18.09.07, Champion, The Fullness of Time

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Jessica Weiss

The Medieval Review 18.10.07

Champion, Matthew S. The Fullness of Time: Temporalities of the Fifteenth-Century Low Countries. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017. pp. 304. ISBN: 978-0-226-51479-6 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Jessica Weiss
Metropolitan State University of Denver

The Fullness of Time: Temporalities of the Fifteenth-Century Low Countriesis a series of interdisciplinary case studies that investigate the multifaceted temporalities of late medieval society. This text pushes against the concept of a smooth break between medieval time, punctuated by the liturgical reenactment of cosmic events collapsed from the past, present, and future, and newer, more modern temporalities shaped by rational science and mercantilism. Instead, Matthew S. Champion repeatedly demonstrates how the experiences of late medieval people involved engagement with multiple modes of temporal reckoning that were more interwoven than previous historiography has considered. This is accomplished through a variety of textual and material exempla, including paintings, philosophical texts, musical compositions, and courtly ephemera, that demonstrate the complexities of time that were embodied in social practice and cultural production. Champion strives "to give some time back to the fifteenth-century Low Countries, uncovering, in precisely those places seen as most troublingly timeless in earlier scholarship, complex narrative unfolding of affective time, subtle temporalization of eternity, and dynamic cultures of historical and liturgical reflections" (2).

The first chapter provides an overview of the multiple, competing, intersecting, and evolving social systems of time, what the author calls the "polyphony of time" (1, 24). The chapter focuses on the city of Leuven, though its inclusion of references from across the Low Countries and Western Europe allows for a more general contextualization of temporal systems. The chapter includes information relating to the temporalities of devotional practices and the impact of the universities on counting time. The analysis of temporal divisions related to work is particularly interesting. After a discussion of the ways seasonal rhythms and market schedules organized time, Champion forces the reader to think more deeply about the topic through the specific example of the fish market. The town ordinances related to "fish time" (33), such as the use of colored flags to communicate the length of time since the fish was caught as well as the impact of the fasting seasons of Advent and Lent on the distribution of market stalls, provide clear and concise examples of ways in which intersecting temporalities impacted daily life.

Chapter 2 focuses on the temporalities of Dirk Bout's Altarpiece of the Sacrament,found in both the triptych itself and the text of its surviving contract. Because the document references the involvement of two professors from the University of Leuven as theological consultants, Champion is able to utilize a major theological debate from the mid-fifteenth century, the debate over future contingents, to interpret both late medieval concepts of the relationship between the past and the future and the temporalities contained within the Bouts imagery. The interpretive framework is further nuanced through the inclusion of the liturgy of the church of St. Peter's in Leuven, the original (and current) location of the altarpiece. The end result is an interpretation of the Altarpiece of the Sacramentfrom a multitude of temporal positions, including the contrast between the depiction of movement in the Old Testament scenes on the exterior wings and the stillness of the Last Supper depicted on the center that results in what Champion describes as Christ embodying "a transhistorical temporality" (76). Although the chapter focuses on one object, the historical framework has implications well beyond this single work. As stated in the section, "Future Contingents at the University of Leuven", the debate over Aristotelian propositions engaged philosophical discourse across Western Europe, involving scholars at multiple universities and the papacy. Therefore, The Fullness of Timeprovides a conceptual model for historians to think beyond a mere passing reference to typology when conceptualizing divergent temporalities found in the historical record.

The third chapter shifts to the Cathedral of Cambrai and the affective narratives found within liturgical music in order to "trace how temporal perceptions were shaped by emotional expectations, and how emotional expectations shaped time" (90). The author focuses his study on the Tractus de duplici ritu cantus ecclesiastici in divinis officiis composed by the dean of Cambrai Cathedral, Gilles Carlier, around 1470. This text responded to the conflict over the value of various forms of music used within the liturgy, specifically the appropriateness of polyphony and counterpoint, which was associated with jubilance and emotional poignancy. Carlier argued that the affective narratives in the Bible provide a repeating pattern of grief followed by joy that can serve as a model for the use of different musical elements. Champion uses this framework to argue that the emotional tenor of the music may have been inflective and complex, responding to a wide variety of temporalities. The idea that variations in music could have produced a variety of emotional responses in the listener depending on the temporal context is compelling. The case studies, specifically a Marian antiphon, Sub tuum presidium, which was sung in conjunction with the Marian icon Notre-Dame de Grâce, and the Missa ecce ancilla Dominicomposed by Guillaume Du Fay, demonstrate the interpretive potential of this methodology.

Chapter 4 shifts to the city of Ghent and the ducal adventus of 1458. Champion utilizes two contemporary accounts, one by the court chronicler George Chastelain and the other an anonymous Chronyk van Vlaenderen, to both reconstruct the ways in which temporalities were incorporated into individual moments of the event and to analyze the way the historical authors temporally mediated their texts. Champion utilizes the liturgical temporalities developed in preceding chapters, drawing connections across the multiple case studies in the book. He argues that "the complex arrangements of time in the entry are not 'magical,' but rather part of a considered program where the time of the ruler is symbolically aligned with an intuitive synchronic vision of time from eternity" (109). The author asserts that the inclusion of Old Testament references within thetableaux vivantsoverlays the recent events of the Ghent uprising against the duke onto the biblical past, constructing a narrative archetype of transgression and forgiveness that necessitates a specific response from Philip the Good. As the central moment of the entrance was a reconstruction of the Adoration of the Mystic Lambby Hubert and Jan van Eyck, Champion then questions how the altarpiece itself is an architecture of time so that he can "consider the ways in which the temporalities of the altarpiece may have shaped the entry, and how its organization of time may have changed as it moved from its liturgical function in St. John's church into the civic drama of the Duke's entry" (124).

The fifth chapter shifts once again, returning to the city of Leuven and the writings of Peter de Rivo. In this chapter, however, Champion focuses on three works by de Rivo that were originally compiled in a single manuscript (now divided between the Bibliothèque Royale in Brussels and Cambridge University Library): the Monotesseron evangelicum de verbo dei temporaliter incarnato, the Reformatio kalendarii, and the Opus responsivum ad epistolam apologeticam M. Pauli de Middelburgo de anno, die et feria dominice passionis.By analyzing these texts in tandem, Champion produces a cumulative analysis that transcends the traditional scholarly divide between late medieval devotionality and the early modern scientific revolution. Doing so reveals ways in which these texts and associated woodcut images "illustrate how the ordering and measuring of time was intimately bound up with devotion and care for the soul" (134). The analysis of the Monotesseronis especially rich, clearly demonstrating how the organization of the text on the manuscript page, the referencing apparatuses, and systems of use construct multiple temporal structures within a text dedicated to synchronizing the temporalities of the four gospel narratives. This discussion is then nuanced by the Reformatio kalendarii,de Rivo's preposition to reform the annual calendar in order to compensate for the deviations between observable astronomical observation and the liturgical calendar (specifically the migration of the vernal equinox earlier into the month of March due to minute miscalculations in astronomical time) while maintaining the existing cyclical reverberations, such as the typological overlay of the Crucifixion onto the same date as the Incarnation. Champion's close readings of all three texts by de Rivo reveal the deep devotional impact of time, specifically the ways "liturgical subjects formed time through writing, reading, and ritual practices creating and using texts that themselves ordered time, yet which required the constant oversight of a self who could see beyond each single moment, ascending to comprehend the whole of salvation history as it was reperformed in individual liturgies like the mass, or in temporal arcs of liturgy like the hours of each day, the liturgical week, season, and year" (141).

The final chapter of The Fullness of Timebrings together all of the various temporalities explored in the previous case studies in order to interpret the first-ever horizontal timeline, the Fasciculus temporum omnes antiquorum cronicas complectens,printed in Leuven and read across Europe. This popular text attempted to assimilate multiple types of historical information and was based upon medieval chronologies. The schematic presentation (and its interruption), however, allowed for the representation of multiple temporalities. Champion also articulates how changes between printed editions reveal shifts in the depiction of time, further nuancing the complex relationship between humanity's linear experience of time and God's eternal existence as a perpetual present. The complexity of the images of Christ that stand at the center of this text reveal the fullness of time for the devout viewer, and Champion's carful articulation of the intertwined temporalities in the Fasciculusreveals how the multiple notes in the "polyphony of time" create a temporal melody that is more than the sum of its parts.

Overall, the text is well researched and very well written. Although the book covers multiple disciplines, the author's clear language and careful organization succeeds in presenting ever more complex temporalities. Champion does an excellent job of balancing the daunting bibliography of an interdisciplinary approach on a complex conceptual topic with the restraint necessary to produce a readable volume by highlighting the dominant voices in the historiographical discourse without overwhelming the reader. Instead, the author moves fluidly between directly engaging the ideas of previous scholars and close readings of the historical sources. The construction of microhistories, especially the multiple examples from the texts of Peter de Rivo and the city of Leuven, ground the broad conceptual arguments and distill the complex and competing temporal structures embodied in the patterns of lived experience. In doing so, the text successfully reveals the ways in which "objects, texts, and music might themselves be said to engage with, imply, and unsettle structures of time, shaping and forming the temporalities of historical agents" (12). The end result is a book that is accessible to scholars from across the disciplinary spectrum and appropriate for both scholarly research and a wide variety of upper-division undergraduate topics.

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