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16.02.17, Nolan and Sandron, eds., Arts of the Medieval Cathedrals

16.02.17, Nolan and Sandron, eds., Arts of the Medieval Cathedrals

This collection of studies of medieval arts is the second in homage to the French scholar Anne Prache (1931-2009), professor at the Sorbonne for many years and warm friend and colleague to numerous American medievalists including the present reviewer. The first volume to honor her--Pierre, lumière, couleur: Etudes d'histoire de l'art du Moyen Age en l'honneur d'Anne Prache (Paris, 1999)--was edited by one of the same editors, Professor Dany Sandron, and included six of the fourteen authors who are represented here. Some of the papers in the present collection were given in Prache's memory at Kalamazoo's Congress of Medieval Studies in 2010 while others are additional, invited studies by her French students and colleagues. They form a very balanced collection which is divided almost equally between French and American authors, between men and women scholars, and between the areas of Architecture (7-90), Stained Glass (93-147), and Sculpture (151-234). The volume concludes with a charming Afterword (235-236) by Anne Prache's husband Gérard P. Prache, who details their strong scholarly and familial connections with the USA over many decades and adds that three of their six grandchildren are Americans.

The Architecture section commences appropriately enough with a study of foundations: Walter Berry's article on the thirteenth-century substructures of Reims cathedral. His closely, densely argued data is not for the faint-hearted and readers may be advised to turn first to his Conclusion (23-25) and to his two color plans (Pls. 1-2, after 126), for their guide. He states (13) that his treatment of the north transept is not included, and readers will be interested to learn that it has been announced to appear in July 2016, in #11 of the same AVISTA Series by the same publisher: Walter Berry, "The North Portals of Reims Cathedral: The Evidence Below Ground," in The North Transept of Reims Cathedral, ed. Jennifer M. Feltman.

Next the focus jumps to fifteenth-century Paris with the interesting discussion by Michael T. Davis of the city description by Guillebert de Mets--specifically Notre-Dame, the Palace, and the private hôtel of Jacques Duchie. Readers who wish to pursue this material further now have a rich abundance of sources. The text of the manuscript (Brussels, Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, MS. 9559-64) is now available online (Description de la ville de Paris au XVe siècle, par Guillebert, de Metz [sic], ed. A. J. V. Le Roux de Lincy, Paris: 1855); in a new edition with English translation by Evelyn Mullally, Turnhout: 2015; and in an inexpensive paperback edition included in In Old Paris, ed. Robert W. Berger, New York: 2002.

Shifting back to the late twelfth century, Ellen M. Shortell draws attention to an element of Saint-Quentin (Aisne) that is usually overlooked--the lower chevet--and places it in relation to the Soissons south transept and ultimately to two monuments closely associated with Madame Prache: Saint-Remi de Reims and Notre-Dame-en-Vaux in Châlons-en-Champagne. The Architecture group concludes with a zigzag up to the early sixteenth century: Nancy Wu's intricate analysis of two Flamboyant portals now installed in The Cloisters in New York. Stressing that her study is preliminary, she compares the 'underlying geometric matrix' of the portals--from south of Poitiers and from between Toulouse and Auch--to the design techniques in two German 'practical know-how' booklets of the 1480s, by Mathew Roriczer (Regensberg) and Hanns Schmuttermayer (Nuremberg).

The section on Stained Glass opens with Sylvie Balcon-Berry's article on Reims cathedral, which is illustrated with a number of the recently digitalized drawings made by the Simon-Marq glazing workshop between 1840 and World War I. Unfortunately none of the illustrations cover the clerestories of the western nave that disappeared in that war. When those drawings become available to scholars, it will be possible to compare them with those figures that were photographed by Henri Deneux before their loss. Deneux's autochrome photos are now available for study in the Bibliothèque municipale of Reims.

Next comes a tour-de-force from Michael W. Cothren, based on a panel that was acquired from Sam Fogg, London, after 2007 for the Thomson Collection in Ontario, Canada. Building on his previous studies of the Infancy of Christ window in Abbot Suger's Saint-Denis, Cothren establishes that the Thomson glass represents Joseph's Dream, that it is "not a forgery...[but] a precious and faithful copy of a dismantled original" (119), and he convincingly locates the original upon it was based, along with fragments now in the Glencairn Museum and in England, in his updated reconstruction of Suger's twelfth-century window.

Claudine Lautier contributes a study of the west rose window of Chartres cathedral, which was restored in 2012. She groups it with the nave clerestories and dates it before 1210. Included are remarks about the fictive glass wall-paintings on the interior walls between the facade towers, which continue the Last Judgment theme of the rose, and she illustrates one of them in color as Pl. 20. Further information about these recently recovered paintings is now available in the Bulletin monumental 173/3 (2015). The final study of stained glass, by Philippe Lorentz, discusses the famous Annuncation window in Bourges cathedral, given by Jacques Coeur in 1451. He points out that subsequent glazing in the building through the remainder of the century reverted to the older type of design, in which individual figures under separate canopies occupied each of the lancets.

The Sculpture section opens with a return to Reims cathedral. William W. Clark's study first provides a very useful summary of Anne Prache's work on the dendrochronology of Reims as well as the solar eclipse of 1207. Clark, returning to his work on the early statues of Christ and eleven angels on the exterior walls of the chevet, investigates the cathedral's liturgical references likening the archbishop to Christ. The procession of statues recalls the archbishop of Reims and his eleven suffragan bishops in their roles reflecting the Good Shepherd and attendants as teachers and preachers. The statues were oriented facing the canons' cloister and would have been a reminder of the their "obligations to teach and to spread the Word...[as well as] their status over those who were under their spiritual and secular control" (163).

The following article by Fabienne Jouvert presents her close observation of the recently cleaned archivolts of the central portal of the facade of Bourges cathedral. Her analysis of the sculptors involved suggests that drawings were employed to plan the immense program. A sculpted head of Joseph, which entered the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2007, is next studied by Charles T. Little. The head comes from the Nativity relief of the choir screen of Chartres cathedral, which dated from around 1230 and was dismantled in 1763. The sculpture depicts Joseph as handsome and distinctly not comical, a conception of him as the Virgin's protector that Little traces in texts as far back as St. Bernard (d. 1153).

The final two sculpture papers in the book move in both directions from this High Gothic trio of Reims, Bourges, and Chartres. Kathleen Nolan and Susan Leibacher Ward investigate the meanings of the female statue columns of Notre-Dame-en-Vaux in Châlons-en-Champagne, dated around 1170-1180. These include Ecclesia, the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the bride from the Wedding at Cana, and a mourning woman. Iconography is also under scrutiny in the final essay, by Nicolas Reveyron. He analyses the facade of the cathedral Saint-Jean of Lyons, which has been very badly damaged over time and recently restored. The work ranges from just after 1312 through the entire fourteenth century and beyond. The three portals retain some of their figural archivolts as well as a rich multitude of quatrefoil medallions in the pedestals to the lost jamb statues. The encyclopedic diversity of subjects in these pedestal reliefs, which are now cleaned and visible for study, will surely provide material for many areas of iconography.

Like most books of its genre, this collection is uneven in quality. The color plates, grouped between pages 126 and 127, are excellent and most articles include around ten black/white illustrations. Nearly all authors treat monuments associate with Madame Prache or at least try to indicate her interest or involvement, adding coherence. In the end, however, it is not so much the broad scholarly contribution but the rarissime "generosity of spirit" (1) of Anne Prache that all who knew her cherish in her memory.