12.01.20, Gebauer, 'Christus und die minnende Seele'

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Albrecht Classen

The Medieval Review 12.01.20

Gebauer, Amy. 'Christus und die minnende Seele'. Imagines Medii Aevi, 26. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2010. Pp. 288. ISBN: 978-3-89500-757-6.

Reviewed by:
Albrecht Classen
University of Arizona

The mystical text Christus und die minnende Seele from the late fourteenth century represents a fascinating example of this genre in that the author/s present/s the soul's "journey" to Christ in its effort to achieve the unio mystica. The latter is only possible if the soul really sheds all aspects of its former human existence, which is here presented in sometimes even gruesome scenes predicated on shocking violence, including hanging, shooting, etc. The text was quite popular and survived far into the early sixteenth century. One reason for this phenomenon was the rich illustration program consisting of twenty to twenty-four individual episodes, depending on the version. There are eight manuscripts, four single leaf prints, and one early modern print from ca. 1500. More specifically, we have four broadsheets, four broadsheet text versions, four manuscripts, and one printed book.

In her study, based on her Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Amy Gebauer makes the most valuable effort to examine this text tradition in great detail by discussing and describing meticulously the textual testimonies, the iconography, the circulation of the texts, the textual and visual context, and the components of the text common to virtually all versions of the work, including the illustrations and the four initial lines of dialogue verses accompanying each illustration (192). In a way this basically amounts to a catalogue description, which proves to be highly useful for future studies. For each section Gebauer sets up one system and the provides the relevant information, such as for the broadsheets: technique, condition, dimension, number of lines, dialect, date, origin, provenance, contents, and literature. In the case of the manuscripts, Gebauer goes even further into details and explores the historical background of the respective monastery and library. In the case of MS E, Gebauer observes the remarkable development of secular female readership by the late fifteenth century, which she calls "monasticization of the laity by literary means" (39). She also traces the family tree in the case of Anna Muntprat, who had presented MS D to her sister Veronica, canonness regular of St. Augustine in Inzigkofen in 1497, and examines the history of that convent. Moreover, she lists all the other texts contained in D.

The second chapter consists of an iconographic catalogue in which she describes all the images contained in the individual manuscripts and broadsheets plus the print. Since they represent a very specific sequence of spiritual steps which the soul has to take, Gebauer follows this model in her analysis as well. There is, however, a certain danger of giving too many times almost the same descriptions since the motifs do not change. A more comparative and cumulative approach might have achieved the desired goal better, at least with regard to the images, since their motifs are always more or less the same: 1. evening prayer; 2. awakening; 3. fasting; 4. discipline; 5. blinding and laming; 6. instruction; 7. spinning; 8. undressing; 9. hanging; 10. love potion; etc. But since this is supposed to be an analytic catalogue, this is very welcome, after all. Chapter Three, however, then takes the next step, offering us most insightful information about the circulation of the manuscripts, their owners, and the differences among the text versions. Gebauer observes that a variety of monastic convents of different orders was interested in this mystical account. Outside of the monastic circles, a number of wealthy lay women cared greatly for Christus und die minnende Seele and maintained close contacts with convents. Because of their religious devotion, or as a result of other factors, they were literate and were involved in the dissemination of this kind of mystical literature (154), such as Katharina Tucher in Nuremberg.

The fourth chapter focuses on the textual and visual context of each manuscript and investigates what related texts have to be considered for the full understanding of the religious meaning and concept of Christus und die minnende Seele. Sometimes Gebauer recognizes a strong emphasis on exemplary lives for nuns, then also on secular devotion. Here the author additionally addresses the function of the illustrations for the explanation of the text's messages. The great interest in Christus und die minnende Seele obviously resulted from the direct appeal to the reader and viewer to leave material existence behind and to follow Christ in a spiritual manner.

Subsequently, Gebauer finally turns to the central concern that seemed to be lacking in the earlier chapters, that is, to bring together the specific themes in the text and to illustrate how they were developed in the individual versions. Here we learn in concrete terms what the differences might be between the images, for instance, or between specific wording here and there. However, since the author has already dealt with all of the themes at considerable length in the first part of this book, the revisit of them here as part of the critical interpretation seems a bit redundant, if not repetitive.

Overall, then, this is an excellent study of the textual transmission and visual illustration programs of Christus und die minnende Seele. And as if that were not enough, we are also given a list of the illustrations, a bibliography, a general index, and then the 92 color and b/w plates showing us the most important episodes in the individual versions. A number of aspects of this text now so well examined with respect to the textual transmission and the interaction between text and image, will probably stimulate further research: the significant role women played in the reproduction of this account, the extraordinarily rich illustration program, and the degree of violence conceptually employed in the discussion of the mystical experience. Gebauer deserves our full respect for this most impressive critical analysis of the rich manuscript, broadsheet, and print tradition, which she could carry out only by way of long research stays at various libraries.

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Albrecht Classen

University of Arizona