Book roundup: Autumn 2014

Bright Lights of the Dark Ages is a major new volume on early Medieval art. It features over two hundred stunning and extremely rare early medieval gold and precious stonework objects, including brooches, buckles, shields, clasps, spoons and other “grave goods”, that were interred as status symbols with their owners in burials mounds across Europe.

The new societies of the early Medieval period which developed on the periphery of the great Roman Empire – Germanic barbarians in western Europe, Sarmatian and later Alanic tribes around the Black Sea, and the eastern frontier cities bordering the Parthian Empire in Iran – were all shaped by interaction with the Roman Empire, and profoundly influenced by its material culture.

Author Noël Adams surveys the magnificent pieces that were made to advertise power and wealth in these new “barbarian” kingdoms which arose after the fall of the Roman Empire, and in doing so shows the dramatic and surprising relationship between these “migration era” objects and later medieval art. In a volume full of wonderful images, highlights include Gothic and Visigothic imperial style brooches from modern-day Slovakia and Crimea, superb Gallo-Roman spoons and enamelled domed brooches and buckles from Northern Europe and Britain.

Photographer John Bigelow Taylor’s images of Thaw Collection works render these archaeological finds in exquisite detail, capturing the intricacies of their materials and craftsmanship.

9780500517680_27090[1]The Basilica of St Francis in Assisi. Edited by Gianfranco Malafarina, introduction by Chiara Frugoni, Thames and Hudson.

Founded in 1228, the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi is the burial place of the well-known saint and the mother church of the Franciscan order of monks. It is also a treasure house of art, decorated with monumental frescoes by some of the greatest painters of the 13th and 14th centuries.

This book takes its readers on a guided tour of this magnificent complex, aided by a wealth of beautiful photographs. Rarely seen details allow the personal imprints of the artists to shine through, and demonstrate that beyond their diversity of styles, they were all united by a desire to mirror reality while maintaining a sense of the spiritual and the sublime. This unmatched artistic heritage marks a revolutionary era in the flowering of Italian art.

The Upper Church is perhaps most famed for its sequence of frescoes that celebrate the life and teachings of St Francis, attributed to Giotto and his workshop, while Cimabue and his followers were responsible for a series of dramatic scenes from the Old and New Testaments. The Lower Church, meanwhile, has been expanded through the addition of several magnificent chapels; their titular saints are commemorated with great imagination and immediacy in works by artists including Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti.

Gianfranco Malafarina is a noted art historian, and has written widely on Italian art. Among his previous books are volumes on Modena Cathedral and St Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Chiara Frugoni is former Professor of Medieval Art History at the Universities of Pisa and Rome.

An interdisciplinary anthology that explores the role of imagery, both visual and textual, in the construction of episcopal authority from the late-antique period through the fourteenth century.

The bishop wielded significant authority in religious, intellectual, and political spheres during the Middle Ages, but how was this influence articulated, and once articulated, how was it received? The essays in this volume represent a variety of disciplinary perspectives, each tuned to the production of images made by, for, and about the medieval episcopacy. They present the bishop as a model of piety and intellectual life as well as political and religious action.

Considering material from Late Antiquity through the thirteenth century, the essays offer a series of case-studies demonstrating that crafting episcopal imagery was a complicated endeavour employing pictorial, historical, literary, and historiographic devices. Never a static institution, the episcopacy was formed and reformed making it visible to the bishop, to those with whom he interacted, and to broader communities. These efforts at making present the power and authorities of the office asserted the duties, expectations, and ideals of the bishop in ways often specific to time and place.

The diverse perspectives on the episcopal image assembled here reveal the office, not as a singular contour, but as a succession of marks and erasures. Shaped by supporters and detractors alike, medieval images of the bishop engaged with historical models, responded to present realities, and considered the eschatological future.

9781903153581[1]The Prelate in England and Europe, 1300-1560 edited by Martin Heale, Boydell and Brewer.

High ecclesiastical office in the Middle Ages inevitably brought power, wealth and patronage. The essays in this volume examine how late medieval and Renaissance prelates deployed the income and influence of their offices, how they understood their role, and how they were viewed by others. Focusing primarily on but not exclusively confined to England, this collection explores the considerable common ground between cardinals, bishops and monastic superiors. Leading authorities on the late medieval and sixteenth-century Church analyse the political, cultural and pastoral activities of high-ranking churchmen, and consider how episcopal and abbatial expenditure was directed, justified and perceived. Overall, the collection enhances our understanding of ecclesiastical wealth and power in an era when the concept and role of the prelate were increasingly contested.

Dr Martin Heale is Senior Lecturer in Late Medieval History, University of Liverpool.

Contributors: Martin Heale, Michael Carter, James G. Clark, Gwilym Dodd, Felicity Heal, Anne Hudson, Emilia Jamroziak, Cédric Michon, Elizabeth A. New, Wendy Scase, Benjamin Thompson, C.M. Woolgar

dIS-9782503529776-1[1]Space, Place and Ornament: the Function of Landscape in Medieval Manuscript Illumination by Margaret Goehring. Brepols.

The present volume analyzes the functions of landscape imagery within medieval Northern European manuscript illumination, and also takes into account the ideological and the economic milieus in which they were produced.

This book proposes a new methodological framework for the study of medieval landscape imagery by analyzing the functions of landscape within Northern European manuscript illumination. This study explores landscape imagery within a broad range of specific manuscript contexts, taking into account the ideological and the economic milieus in which they were produced. Organized into four sections, this study looks at how landscape functions as rhetorical device, ornament, didactic tool (Space) and political tool (Place). The first section explores the rhetorical function of landscape as encomium and amplificatio. The second section looks at the role that landscape imagery had in the hierarchy of book decoration, and how it responded to late medieval mnemonic systems and devotional practices. It also addresses the emergence of landscape as a form of ornamental elaboration, sometimes as a means to appeal to specific aesthetic criteria, or as a way to create extra-textual associations to augment the message of the text. The third section is concerned with landscape within encyclopedic and allegorical manuscripts, analyzing how artists constructed space to frame knowledge. Finally, the visualization of the political and economic landscape of late medieval Europe is explored, particularly focusing on how landscape was structured around issues of status, power and identity not only in works created for the landed nobility but within manuscripts made for urban patrons as well. Concentrating on manuscripts from Paris, Northern France and Flanders from the late thirteenth to the early sixteenth centuries, this book offers new insights as it contextualizes the emergence of landscape painting in the late Middle Ages.

9781472422651[1]Sculpting Simulacra in Medieval Germany, 1250-1380 by Assaf Pinkus, Ashgate.

Engaging with the imaginative, nonreligious response to Gothic sculpture in German-speaking lands and tracing high and late medieval notions of the ‘living statue’ and the simulacrum in religious, lay, and travel literature, this study explores the subjective and intuitive potential inherent in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century sculpture. It addresses a range of works, from the oeuvre of the so-called Naumburg Master through Freiburg-im-Breisgau to the imperial art of Vienna and Prague. As living simulacra, the sculptures offer themselves to the imaginative horizons of their viewers as factual presences that substitute for the real. In perceiving Gothic sculpture as a conscious alternative to the sacred imago, the book offers a new understanding of the function, production, and use of three-dimensional images in late medieval Germany. By blurring the boundaries between viewers and works of art, between the imaginary and the real, the sculptures invite the speculations of their viewers and in this way produce an unstable meaning, perpetually mutable and alive. The book constitutes the first art-historical attempt to theorize the idiosyncratic character of German Gothic sculpture – much of which has never been fully documented – and provides the first English-language survey of the historiography of these works.

9780300203547[1]Romanesque Architecture. The First Style of the European Age by Eric Fernie. Yale University Press.

In a new addition to the Pelican History of Art series, leading architectural historian Eric Fernie presents a fascinating survey of Romanesque architecture and the political systems that gave rise to the style. It is known for its thick walls, round arches, piers, groin vaults, large towers, and decorative arcading, as well as the measured articulation of volumes and surfaces. Romanesque architecture was the first distinctive style to dominate western and central Europe. The book explores the gestation of the style in the ninth and tenth centuries and its survival up to the fourteenth century. Notable structures include Speyer Cathedral, Sant’Ambrogio in Milan, the abbeys of Cluny, and Vézelay, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and Durham Cathedral, as well as the castles of Loches and Dover. A superb teaching tool, close to 400 illustrations pack this seminal text describing the design, function, and iconography of key church, monastic and secular buildings of a formative era.

Eric Fernie was director of the Courtauld Institute of Art between 1995 and 2003 and president of the Society of Antiquaries of London from 2004 until 2007.

9781851778119[1]Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, by Paul Williamson, V & A Publishing.

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection of ivory carvings from c. 1200–1550 is one of the most important in the world. Containing 289 entries, this book is the first catalog of the material to be published since 1929. Together with Medieval Ivory Carvings: Early Christian to Romanesque, it makes available more than 400 pieces of the ivory carver’s art. Included here are masterpieces and representative examples from many of the vital centers of ivory carving in the Gothic era. Each entry provides a comprehensive physical and scholarly discussion, synthesizing the existing literature and including much new research. Also included are carvings of dubious authenticity, which are discussed as fully as the genuine pieces.

61YilrwQCXL._SY300_[1]Apocalypse: The Great East Window of York Minster, by Sarah Brown, Third Millennium Information.

Apocalypse – The Great East Window of York Minster by Sarah Brown is a magnificent book to celebrate the conservation of York Minster’s Great East Window.  This volume reproduces the Apocalypse Cycle of the Great East Window of York Minster in full colour for the very first time with stunning photography presenting each panel in detail, accompanied by expert commentary.

The book is a testament to the remarkable combination of skill, scholarship and cutting edge technology that has gone into the conservation of the window and has given the York Glaziers Trust a unique opportunity to analyse the astonishing painting of John Thornton who created the Great East Window between 1405 and 1408.

9780813151267_p0_v1_s260x420[1]Tilmann Riemenschneider: His Life and Work by Justus Bier, University Press of Kentucky.

In the hauntingly beautiful sculptures of Tilmann Riemenschneider, the Late Gothic art of Germany achieved its highest expression. Now, for the first time in English, the eminent art historian Justus Bier accords Riemenschneider the extended attention he so richly deserves.

Riemenschneider (ca. 1460-1531) holds a pivotal place in the development of German art. Rejecting the anonymous soulfulness of earlier Gothic sculpture, he created a style reflecting the deeply spiritual character of his time, yet one that also anticipated the humanism of the Italian Renaissance so soon to revolutionize European art.

Bier crowns a lifelong study with this reconsideration of Reimenschneider’s life and work, with emphasis on works in North American museums. More than 140 photographs illustrate 46 of the artist’s major sculptures.



Thanks to Publicaciones sobre Arte Medieval for alerting us to many of these books.

Published by James Alexander Cameron

I am an art historian working primarily on medieval parish church architecture. I completed my doctorate on sedilia in medieval England in 2015 at The Courtauld Institute of Art.

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