16.11.36, Joyner, Painting the Hortus deliciarum

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Megan McNamee

The Medieval Review 16.11.36

Joyner, Danielle B. Painting the Hortus deliciarum: Medieval Women, Wisdom, and Time. University Park:The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2016. pp. . ISBN: 978-0-271-07088-9 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Megan McNamee
Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Washington, DC

These lines, the final stanza of a poem penned by Abbess Herrad of Hohenbourg (d. after 1196), opened a magnificent manuscript of at least 342 variously sized leaves (most 50-53 x 36-37 cm), many painted with bright pigments and covered in lines of music and text. Herrad called the work a hortus deliciarum ("garden of delights"; hereafter "HD"). The wish expressed in the above-quoted verses regarding the manuscripts on-going use, has been fulfilled, likely far beyond the twelfth-century abbess's wildest expectations. Despite its destruction in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, study of the HD has not ceased. The book has come down to us through the thoughts and memories of nineteenth-century artists and scholars, who--as Herrad had hoped--found the object utterly delightful. Recognizing its singularity, they wrote descriptions, recorded codicological details, transcribed vast swaths of its text, and traced the contours of some of its numerous images. These notes and sketches were the basis of a "facsimile" painstakingly assembled in the 1970s by a team at the Warburg Institute. [2] Danielle Joyner joins the ranks of those who have undertaken the challenge of analyzing this remarkable object through its reconstruction.

Painting the Hortus deliciarum: Medieval Women, Wisdom, and Time reassesses the visual mechanics of the HD, expands our understanding of twelfth-century women's education, and rethinks the structure and dynamics of time as it was understood in the middle ages. As Joyner puts it, "the liberal arts, computus, and women seldom converge in medieval scholarship, yet they coexist--deliberately--in the folios of Herrad's manuscript" (69). Why this was so and the implications of that convergence are among her primary questions. Their resolution requires putting computus, a topic often marginalized, at the center. Joyner sees time as a hermeneutic, an exegetical tool employed by Herrad, her community, and contemporaries in their quest for divine truth. Eschewing the label "encyclopedia," she understands the HD as salvation history broadly conceived as "an interpretive account of history that emphasizes typological connections between Hebrew scriptures and the Gospels but also includes moral imperatives, future times, and the evolution of Ecclesia across history into eternity" (9). It is a complex tale crafted of texts drawn from at least fifty sources and images, both borrowed and invented, creatively reformed to suit their new context. [3] Joyner accepts Herrad's claim of authorship and considers the abbess the chief architect of a coherent and original whole.

Begun before 1175 and probably completed in the mid-1190s, the HD was produced during a period of spiritual reform that witnessed an upswing in numbers of individuals pledging themselves to the monastic life, of new (and newly renewed, as was the case at Hohenbourg) religious foundations, and the proliferation of orders. In Garden of Delights: Reform and Renaissance for Women in the Twelfth Century (2007), Fiona Griffiths pushed against the then prevailing opinion among scholars that women were only tangentially engaged with these movements and that, barred from the bourgeoning universities, they were excluded from new trends in education. Griffiths showed Herrad's manuscript to be a testament to the Augustinian canonesses of Hohenbourg's eager embrace of reform ideals and their avid participation in the era's vibrant intellectual culture. Painting the Hortus deliciarum neatly dovetails with Garden of Delights. Whereas Griffiths focused primarily on the texts, Joyner, an art historian, grounds her arguments in the visual aspects of the manuscript, which originally boasted over 340 images. Only a fraction of these have come down to us in a form that permits investigation. Joyner addresses a considerable number of these in some detail; her discussions are enhanced by ninety-four illustrations, many full-page and in color. Nearly every image mentioned, whether part of the HD or comparative material, is pictured. Certain illustrations are not laid out in an optimal manner, [4] but Joyner's vivid prose descriptions overcome such shortcomings.

The book is divided into five chapters. Chapter one puts the manuscript in context. Skirting the vexed question of what models Herrad had at hand, Joyner juxtaposes the HD with other manuscripts made for and/or by women including the Guta-Sintram Codex and Hildegard of Bingen's Scivias, and with contemporary tracts constructed for monastic audiences that engage similar themes such as Speculum virginum and the Liber floridus. This series of comparisons reveals the HD as a "product of its times" (10). Indeed, Joyner's analysis strengthens Griffiths's observation that the HD, though made by a woman for a female community, is not markedly gendered with respect to contents and their presentation, addressing concerns--the danger of pride, the merits of virginity--common to male and female religious alike (27, 150). According to Joyner, the HD is distinguished by the "heightened sophistication" of its imagery and the "creative combination of multiple visual traditions to do the work normally assigned to texts" (10).

These creative combinations are the subject of the next three chapters, which form a kind of triptych and contain the book's most significant interventions. In them, Joyner buttresses her claim that cosmological and computus material encountered at various points in the manuscript was integral to Herrad's enterprise--its comprehension crucial to understanding the HD then and now. Chapter two considers the first such encounter. The story of creation plays out over the first seventeen folios of the HD, told through both "narrative" sequences and "diagrammatic" images. Joyner writes, "Although scholarship still tends to examine these visual and textual traditions as separate and discrete, their convergence in these folios suggests that modern categories do a disservice to the more fluid and complementary nature of imagery in the twelfth century" (10). By putting these different kinds of pictures side-by-side, she argues, Herrad knit together the biblical and scientific accounts of the universe's beginning. Joyner's argument is convincing, but there are places where she might have gone further. Surprisingly, she does not define "diagram" or "diagrammatic," or enumerate the qualities that she associates with these and affiliated terms (e.g., schematic), which do heavy lifting for her. This is in contrast to her treatment of "narrative." "Figured strip narrative" is concisely described in chapter one as a series of horizontal registers in which a sequence of events are acted out one after another along a singular linear path (21-22). The majority of the HD's illuminations took this form. Through its repetition, Joyner argues, "Herrad elides chronological gaps, geographical leaps, and bridges intervening textual folios...uniting disparate historical, biblical, allegorical and prophetic events into a streamlined narrative" (22). A similar unpacking of "diagram" would be helpful, especially as it is applied to a range of visually dissimilar images. [5] Joyner also remarks (several times) upon how Herrad "pairs," but does not "merge" narrative and diagrammatic imagery (43, 62, 104, 105). She does not, however, reflect on the reasons for this nor does she dwell on the effect of the arrangement. [6]

The third chapter maps connections between education and salvation. Wisdom was the ultimate aim of the liberal arts curriculum, closely associated with observation of the heavens and, with this, time reckoning. Much of this chapter is devoted to Joyner's masterful explanation of the mechanics of Herrad's computus, which comprised various tables, charts, and a poem. The clarity of her account conveys the simple elegance of such devices, which modern scholars often find opaque, thus bolstering her assertion that Herrad expected her canonesses to actively engage with these tools and to apply the kind of rational they elicited and engendered elsewhere in the manuscript. Joyner fleshes out her theory of times as a hermeneutic in chapter four. She contends that working the calendar "fostered a sense of agency...over the manipulation of times as well as a level of comfort in shifting from the smallest to the largest temporal units and back again" (96). She provides examples of how this ability to zoom in and out, recognizing parallels despite differences in scale, was brought to bear in the HD, and sees this same temporal telescoping in the Liber de divinis officiis of Rupert of Deutz (d. 1129) and Honorius Augustodunensis's (d. c. 1140) Gemma animae, from which Herrad borrowed liberally. Rupert and Honorius connect the hours of the divine office to biblical events, the ages of man and the world, and church history. Joyner insists that this kind of exegesis "is not just numerology, and it is more than the form of typology often described in scholarship; it is a fragmenting of history into component parts that can be manipulated for the sake of discovering its inner workings" (111). The hidden framework was, of course, divine.

In the final chapter, Joyner turns her attention to "multivalent" Ecclesia in all the guises she assumes in the HD: structure, community, sacraments, and woman. Herrad's history of salvation is, essentially, a history of the church. The canonesses of Hohenbourg, the living congregation, thus studied their own past, present, and future in its pages. Joyner's conclusion largely consists of questions left outstanding and tantalizing suggestions for future study of the HD. It is hoped that she may pursue some of these in future publications.



[1] Fiona J. Griffiths, Garden of Delights: Reform and Renaissance for Women in the Twelfth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 229: "Sit hic liber utilis, / Tibi delectabilis / Et non cesses volvere (pertractare) / Hunc (librum) in tuo pectore (memoria)." Parentheticals contain glosses. Translation eadem, 232.

[2] Herrad of Hohenbourg, Hortus deliciarum, ed. Rosalie Green et al., 2 vols. (London: Warburg Institute, 1979).

[3] The considerable planning and organization that went into its making is apparent in the text; tracts were not merely extracted, but redacted, shaped to fit their new context.

[4] For example, images that formed a continuous scene across an opening in the manuscript are placed on the recto and verso (15-16; figs. 6-7) and two images that covered the recto and verso of a single leaf face each other (144-45; figs. 92-93). In both instances the physical positioning of the images in the original manuscript is central to Joyner's argument.

[5] Including, for example, cosmological rotae on folios 10r-11v (51-62) and depictions of the interior of the tabernacle on folios 45v-46r (117-18). "Narrative" is not merely shorthand for "strip narrative." It is also applied to images that do not conform to the strip narrative format. See, for example, 137.

[6] Understandably, Joyner errs on the side of caution when it comes to questions of layout and structure in the HD, only rarely discussing the impact of a two-page spread (14, 32) or the dramatic reveal of a page turn (126, 147).

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