19.10.01 Kupfer, Art and Optics in the Hereford Map

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Julia Bolton Holloway

The Medieval Review 19.10.01

Kupfer, Marcia. Art and Optics in the Hereford Map: An English Mappa Mundi, c. 1300. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016. pp. ix, 223. ISBN: 978-0-300-22033-9 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Julia Bolton Holloway
University of Colorado at Boulder
holloway.julia@tiscali.it

This most beautiful book abounding with illustrations, of which most are in color, discusses the large Hereford Mappa mundi with its Anglo-Norman labelling, and its former, now lost, case with doors depicting the Annunciation with Gabriel and Mary. In particular, this study sets out to solve the contrary writing of its T-O Map with "AFFRICA" placed upon Europe; "EUROPA" upon Africa; and these words, as well as "MORS," written in large gold Lombard capitals across its surface, the "RS" also signifying the Bishop of Hereford, Richard Swinfield's, initials. As with texts such as Dante's Commedia and Langland's Piers Plowman, we are shadowed in the author, and enabled freely to choose between the Siren's song and Christ. We are present within the book, within the frame, within the labyrinth as microcosm that it depicts on the island of Crete, as active ludic participants.

Speaking of the near puns of watch tower and mirror, speculo and speculum, Marcia Kupfer explains this mirror reversing as expressing the difference between the mortal sight "through a glass darkly," to that "face to face," between worldly confusion and sin, the pagan Siren's song, and the eschewing of that false music for God, the sacred palimpsested upon the profane in a mirror reversal, as being God's "stage left" and "stage right" in opposition to our perspective. Augustine is present in his Hippo (Aeneas' Carthage) in the map, not far from the Siren in the Mediterranean. But it is Gregory's vision of St Benedict upon which she most draws, how Benedict's vision of the entire cosmos, seen as one beam of light, seems small because it is contemplated--speculationes--in the presence of its Creator. Likewise she notes the play on passe and compasse.

She discusses the Mappa mundi's use and naming of the four measurers of the globe, Nicodoxus to the East, Policitus to the South, Teodocus to the North and West, dispatched by Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus, the bureaucratic pagan layering to the palimpsest which gave rise to Luke's account of the Census and the Bethlehem journey. She draws on Augustine's City of God, Orosius' "De Ornesta mundi," Macrobius on Cicero's Somnium Scipionis, Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, Gregory's Dialogues on Benedict, Hugh of St Victor, Robert Grosseteste, Vincent of Beauvais, Lambert of Saint-Omer's Floridus, Ovid and the Roman de la Rose's Narcissus, Roger Bacon's Optics, Peter of Limoges' Moral Treatise on the Eye, the topoi of the Wheel of the Ages of Man and the Three Living and the Three Dead who become the Dance Macabre, and is influenced by the insights of Mary Carruthers, Michael Camille, Jeffrey Hamburger, Suzanne Conklin Akbari and others. Michelle Brown notes that originally the delicate architectural drawings of the cities scintillated with gold leaf, now fallen away; Marcia Kupfer adds that this is true even of the tiny acorns on the borders, and one could add that in flickering medieval candlelight, though not in modern electric light, these would have seemed even to move as if in a film. The book has copious notes, a lengthy bibliography, a manuscript index, a general index and lists its illustration credits.

Can one apply this independent scholar's perceptions further afield? Yes. She observes that liturgically this map and its Annunciation doors relate to Advent. The text of Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love in the Westminster Manuscript begins by echoing the First "O" Antiphon to Mary as Wisdom, God's Daughter "who sweetly orders all things," addressing her Son within the O of her womb--and ours. The Incarnation of the Creator within his Creation at the Incarnation. While the O of the Hereford Mappa Mundi behind her, within her, shows her Son crucified, bleeding, in time at the center of its world, yet he is enthroned in Wisdom and Judgment in Eternity of all time, Mary at his side, showing both milk-expressing breasts, at its top gable of the pentaform. Which brings us to the text of the Showing's verbatim use of Gregory on Benedict and his vision of the Creation as seeming small in the presence of the Creator, as in her vision of the entire cosmos, the imperial and regal Orb, as held in the palm of Julian's hand in the quantity of an hazelnut, because it is the small o, omicron, of the Creation, as seen in the presence of the Creator, who is both Alpha and huge Omega.

A further observation. Brunetto Latino's 1264 document written in his own hand in Westminster Abbey's Muniment Room and Library mentions a previous Bishop of Hereford as involved with the decima loans for the Papacy. During that period, 1260-1288, Brunetto was in exile and writing the encyclopaedic Li Livres dou Tresor, including its verbal Mappa Mundi, for Count Charles of Anjou and Provence, seeking to teach him ethical government. That text, later used to teach Dante, discusses the building of the Tower of Babel by Nimrod and Ninus, the Sirens, the "anthropophagi and men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders," the O-T map. One of its many manuscripts is in the Bodleian Library, Douce 319, and it is uniquely prefaced with a splendid blue-green mappa mundi, upside down in the Arabic manner. Lucy Freeman Sandler informs us in The Lichtenthal Psalter and the Manuscript Patronage of the Bohun Family that it was produced in the Pleshey workshop of the Bohuns, Earls of Hereford, Northampton and Essex. A further Tresor manuscript, in Aragonese, rather than French, is in the same cathedral in Gerona, as is the similar tapestry of the Creation of the World. Later, Brunetto's student, Francesco da Barberino, would have the Mediterranean illustrated in green-blue amidst the grisaille with its Columns of Hercules, in the Tesoretto, with a similar "mistake," its geography being upside down in the Arabic manner, and even reversed, as witnessed by the throned female Natura, God's Vicar. We learn of a later verbal Mappa mundi, that in Sir John Mandeville's Travels, being checked, within its text, against a Papal, presumably visual, one. The bibliography could have included Joachim Lelewel, GĂ©ographie du Moyen Age, Brussels, 1852, 2 volumes, with its exquisite fold-out engravings which I found exactly illustrate its pilgrim manuscript maps of Jerusalem and Mappae mundi.

As in Christ's Temptation by Satan, we are shown the entire world and tempted to conquer it. The lesson is instead to reject its Siren wiles. In Wisdom.

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