Frances Altvater

title.none: Karkov and Orton, eds., Stone Sculpture (Frances Altvater)

identifier.other: baj9928.0411.002 04.11.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Frances Altvater, College of William & Mary,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Karkov, Catherine E., and Fred Orton, eds. Theorizing Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture. Series: Medieval European Studies, vol. 4. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2003. Pp. xi, 219. ISBN: $45.00 0-937058-79-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.11.02

Karkov, Catherine E., and Fred Orton, eds. Theorizing Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture. Series: Medieval European Studies, vol. 4. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2003. Pp. xi, 219. ISBN: $45.00 0-937058-79-3.

Reviewed by:

Frances Altvater
College of William & Mary

This collection of six papers comes from a seminar on the same subject held at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Leeds in conjunction with the 1998 International Medieval Congress. What ties the papers in this volume together is their receptivity to theoretical approaches to the material which has been the subject of more traditional formal analysis. While the pieces are individually solid, this conceptual stance is the greater strength of the whole book.

The creation of a book like this one is itself an exercise in "theorizing." The subject of four of the essays, the Ruthwell Cross still looms large over the book's treatment of "Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture," although Richard Bailey, in his Introduction, acknowledges this focus and hopes the book will open up discussion for Viking period material and aniconic works. Organizationally, Jane Hawkes' essay is placed first; while hers is perhaps the most methodologically accessible, it is Fred Orton's essay which best expresses the changes in scholarly attitude which drives this seminar and these papers (and which is the greatest catalyst for the discussion of three other essays within the volume). The theoretical framework thus arrives in a statement three papers in. Unfortunately, to move the Hawkes and Karkov essays to the end is to relegate these subjects to the afterthought that they have been already in Anglo- Saxon stone sculpture studies.

The essay "Reading Stone," by Jane Hawkes, is clearly informed by particular methodologies without being mired in their jargon and steadily maintains its analytical focus on the ninth-century stone shafts of the Sandbach (Cheshire) crosses. Concerned with the issues of perception and mediated experience, Hawkes opens her discussion by situating the archaeological remnant in its modern interpretive context. The bulk of the essay presents approaches to the iconography on the Sandbach crosses, fundamentally concerned with the operation of these images within a context of contemporary theology, connecting these images to "themes of revelation of the Divine and its powers, witnessing, and (by implication) the sacraments of the Church"(21). The essay closes with the compelling discussion of paint and metal additions and the several possible ways in which these might have shaped the reception of the crosses by a contemporary audience. In this respect, Hawkes' work on these crosses relates to other analytical approaches to other media, most notably Wolfgang Kemp (The Narratives of Gothic Stained Glass, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

The Catherine E. Karkov essay, "Naming and Renaming: The Inscription of Gender in Anglo-Saxon Sculpture," addresses a range of material objects, including grave slabs, the Ruthwell cross, and Hackness I, for their inscriptions. She argues that there are specific contexts within the Church's mission, particularly around conversion but also around baptism and death, where gender difference was deliberately obscured. Karkov's discussion is most detailed on the Ruthwell cross, using the combination of iconic and narrative, gendered connotations, runic and Latin letters to connect the inscription to the visual imagery around issues of monastic identity as contemplative and active (41 ff). "[T]he monument becomes an intercessory voice between the community for whom it was produced, and the heavenly community to whom its inscriptions are addressed" (59-60). The essay perhaps suffers from too much information--the author is clearly knowledgeable on her subject, effectively synthesizing other scholars' work into her own material, but the support for her examples sometimes overwhelms and obscures the focus on the object.

Interested both in nineteenth- and twentieth-century European art and Anglo-Saxon sculpture, Fred Orton ("Rethinking the Ruthwell and Bewcastle Monuments: Some Strictures on Similarity; Some Questions on History") draws most directly on theorists like Thomas Kuhn, Michel Foucault and Nelson Goodman to push the study of Anglo-Saxon sculpture from what he sees as its restrictive classification of technical and formal elements to a recognition that these are "intentional objects" (67), grounded in their own specific "causes, intentions or functions, geographies and temporalities" (67). Orton's critical position is best revealed later in a lengthy (but intrusive) footnote on the sign operations in the embracing women scene on the upper south side of the Ruthwell cross: that the fluctuations of meaning in these monuments may be more desirable than a straightforward statement. Orton then moves from his historiography to a discussion of the Ruthwell and Bewcastle monuments, focusing on each panel of Christ on the beast which he situates in a literature noting only minor stylistic differences. In contrast, Orton argues that these seemingly minor differences in structural form (the ongoing contentious question of the obelisk with later cross or no intended terminal), decorations (especially Bewcastle's sundial), figural elements (Bewcastle's emphasis on the falconer figure) and inscriptions (names, use of runic alone and the use of the vernacular on the Bewcastle) are actually an indication of different contextual priorities (Bewcastle's particular interest in aspects of time and memory, and in secular issues of kingship and consanguinity): "Given what we know about the way signs reflect and refract social conditions and about the history of the church, gender, and material culture in Anglo-Saxon England, it makes more sense to theorize the Ruthwell and Bewcastle monuments as different sites of multiaccentuality between secular and ecclesiastical or monastic themes, between masculine and feminine identities, between Northumbrian national interests and the international interests of the church of Rome--to see each monument as determined not by unified and harmonious interests but by conflictual interests in process of change" (87).

The missiles off the bow (to use an analogy from the Introduction) are fired by Richard N. Bailey's "Innocent From Great Offence," carefully aimed at Fred Orton's essay. The appeal for students of this pairing of pieces is obvious, as methodological differences and the evidence of scholarly exchange are out in the open. Bailey defends Corpus scholarship from what he sees as Orton's dismissive and generalizing stance ("Following Collingwood, corpus scholarship--which is no more and no less than the best post-war, archaeologically-informed art history of Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture- -came into being committed to the idea of style as constant form and to the belief that there could be little progress in its area of study without a comprehensive descriptive and visual catalogue of every extant example and that any individual example was best seen and understood as one of a series" [Orton, 65-66]). Indeed, Bailey suggests that Orton's whole approach of "isolating differences and establishing disjunctions depends upon some notions of being able to recognize identities and continuities" (97). The element of the crossed feet of the beasts, carried out in both essays and discreetly amended at the end of Orton's footnote, is a perfect example of the dialogue exchange. Bailey takes substantive issue with Orton's assessment that Bewcastle is not a cross shaft and offers counter readings of sculptural details. Bailey's historiographic approach to the compiling of the Corpus material is a reminder of the strength of text criticism as an added tool in the arsenal of theorizing this material.

Ian Wood's piece "Ruthwell: Contextual Searches" uses Ruthwell to draw attention to theorizing this material. The value of this essay for students is its clear explanation of the scholarly positions around this difficult monument. His discussions of Ruthwell's questions are sensitive and perceptive: of the stones themselves (How do we see the two parts, as one or as two separate pieces? Is the restoration itself correct?), of the issues of carving style, of iconographic problems (What is original or an addition? What is a clear iconography or only one which is reinforced by label?), of intended ambivalence (Is it meant to be Mary and Martha or the Visitation or both?), of audience (Could it have been meant for a pastoral audience? And if, as is more likely, it is meant for a monastic audience, what kind of monastic audience?), of antecedents (the discussion of Roman sources is opened by Jane Hawkes as well in her discussion of the Sandbach crosses), of chronologies (What points of history can we establish to help place the date of the object and the context of its meaning? How does understanding the Northumbrian Renaissance shape the reading of the cross?). More than simply offering a unified reading of this particular object, the essay reminds us of the real fascination of the questioning process.

Eamonn O Carragain's essay "Between Annunciation and Visitation: Spiritual Birth and the Cycles of the Sun on the Ruthwell Cross: A Response to Fred Orton" is the longest essay in the book and perhaps should be seen as two distinct thematic lines. Portions of the article are more than a response to Fred Orton; they are a sometimes sharp critique of current scholarly interpretations of the Cross. While applauding Orton's vision at seeing the two sculptural campaigns,[[1]] he takes Orton to task over his text criticism of the seventeenth-century Bainbrigg account; while applauding David Howlett's reconstruction of the poem, he draws attention to the problems of interpreting it as Mary and Martha as opposed to the Visitation. For non-specialists, one of the interesting aspects of this first half for the issue of "theorizing" Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture is O Carragain's analysis of scholarly motivations and the process by which ideas circulate.

The substantive argument in O Carragain's piece tackles the contested Visitation panel and an attempt to see the piece at its intersection between monastic exegesis and communal practice; "Upper and lower stones, taken together, seem to provide the earliest evidence north of Rome of an ecclesiastical community working out for itself the spiritual implications of the liturgical innovations of Pope Sergius which, it would seem, they had embodied in the liturgical life of their community before the cross was designed" (157). O Carragain analyzes the scene through its form, inscriptions, iconography, and larger compositional placement, connecting it not only to new Marian feasts but to Lenten motifs of conversion and baptism (158ff). He finishes with a discussion of the Ruthwell and Bewcastle crosses' placement and relationship to the daily course of the sun, suggesting a Christian appropriation of pagan solar imagery (179ff). His readings of the liturgical evidence make a persuasive case for his iconographic analysis of the Visitation as part of a planned sculptural unity while preserving the richness of messages to the many audiences associated with the monument.

Technically, the book offers the strong virtues of translations either in the text itself or in the notes and a combined bibliography and index, making it easier to reference threads across discussions. There are minor but notable annoyances of the formatting: the often extensive footnotes wrap from one page to another, often separating the discussion in the note from the text (in one case, on pages 85- 87, resulting in a two and a half page footnote, and in another, on page 71, resulting in the dropping of the final words of the note). The illustrations are also grouped at the center of the text to allow for their use by the whole group of writers but resulting in some disorientation of the reader when text references move suddenly from one number to a much later number.

Although the house rests on foundations of formal analysis, the scholars in Theorizing Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture are standing on the threshold and opening the door to new theoretical methodologies. The discussion opened up by these approaches, particularly text criticism, semiotics, gender theory, and reception theory, suggests new and welcome directions for scholars of this material.

[[1]] Fred Orton, "Rethinking the Ruthwell Monument: Fragments and Critique; Tradition and History; Tongues and Sockets," Art History 21(1), March 1998, 65-106.