Kenneth B. Wolf

title.none: Brooke, Image of St. Francis (Kenneth B. Wolf)

identifier.other: baj9928.0707.001 07.07.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Kenneth B. Wolf, Pomonoa College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Brooke, Rosalind B. The Image of St. Francis: Responses to Sainthood in the Thirteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xvi, 524. $135.00 (hb) ISBN-1-: 0-521-78291-0ISBN-13: 978-0-521-78291-3 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.07.01

Brooke, Rosalind B. The Image of St. Francis: Responses to Sainthood in the Thirteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xvi, 524. $135.00 (hb) ISBN-1-: 0-521-78291-0ISBN-13: 978-0-521-78291-3 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Kenneth B. Wolf
Pomonoa College

As the author states at the outset, "this book is about the impression Francis made--intentionally and in spite of himself--on contemporaries and on the early generations after his death, and the ways that he and they expressed it" (2). It makes perfect sense that such a study should focus on Francis given not only the wealth of images, textual and visual, that he inspired after his death, but the wonderfully creative ways that he presented himself to his audiences as a preacher and an urban ascetic. Indeed, as the author observes, it was precisely Francis's image that "bewitched successive generations, as it bewitched contemporaries, into thinking that he brought a new revelation with him" when in fact his spiritual program was highly derivative (12).

The first eight substantive chapters of the book (chs. 2-9) are arranged more or less chronologically, moving back and forth from verbal to visual images of the saint. The "verbal" chapters begin with one that considers how Francis presented himself to his contemporaries (ch. 2), followed by four others that ostensibly consider the "Francises" captured in the canonization proceedings (ch. 3), in the early commentaries on the Rule (ch. 5), in the early biographical material (ch. 6), and in the works of Bonaventure (ch. 8). The "visual" chapters treat the construction of the basilica (ch. 4), the early altar panels (ch. 7), and the decoration of the basilica (ch. 9). The book ends with a (curious) chapter on the rediscovery of Francis's body in 1818 and Angela of Foligno's personal image of Francis.

There is much to commend in this volume, not the least of which being the eight color plates and the 76 black and white ones that capture, among other things, so many of the earliest representations of the saint. Beyond the illustrations, the book is noteworthy for bringing together, within a single binding, both textual and art historical scholarship in a balanced manner. The author comes across as equally conversant in both fields, moving from the basilica, to Hugh of Digne's commentary on the Rule, to the Bardi panel, to the sermons of Bonaventure, to the stained-glass windows of the basilica, and so on. In short, the book is a treasure-trove of information that should be of great interest to the textual and art historian alike, helping the one appreciate the scholarship of the other.

At the same time, the book has its limitations. It is much easier to identify and describe images of Francis captured in words and pictures than it is to come up with nuanced appreciations of what they actually meant to their authors and to those who experienced them. It makes sense that the official images of Francis would reflect papal efforts to reshape the order in the wake of the saint's death. But that having been said, it is not easy to understand exactly how they reflected it. Readers of this book will find insightful, detailed analyses of all the earliest verbal and visual images of Francis, but they will find very little in the way of actual consideration of the possible meanings of the images in light of their immediate contexts. In the introduction the author sidesteps the theoretical implications of her topic, when she writes that "unfortunately 'image' has come to be a cult word, and has had all manner of jargon and mystical meaning attached to it. I have avoided jargon and tried to use it in plain, intelligible senses" (2). Though I can understand the hesitation to engage with this literature, it is less easy to excuse the sparse attention that each chapter gives to the complexity of image production and interpretation. A few examples will suffice. In the chapter devoted to Francis's own "Image in Life" (ch. 2), there is no consideration of the great difficulties involved in distinguishing between those images that Francis actually projected and those that his biographers bestowed upon him. This lacuna is especially problematic given the fact that the author is forced to cite the very same sources in her effort to reconstruct Francis's self-image as she cites in her chapters on the images produced by his early biographers (chs. 3 and 6). The author's treatment of the First Life properly attends to the sources that Thomas of Celano used but stops short of asking how the "Francis" that Thomas crafted might be distinguished from the historical one. The same criticism could, in fact, be applied to each of the "Francises" that emerge from the early biographies (chs. 3, 6, 8): how is this image of Francis really different that the others and why? The chapters devoted to visual imagery are similarly deficient in this regard. In chapter 4, the reader will learn a great deal about the respective roles of Elias and successive popes in the design and construction of the basilica, about its various architectural influences, and about the intended uses of its various spaces, but when it comes to the image presented by the building, the author has little to offer beyond "an expression of faith, a witness to the glory of God" and "the devotion to St Francis" on the part of everyone who participated in it (73). Likewise the treatment of the decoration of the walls in the Lower and Upper Churches is impressive in its grasp of the subject, but her consideration of the choice and effect of the images lags far behind. In is indicative that only one of the book's chapters (ch. 4) ends with a conclusion specifically dedicated to assessing the role of "the image." The others simply stop when the description of the last image has been completed. The only true exception to this general rule is the very last chapter, which treats in some detail Angela of Foligno and her relationship with her own image of Francis.

I want to return to what I said above about the challenge of moving beyond identification and description of images to interpretation of their meaning in light of their immediate historical contexts. My own, very different, working relationship with Francis taught me how difficult that can be. But if one is to undertake a study like this one, I believe it to be essential to provide readers with a clear and detailed sense of the challenges and limitations from the very outset, reminding them regularly along the way.