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13.10.26, Jung, The Gothic Screen

13.10.26, Jung, The Gothic Screen

This book has been long awaited and it does not disappoint in the breadth and richness of its exposition. Jung presents a systematic, although not exhaustive study of choir screens. She is explicit in her methodology, noting that she sees her work as a reversal of the approach of a number of previous scholars. Michael Camille, for example, identified superficially charming iconography in manuscripts which he subsequently demonstrated to embody marginalization of class, ethnicity, religion, and gender. Jung takes what superficially appears to be a divider, and endeavors to explain that these screens operated as a place of intersection, inclusion, and exchange: "functional furnishings for public communication" (2). The text interweaves analysis of the architectural structure, liturgy, stylistic and iconographic issues of sculpture, the particular problems of outreach to women, and also the depiction of the Jew. A marvelous series of large-scale black and white and color illustrations, many by the author, make it possible for the reader to follow her diverse arguments. The book, undoubtedly, will become a standard reference for studies of both the built environment and iconography of the Middle Ages.

Jung's text is divided into six sections, each quite distinct, enabling transition from architectural space, to liturgy, sculptural program, then patronage and reception. "The Screen as Partition" is easily the most obvious to her audience. Here, however, the author explains that screens are "permeable thresholds" (2). Her excursus, arguably, is connected to the principle that except in rare cases, architecture demands consensus from a large number of constituencies. Most of the buildings included are of significance size, including the cathedrals of Paris, Chartres, Bourges, Strasbourg, Nuremberg, Mainz, Meissen, Magdeburg, Halberstadt, and Havelberg, that supported the intersection of resident clergy, ranks of nobility, and a laity of many levels of status, many with the ability to make significant donations, especially in the later Middle Ages. For many of these sites the screens have succumbed to a modern predilection for uninterrupted interior space and need to be reconstructed from fragmentary remains and drawings and descriptions. The following chapter, "The Choir Screen as Bridge," further defines the screen as enabling transition between the nave of the laity, often referred to in medieval texts as the "church" and choir of the clergy, "two distinct sacred zones." Choir screens frequently served as platforms with space for life-size sculpture and ritual. Here Jung focuses on the image of Christ on the cross as facilitating the understanding of the "bivalent body" of the redeemer, both suffering and triumphant.

The chapter on "The Choir Screen as Frame" may be one of the most revealing to an audience infrequently accustomed to connecting real architecture and its depictions in the pictorial arts. Jung effectively demonstrates the reciprocity between paintings, particular by fifteenth-century artists such as Jan Van Eyck, Rogier Van der Weyden, and the Master of the Hours of Mary of Burgundy. These works often place their subjects in settings with complex views of interiors that suggest a keen awareness of the importance of framed spaces as actually experienced. Solid connections to the critical literature, such as Millard Meiss's seminal article "Light as Form and Symbol in Some Fifteenth-Century Paintings" resonate throughout this exploration. Here, especially for the discussion of Naumburg, more emphasis might have been given to the observation of stained glass and sculpture. See, for example, one of the best argued proofs for the development of medieval architecture and glazing together by Madeline Caviness, Sumptuous Arts at the Royal Abbeys in Reims and Braine: Ornatus Elegantiae, Varietate Stupendes (Princeton, 1990). The glazing program in Naumburg is a vital element of the experience of the screen and choir space. The visitor passes through the screen with its intense representation of the corporeal weight of matter through the suspended flesh of the suffering Lord, to an enclosure. There the living bodies of the canons and nobility witnessing services intersect with both the stone sculptures of ancestral donors and the saints and virtues depicted in the stained glass--a heavenly, transparent choir, glowing with the brightness of the reflected Godhead. Equally compelling is the effect of the colored glass to either side of Titian's Assumption of the Virgin as viewed through the choir screen in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari of Venice.

The second half of the book focuses on sculpture. In "Women, Men, and the Social Order" Jung reconstructs rituals of viewing. In the thirteenth century, we observe a burgeoning urban population and the rise of new orders such as the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) and Franciscans. There is a much stronger, and necessary, involvement of the laity in the support of the church. The screen concomitantly becomes a vital means of modeling public behavior through imagery that is more focused and deeper than that portrayed in the exterior sculptural programs. The pictorial thrust emphasizes both affective piety inspired by the humanity of Christ and effective moral actions. The gables of the screen at Strasbourg cathedral (now lost), for example, depicted a series of Corporal Works of Mercy. Jung makes a strong case for the reevaluation of outreach to women, suggesting that in Paris, Chartres, and Bourges, the narrative sculptures presented Jesus as closest to women. This thesis is carefully argued through a reading of angles of visibility. At the entrance into the ambulatory at Notre Dame of Paris, for example, the visitor first sees the three women who greet the risen Christ. Thus the author tempers anti- feminist interpretations by suggesting in many cases women served as models for everyone (128).

Jung's final two chapters concern social accessibility, first by addressing the position of "Jews, Christians, and the Question of the Individual." Here the west choir screen of Naumburg cathedral is detailed carefully. The well-known reliefs present thirty-six figures, thirteen of them with the conical hats identified with Jews. These figures are not shown as malevolent aliens but appear as "physically interchangeable with the apostles and Romans" suggesting that the program is "designed so as to compel the beholder to turn scrutiny back on the self" (149). Jung is admirably conversant with the diverse literature on the screen, including the pioneering work of Kathryn Brush. In the sixth and final section "Nobles, Peasants, and the Vernacular Mode" she argues that in these integrated spaces, physicality of placement and the act of viewing construct multivalent readings. She suggests that we might envision these medieval narratives on their stone screens as the evoking the modern experience of cinematic viewing.

At its core, Jung's excursus on the choir screen resonates with studies on the importance of both concealing and revealing as elements of sacral ritual, as well as multivalent readings of meaning. This is the fundamental requirement of the reliquary, central to pious practice in the Middle Ages. Sacred relics were never routinely accessible. Even if in the later Middle Ages relics appears in transparent containers, the fragment itself was most commonly wrapped. At all times, these books, caskets, pendants, crosses, and statues were invariably hidden away to make longed-for appearances at significant moments in a community's life: patronal feasts, major feast days of the liturgical calendar, such as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, and in times of crisis such as famine, drought, or pestilence.

The medieval church was a busy, colorful, image-redolent and even, noisy place. The hearing the liturgy was in many ways as vital as viewing. The voices of the clergy swept over architectural divides, as did the sacering bell rung to signal the consecration of the host. Recent scholarship, much of it revisionist, has broadened our approach. Eamon Duffy has made significant contributions to the reciprocity of the kind of staging discussed by Jung. In The Stripping of the Altars (Yale, 1992) Duffy cites the Sarum liturgical directions (111), prescribing that a veil be lowered during Lent that blocked even the view of the elevation of the host, a strategy building up to the theatrical revelation on Easter Sunday, when the Sacrament became even more elided with the flesh of the risen Christ.

The Gothic Screen also deserves to be read along with Roland Recht's Believing and Seeing: the Art of Gothic Cathedrals (Chicago, 2008), and a number of works by Corine Schleif including a session twenty years ago at the Sixteenth-Century Studies Conference. "'Against, dust, flies, bats...and such': Functions and Meanings of Art Coverings," where she addressed the coverings used for sculptures in St. Lorenz in Nuremberg around 1500. Jung's complex and fascinating study makes one long for similar efforts to explore more deeply the screens of Italian churches, illustrated so vividly in Giotto's fresco in Assisi of St. Francis preparing the Christmas crèche in Grecchio. More importantly, we hope for similar studies on the rood screen in England, where Francis Bond's work Screens and Galleries in English Churches (Oxford, 1908) still remains a pivotal contribution. The screen was deeply controversial during the English Reformation but enjoyed a vigorous revival during the nineteenth century Oxford movement and the restoration of traditional worship. Eamon Duffy's Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformations (Bloomsbury/Continuum, 2012) devotes a chapter to rood screens, observing that the western side of the screen was "the exclusive focus of lay concern and benefaction." Reflection on the English experience beings us again to a theme of complicity that weaves throughout Jung's study. What caused such massive losses of so impressive a structure? Brutal iconoclasm sometimes played its role , as in 1561, when Elizabeth I acquiesced to pressure and issued an order against any surviving crucifixes by demanding that rood lofts must be taken down to the beam (Margaret Aston, England's Iconoclasts, Oxford, 1988). The motivations for most destruction, however, were complex, rarely the result of doctrinal conviction. Rather, we contemplate the evolving history of religious practice, revealing how tenuous is our own understanding of sacred space and its lived ritual.