Diane J. Reilly

title.none: France, Images of St. Bernard (Diane J. Reilly)

identifier.other: baj9928.0710.024 07.10.24

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Diane J. Reilly, Indiana University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: France, James. Medieval Images of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Cistercian Studies, vol. 110. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2007. Pp. xxxi, 435. ISBN: ISBN-13: 978-0-87907-310-7, ISBN-10: 0-87907-310-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.10.24

France, James. Medieval Images of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Cistercian Studies, vol. 110. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2007. Pp. xxxi, 435. ISBN: ISBN-13: 978-0-87907-310-7, ISBN-10: 0-87907-310-1.

Reviewed by:

Diane J. Reilly
Indiana University

Surveys of the entire corpus of a single type or subject of image are challenging works to author. That of the imagery of Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most revered and prolific saints of the central Middle Ages, is no exception, particularly given the wealth of material, produced over a very large span of time and space, which must be encompassed. James France and Cistercian Publications are to be applauded for having approached this formidable task imaginatively. They have taken the thankless and expensive project of cataloguing almost a thousand images of Saint Bernard and from it rendered a useful, novel tool: a CD-ROM of almost every image found, each thoroughly catalogued, and viewable in thumbnails and larger images through a web browser. Accompanying this is a comprehensive written survey of the corpus, including two appendices which further sort the images by current location and genre. For scholars of saints and/or Cistercianism, this will be an invaluable resource. For those who intend to carry out similar projects, this combination of book and CD- ROM has blazed a new technological trail by reproducing in a relatively convenient format almost every image in the history of the depiction of Saint Bernard, for the remarkably small sum of $49.95.

This type of catalogue has become a rarity with the spiraling cost of photographic reproduction and acquiring permission to reproduce images from copyright holders. A few of the catalogue entries have white boxes in place of thumbnails and enlarged images. I assume that permission to reproduce these artworks was not forthcoming. Still, that the author was able to obtain permissions for so many artworks is admirable. This catalogue stands almost alone among its contemporaries for the comprehensiveness not just of its illustrations, but also for the bibliography that accompanies each of the artworks on the CD-ROM. Its very completeness makes its title a bit misleading: the survey of images encompasses artworks from as late as the sixteenth century, including a drawing by Raphael, which even the most open-minded art historian would not include in the category of "medieval."

The more novel component of the study, the CD-ROM, demands a measure of patience, or a more ready grasp of technology, than this reviewer at first had available. Given that the book should not be read without the CD, and in fact to understand the text one must have access to a computer with a CD-ROM reader and compatible browser, it would have been kind if the publishers had included instructions for accessing the images on the CD at the beginning of the book. Upon inserting the CD in the drive, a window opens with three files visible, entitled "BernardHTML," "Imagefiles," and "Startpage.htm." The first is a copy of the bibliography, the second is an unlabeled jumble of hundreds of images, and the third is the access point for the catalogue itself. From this "start page" a browser is opened, and finally instructions are visible. The catalogue's guiding principles, rubrics, abbreviations and subdivisions are explained, and the images themselves can be accessed, either divided by period or subject, or as a list of all 964 images, arranged according to medium.

The "start page" explains "Once in the Catalogue, quick access to any image is provided by pressing Ctrl + F and entering the image name in the search box." It was not clear to me what was meant by "image name," as medieval artworks have no canonical titles, and furthermore Ctrl + F did not appear to function at all on my computer (a Mac). Perhaps PC owners will be more successful, and find that the catalogue entries are searchable. As it stands, only those subjects featured as separate divisions on the CD-ROM can be studied as a group. One (or maybe just Mac users) cannot search by motif, country of origin, or period. This is disappointing, but one feels churlish to criticize a minor flaw in such a vast undertaking. Future generations of technologically savvy authors will undoubtedly iron out the wrinkles in such projects.

I was more worried by the longevity of this resource. The printed text contains only nineteen black and white figures (inexplicably printed out of order) and twelve color plates, some of them quite small or blurry. Since almost all of the artworks discussed are reproduced in the CD catalogue, this is of no moment while the CD continues to function. When the platform involved becomes obsolete, or a loose paperclip accidentally scratches the surface of the CD, the book itself will be rendered virtually useless. This is particularly true because in many cases the images discussed in the text are identified by no more than their CD-ROM catalogue numbers ([MA 020] for Manuscript Image 20, for instance), and no date, location or manuscript shelf number is given.

The text is divided thematically, with a heavy emphasis on themes and motifs. After an introduction to "The Medieval Iconography of Bernard of Clairvaux," twelve chapters survey various types of images, from "The Literary Portrait and the Vera Effigies," to "Bernard in the Constellation of Saints." This approach is, by nature, somewhat repetitive. A discussion of Bernard's attributes first takes place in the introduction and is reprised in the chapters on "Images of Bernard, Monk and Abbot," and "Images from the Life of Bernard." Because the themes of Bernard as monk and abbot of necessity come from his life, these chapters echo each other at times. The same is true of chapter six, "Nuns and the Iconography of Bernard," some examples of which included the Amplexus theme, and chapter seven, "Bernard Receiving the Embrace of Christ," dedicated to the Amplexus theme itself. Particularly rich cycles of Bernardine imagery, such as the early sixteenth-century Altenberg cloister windows or the sixteenth-century Zwettl altarpiece, reappear countless times throughout the book, usually discussed as individual scenes. Indeed, the organization of the book stymies attempts to see the construction of Bernard's literary and visual persona over time. Although brief summaries or conclusions at the end of each chapter do attempt this in a cursory way, and the fifteen-page conclusion surveys chronological development in part, there is no synthetic analysis of the growth of his image as a whole running through the book.

France seems quite credulous of the literary portrait created by Bernard's contemporaries, and depicts the creation of his saintly image as a reflection rather than a construction of his life and appearance. France explains that some of the incidents recorded even by those who knew Bernard well fall into the category of saintly topoi. The same can presumably be said of many of the images. And yet there are few comparisons to examples of contemporary versions of the same genres or motifs, artworks that would have informed an artist's visualization of Bernard. The standing saint, the writing saint, the cycle of images from a saint's life, images of saints with nuns, all were popular topics for medieval artists, and a variety of formulae developed that inspired artists tasked with creating a saintly image.

An impression of the overall development of the visual tradition of Bernard is further hindered by the fact that France introduces artworks not in chronological order, but based on their similarity to those just discussed. Thus the text leaps from twelfth-century artworks to fifteenth- or sixteenth-century artworks and back again. On the other hand, this approach complements France's statistical bent. The author is particularly interested in the frequency with which various themes and motifs arise, and percentages crop up occasionally ("...he is depicted carrying a book [the Rule] in some twenty-eight percent of the images recorded..." 77). A chart of the growth of Bernardine imagery appears on p. 343. Obviously extremely well versed in the life of Bernard, his writings, vitae and the history of the Cistercian order, France discusses all in conjunction with individual artworks. The Cistercian context for scenes and motifs is rendered with great clarity. Furthermore, the author is erudite not just in the literature of the Cistercians, but in the legacy of Bernard to the present day, even quoting Pope John XXIII on Bernard's De consideratione. While Medieval Images of Saint Bernard cannot be used to assess the development of a saintly image over time, as a reference to access explanations of individual images, and particularly themes specific to Bernard, such as the Amplexus image, in which Bernard embraces Christ as he hangs on the Cross, and the Lactatio, in which the Virgin Mary squeezes her breast so that a jet of milk feeds Bernard, the book serves very well. Its success in this vein would have been furthered had either the CD-ROM or the printed book indexed the text's references to individual artworks, a surprising oversight for a catalogue so comprehensive in other respects.

The choice of how to organize a survey of almost a thousand images is, of necessity, guided by the goals of the author, and will not accord with the interests of every reader. Scholars who wish to construct a history of saintly images using chronological development as an organizing principle will be able to use France's book as a springboard, as it gathers for the first time the entire corpus of Bernadine images with their attendant bibliographies. For this, historians of the Cistercians owe France a great debt. Scholars and presses who aspire to revive the lost art of publishing scholarly catalogues should certainly take note.