Manuel Antonio Castiñeiras González

title.none: Hourihane, Time in the Medieval World (Manuel Antonio Castiñeiras González)

identifier.other: baj9928.0711.022 07.11.22

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Manuel Antonio Castiñeiras González, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Hourihane, Colum, ed. Time in the Medieval World: Occupations of the Months and Signs of the Zodiac in the Index of Christian Art. University Parl, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007. Pp. lxviii, 346. $35.00 (hb) 978-0-9768202-3-9. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.11.22

Hourihane, Colum, ed. Time in the Medieval World: Occupations of the Months and Signs of the Zodiac in the Index of Christian Art. University Parl, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007. Pp. lxviii, 346. $35.00 (hb) 978-0-9768202-3-9. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Manuel Antonio Castiñeiras González
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

More than 60 years ago, in Speculum (1941), the prestigious medievalist Meyer Schapiro published a review of the latest publication of James Carson Webster, The Labors of the Months in Antique and Medieval Art to the end of the Twelfth century (1939). That volume was taken from Webster's doctoral dissertation at Princeton University, which he completed under the supervision of Charles Rufus Morey, Director of the Department of Art and Archaeology and founder of the Index of Christian Art. Webster's book, conceived as a graphic-descriptive index preceded by an interesting study, was destined to become a classic study of one of the most fascinating topics related to iconography (according to Schapiro), as it showed the daily lives of humankind in a way few documents from the past have done. This interest in topics linked to the calendar had previously been manifested at Princeton in the work of the director of the Index herself, Phila Calder Nye (1920-1923), who in 1923 published a brilliant article in The Art Bulletin dedicated to The Romanesque Signs of Zodiac (1923). Since then, both topics have been continuously revisited in Medieval artistic literature, always from a thematically, spatially or temporarily delimiting point of view, as clearly shown by the studies carried out in the past decades by Chiara Frugoni, Perrine Mane, Simona Cohen and Majorie Panadero.

For that reason, it is appropriate to find a volume dedicated to both repertoires which reflects that long tradition of studying these iconographic issues within the collection of Index of Christian Art Resources. Although all entries in the index are abbreviated compared to the files in Princeton, a great effort has been made to incorporate a large number of manuscript entries. This is due to the richness that this particular medium presents in both topics, more specifically in the later medieval period. In addition, an extensive bibliography is included, with the intention to alleviate the absence in the index of the series studied in the latest years and which are still in the process of inclusion in the files of the Index of Christian Art.

The objective in mind is to be able to offer both the art researcher as well as the amateur a useful iconographic guide to the subject of Time in the Medieval World. Both repertoires, Occupations of the Months and Signs of Zodiac, are studied in their entire iconographic spectrum, focusing on the obvious debt to the pagan world, as well as on its various conceptual and organizational connotations. As mentioned in the introduction, the iconography in the calendar, with the help of embodiments and symbols, was for humankind the highest expression of the shape of time, due to the fact that the cyclical changes and transformations proper of Nature both in Heaven and Earth were reflected. On the one hand, through the representation of the Occupations of the Months, essentially based on the periods of work and rest of the agricultural cycle from January through December. On the other hand, through the representation of the twelve Zodiac signs which reflect the annual course of the sun through the constellations from equinox to equinox. Both these repertoires, though independent, appear to be deeply linked since its origins in order to conform to the iconography of the calendar, as shown in the frieze of the Greek Temple, reutilized in the decoration of the Byzantine church of Hagios Eleutherios (Panagia Gorgopiko) in Athens (2nd century AD), to which Webster dedicated some important pages in his study.

Nevertheless, the repertoire of the Occupations of the Months was characterized, from the time of Charlemagne, by its endless thematic innovations as well as by the use of a revolutionary artistic language. It is also important to bear in mind, as pointed out by the author, that during these cycles, the concept of passive personification present in the past was overridden in favor of a more active and narrative image (what Schapiro referred to as themes of action), in such a way that during the Romanesque and Gothic periods the above-mentioned cycles became the experimentation grounds from which the genre scenes in Dutch painting would arise par excellence. On the contrary, the Zodiac Signs were characterized by the continuity and monotony of its themes and motifs of the past, and were on occasions represented using a Christian code, for example Aquarius as Baptism (Portal of the Lamb, San Isidoro de León, Spain), Gemini as Adam and Eve (Church of Covet, Lleida, Spain), or Virgo as the Virgin Mary (St. Austremoine, Auvergne, France).

Although it is not essential to enter into a detailed criticism of the index of works, it is however important to highlight several remarks to take into account as well as other matters which could be improved. First of all, as far as the final line, set in italics, which records the primary subject matter of the work, there appear to be faults or errors. Thus, for example, in the case of the Church of Beleña (Spain), the primary subject matter is not "Angel" (13) but "Archangel Saint Michael expelling Adam and Eve from Paradise". In this way, and in accordance to the text of the unauthentic Latin Life of Adam and Eve, 22, the archangel Saint Michael becomes the instructor who shows Adam and Eve how to cultivate the soil, like in the Winchester Psalter or in the paintings from Sigena, preserved in the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona. [1]. In the same way, and obeying the ideological implications of the origin of farm work in relation to the book of Genesis, in the case of the doorway of Santa Maria of Ripoll, the primary subject is the story of Cain and Abel, placed on the arch exactly over the calendar cycle carved on the jambs (14). Furthermore, in the archivolt of the Cathedral of St. Peter of Sessa Aurunca, the primary subject should clearly be the Acts of Apostles, especially the story of Peter (14) [2]. Also, another point that is missed is the inclusion of the original and magnificent frieze of the Lamb portal of Saint Isidoro de León (early 12th century) in the section destined to the full cycles of the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac. This, however, is present in the bibliography (cf. Moralejo's article, page 331). In the same manner, the chronology of the Portal of Santa Maria of Ripoll (Months and Aquarius), carried out ca. 1140 (14, 29) [3] would also need to be corrected, as well as eliminating the entry relevant to the existence of a sculptured relief of Pisces in the south portal of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, as it is about a symbolic figure of the Bestiary, the Siren with a Fish. [4] Moreover, it would be convenient to include in the unspecified occupations of the months (47), the cycles of San Pelayo of Perazancas (ca. 1100)[5] or Sant Andreu of Angostrina (ca 1200). As far as the bibliography is concerned, and as result of the magnificent and recently discovered Zodiac of the mosaic of the synagogue of Zippori (Sepphoris) (5th century), it would be necessary to include the studies Promise and Redemption by Zeev Weiss and Ehud Netzer. A Synagogue Mosaic form Sepphoris, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1996, and Zeev Weiss, The Sepphoris Synagogue. Deciphering an Ancient Message through its Archeological and Socio-Historical Context, Jerusalem, 2005.

The evident dimension and scope of this topic might have been better served by following the model used in the first publication of the resources (Virtue 8 Vice. The Personifications in the Index of Christian Art, Princeton University, 2000), which included a series of introductory studies by different authors regarding the different aspects of the topic in question. In this way, it would have been possible to broaden topics such as the importance of the copy of the Calendar of 354 in the time of Charlemagne, the regional variations of the iconography of the monthly cycles, in particular, topics specifically related to Italy (Marcius Cornator, the Spinario-March) or to Spain (August resting and drinking) or even the details of the Byzantine cycles, hardly mentioned in these studies, as well as the rhetoric of the ideological opposition between the images of the peasant and the lord, well manifested in gothic manuscripts. In addition, regarding the Zodiac, it would have been interesting to analyze the sources and ideological implications of its iconography, for example Libra, whose origins are in the claws of Scorpio, or the readings of Libra and Virgo in relation to the return of the Golden Ages announced by Eclogue IV of Virgil, and reinterpreted by Christianity as the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. Nevertheless, we are conscious of the effort needed to publish the volume and the amount of information contained in it for the benefit of the reader. For this reason, we must congratulate the editor and encourage him to continue this valuable and irreplaceable collection.


[1] M.A. Castiñeiras González, "Cycles de La Genèse et calendriers dans l'art roman espagnol. Apropos du portail de l'église de Beleña del Sorbe (Guadalajara)," Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale, XXXVIII, 4, 1995, 307-317, 308-309, n.7 and 14.

[2] Idem, "I PODERI SONO VENDUTI, A CIO'SEGUE L'INGANNO: per una nuova lectura del programma iconografico del portico della cattedrale di Sessa Aurunca", Annali Della Scuola Normale Superiore divisa, series III, XXIV, 2-3, 1994, p. 565-585.

[3] Idem, "Un passaggio al passato: il portale di Santa Maria di Ripoll", in Medioevo, il tempo degli antichi. VI Convegno Internazionale di Studi di Parma, Palazzo Sanvitale 23-28 settembre 2003, ed. A.C.Quintavalle, Parma, 2006, p. 365-381.

[4] Idem, El calendario medieval hispano: textos e imágenes (ss. XI-XIV), Consejería de Cultura y Educación de la Junta de Castilla y León, Salamanca, 1996, 67.

[5] "El labora: los trabajos y los días en la iconografía románica", in XVII Seminario sobre Historia del Monacato, Vida y Muerte en el monasterio románico, Aguilar de Campoo, 4-7 agosto 2003, ed. J.A. García de Cortázar, Aguilar de Campoo, 2004, 63-83.