12.11.19, Bourdua and Gibbs, eds., A Wider Trecento

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Holly Flora

The Medieval Review 12.11.19

Bourdua, Louise and Robert Gibbs. A Wider Trecento: Studies in the 13th- and 14th-Century European Art Presented to Julian Gardner. Visualising the Middle Ages. Leiden:Brill, 2012. Pp. xxxii, 213. ISBN: 978-90-04-21076-9.

Reviewed by:

Holly Flora
Tulane University

Scholars of the Trecento, or fourteenth-century in Italy, are often caught uncomfortably between traditional concepts of periodization. The era can be categorized as "medieval" or "Renaissance," and is often regarded as a time of transition within the larger narrative of Western art history. To be safe, many survey textbooks, if divided into two volumes, include a chapter on the Trecento in both, a division that until recently tended to sideline its significance. A Wider Trecento is a fascinating collection of twelve essays written by former students of Julian Gardner, a scholar who perhaps more than any other has confronted this traditional paradigm by moving away from style or attribution-centered studies, thus allowing us to see the period on its own terms. A fitting tribute to Gardner, this volume focuses on works from the late thirteenth through the end of the fourteenth century, yet reaches outside the traditional centers of Italian art history such as Florence to explore little-known works from other cities. Several studies here also probe the links between Trecento art and the wider European context, something that most studies of Italian art history, with their tendency to be very regionally focused, fail to do. This collection underscores the fact that Gardner's students, like the man himself, are truly pioneering in their scholarship, breaking down regional and methodological barriers.

A list of the contributors to the volume along with their institutional affiliations further illuminates Gardner's legacy. His students now occupy or formerly occupied a significant number of prestigious academic and museum posts in the United Kingdom and Canada, including the National Gallery of Art in London and the Courtauld Institute. The volume then begins with a biographical essay on Gardner and his career by Serena Romano, with parallel text in both English and Italian. This is followed by a useful bibliography of his scholarly works, arranged by year of publication and, most impressively, spanning forty-five years, from 1966 to 2011. Perusing this list, one remembers that without Gardner our understanding of papal patronage during the pivotal period at the end of the thirteenth century would be much poorer indeed. His diverse contributions have also paved the way for the current wave of recent studies on the mendicant orders, portraiture, and female patronage, among other topics. A brief introduction by the volume editors, Louise Bordua and Robert Gibbs, summarizes the essays and how they reflect Gardner's research interests and approaches. The dozen short studies that follow hang together nicely, while also offering a broad range of topics and interpretive strategies. They represent a "wider" Trecento, in the sense that the works studied span the entire fourteenth century, and also range geographically beyond traditional Italian centers such as Florence, Rome, and Venice.

In fact, in the volume we encounter works made as far afield as England, as in Dillian Gordon's discussion of the orbs depicted in the Westminster Retable and the Wilton Diptych. Gordon proposes that an inscription on the Cosmati floor of Westminster Abbey refers to the orb held by Christ in the Retable, suggesting that the Retable graced the high altar of the Abbey. Her study also sheds new light on the significance of the orb in the Wilton Diptych. Likewise examining royal patronage outside Italy, Virginia Glenn's essay examines Clarissan imagery on a Parisian monstrance given to the treasury at Assisi by a French queen, likely Jeanne de Navarre.

Franciscan or mendicant patronage, one of Gardner's research interests, underpins Glenn's work as well as that of five other essays in the volume. Panel paintings commissioned by or for Franciscans are the subject of essays by Roberto Cobianchi, Jill Farquhar and Joanna Canon. Cobianchi relies upon evidence from a photographic archive to convincingly argue that a little-known triptych comes not from Piacenza, as previously thought, but from the church of San Francesco in Correggio. Cannon and Farquhar address instead issues of iconography. In the exquisite Madonna of the Franciscans by Duccio, the Virgin's foot is kissed by one of the friars, and Cannon's essay illuminates the heritage and Tuscan adaptation of this motif. Her short study relies on a thorough exploration of visual precedents, but she does not have room here to treat the literary analogues as well. Farquhar likewise treats iconographic motifs promoted by the Franciscans, such as the unusual image of Christ being stripped, in several panels from Rimini.

Essays by Louisa Bordua and Martina Schilling further illuminate neglected aspects of mendicant patronage. Schilling takes us to Vercelli, where a little-known tomb of the regular Augustinian canon Thomas Gallus (d. 1246) features imagery promoting his status as revered scholar and teacher. Perhaps Gallus's most famous pupil was Anthony of Padua, and as in her other significant studies, Louise Bordua examines aspects of his cult in her essay. Bordua presents new research into the iconography of St James in the Lupi Chapel in the Santo in Padua, exploring links both to family patronage of the chapel and the wider context of the cult of James and pilgrimage to his shrine at Santiago de Compostela.

Three essays concern Roman art and/or papal patronage, an area of study pioneered by Gardner. Adjustments made to an earlier marble relief to depict the stemma of the Colonna family, a column, at the church Santa Pressede are, John Osborne argues, a reflection of the French interest in heraldry adopted in late medieval Rome. Claudia Bolgia likewise discusses a work from a Roman church, proposing a context for an unusual fresco of the Trinity now in the Museo di Roma at Palazzo Braschi, and Robert Gibbs addresses devotion to Urban V's memory in late fourteenth-century Bologna.

Two somewhat more theoretical contributions by Anne Dunlop and Jill Bain suggest new strategies for reading medieval wall paintings. Pointing to several diverse examples, Bain argues that the lack of color in medieval monochromatic painting connotes absence. Such absence can either frame the central narrative, as in the fictive drapery on the dado of wall paintings, or signify an anticipatory, "differing level of reality," as in images of the Virtues and Vices in the Arena Chapel or the Annunciation on the exterior of the Ghent altarpiece. Mural painting is also addressed by Dunlop as it concerns themes of love in the castle of Sabbionara d'Avio near Verona. Dunlop's article posits a new reading of these paintings in light of medieval theories of perception and the notion of active images, offering an explanation for the blindness of the figure of love.

The essays in A Wider Trecento are presented in a handsome, slim volume, but larger, color reproductions would have elevated this contribution, since so many of the works under discussion are little known and scarcely studied. The only color image included is the portrait of Gardner himself. Details discussed in the essays are often difficult to see in the small illustrations, thus undermining the authors' points. And despite the lack of color or large images, the cost of the volume is quite high. That in itself is nothing new in the realm of academic publishing these days, but it is unfortunate nonetheless, for this volume deserves to be acquired and read by many. Scholars and students will benefit from this new look at various aspects of the "wider" Trecento, and to that end one hopes it will be put on many a list of acquisitions for libraries worldwide.

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Holly Flora

Tulane University