In the midst of our field's "material turn," with its stress on the agency of things and the presence of the past, it is easy to forget that not even a decade ago a different set of catchwords dominated Medieval Art History: performance, and its close, often vaguely defined correlate, performativity. In the performance-centered current of art history, the objects of visual culture were certainly active. But they did not, in themselves, possess or exercise agency in the way they are said to do in the newer materialist vein; those powers belonged to the men and women who handled, looked at, and used those objects in various ways, under various conditions and to various ends. Nor was the thing-ness of art-objects, despite being recognized as vital to their meaning, viewed as an end in itself. Rather, the material and spatial properties of artworks served to articulate and enhance their users' embodied experience as actors and meaning-makers in the social, political, religious, and even private spheres.
This massive two-volume collection was assembled at the height of the "performative turn," and brings together thirty-four essays that explore what the editors call the "interactive" qualities of late medieval and early modern art. Each volume bears a distinct thematic thrust (and, with it, a distinct subtitle, which makes citing the books in footnotes rather a chore). The collection's primary title derives, we are told in each volume's introduction, from a creature in Hugh Lofting's Doctor Dolittle books known as a "pushmi-pullyu." This is a clever choice but in my view an inapt one, as the creature in question possesses a head at each end of its body and thus cannot move in any direction without consulting its opposite end first. Perhaps this situation might generate productive dialogues, but it also means that the active movement of one side requires passive acquiescence from the other, and that only one head at a time can ever see where it is going: one side's gain is always the other's loss. This strikes me as a tragic and terrifying state of being, and a far cry from the kind of mutually affirming engagements--generous, head-on encounters between attentive human perceivers and eloquent human-made artifacts--that the essays themselves celebrate.
The editors cast a very wide net in their search for contributions and were ecumenical in their final selections. Although the books' titles do not make this clear, the editors' focus is on "devotional art" broadly defined. (Perhaps too broadly: it is difficult to see how Medici wedding spectacles, geometrically ornamented portals, or printed architectonic alphabets fit this particular bill, though they all inspired interesting articles.) With the large number and diversity of final contributions, and the editors' desire to arrange them conceptually rather than according to traditional art historical categories such as medium or chronology, the organization of the set can be bewildering. Each of the two volumes includes a dual theme in its subtitle ("Imaginative and Emotional Interaction" for Vol. 1, and "Physical and Spatial Interaction" for Vol. 2), but the contents of each volume are subdivided into five parts. Some of these are very limited, such as "Reflections in Mirrors, Walls, and Interstices" (Vol. 1) and others quite broad, such as "Insistent Images and Spaces" (Vol. 2). Only two essays fall into the section on "Imagined Pilgrimage and Spiritual Tourism" (Vol. 1), while no subheading addresses the practice and visual culture of pilgrimage itself, despite the fact that at least five essays focus explicitly on that theme. At the same time, the editors inform us that they have envisioned "three distinct categories into which devotional action can be divided" (my emphasis). To be sure, there winds up being something of the complexity and exuberance of late Gothic art to be found in the work's ultimate 2 (volumes) x 2 (subtitles) x 5 (parts) design--but the present reviewer's thirteenth-century soul, steeped in the restrained logic of High Gothic, cannot help thinking that the simple tripartite schema proposed in the introductions would have yielded greater conceptual coherence and focus than the volumes currently display.
The three categories of "devotional action" that the editors deem vital are "active physical interaction, purely imaginative interaction, and performative interaction." "Active physical interaction" is a fairly limited category, entailing direct, embodied engagement with works of art or architecture--kissing an icon or reliquary (Ashley, Blick), turning the pages of a manuscript (Stanton, Goehring), manipulating a mirror or a hinged painting (Sand, Acres, Tucker/DeWitt), laying a doll into its cradle (LeZotte), walking through a portal (Abel, Olsen), looking into a window (Gelfand). "Purely imaginative interaction" is a far broader field. Within these volumes, it includes the mental activity of connecting words, images, and marginalia while perusing a manuscript (Clark/Sheingorn, Monroe, Boeckler), undertaking an imaginary pilgrimage through pictures (Luttikhuizen, Foster-Campbell, Gertsman), anticipating or reflecting on the movements of statues (Hermans, Jacobs).
More difficult to pin down is the editors' third major category, "performative interaction." They themselves sidestep a definition in their introductions, noting merely that "performative [interactions; in this case, they refer to pilgrimage] could play a role in both active and imaginative [interactions]" (I: xxxvii; II: xxxv). The term "performative," of course, has multiple connotations, and the essays veer among them. There is a kind of merry joyfulness in the loose way the concept is adapted to various subjects, but any reader seeking a consistent definition or method will be disappointed. From the literary-theory perspective, the term designates certain verbal formulations capable of effecting major changes in people's relationships or status: "You are banished"; "I pronounce you husband and wife"; "This is my body." It is a short step from these logocentric cases to Alfred Gell's attribution of agency to artworks, a move that gave impetus to the recent materialist orientation in our field. Few studies in the Push Me, Pull You volumes take that tack, at least in any direct way--though one could argue that images that, when viewed in conjunction with certain prayers, earned their contemplators a respite from future purgatorial pains functioned in this way (as in Gibson's discussion of indulgence prints).
Most of the essays concern themselves instead with a broader anthropological approach in which the human actions involving objects are of paramount importance. Sometimes these performances were highly formalized and ceremonial, as in the ritualized movements undertaken by pilgrims at shrines (Ashley, Blick), the spectacles enacted for the public in honor of rulers' weddings (Poole), or lavish civic processions (Tekippe). Sometimes they were imaginary and associative: a character in a narrative picture might behave similarly to her counterpart in a live dramatic performance, so that viewers could more easily animate the scene in their minds (Trowbridge); or figures might be configured in such a way as to spark memories, anticipations, and even substitutions of liturgical actions such as the receipt of the Eucharist (Van Ausdall, Ward), or to engage in silent dialogues with beholders (González García, Sadler). Such private contexts give "performativity" a different dimension; just as, in Judith Butler's version, even something as seemingly personal as gender identity can be read as a performance calibrated to meet (or subvert) social norms, so, in these cases, the individual's engagement with images allows him or her to construct/perform a persona as a devout member of the Christian community.
The thirty-six contributors (two essays were jointly authored), represent a cross-section of American art historical scholarship. Only three (Belghaus, González García, and Hermans) are attached to European institutions. Most are mid-career art historians; at the time of publication only one contributor was a Ph.D. student (Foster-Campbell), and two enjoyed emeritus status (Gibson, Sheingorn). Among those working in academia, two teach in English departments (Ashley, Boeckeler) and one in French (Clark); three work in museums as curators (DeWitt, Karr Schmidt) or conservators (Tucker). The timespan covered by their contributions ranges from the last quarter of the twelfth century (Monroe) to the early seventeenth (Poole), but most indeed fall in the period we generally call Late Gothic (1300-1500). Geographically, the subjects of the essays span the Alps, but the greatest weight lies in France, the Low Countries, and Germany, with England, Italy, and Spain playing subsidiary roles.
It is through their mediality that the works are able to function as interactive devices, so the following, necessarily cursory overview of the volumes' contents will treat the essays according to the dominant medium. In light of the theoretically rich literature on manuscripts, particularly issues of readership, patronage, and reception, that has emerged over the past thirty years, it is no surprise that the essays dealing with books are among the sophisticated in the volumes. In the opening essay of the first volume (I.1), Robert L.A. Clark and Pamela Sheingorn analyze the interpretive tensions that accrue for an individual "reader-viewer" of the mid-fourteenth century Pelerinage Jhesucrist, a manuscript in which the text must compete for attention with an unconventional pictorial program and complex textual glosses. If this reading process involves repeated moments of frustration and ambiguity as the narrative gets complicated by extrinsic elements, that charted by Elizabeth Monroe (I.2) for the Hortus Deliciarum, the late twelfth-century manuscript made by an Alsatian abbess, involves the discovery of cohesion, community, and ultimately spiritual redemption as the sisters worked through the densely composed and often highly original arrangements of text and image on the pages.
Building on the writings of Michael Camille and Lucy Freeman Sandler, three essays deal with marginalia in manuscripts, always taking into consideration the push and pull they exert with regard to the ostensibly central content of their pages. Anne Rudloff Stanton (I.3) explores the impact marginal images had on the reading process of four luxurious fourteenth-century devotional manuscripts from England, showing how they prompted viewers to continue moving through the pages even as the main images and prayers urged them to linger and look closely. There is no question, in Stanton's cases, that the little figures in central and marginal sequences occupy distinct conceptual domains--they are sometimes delineated in completely different styles--and that all inhabit a fictive world separate from the viewer's. In the Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal of c. 1500-1510, discussed by Margaret Goehring (I.4), such boundaries are blurred. Employing all the tricks of illusionism available at his time, the Netherlandish illuminator transformed his pages into windows--sometimes even windows within windows--that opened onto biblical worlds that seemed to be continuous with the viewer's own. Of course, placing one illusionistic scene over another one with completely different atmospheric elements also worked, ingeniously, to subvert mimetic effects--but the equally expansive and enticing landscapes and cityscapes into which the viewer's attention was drawn allowed her to undertake something of a virtual pilgrimage through the various events of the lives of Christ and the saints. A different form of pilgrimage was simulated in the wonderful late fifteenth-century Flemish manuscripts surveyed by Megan Foster-Campbell (I.7), whose margins (and in some cases full pages) were embellished with the small, embossed metal badges the books' owners accumulated on visits to saints' shrines. In some cases, badges were added to illuminated pages in such a way as to underscore, either formally or iconographically, the existing picture's content; in others, the arrangement seems more haphazard, pointing to connections that would have been recognized as meaningful only to the owner.
Similarly evocative in their signification are the beautiful engraved letters discussed by Erika Boeckeler (I.5), in one of two essays that focus on prints. It is a stretch, as the author admits, to see this alphabet from late fifteenth-century Germany, in which each Gothic minuscule letter was composed of contemporary architectural elements, as a devotional tool. But Boeckeler makes a compelling case for the edifying power of these designs, as they prompted the kind of concentrated viewing--filled with twists and turns, seen and unseen things, anticipated and utterly surprising elements--that served people well in the process of devotional meditation. That these designs fuse abstract units of language and recognizable real-world items (mullions, buttresses) into images that are perceptible to the human mind but impossible to create in reality underscores their status as analogues of sacred mysteries; the designs let us witness the materialization of the word. Words are also vital to the indulgence prints studied by Walter Gibson (I.8) in his useful survey of this image-genre, but less for their visual qualities than their semantic value. Whether included on the print or assumed to be known, certain prescribed prayers were what activated stock devotional images--above all the crucifix, Mary in sole, and the Gregory Mass--making them effective agents in the salvation of devout beholders' souls. Indulgence texts could also be appended to altarpieces, as Amy Morris (I.9) shows in her study of Lucas Moser's Magdalene Altarpiece in Tiefenbronn. There the texts, which promised a speedier end to purgatorial trials in the afterlife, complemented and complicated the imagery displayed in the altar panels, which both showed people what they could do in the world to ensure their place among the Elect and helped them feel more deeply connected to Christ and his heavenly cohort in the present.
Such was the function of many other paintings discussed in this book. Kristen Van Ausdall (I.13) turns our attention to Eucharistic imagery in late medieval Italy--especially depictions of the Man of Sorrows, either shown head-on, as a personal vision for the beholder, or framed within a representation of the Gregory Mass--to show how these made the salvific Body of Christ available to the public despite the general inaccessibility or invisibility of the Eucharistic host. Standing in churches, the images brought together here had an at least quasi-public character. Not so the similarly dialogic pictures surveyed by Juan Luis González García (I.14), which were all owned by Spanish monarchs of the sixteenth century and played a role in the formation of an exclusive court piety. Here luxury manuscripts and, above all, paintings by world-class artists (from Memling to Titian) either showed the royal patrons interacting with holy characters or, through close-up, high-impact designs, enabled them to feel that they were doing so directly, letting them cultivate a sense of piety aimed at higher things while also luxuriating in their present world of elite display.
Studying another devotional painting of exquisite quality, Hugo van der Goes's diptych with the Fall of Man and Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Mark Trowbridge (I.12) demonstrates the connections between pictorial imagery and religious dramas. Drawing on the verbal and gestural rhetoric of the theatre, he shows, above all, how Mary Magdalene functioned as a mediator in both representational worlds, both undoing the disobedience of Eve and drawing beholders affectively into the scene. Hugo's paintings are famously dense; those studied by Henry Luttikhuizen (I.6) allow more room for the viewer imaginatively to move. Both Geertgen tot Sint Jans's Crucifixion panel (c. 1490) and the painting of the Martyrdom of St. Lucy by the Master of the Figdor Deposition (c. 1505) distribute their relatively small figures across the plane in such a way that the viewer can mentally "walk" from one vignette to the next, deepening his devotion as he collected impressions in a kind of mental pilgrimage.
Whereas Luttikhuizen charts the beholder's intrapictorial movement across a painting's surface, Alfred Acres (I.17) focuses on the potent border where two pictures comprising a diptych meet. Returning to Geertgen's Crucifixion and its companion piece showing the Virgin in sole, and a series of other image-pairs from both the Netherlands and Italy, Acres traces the formal echoes and contrasts across the central cleft that deepened the iconographical content of each side. The complexity he reveals in these diptychs, which interact with each other as much as with the viewer, parallels that which may be found in a series of works by Jasper Johns that likewise play on physical interstices filled by the viewer's projective imagination. The physicality implicit in Acres's analysis of folding diptychs becomes a central factor in Mark Tucker and Lloyd DeWitt's investigation of the Morrison Triptych, a Netherlandish ensemble made around 1500 and now in the Toledo Museum of Art (II.12). Their recent conservation work allows the authors to draw exciting conclusions on the ingenuity of both the intrapictorial dynamics of the paintings and those that relate outward to their surroundings. The images were designed to create continuous spatial illusions for viewers at distinct standpoints relative to the altar and even to incorporate references to ambient lighting and liturgical props; thus a tiny reflection of the chalice presumably placed upon the altar glints across the polished marble pedestal beneath Eve's feet on the outer wings.
Both Acres and Tucker/Dewitt bring us into the realm of images whose meanings unfold not only metaphorically, within the confines of the receptive viewer's imagination, but quite literally, as they are manipulated in real space. The contributions on small-scale sculptural objects bring us further into that more palpable aspect of interactivity. Bringing together the aspect of opening and closing explored by other authors with the interest in virtual pilgrimage charted by Luttikhuizen, Elina Gertsman (II.8) offers a rhetorically effusive interpretation of late medieval Shrine Madonnas as vehicles for imaginative pilgrimages both through the narrative of Christ's life and through the Virgin's womb. If the connection between the sequencing of pictorial vignettes in the sculptures' inner wings and Mary's reproductive organs remains tenuous at best, Suzanne Karr Schmidt's (II.9) materials--small ivory statuettes, housed in caskets, showing bodies in the process of decomposition, and printed images with flaps that alternately conceal and reveal interior organs and skeletal constructions--offer unambiguous views of the body's normally hidden parts and processes. By showing human bodies seething with life, such images, paradoxically, reminded viewers of death's inevitable creep, revealing the presence of mortality lurking beneath even the most placid exteriors.
Like Gertsman's opening Virgins and Karr Schmidt's boxed cadavers, the miniature Christ Child cribs (jésueaux) studied by Annette LeZotte (II.3) were also activated by human hands--in these cases, the hands of conventual or quasi-conventual women in the Netherlands. With their simultaneous demands for visual contemplation and for interactive, multisensory use (in part through their tactile presence, in part through their incorporation of bells that resonated with the sonic world of the city streets), the cribs functioned as more than accessories for Baby Jesus statuettes. They initiated chains of mental association, accessed through the whole corporeal sensorium, that tied their handlers to both the world of secular society and the ineffable realm of the divine. Likewise oscillating between physical utility and mental stimulation are the beautiful fourteenth-century hand-mirrors examined by Alexa Sand (I.15). With their ivory frames embellished with relief carvings of courtly lovers in states of erotic tension or anticipation, the mirrors, in Sand's analysis, become tools for thinking "outside the box"--for recognizing the self, shimmering into view in the reflective surface but always in need of polishing, as the starting point for a long-awaited confrontation with God. One must credit the courtly owners of these kinds of sumptuous objects with a remarkable degree of internalized piety to imagine them finding in their reflections tragic reminders of their own distance from God rather than affirmations of their own sexual allure. But no such leap of the imagination is necessary for the small alabaster carving of the Mass of St. Gregory studied by Susan Leibacher Ward (I.10), a fifteenth-century English work now in the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Like Van Ausdall, Ward places this object--which she suggests was once part of a multipanel altarpiece--within the larger sensory and conceptual field of the liturgy, offering, in the highly tactile figure of Christ, a permanently available counterpart to the Eucharistic host and calling attention to the power of visionas a means of accessing the divine.
The authors who write on manuscripts, prints, and small-scale sculptures all deal with viewers who exercise some form of mastery over the objects, whether as agents who manipulate the works, choosing what they are going to see when, or simply as bodies that are larger than the works, and thus capable of absorbing their content from a single standpoint. Very different relationships occur when the viewer is part of an environment shaped by large-scale works of sculpture and painting, particularly those embedded in architecture. Michelle Erhardt (II.10) demonstrates how the program of fourteenth-century paintings on the walls and on functional objects such as cupboards in the sacristy of Santa Croce in Florence--with their emphasis on Eucharistic presence, the marvelous acts of St. Francis, and the exemplary behavior of the Virgin Mary and the Magdalene--helped focus and guide the brothers' thoughts as they prepared to perform the Mass. If the imagery Erhardt studied at Santa Croce was visible to a limited audience under very particular circumstances, the frescoes Giotto painted for the public spaces of the same church functioned quite differently. Jane Long (II.11) charts the pictorial programs dedicated to St. Francis (in the Bardi Chapel) and to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist (in the Peruzzi Chapel), teasing out the visual echoes, parallels, and contrasts that would have given distinctive emphases to the programs as they as they were encountered by the resident friars, wealthy laymen, and women who visited these spaces in the context of liturgy and commemorative practices. Through their placement along and across the walls, the images enfold viewers physically and prompt the kind of active, attentive spectatorship that would allow them to internalize the images, rendering them salient for their own varied lives.
For Long, the viewers of Giotto's frescoes learned through an active process of intellectual analysis and identification with the images. For Donna Sadler (I.11), people who moved around the magnificent cluster of sculptures known as the Well of Moses, Claus Sluter's masterpiece at the Chartreuse de Champmol, engaged with the figures emotionally. Going beyond the obvious analyses of the lachrymose theology embodied by the mournful prophets and weeping angels who accompanied a now-lost Crucifixion group, Sadler wants to read the figures, and viewers' responses to them, in light of Roland Barthes's concept of the punctum--the prick associated with random, pregnant details in photographs, particularly those evocative of the subject's physical absence. To this reader the connection seems willful, as the Well is patently, not just implicitly, about the death of an innocent, and the details that might move us are things that were fashioned by the artist and his assistants to produce precisely these effects. More compelling is Laura Gelfand's (II.4) situation of Sluter's works at Champmol within the context of fifteenth-century "installation arts": three-dimensional, time-based fusions of imagery and architecture that create the illusion that the viewer is moving into and through a different world. In this context, the Chartreuse de Champmol sculptures--not only the Well of Moses but also the portal with the noble donor figures and the ducal tombs installed in the church--facilitate what Gelfand calls "performative pilgrimage," in which the viewer's physical movement and mental compilation of visual stimuli form an end in themselves. By contrast, the Jerusalem Chapel in Bruges and the sacro monte in Varallo each simulates pilgrimage to the Holy Land through their very different but equally meticulous arrangements of images and objects in space. Gelfand, like many of the other contributors, places a premium on the devotional efficacy of these kinds of multimedia environments, but one can also see in them a drive to expand and enrich their viewers' capacity for fantasy and pleasure more broadly.
The immersive environments discussed by Gelfand are noteworthy for their level of mimetic detail: a visitor to the mountain at Varallo, for example, does not need to imagine biblical scenes unfolding at various stations; she actually sees them, rendered in uncanny detail, before her eyes. One wonders whether the explosion of detail in these late medieval ensembles indeed enriched the devotional imagination to the extent that Gelfand assumes, or in fact hindered it by limiting the viewer's need to interpolate or project her own content. The viewer's role is more active in the cases presented by Lex Hermans (II.5), in which Italian Renaissance statues--lifelike in certain respects but idealized beyond human capabilities, and often shown in the decidedly non-quotidian guise of full nudity--were described by contemporaries as possessing the capacity to speak, feel, and move. Here we are dealing with real reciprocity between viewers and image-objects: the statues, both through their lively compositions and their extroverted gestures and gazes, seek to capture the viewer's attention, while the viewer imposes on the statues the human virtues and qualities that the study of rhetoric has taught him to read out of their distinctive physiognomies, physiques, and gestures. In a strange mimetic circuit, people project life into sculptures that beg to be animated, and in turn learn from the sculptures how to comport themselves.
A very different way of engaging with sculptures, though one no less invested in attributing human characteristics to them, is exemplified in the materials studied by Fredrika Jacobs (II.6). Using documentary evidence such as miracle books and pictorial evidence such as votive images, Jacobs illuminates the ways religious sculptures in Renaissance Italy, particularly those of the Virgin Mary, snapped into life to interact not only with pious beholders but also with supernatural beings such as demons. Here again we see the power of images to both enchant in a positive way and to exorcise evil forces; whereas in Hermans's cases the encounters of people with sculptures took place in an individual and highly intellectual manner, in Jacobs's the confrontations are mediated by the performances of religious rituals. Rituals, in which repeated, prescribed actions crystallize the living body into an image, here provide the setting in which images can behave like, and even more powerfully than, living bodies.
In few genres of medieval art are the connections between artificial and animate bodies more self-consciously underscored than in sculptural portal programs. Janet Snyder (II.15) discusses the ways early Gothic jamb figures present idealized mirrors and models of comportment to beholders who prepare to enter (and exit) church buildings. This they do not only through their lavish contemporary costumes but also through their stoic, sedate demeanors and controlled gestural activity, which serve to prime viewers for the solemnity of the rituals they are about to experience. Vibeke Olson (II.16) is also concerned with the visual address of portal sculptures to beholders, this time in the context of the great Romanesque pilgrimage churches of France and northern Spain. For Olson, it is less the bodily (and thence spiritual) shaping of the self that the sculptures trigger than the contemplation of Last Things--the fear of damnation so vividly pictured, and the promise of salvation that the church ultimately held. None of this will come as a surprise to students of Romanesque and Gothic sculpture. The most original contribution to the study of portals here (indeed, one of the strongest contributions to the anthology as a whole) is that by Mickey Abel (II.14), who takes up the challenging topic of the many tympanum-less, archivolted portals that marked the threshold to Romanesque churches throughout Europe. Despite their lack of large-scale figuration, and thus any clear-cut didactic content, Abel shows how these constructions called attention to the viewer's forward motion not only through their highly sensuous designs, which allowed the decorative archivolts seemingly to expand around approaching viewers, but also through their visual echoes of contemporary astronomical and cosmological diagrams. This connection, which places equal weight on theoretical conceptions of motion and physical practices of movement, may strike some readers as a stretch, but Abel makes a compelling, indeed rather ingenious case for looking at the most abstract or "decorative" art in light of the great scientific questions (and their associated visual apparatuses) that preoccupied so many medieval churchmen. In so doing, the intellectual as well as artistic intelligence of these designs is able to shine forth.
The essay by Scott Montgomery (II.16) returns us to figural imagery, this time drawing attention not so much to openings as to the security represented by closure. His focus is a fourteenth-century relief on Cologne's medieval city wall showing the miraculous defense of the city by its saintly patrons, St. Ursula and her Eleven Thousand Virgin companions (as well some male helpers) during a military skirmish a century earlier. Here we find a vivid demonstration of how images could solidify concepts in real spaces, this time rendering palpable the real presence of the saints in their relics, their active role in protecting the community, and their deep functional connection with the more obvious protective device of the thick stone wall. Saints' relics were more often, of course, subject to protection by the faithful, who encased them in lavish shrines set deep within the sanctuaries of churches and made them the goals of sometimes very distant journeys. Such visits to saints' shrines are the focus of several essays in these volumes. In a densely detailed study (at fifty-one pages the longest in the collection), Viola Belghaus (II.7) charts the changing patterns of veneration to St. Elizabeth of Thuringia, originally a local saint, whose cult quickly expanded throughout Europe. Paradoxically, her cult was promoted by the gradual removal from public view of her relics, held in her eponymous church in Marburg, and concomitant explosion of visual images recounting her most memorable activities as a noblewoman and social advocate. The image (or, rather images) of St. Elizabeth thus came to assume a public power that her relics could not have (and ultimately did not need). The relics of St. James in Compostela, a preeminent pilgrimage destination for over a century before Elizabeth was born, were likewise difficult for visitors to access, as Kathleen Ashley's study (II.1) makes clear, but a plethora of other material things could give pilgrims a sense of contact with their saint. Contact relics of various kinds were hugely important in this context: visitors could see and touch items associated with the saint, such as his walking staff and the blade that beheaded him, and they could embrace and kiss a life-sized statue of him. No less than the preparatory rituals many pilgrims practiced before and during their travels, these actions helped enhance the sense of connection between ordinary folks and the special dead. The forging of a sacral relationship is also central to Sarah Blick's (II.2) presentation of the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral, but her focus expands to include the objects and images pilgrims left for the saint. Candles of a devotee's height or weight, shaped tokens of hopeful pilgrims' ailing limbs in clay, wax, or silver, even full-scale effigies of high-ranking individuals clustered around the shrine as testimony to the saint's widespread appeal and his efficacy in helping his petitioners. Thus the performances of piety, fleeting in themselves, could be reified and contribute to the ongoing promotion of the cult.
Processional activities, by contrast, were inherently ephemeral, but documentary and pictorial sources allow scholars to reconstruct their trajectories and the spectacles they created. Rita Tekippe (II.17), for example, leads us through the "Grand Procession" that wended its way through the city of Tournai from the late eleventh century through the late Middle Ages. As a cluster of metalwork objects (such as gemmed crosses and reliquaries) were borne from one ecclesiastical station to another, the spread of the sacred throughout the town became visible, a process that not only commemorated civic history--the ritual began as a penitential exercise in the face of a devastating plague--but also continued to forge a sense of communal identity with each yearly iteration. Katherine Poole (II.13) brings us to the tail end of the chronology encompassed by these volumes in her study of two non-repeatable spectacles: the wedding festivities of two Medici princes in Florence which took place in 1589 and 1608, involving processions as well as staged performances of battles. Rather than the city being transformed by processional movements, as was the case in Tournai, here the city's prominent buildings were at least superficially reshaped to form part of a lavish stage set that would make all onlookers into extras in historical-mythical dramas. Poole makes the case that such spectacles, with their emphasis on fearsome Eastern enemies, aligned the ruling family with the Christian forces still trying to wrest control of sacred sites from the Muslims in the Middle East. This reference to the Crusades--a rare gesture to broader political events in this collection--is a salutary reminder of the dark ideological forces that could be at play in the formation of art and ritual, no matter how pious (or fun) it otherwise seems to be.
As the foregoing summation of the anthology's contents shows, Push Me, Pull You is a mixed bag in its range of contents and approaches, although almost all share a sunny view of medieval Christian piety and practice and a lack of interest in the nitty-gritty of social history (including the role of the artists) that some readers may find problematic. Precisely this lacuna should help prompt new thinking on the ideological uses to which these interactive objects and activities of devotion could be put. The volumes are also, alas, a mixed bag in terms of the quality of the individual contributions. Only about a quarter of the contributions were completely ready for publication; of the others, about a quarter seemed to be at very preliminary stages of research and conceptualization, and the rest simply needed more and better editorial interventions. The volumes are littered with typos and misspellings; misplaced punctuation marks; run-on, fragmentary, or repeated sentences; oddly placed image call-outs; missing or mis-sequenced images; incomplete, repeated, or erroneous citations; inconsistent spellings and capitalizations--far too many problems for me to list here. The problems extend beyond individual essays to the anthology as a whole. We receive three separate introductions to the culture of indulgences, for example, each citing largely the same sources but none making reference to the other. One gets the impression that the authors were working under tight deadlines and that the editors ultimately found themselves overwhelmed by the number of contributions and chose to forgo editorial rigor in favor of speedy execution. This is understandable: younger scholars in particular need to get their work through the pipeline quickly. But when a publisher accepts an anthology this ambitious, and then charges a whopping $350.00 for the two-volume set, one should expect that that publisher would have helped to ensure some measure of quality control. The number of essays included here should have been cut in half (at least), both to avoid repetition and to allow those authors who were on less solid ground to develop their thoughts further before putting them into print. If nothing else, the press should have provided a professional copy-editor to help the general editors bring all their materials into smoothly readable form.
In the midst of the material turn, many of us are still clinging to our beautiful, solid, satisfyingly tactile books. But in a case like this, where editors are committed to letting the greatest number of voices be heard, the benefits of digital venues become strikingly evident. An online publishing forum could have allowed the authors to read each other's work in advance, to help sharpen their visions and hone their writing, and ultimately to produce a more rigorous and cohesive volume--in short, to push and pull each other in such a way that everyone's work, and this line of inquiry as a whole, could have moved together onto firmer and more fruitful ground.