate capital, remained the second important city, but its population and wealth declined during this period. He discusses the increase in the manufacture of woolen cloth, the prime source of the nation's wealth, for export. Regional identities were shaped by historical circumstances and the local resources that brought wealth through trade, including coal in Newcastle, lead and tin in Derbyshire, and alabaster in Nottingham. The growing use of the English vernacular, the sense of nationhood, and the contact between regions through trade tended to reduce the cultural differences which existed.

One of the most provocative and stimulating articles is that on "Late Medieval Religion" by Eamon Duffy (56-67). He discusses medieval lay piety and the use of images to nourish faith. The layout of a late medieval church he describes as a theatre, which sanctifies matter by blessing and venerating it, which sanctifies space by processing around it, and which sanctifies time in the celebrations that make up the ritual year. The democratization and vernacularization of religion, a legacy of the Fourth Lateran Council, was manifested in the literature of the mystics. It found expression also in the writings of Langland and the Pearl poet and, "at a further point in the spectrum, the popular heretical movement known as Lollardy" (59). He sees it as ironic that the "anti-sacramental and anti-clerical polemics" of the Lollards may have curtailed the vernacular movement as a whole when censorship was imposed and "intellectual adventurousness gave way to a duller and defensive devotionalism" (59). Nevertheless, sumptuous Books of Hours were produced for the royalty and aristocracy at first, and then with the advent of printing, for the gentry and urban bourgeoisie. Most familiar to the laity would have been the Office of the Dead, the "Diriges" being celebrated by the guilds for deceased members. Those who couldn't read said the rosary, as Duffy suggests, in what is surely an oversimplification. Chaucer scholars familiar with the seemingly exaggerated size of the rosaries worn or held by the pilgrims in Caxton's woodcuts will find numerous illustrations of huge rosaries in this book, including those held by images of St. Sitha (51) and Emme Pownder (444). Two rosaries are illustrated in the Catalogue (343). One has large wooden beads on a string, a utilitarian rosary similar to those in the Caxton woodcuts. The other has gold beads, each one of which is finely engraved with an image. As pointed out in the Catalogue description by Annette Wickham, rosaries were "a regular feature of private devotion at all levels of society" in the fifteenth century, but came to be reviled by reformers and, in 1547, forbidden by the Church of England (343).

"The Use of Images" is the subject of Margaret Aston's perceptive article (69-75), the sixth in this collection. She begins with a discussion about "the anxieties about the spiritual dangers inherent in the Church's use of images" (69), which were being expressed by 1400. At that time roods were common in all churches (69); in the early sixteenth century, Henry VIII publicly destroyed the rood of Boxley and confiscated the Holy Cross of Bromholm (74). The royal arms and images of temporal lordship had begun to replace spiritual lordship. There appears to have been a major shift from the visual to the verbal in the way people were encouraged to perceive the truth. The gaze was a way of strengthening faith for the orthodox at the beginning of the century, as evidenced by John Mirk's contention that seeing images of Christ's passion helped people imagine in it in their hearts (69). The reformers, however, "made gazing a suspect activity," the "idolatrous eye" (Aston's phrase) being most dangerous when falsely worshipping the Eucharist (71). In her summary of the process, Aston observes: "What began in the fifteenth century as the alarm of a minority later became an obsession that changed the church--and moved it away from the visual" (72).

In the seventh article "England and the Continent: Artistic Relations" (76-85), Catherine Reynolds also emphasizes the strong cross-channel influence of both the Netherlands and France on England. She notes the great importation of books from Normandy, especially noteworthy given the "loss of Paris in 1436, Normandy in 1450, and Gascony in 1453" (76-77). The greatest source of imported books and craftsmen was the Netherlands, not only before but also after printing. She reminds us that William Caxton printed the first book in English in Bruges in 1475 or 1476 before bringing his presses to his native land. She considers that France was the main mediator of verbal culture and the Netherlands of the visual arts. Reynolds makes the astute observation that, with respect to Italian influence, the English "only developed a taste for the antique style" (83) by way of the Netherlands and France. Humanism "took time to root in England."

"Production and Consumption" (86-97) is divided into 4 parts, each by a different author. Nigel Ramsey considers the meanings of the word "crafts" as reflected in the various ways the practitioners were organized, with benefits to guild members, the towns, and the public. Of particular interest is his discussion of "the increasing reliance on drawn designs," partially a result of the greater use of paper (88). With the advent of printing the use of patterns enabled craftsmen from goldsmiths to embroiderers in remote parts of England to benefit. In "The Commissioning Process," Phillip Lindley cites the usefulness of drawings to ensure that the patron would have an idea of what the finished product would look like, to guarantee the end result in contracts, and to facilitate collaborative works. Kim Woods mentions the use of continental prints and the Netherlandish Biblia Pauperum as models in "Immigrant Craftsmen and Imports." Foreign competition threatened the livelihood of Englishmen, a situation that came to a boiling point at times as instanced by the "Evil May Day Riots" of 1517 in London. In "Regional Production," Nicholas Rogers uses the example of merchant John Baret, whose provisions for his salvation required numerous works of art to adorn St. Mary, Bury St. Edmunds, many of which would have required the skills of local craftsmen. Although the center of book production was in London, in Bury St. Edmunds the demand for the works of the monk John Lydgate led to the flourishing of a local school of illuminators. Regional characteristics were often shaped by specific personalities, as for example the conservative glasswork of glazier Richard Wygge of Malvern. It is tempting to think, however, that there was a nascent industry there already, making more local and pointed the reference in Langland's poem to friars soliciting money from wealthy donors to have their names inscribed in the church window.

The photographs for the article on perpendicular architecture by Christopher Wilson (98-119) exemplify the style that is characterized as "Excellent, New and Uniforme" in his title. He traces the origins of the perpendicular style before 1400 and its influence on parish churches, secular and university buildings. Most of the few surviving architectural drawings of this period appear, he says, to show the design for the perusal of patrons rather than for the use of architects. He observes that this is area where the style was indigenous, with the result that there was little pressure to keep up with continental innovations.

The tenth article by Margaret Bent on "Music Seen and Music Heard: Music in England c.1400-1547" (120-27) is delightfully readable and informative, even for those with little knowledge of music. She points out that not only the actual sounds of spoken language, but also that of old music cannot be recovered with complete accuracy before the age of recording. Nor do we know whether the effect on the audience would have been the same as on modern audiences. Unlike pictures, music has to be activated and paid for each time. Further, notated music was "useful only to those who could read it" (120). However, monophonic music, Gregorian chant or plainsong, "was the staple fare of Catholic church music from early times up to Vatican II" (121), carrying on a timeless tradition. Printing enabled more liturgical books to be reproduced and inhibited local variation. No intact manuscripts of polyphonic music survive between the Winchester Troper of c.1000 and the deluxe Old Hall manuscript of between c.1415-21 that "includes a setting of the Gloria by Henry V" (122). Not until the Beatles, Bent observes, did English music have as great an influence beyond England as in the early to mid-fifteenth century. This is indicated by the contemporary praise of the lively "English manner" by a Flemish poet and a French music theorist. While most of the surviving if fragmentary written music was meant for performance by unaccompanied voices, many churches had organs which were later destroyed. Some vernacular English texts containing carols and courtly songs survive. The Henry VIII manuscript, so called because of the 30 pieces attributed to him, contains the first instrumental pieces without text.

The last article ends with a look forward to the reception of Gothic art in subsequent times, as outlined by Alexandrina Buchanan in "Perspectives of the Past: Perceptions of Late Gothic Art in England" (128-39). She reminds us about the cumulative nature of changing perceptions, affecting even the viewers of the artifacts of the exhibition. Pioneering studies of medieval objects tended to establish systems of classification, an observation that is relevant also to the study of its literature. Even though the Middle Ages were "both invented and pronounced dead by the Italian Renaissance humanists," in England "no one seemed concerned (or even aware)," she continues, until the "wholesale assault by the State" during the Reformation (130). Yet some sepulchral monuments and stained glass continued to be made, partly because of interests in lineage and property. In the eighteenth century architectural elements continued to be reproduced in traditional buildings such as university colleges, great halls, and chapels, but the iconography had changed. During the Romantic period the Gothic assumed "its own aesthetic associations" and inspired "emotional associations too deep for rational description" (131). By the mid-nineteenth century Gothic manuscripts began to be "appreciated as works of art rather than as illustrations of past customs" (133). John Ruskin's "socio-cultural theory" (135) associated the Gothic age with the freedom of its craftsmen. The concept that Perpendicular architecture was specifically English, with all the attendant nationalism that encouraged, led to a revival of its features in such building projects as the Palace of Westminster. Buchanan does not carry her discussion very far into the twentieth century and its evolving assessments of medieval art, but perhaps that would require another article.

The coverage of topics in these multidisplinary articles is far-ranging and gives as comprehensive an introduction to the richness of Gothic art and the material culture of England in the long fifteenth century as one could wish. The outstanding research reflected in these articles, as well as in the texts of the Catalogue, makes this volume suitable for use in the classroom. The excellent introductions to the sections in the Catalogue, together with the individual descriptions, are noteworthy articles in themselves in many cases. Included in the coverage are the arts associated with royalty, war and combat, chivalry, ecclesiastical patronage and the Church, pilgrimage, urban institutions and merchants, domestic space and feasting, and dress and adornment. The authors of the introductions in this section include Christopher Wilson, Rosemary Horrox, Jenny Stratford, John A. A. Goodall, Karen Watts, C. S. L. Davies, Barrie Dobson, Jane Grenville, Derek Keene, Jenny Kermode, Geoff Egan, Marian Campbell, John Cherry, Susan Foister, Paul Williamson, Eleanor Townsend, and Paul Binski. The influence of outstanding families and personalities has also been tackled in "The Beauchamps and the Nevilles" by Ann Payne (219-22) and "Lady Margaret Beaufort" by Janet Backhouse (246-48). In his "Postscript" (456-58), Richard Marks describes the dramatic destructions, shifts, and continuities that occurred in relation to the arts under Henry VIII. It is, of course, the Catalogue's splendidly reproduced images that are a sensuous and aesthetic pleasure to view and that most convincingly convey the impression of the sumptuousness of an age that has, until now, been all too often ignored. The cross-referencing of images and texts is generally quite good, but there are some glitches that might have been solved by strategic re-sequencing or by adding page numbers in brackets to the cross-references, time-consuming as either of these might have been to implement. But without question the organizers of the exhibition and the editors of the volume have performed a mammoth task with brilliance. This is an affordable book that should be on the shelves of every medievalist and every Renaissance scholar.