contributor.author: Dorothy F. Glass

title.none: Elliott and Warr, eds., The Church of Santa Maria Donna Regina (Dorothy F. Glass)

identifier.other: baj9928.0610.019 06.10.19

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Dorothy F. Glass, University of Buffalo, glass@buffalo.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Elliott, James, and Cordelia Warr, eds. The Church of Santa Maria Donna Regina: Art, Iconography and Patronage in Fourteenth-Century Naples. Aldershot, U.K. and Burlington, V.T.: Ashgate, 2004. Pp. xxi, 234, 25 color plates. $99.95 (hb) 0-7546-3477-9. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.10.19

Elliott, James, and Cordelia Warr, eds. The Church of Santa Maria Donna Regina: Art, Iconography and Patronage in Fourteenth-Century Naples. Aldershot, U.K. and Burlington, V.T.: Ashgate, 2004. Pp. xxi, 234, 25 color plates. $99.95 (hb) 0-7546-3477-9. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Dorothy F. Glass
University of Buffalo
glass@buffalo.edu

Santa Maria Donna Regina in Naples is of great interest to historians and art historians alike, for it reveals much about the dynastic ambitions of the Angevins and the artistic choices they made in order to state and further those ambitions. The church and its decorations also raise interesting questions about such issues as: Clarissan architecture, tomb design, and the gendered reading of fresco cycles and the audience for which they were intended. Built during the early years of the fourteenth century under the patronage of Queen Maria of Hungary (d. 1323), wife of Charles II of Anjou (d. 1309), Santa Maria Donna Regina constitutes but one part of the rich architectural legacy of the Angevins in Naples.

The genesis of the volume reviewed here lies in two stimulating sessions held at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo in 2001. To the six papers given there, are added an Introduction by the editors, a riveting account of the various restorations of the building written by Rosa Anna Genovese, an architect specializing in building renovations, three more essays (making a total of nine) on various aspects of the building, and a brief conclusion by Julian Gardner. The volume closes with an extensive, up-to-date bibliography. The essays eschew such tired debates as those pertaining to the attribution of the various frescoes and, instead, concentrate on patronage, audience and intent. These concerns arise in part from the fact that Santa Maria Donna Regina, one of the rare examples of aristocratic convent architecture in Italy, was designed with a gallery choir specifically for the use of he nuns. This choir was, in turn, richly decorated with a series of fresco cycles. Beneath the elevated nuns' choir was a place for the lay congregation, a group that receives little attention here. Nor are there any surviving records of altarpieces for Santa Maria Donna Regina.

Following the introductory material, two essays engage issues concerning the patronage of the Angevin dynasty and, more specifically, the life of the patron of Santa Maria Donna Regina, Queen Maria of Hungary: Samantha Kelly, "Religious Patronage and Royal Propaganda in Angevin Naples: Santa Maria Donna Regina in Context"; and Matthew J. Clear, "Maria of Hungary as Queen, Patron and Exemplar." Kelly notes that the church became a royal foundation only with Maria of Hungary's decision to rebuild the church after an earthquake struck Naples in 1293. She then offers a nuanced discussion of the types of artistic patronage in which the Angevins engaged; her central point is their catholicity as can be seen, for example, in the royal patronage of both the Franciscan and Dominican orders. Clear's essay is a detailed account of the life of Maria of Hungary. He focuses especially on the centrality of her maternal role, her involvement in Angevin politics, her management of her court and estates, and the manner in which she served as an exemplar to the young Queen Sancia of Majorca. Both Kelly and Clear provide the reader with a firm grounding in Angevin artistic patronage and the career of Queen Maria of Hungary.

The remaining seven essays in the volume are concerned with the art and architecture of Santa Maria Donna Regina. The sequence begins with Tanja Michalsky's "MATER SERENISSIMI PRINCIPIS: The Tomb of Maria of Hungary." Securely documented, the tomb was completed in the workshop of the noted sculptor Tino da Camaino, with the help of the Neapolitan architect Gagliardo Primario, between February 1325 and May 1326. Because questions of attribution and chronology are easily disposed of, Michalsky devotes her efforts to the liturgical and religious concerns pertinent to Maria of Hungary's personal salvation, the dynastic and political aspects of the tomb, and, finally, to the tomb's expressive qualities. In doing so, the author anchors the work firmly in Tino da Camaino's career, and points to the innovative use of the Virtues on the tomb. Moreover, the presence of some of Maria's children on the tomb refers indirectly to her personal salvation, as well as to the continuation of her dynasty. She was, after all, the mother of a Saint: Louis of Toulouse. Michalsky's trenchant discussion, based in part on her dissertation concerning the Angevin tombs of Naples, provides much food for thought.

In "The Architectural Context of Santa Maria Donna Regina," Caroline Bruzelius brings to bear her long-standing expertise on Angevin architecture in South Italy, an expertise culminating in her The Stones of Naples: Church Building in the Angevin Kingdom which was published by Yale University Press in 2004. In this brief essay, Bruzelius gives an account of the documents concerning Santa Maria Donna Regina, places the building in the topographical context of medieval Naples, compares the church to San Lorenzo, the city's cathedral, downplays the direct influence of French Gothic architecture, and relates the frescoes and their function to the architecture. All the while, she also stresses the unique aspects of the building by delineating its public and private spaces and by discussing the typology of space in Clarissan churches. This fine survey is, I think, best read after the editors' introduction, for it firmly grounds the reader in the building.

A continuing concern with the architecture of Santa Maria Donna Regina, as well as an interest in some aspects of the frescoes in the church is displayed in a rather naíve essay by Hisashi Yakou entitled "Contemplating Angels and the 'Madonna of the Apocalypse'." Despite anything that might be suggested by his title, the author begins with an attempt to relate the architecture of Santa Maria Donna Regina to such German medieval churches as the ex-Premonstratensian convent church in Altenberg in Hessen. His arguments do not inspire confidence, for he seems to be totally unaware of the fundamental essays by Carola Jaeggi on the architecture of mendicant nunneries in Germany (e.g. "Eastern Choir or Western Gallery? The problem of the Place of the Nuns' Choir in Koenigsfelden and Other Early Mendicant Nunneries," Gesta 40 [2001], pp. 79-93). Thereafter, Yakou turns to the Angelic Choirs frescoed on either side of the light- filled apse, figures that could have been seen especially well by the nuns from their elevated choir. He discusses these images in relation to the writings of Saint Bonaventure. The author concludes with a brief discussion of the Angelic Choirs that appear at the top of the Last Judgment of the interior of the façade wall of the nuns' choir.

Because the four final essays in this rich collection are exclusively concerned with the highly interesting fresco cycles in Santa Maria Donna Regina, it is well to describe their layout within the church. The south wall is devoted to prophets and apostles, the Apocalypse, and the Lives of Saints Catherine and Agnes. The west wall depicts the Last Judgment and the Madonna of the Apocalypse, while the north wall has more prophets and apostles, as well as an extensive account of Christ's Passion. That wall is also frescoed with scenes from the Life of Saint Elizabeth of Thuringia-Hungary. Finally, the angelic hierarchy considered by Yakou appears on the east wall/ triumphal arch. The aforegoing description is based on the drawing of the schematic layout of the frescoes on p. xx. It should be noted, however, that the diagram assumes that Santa Maria Donna Regina has its apse in the east as most churches do. But, as Bruzelius points out (p. 86), Santa Maria Donna Regina's apse is in the south. The editors have thus created a needless confusion.

Cathleen A. Fleck's essay, "'To exercise yourself in these things by continued contemplation': Visual and Textual Literacy in the Frescoes at Santa Maria Donna Regina," is, she states, the first attempt to elucidate the church's frescoes as a coherent program. The brief summary offered here can do but scant justice to the many highly interesting issues that she raises. Her methodology is grounded in a concern for the female audience for the frescoes, the upper class nuns of Santa Maria Donna Regina whose education would have included exposure to devotional texts that offered a "framework for contemplation." Primary among these is the Meditations on the Life of Christ written in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century; it was addressed to Clarissan nuns. That text is enjoying a continuing vogue among scholars of medieval, for there is much to be mined (e.g. Holly Flora with Arianna Pecorini Cignoni, "Requirements of Devout Contemplation: Text and Image for the Poor Clares in Trecento Pisa," forthcoming in Gesta XLV/1 [2006]). Fleck is also attentive to the Latin inscriptions in the frescoes; they have been virtually ignored since Emile Bertaux's epochal work published a century ago. Similarly stimulating are Fleck's observations concerning the different types of knowledge required for an understanding of the narrative scenes (e.g. the saints' lives) and the theological scenes (e.g. the Last Judgment). In sum, Fleck's thorough and thought- provoking analysis propels the frescoes in Santa Maria Donna Regina toward the center of any discussion of Clarissan art.

Adrian S. Hoch's "The 'Passion' Cycle: Images to Contemplate and Imitate amid Clarissan Clausura," postulates that the intricately designed Passion cycle at Santa Maria Donna Regina emphasizes devotional tenets specifically intended for Clarissan nuns and that its inclusions and omissions strongly suggest an awareness of its intended audience. Hoch joins the authors of several other essays in this volume in emphasizing the importance of the aforementioned Meditations on the Life of Christ. She then argues persuasively that several of the iconographic features of the Passion cycle would have appealed to an audience both Franciscan and female. For example, the triple appearance of the stripping of Christ is related to Franciscan tenets, while Mary's extensive involvement in the Passion would have been of special interest to the Clarissan audience. The seventeen scenes of the Passion cycle are intricately interwoven, revealseveral layers of meaning, and contain unifying repetitive features. These characteristics urge comparison with Duccio's virtually contemporaneous Maesta painted for the cathedral of Siena between 1308 and 1311. Hoch eschews direct influence and suggests that Duccio and the painter of the Passion cycle in Santa Maria Donna Regina, a follower of Cavallini, might have arrived independently at their similar pictorial solutions. Here, I wonder if it might be fruitful to examine the possible influence of the liturgical drama.

Cordelia Warr's essay, "The 'Golden Legend' and the cycle of the 'Life of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary'," deals attentively with both the importance of the saint to the Angevin dynasty and the written sources for her painted legend. The saint, who was married to Louis of Thuringia and the great-aunt of Maria of Hungary, died at the age of twenty-four on November 17, 1231. Less than four years later, on May 27, 1235, she was expeditiously canonized by Gregory IX. The frescoed cycle of Saint Elizabeth's life in Santa Maria Donna Regina, much damaged and repainted, consists of five scenes having more than twenty-five episodes from her life. Warr argues that the Golden Legend, while certainly a highly significant source for the frescoes, is not the only relevant text; moreover, the painted scenes are not literal transpositions of the written material. The author concludes with an interesting discussion of parallels between the content of the frescoes of the life of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and the life of Maria of Hungary, the patron of the church who was born into the Arpad dynasty. The relevance of the frescoes to the entire program of Santa Maria Donna Regina is thus made clear.

"The 'Last Judgement': The Cult of Sacral Kingship and the Dynastic Hopes of the Afterlife", by Janis Elliott is, fittingly, the last essay in the volume. Above the fresco of the Last Judgment, located on the west wall of Santa Maria Donna Regina, is the Madonna of the Apocalypse, now hidden by the sixteenth century ceiling of the church. Elliott notes that although the placement of the fresco follows a longstanding Italian tradition, the presence of the Madonna of the Apocalypse may suggest Spanish influence. Elliott goes on to posit that the specific iconography of the Last Judgment in Santa Maria Donna Regina pertains both to the dynastic themes emphasized by the Angevin dynasty and to the concerns of Maria of Hungary, the patron, for the salvation of her soul. The author's detailed arguments, firmly grounded in the history and practices of the Angevin dynasty are convincing. Elliott's essay provides a fitting conclusion to this excellent volume, one that should find a place on the bookshelves of all medievalists interested not only in South Italy, but also in questions of Franciscan patronage, the Angevin dynasty and female audiences. Were this collection to enter a second edition, I would urge that a genealogical table of Maria of Hungary and her family be included. Greater attention to specific aspects of the liturgy would also be welcome.