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Iconography and the Role of Wisdom

The personification of Wisdom in medieval art is usually grouped with other virtues, such as Justice, Hope, Prudence, Chastity, Poverty, Courage and Fortitude. While she works in communion with these sisters, she also performs her own distinct role. As the story goes, Wisdom was created by God before the world existed and is therefore in the position to offer humanity knowledge that will lead to its salvation. When Wisdom speaks in the Book of Proverbs, it is often to highlight her own importance and power. She calls herself a font of knowledge and a righteous helper who will reward those who follow her instructions. Wisdom says,

“By me kings reign and lawgivers decree just things. By me princes rule and the mighty decree justice. I love them that love me, and they that in the morning early watch for me shall find me. With me are riches and glory, glorious riches and justice….” [Proverbs 8.15–18 (Douay-Rheims Bible)]

Wisdom supporting the arc of heaven. Stammheim Missal (1170s). The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 64/97.MG.21, fol. 11r.
Wisdom supporting the arc of heaven. Stammheim Missal (1170s). The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 64/97.MG.21, fol. 11r.

This reward of Wisdom manifests in two ways: not only does she assist in saving the souls of those who heed her message, but she also has the authority to grant earthly power to individual rulers. The Index of Medieval Art records several scenes in biblical and secular narratives in which the virtue of Wisdom is a central character. Some relevant subjects in the Index include Christ: praising God’s Wisdom; Personification: Holy Wisdom; Personification: Celestial Beatitudes; and Holy Ghost: Gifts; and in narratives, Pèlerinage: Scene, Wisdom with Aristotle; Confessio Amantis: Scene, Darius, Sultan of Persia, seeking Wisdom, and De Consolatione Philosophiae: Scene, Wisdom showing Boethius Vision of Heaven.

In some Semitic languages, the word we translate as wisdom literally meant to restrain oneself from evil, suggesting a conscious desire to avoid sin. Thus, a sinful individual cannot approach Wisdom, as illustrated in a Romanesque miniature on folio 11r in the Stammheim Missal made in Hildesheim [Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 64 (97.MG.21)]. Flanked by David and Abraham, a crowned Wisdom (Sapientia) is positioned beneath the half figure of Christ. Here she is in direct contact with the divine as she supports with raised hands the arc of heaven, the traditional separator of realms. In a sense, she has become a gatekeeper and mediator for Christ. Surrounded by earthly men, including Zechariah and Patriarch Jacob, Wisdom can also be seen as a kind of “ladder” to heaven, since her upright body forms an important link to the promise of salvation.

Boethius led by Wisdom to the Throne of God. De consolatione philosophiae (ca. 1430). Morgan Library, M.396, fol. 239v.
Boethius led by Wisdom to the Throne of God. De consolatione philosophiae (ca. 1430). Morgan Library, M.396, fol. 239v.

Wisdom’s spiritual authority is exemplified by a scene on folio 239v of the De consolatione philosophiae of Boethius, which shows her leading the Roman philosopher to God’s throne (New York, Morgan Library, M.396). They enter through a side door of the throne room, positioning Wisdom once again as the route to the divine.

However, Wisdom also bore earthly authority, mentoring influential individuals such as Solomon, the Old Testament king of Israel and the traditional author of the biblical Book of Wisdom. This relationship is illustrated within an initial P (New York, Morgan Library, M.791). Against an ethereal gold burnished background, a veiled Wisdom crowns Solomon as a sign that she is at the root of his authority. By Wisdom—and by way of Wisdom—Solomon enacts what is so eloquently echoed in the verse of Proverbs: he will enjoy elevated status owing to the receipt of spiritual gifts; his reign is received in righteousness; and his rule is just.

Wisdom crowning Solomon. Lothian Bible (ca. 1220). Morgan Library, M.791, fol. 288r.
Wisdom crowning Solomon. Lothian Bible (ca. 1220). Morgan Library, M.791, fol. 288r.

This guest blog post was written by Rachel Dutaud, a summer student assistant at the Index of Medieval Art and a recent graduate in Art History and Ancient History from the University of St. Andrews. Over the 2017-18 academic year, Rachel will be working toward her MA degree in Archives & Records Management at University College Dublin. Her interests are medieval art history, iconography of female rulers, classicism, and archives.

Pictish Stones: Iconography and Interpretation

One of the little thrills those us who do academic research get to enjoy —  whether we specialize in the arts and humanities or engineering and sciences — is when our favorite topics come up in films or on television.  Imagine the excitement for anyone who studies Andalusian architecture when the quasi-medieval show “Game of Thrones” received rare permission to film inside the beautiful Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.

Carved Pictish stone arch-shaped indentation on lower edge crescent and V-rod, mirror and comb. Known as Easterton of Roseisle Stone
The Easterton of Roseisle Stone, Class I, showing some Pictish animal carvings and crescent and mirror shapes (Canmore ID 16255) © RCAHMS

Now perhaps it will come as no surprise that several of us here at the Index of Medieval Art are looking forward to the next series of “Doctor Who” — and the premiere of the first female Doctor (to be played by Jodie Whittaker)! — when the Doctor’s complicated history with historical accuracy resumes. For those of you regrettably unfamiliar with “Doctor Who,” it is a long-running BBC show about a long-lived, possibly immortal, time-traveling alien, and history nerds are among the most avid Whovians. To understand why, just watch the episode in which Pompeii was destroyed because aliens were building a spaceship in Vesuvius! In another episode, we learned that William Shakespeare’s plays include secret spells that open portals to other parts of the universe!

In the most recent series, the episode “The Eaters of Light” took place in Scotland in the second century AD. The Ninth Roman Legion, charged with the task of defeating the “barbarians” living in ancient Scotland, disappeared without a trace. When the Doctor and his companions investigate, things get a little strange. In the second century, the Roman Empire was trying desperately to maintain control of the lands of the “Picts” who lived north of what would very soon be the site of Hadrian’s Wall. The Picts are so called because these “painted people” (Picti) are mentioned in very early medieval texts. We know almost nothing about them, other than that they were fierce warriors, they painted their bodies before battle, and they left behind large stone monuments decorated with pictographic writing.

Picardy Stone at Myreton Farm, double-disc and Z-rod, serpent, mirror and comb.
The Picardy Stone at Myreton Farm, Insch, Class I (Canmore ID 18294) © RCAHMS

The Index of Medieval Art has almost 250 entries for “Pictish” artwork, most of which are large stones, either stelai or crosses. The stones usually appear in pairs, and the symbols carved on them depict inanimate objects like mirrors and combs, or crescents, and other geometrical shapes, as well as animals such as horses, dogs, birds and the enigmatic “Pictish beast.” It was this Pictish beast, a creature something like a hybrid of dolphin, horse, and dragon, or even (as some have argued), the Loch Ness Monster, that was the focus of “The Eaters of Light.” The episode proposed that it was a species of lizard-like alien monster that traveled through a great stone chamber-tomb in northern Scotland. Released in order to defeat the invading imperial army, it continued eating, threatening to consume all the light in our universe. Of course!

Class 2 Pictish stone at Brodie with "Pictish Beast"
Class II stone, at Brodie, this one depicting the “Pictish Beast” in the second image from the bottom (Canmore ID 15529) © Crown Copyright: HES

While this episode provides a fanciful interpretation of the Pictish stone carvings, it does actually highlight a point that art historians and archaeologists have been puzzling over for more than a century — just what do these symbols mean?

The stones were classified in the early twentieth century into three types, based upon their iconography and the level of detail in their carving. Class I stones, which date roughly to the fifth to seventh centuries, are relatively plain, and have only Pictish symbols inscribed upon them. Class II stones are slightly more ornate, with more effort obviously spent on not only carving the imagery but also on decorating the shape of the stone itself. They have not only Pictish symbols, but also Christian iconography such as very simple cruciform carvings. These are thought to date to the period of the seventh to ninth centuries, when conversion to Christianity was becoming more common in the region we now know as Scotland. Finally, Class III stones, which date to the later eighth and ninth centuries, are the most ornate. Their edges are highly decorated, the shape itself has been clearly hewn from the rock rather than simply incised upon it, and they have intricate carvings of knot-work and lace-work. Apparently used not only as upright markers or crosses but also as grave slabs, all of these Class III stones have explicitly Christian imagery, with many carved in the shape of crosses. None of them bear Pictish symbols, so these stones are interpreted as a last step in the Christianization of Scotland.

Aberlemno Stone, interlace cross, fantastic animals, two beasts' heads with open jaws, ppiral ornament, Z-shaped rod, disc, and battle scene.
One of the more famous Pictish stones, the Class II Aberlemno Stone (Canmore ID 34806) © Crown Copyright: HES

There are, however, two main difficulties in interpreting these Pictish symbol stones, though there are many theories as to what they represent. First, we are not entirely sure what they were for. Scholars have debated the issue for the last half century, arguing that they were monuments marking important meeting places or boundaries, or that they were memorials to particular individuals, families, events, or even that they might have been political statements opposing the spread of Christianity in early medieval Britain. Inscriptions are not helpful for interpretation either. While ogham writing in Ireland and Wales is found on stones that include Latin inscriptions, so that each stone is like a Rosetta Stone (with the Latin inscription in each case serving as a key to interpreting the ogham text), we do not currently have such a direct method of interpreting Pictish ideograms.

Pictish stone, cross-slab, with battle scene.
Sueno’s Stone, at Forres, a Class III cross-slab depicting a battle (Canmore ID 15785) © HES (Tom and Sybil Gray Collection)

The second problem is the dating. Surviving Pictish stones suggest a development from the simple, presumably pagan, Pictish animals and shapes of Class I stones to the elaborate crosses in Class III. Like much archaeological evidence from the post-Roman fifth and early-sixth centuries in Britain, this dating is often based upon our expectations affected by early medieval texts like Bede’s Ecclesiastical History or Gildas’s On the Ruin of Britain, none of which were written in Britain in the period they describe. Unlike human or plant remains, stones cannot be radiocarbon dated. Even if we wanted to make the attempt at dating, for example, organic elements of the soil beneath the stones, only a few of the stones are actually still in situ. So the dating of the Pictish stones depends on parallels in manuscripts such as the Book of Durrow, and upon what we currently think about the history of the arrival of Christianity in Scotland. Even if we were able to determine with absolute certainty when exactly these stones were first inscribed and placed in the landscape, that account would still not consider the many succeeding generations and their many possible uses for these stones.

The Pictish stones in the Index of Medieval Art, especially the Class I stones, are part of a wider discussion of very early medieval society in Scotland. The Picts are the people that sixth-century and later texts blame for the beginning of the end of Roman Britain. Their raids along coasts to the south created defensive problems at a time when the Roman military presence in Britain was declining. Over the last fifty years or so, archaeological excavations of cemeteries in Scotland have increased our understanding of the monumental commemorations of death among the people who raised these decorated stones and crosses. The iconography on the stones that these people left behind is one of the few sources that modern scholars can work with to learn about the Picts and their world — and it also turns out to be a great source of inspiration for science fiction television.

This guest blog post was written by Janet Kay, a CLSA-Cotsen postdoctoral fellow at the Princeton Society of Fellows. She studies the history of fifth-century Britain, looking at burial practices to study a period for which there are no surviving texts. Janet uses material culture and funerary rites as primary sources to explore how fifth-century communities understood themselves and their newly-arrived neighbors from the continent and how invested they were in maintaining connections with their Roman past.

Dying Badly: Imperial Misfortune in the Month of June

“Julian the Apostate: Scene, with Maximus the Philosopher.” Gregory Nazianzen, Homilies (879-883). Paris: BnF, gr.510, fol. 374v. Photograph Wikimedia Commons.

The month of June marks the passing of two historically consequential rulers: the fourth-century Roman emperor Julian, posthumously referred to as Julian the Apostate, and the twelfth-century Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, also known as Frederick Barbarossa. Their untimely deaths shocked the Late Antique and Medieval worlds, respectively. On June 26, 363, Julian was mortally wounded in the battle of Samarra during a Roman military campaign against the Persians. According to various sources, a spear delivered by a member of the Sassanian cavalry pierced his liver, and he subsequently died from the mortal blow some three days later. June 10, 1190, marks the day on which Frederick Barbarossa drowned in the Saleph River (the Göksu in modern Turkey) in the middle of the Third Crusade, the Latin West’s attempt to recapture the Holy Land from Saladin. The deaths of both leaders in the middle of critical military campaigns generated either anxiety or derision among their contemporaries, as underscored in subsequent medieval representations of the two emperors.

“Martin of Tours: Scene, before Emperor Julian” by Simone Martini. Chapel of San Martino, San Francesco, Lower Church, Assisi (1322-1326). Photograph The Yorck Project: Simone Martini [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Posthumous medieval representations of Julian, the last Roman emperor who championed paganism, are almost always critical. For example, a lavishly illuminated ninth-century Byzantine manuscript of Gregory Nazianzen’s homilies (Paris, BnF, gr.510, fol. 374v), depicts the ruler accompanying the pagan philosopher Maximus of Ephesus and venerating idols. In Simone Martini’s fourteenth-century fresco cycle in the Chapel of Saint Martino within the Lower Church of San Francesco in Assisi, the figure of Julian the Apostate serves as an arrogant, pagan, visual foil to the saintly Martin of Tours, who is shown renouncing military life for his Christian beliefs. Depictions of Julian’s death are even more damning. By the early sixth century, accounts surrounding Julian’s death shifted away from a battle against the Persians and amplified the legend of Saint Mercurius (identified as Mercurius of Caesarea in the Index database), a Byzantine soldier saint who rises from the dead and kills the pagan emperor with his lance or sword.

“Julian the Apostate: Scene, pierced by Mercurius of Caesarea.” Christherre-Chronik (c. 1360). New York, Morgan Library, M.769, fol. 327r.

Although this legend developed in Eastern sources, it grew in popularity in the Medieval Latin West, even making an appearance in Jacopo de Voragine’s thirteenth-century Golden Legend. In a fourteenth-century Christherre-Chronik miniature in the Morgan Library (New York, PML, M.769, fol. 327v), the figure of Julian is portrayed as an elderly medieval monarch lanced by a fully armored Saint Mercurius astride a galloping horse.

Cappenberg Head. Cappenberg, Klosterkirche (c. 1160). Photograph by Montecappio (own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
In contrast to the overwhelmingly uncomplimentary medieval portraits of Julian the Apostate, representations of Frederick Barbarossa generally evoke the idea of imperial majesty and power. The so-called Cappenberg head (c. 1160), a reliquary that originated as a portrait of Frederick, effectively conveys an image of grandeur and stability through its precious materials and antique visual language. Yet a miniature drawn, less than a decade after his death, in Peter of Eboli’s De Rebus Sicilis (Bern, Stadtbibliothek, 120 II, fol. 107r) betrays the unease surrounding the emperor’s accidental passing. Inscribed FREDERICUS IMPERATOR IN FLUMINE DEFUNCTUS, the drawing depicts the ruler falling off his horse and drowning in the water, his crown lying ignobly in the riverbed. As if to combat the contemporary whispers that Frederick died without confessing his sins, the illuminator purposely included an image of the ruler’s soul as a swaddled infant held aloft by an angel and given to the Hand of God emerging from heaven. In so doing, the artist was participating in a larger, concerted effort to salvage Frederick Barbarossa’s reputation for posterity as a noble and most Christian emperor.

“Frederick Barbarossa: Scene, Death.” Peter of Eboli, De Rebus Sicilis (1195-1197). Bern, Stadtbibliothek, 120 II, fol. 107r (detail). Photograph Index of Medieval Art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Index at Kalamazoo 2017

The Index is pleased to announce the speakers for two honorary sessions at the International Congress on Medieval Studies to be held at Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI) on May 11-14, 2017.

Organized by Judith Golden and Jessica Savage, Index of Christian Art, Princeton University

Session I: Friday, May 12th at 1:30 p.m. to be held in Sangren 1750

Session II: Friday, May 12th at 3:30 p.m. to be held in Bernhard 106

Session I:

In Honor of Adelaide Bennett Hagens I: Text-Image Dynamics in Medieval Manuscripts


Presider: Judith H. Oliver, Colgate University, Professor Emerita

w26-064r
Folio 64r in the “Claricia Psalter.” (Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, W.26). Augsburg, late 12c.-early 13c.

This session will examine the interaction between words and images in medieval manuscripts as they shape the reader-viewer’s experience of the book. How do texts and images interact on the page? How did medieval readers respond to the varied discourses between images and texts? This session endeavors to open up new perspectives in describing, analyzing, and contextualizing manuscript illumination according to their intrinsic or peripheral textual elements. Papers in this session will undertake a close study of a particular manuscript and will expand upon theories for image-text composition by reviewing evidence of an artist’s written instructions; reading images with layered text additions, omissions or annotations; and recovering the reader’s experience through text and iconography.

Martha Easton (Seton Hall University)

“Artists and Autonomy: Written Instructions and Preliminary Drawings for the Illuminator in the Huntington Library Legenda aurea (HM 3027)”

Taylor McCall (University of Cambridge)

“Bodies of Words: Text and Image in an Illustrated Anatomical Codex (Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 399)”

Benjamin C. Tilghman (The Material Collective & Lawrence University)

“A Votive ‘Closing’ in the Claricia Psalter (Walters MS W.26)”

Session II:

In Honor of Adelaide Bennett Hagens II: Signs of Patronage in Medieval Manuscripts


Presider:  M. Alison Stones, University of Pittsburgh, Professor Emerita

fecamp
Patroness portrait in the “Fécamp Psalter.” (The Hague, Royal Library, 76 F 14, fol. 28v). Fécamp, c. 1180.

This session will examine the varied “visual signatures” of manuscript patrons, including dress, gestures, posture, and attributes of donor figures; heraldry and personalized inscriptions; marginal notes, colophons, dedications, and other signs of ownership and use in medieval manuscripts. Building on scholarship presented in the 2013 Index of Christian Art conference Patronage: Power and Agency in Medieval Art, this session will investigate the dynamic system of patronage centered on the interaction of owners with their books (whether as creator, patron, commissioner, or reader-viewer). Papers will address the importance of gender and social roles in book production, use, and readership, or will expand upon the role of patron as instigator in the book creation process, from payment to design.

Maeve Doyle (Bryn Mawr College)

“How Owner Portraits Work”

Jesús Rodríguez Viejo (University of Edinburgh)

“The Patroness Portrait of the Fécamp Psalter (c. 1180): An Unknown Example of Royal Artistic Commission in Angevin Normandy”

Shannon L. Wearing (University of California, Irvine)

“Patron Portrait as Creation Myth: On ‘Production Scenes’ in Illuminated Manuscripts”


In July 2016, Adelaide Bennett Hagens retired from the Index of Christian Art at Princeton University after fifty years of dedicated research and scholarship. She studied under Robert Branner at Columbia University and joined the Index during the directorship of Rosalie Green. Adelaide has studied medieval art in a variety of media, but her passion at the Index and in her personal research has always been manuscript illumination, particularly of the Gothic period. Her publications include “Some Perspectives on the Origins of Books of Hours in France in the Thirteenth Century,” in Books of Hours Reconsidered, edited by Sandra Hindman and James H. Marrow (2013); “Making Literate Lay Women Visible: Text and Image in French and Flemish Books of Hours, 1220–1320,” in Thresholds of Medieval Visual Culture: Liminal Spaces, edited by Elina Gertsman and Jill Stevenson (2012); and “The Windmill Psalter: The Historiated Letter E of Psalm One,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 43 (1980). In two sessions, we celebrate Adelaide’s accomplishments and recognize her contributions to the Index of Christian Art and to the wider medieval and academic community.

 

Back to School

Minolta DSC
Illustration 1

It’s back to school time! Modern children enjoy the luxury of a school year that reflects an agrarian society, allowing time off during the summer months when all available hands were put to work in the fields. During the Middle Ages, many students lived, learned, and worked at home year round.

Ill. 2
Illustration 2

They learned how to be good citizens, and how to interact in society. They were taught basic Christian tenets and prayers. Boys learned a skill, following the family business, be it farming, blacksmithing, stone carving or brewing. Girls were taught how to run a household and the rudiments of the family business, to assist a future husband or possibly to take over business herself. In wealthier households, children learned similar life skills, but they had the advantage of becoming literate.  A number of manuscripts exist that include the alphabet, Pater Noster, the credo, and familiar prayers as part of a book of hours. Under the guidance of parents, these books helped to form literate, religious offspring (Illus. 1).

Ill. 3
Illustration 3

Medieval art provides insights into the education of both boys and girls. Girls are shown at home, being individually tutored—as in the image of Agnes of Rome reading an open book before a seated tutor (Illus. 2)—or in small groups such as the one shown with the Virgin Mary and her mother (Illus. 3). Notably each of the girls has her own book, signaling a household of some wealth. Boys are shown at schools away from home. Jesus may be seen as a child carrying a paddle-shaped tablet with a panel of wax, slate, or parchment (Illus. 4). He is led by his mother, raising a scourge in her left hand—a view of the future, or merely an indicator of a boy who did not want to go to school? They walk toward an open-air building where the tutor holds an open book, showing the pages to several students. Other students study their own books, and several, including Jesus, wear what appear to be pen cases hanging from their belts. In another illustration, a single boy stands, perhaps reciting before the tutor, the rest of the class waiting their turns, some diligently studying open books, while one balances a book on his head (Illus. 5).

Ill. 4
Illustration 4
Ill. 5
Illustration 5

 

Ill. 6
Illustration 6
Ill. 7
Illustration 7

Not all were model students. Felix of Nola, whose story appears in the Golden Legend, is said to have been stabbed to death with styluses. The image here shows Felix lying on the floor of the school room, surrounded by students, one indeed holding a bloody stylus (Illus. 6). Aside from the goriness of the picture, it does give a sense of a school room. One basket, likely containing lunch, hangs on the wall while another is used as a weapon. A few books are visible, one open on a desk next to an inkpot and pen—likely a student’s blank book of either parchment or less expensive paper for recording lessons. One tablet is used as a weapon; another hangs on the wall. The same goes for satchels. A couple of students wear a pen case and ink pot on their belts; others hang on the wall.

 

Ill. 8
Illustration 8

Artists used marginal areas of a work of art to depict unusual ideas about a variety of topics, including education. A misbehaving monkey is whipped by his monkey tutor while two other monkeys look on, one with a sheet of paper or parchment on its lap (Illus. 7). A tutor holds withes in one hand and a tablet with the other while a grinning dog writes on the tablet, a stylus gripped in its right forepaw (Illus. 8). Above them are the letters ABC. Finally, a fox wearing a scholar’s cap, raising a baton with his right forepaw, teaches a flock of geese the art of singing. They all stand at a lectern with a book open perhaps to the text they are to sing (Illus. 9).

 

Ill. 9
Illustration 9

 

Illustrations:

  1. Pierpont Morgan Library, M.487 Book of Hours, fol. 1r
  2. British Museum,1892,0501.1, The Royal Gold Cup
  3. Pierpont Morgan Library, H.8, The Hours of Henry VIII, 186v
  4. Pierpont Morgan Library, M.268, Book of Hours, fol. 26r
  5. Pierpont Morgan Library, M.184, Life of Benedict of Montecassino, fol. 2v
  6. Pierpont Morgan Library, M. 672, Golden Legend, fol. 87r
  7. Pierpont Morgan Library, G.24, Jacques de Longuyon, Voeux du Paon, fol.6r
  8. Freiburg Cathedral, Portal frieze illustrating the fable ofthe wolf at school
  9. Pierpont Morgan Library, M.905 vol. I, The Geese Book (Gradual of St. Lorenz, Nuremberg), fol. 186r

 

 

The Role of Time in European and Arabic Medical Handbooks

Observing the passing of time was central in medieval society, since climate had a profound effect on one’s livelihood and life habits. The turn of the seasons brought changes in diet, hygiene, mood, and activity, which were detailed and collected in a genre of late medieval health handbook known as Tacuinum Sanitatis (“The Maintenance of Health”). These show that, in preparing treatments, doctors took the time of the year, month and even day into account, along with six ‘non-natural’ factors—air, food and drink, motion and rest, sleep and waking, secretion and excretion, and mental state—as well as bathing (Jones 119; 133). Such factors are reflected in the Psalter of Lambert le Bèque, which includes twelve medallions forming a health calendar with rules and advice for each month and an image of a doctor with his assistants at the bottom of the page.

Health Calendar in the Psalter of Lambert le Bèque. Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum (288). c. 1280 - 1290. Photograph by the Index of Christian Art.
Health Calendar in the Psalter of Lambert le Bèque. Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum (288). c. 1280 – 1290. Photograph by the Index of Christian Art.

While elements of the illustrations were drawn from classical tradition, the medical recommendations and notion of time in the Tacuinum Sanitatis were heavily influenced by similar health handbooks in Arabic, the lingua franca of the Islamic world. The Tacuinum Sanitatis was based on an Arabic text written by Ibn Butlan, an eleventh-century Christian physician from Baghdad, who is credited as a source in manuscripts from Vienna, Paris, Casanatense, and Liège. His work was so respected by European translators that they even copied out mistakes made by previous Arabic copyists without change. Its translation into Latin in southern Italy or Sicily helped to disseminate it across Europe (Arano 8–11). The work’s Arabic origins are reflected in the title Tacuinum, which comes from the Arabic taqwim, meaning “table” and referring to the table-like organization of health handbooks in the Arabic tradition, a configuration possibly referenced in the square shape of the illustrations in the Tacuinum Sanitatis.

Illustration of Summer for the Four Seasons in the Arabic Miscellany Kitab al-Bulhān, dated 1390-1450. Oxford, Bodleian Library (Or. 133, fol. 44r). Photograph by The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford (Online collections).
Illustration of Summer for the Four Seasons in the Arabic Miscellany Kitab al-Bulhān, dated 1390-1450. Oxford, Bodleian Library (Or. 133, fol. 44r). Photograph by The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford (Online collections).

A sense of the Arabic source for the Tacuinum Sanitatis can be found in the Kitab al-Bulhān, a fifteenth-century miscellany in Arabic, now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford (MS. Bodl. Or. 133). The Bodleian manuscript compiled various astrological, astronomical, and divinatory texts. Notably, in its tale for the four seasons, it advised the following diet for the summer months:

Food should be reduced and drink somewhat increased. Drinks must be well mixed with cold water and snow. Warm, dry medicines and foods must be avoided. Only delicate meat is to be eaten, such as that of black lamb (al-humldn al-suid). There is no harm in eating beef and goat’s meat if prepared with vinegar and celery (karafs). One should not linger in the bath nor should emetics be resorted to frequently.” (Arano color plate XII).

Illustration of Summer in the Tacuinum sanitatis. Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, (Cod. Vindob. ser. nov. 2644, fol. 54r). Lombardy, c. 1390. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.
Illustration of Summer in the Tacuinum sanitatis. Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, (Cod. Vindob. ser. nov. 2644, fol. 54r). Lombardy, c. 1390. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Similar instructions for a humid diet and delicate foods that can be easily digested also appear in a fourteenth-century Latin manuscript of the Tacuinum Sanitatis, written in Lombardy and held in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Cod. Vindob. ser. nov. 2644, fol. 54r). This manuscript states that when nature is “warm in the third degree, dry in the second” the body is at its optimum health to beat “superfluities and cold diseases.”(Arano color plate XII). Yet the summer months were not without their health afflictions, like sluggish digestion or an increase in bilious humors. The Vienna Tacuinum codex suggests taking in a “humid diet” in a “cool environment” to overcome these disagreeable humors. The handbook states that a continuation of the diet works in “cold temperaments, for old people, and in Northern regions.” (Arano color plate XII).

Illustration of the Labor of the Month for August in the Bruges Psalter. Dublin, Chester Beatty Library, (W.61). Flemish, c. 1265 - 1275. Photograph by the Index of Christian Art.
Illustration of the Labor of the Month for August in the Bruges Psalter. Dublin, Chester Beatty Library, (W.61). Flemish, c. 1265 – 1275. Photograph by the Index of Christian Art.

 

The accompanying image of a youth wearing a crown of grain and holding a sprig is strikingly similar to depictions of the labors of the month and the personification of summer.

 

 

 

 

 

Fragment from fresco of scenes from Tacuinum sanitatis. Verona, Castelvecchio Museum, (604-1B470). Italian, c. 1375 - 1399. Photograph by the Index of Christian Art.
Fragment from fresco of scenes from Tacuinum sanitatis. Verona, Castelvecchio Museum, (604-1B470). Italian, c. 1375 – 1399. Photograph by the Index of Christian Art.

This imagery found its way into other media recorded by the Index, such as a Veronese fresco fragment in the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio in Verona. Dated to the last quarter of the fourteenth century, this fresco contains three scenes from the Tacuinum Sanitas. Fragments from the Palazzo dei Tribunali in Verona depict occupational scenes of cooking and commerce that address the inclusion of starch and dill in the diet.

Interestingly, once the Tacuinum text became popular in Europe, Italian innovations began making their way back into Arabic manuscripts. The illumination in the Lombardy manuscript was also influential in the development of contemporary landscape painting, focusing on the changes in nature itself, as well as human responses to them. This influence is perceptible in the Bodleian manuscript, made approximately a decade after the Italian manuscript. The illumination of seasons and cycles here shows a distinctly European approach with Arabic elements worked in. These details include turbaned figures in rich pastoral landscapes dotted with European architecture, a hunter’s long, pointed shoes, a half-length traditional gown, a belted pouch and a goblet of wine in the Autumn scene. And so the artist of the Bodleian Kitab al-Bulhān blended elements of both cultures with innovations of his own, according to his taste.

The Index catalogs many images of seasonal and medical imagery, including “Scene, Occupational: Doctoring” (60+ work of art records) and “Scene, Occupational: Cooking” (70+ work of art records).

Sources:

Ann Henisch, Bridget. The Medieval Calendar Year. (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1999)

Carson Webster, James.The Labors of the Months in Antique and Medieval Art to the End of the Twelfth Century. (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1938)

Cogliati Arano, Luisa. Medieval Health Handbook: Tacuinum Sanitatis. (New York: George Brazilier, 1976)

Hourihane, Colum, ed. Time in the Medieval World: Occupations of the Months and Signs of the Zodiac in the Index of Christian Art. (Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press, 2007)

Murray Jones, Peter. Medieval Medical Manuscripts. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984)

Rice, D. S. ‘The Seasons and the Labors of the Months in Islamic Art’. Ars Orientalis 1 (1954): 1-39. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/4628981.pdf

This guest blog post was written by Rachel Dutaud, a summer student assistant at the Index of Christian Art and a fourth year art history student at the University of St. Andrews. Rachel is completing her undergraduate dissertation on the portraiture of Hatshepsut, Olympias of Macedonia, and Theodora. Her interests are in Early Christian and Byzantine art, classicism, iconography, and archives.

CALL FOR PAPERS

The Index of Christian Art is sponsoring two sessions in honor of Adelaide Bennett Hagens at the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies, University of Western Michigan, Kalamazoo, MI, May 11-14, 2017.

Kneeling female donor in the Yolande de Soissons Psalter-Hours from Northeast France, last quarter 13c. in the Pierpont Morgan Library, M.729, fol. 232v.
Kneeling female donor in the Yolande de Soissons Psalter-Hours from Northeast France, last quarter 13c. in the Pierpont Morgan Library, M.729, fol. 232v.

Image & Meaning in Medieval Manuscripts: Sessions in Honor of Adelaide Bennett Hagens

Session I: Text-Image Dynamics in Medieval Manuscripts

Session II: Signs of Patronage in Medieval Manuscripts

Organizers: Judith Golden and Jessica Savage, Index of Christian Art, Princeton University

Please see the full call for papers on our website here:  https://ima.princeton.edu/conferences/

 

 

 

 

 

D-Day

Bayeux
William sails for England, Bayeux Embroidery, 1070s
N-Dame, Fortitude
Fortitude, west façade, Notre-Dame, Paris, ca. 1200

The Index of Christian Art presents three images in honor of the 160,000 allied troops who landed on the fortified beaches of Normandy on 6 June 1944. The first, a detail of the Bayeux Embroidery portraying Duke William of Normandy sailing to England, evokes the seaborne operation that marked the beginning of the liberation of occupied Europe from Nazi control. The second, a sculpted personification of Fortitude holding a sword and shield from the west façade of Notre-Dame of Paris, speaks to the courage and resilience of the allied forces in the face of the enemy. The third, Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s languid depiction of Peace from the Allegory of Good Government fresco in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, alludes to the aftermath of the war, while also expressing hope for the resolution of current conflicts worldwide.

Ambrogio_Lorenzetti_006
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Peace, Allegory of Good Government fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, ca. 1338

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

robinson9-26-05-2
Strahov Madonna, Královská Kanonie Premonstrátů na Strahově, (O 539), ca. 1340

Mother’s Day has been celebrated annually in the United States on the second Sunday in May for over one hundred years. Following its declaration as an official holiday by the state of West Virginia, Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation announcing the first national Mother’s Day on 9 May 1914.

m1000.060ra
Visitation, New York, Morgan Library, M.1000, fol. 60r, ca. 1420

Images of the Virgin and Child are among the most common depictions of motherhood from the Middle Ages. The Strahov Madonna of ca. 1340 captures the dynamism (or “squirminess”) typical of small children, while also communicating to beholders the special status of the figures through solemn expressions and meaningful gestures. The Child grasps his mother’s veil with his left hand and holds a goldfinch in his right hand, a pose adapted from the Virgin Kykkotissa, a highly venerated, miracle-working Byzantine icon thought to have been painted from life by Saint Luke. Portrayals of the Visitation present an earlier stage of motherhood.

A fifteenth-century French Book of Hours shows the pregnant Virgin gently cradling her swollen abdomen as she greets her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, who “leaped in her womb” (Luke 1:41). A thirteenth-century fresco of the birth of John the Baptist from Parma Baptistery captures yet another aspect of motherhood, depicting two midwives tending to Elizabeth as two others bathe her newborn infant.

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John the Baptist: Birth, Parma Baptistery, mid thirteenth century

The Index of Christian Art has 29 subject records for the Virgin Mary and Christ Child. John the Baptist: Birth appears in 104 records.

 

 

 

Happy Tax Day!

Calling Matthew
Christ: Calling Matthew, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, N.Acq.fr.16251, fol. 69v, 1280-1290

The middle of April strikes dread (or joy) in the hearts of millions of tax filers.  Since 1955, April 15 has typically marked the end of the tax season in the continental US.  This year, however, filers have received a three-day reprieve to accommodate Emancipation Day in Washington D.C, which is observed on the weekday closest to April 16 when it falls on a weekend.

Dance of Death
Legend, Dance of Death, New York, Morgan Library, M.359, fol. 144r, 1430-1439

Saint Matthew is among the best-known tax collectors in the history of Christian art.  According to the gospel accounts, Jesus encountered Levi (Matthew’s name before his conversion) in the custom house of Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus said to him, “Follow me,” and Matthew obeyed.

A remarkable depiction of Christ calling Matthew appears in the Picture Book of Madame Marie, a thirteenth–century French devotional manuscript now at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris.  The scene takes place beneath sharply-cusped arches and against a fiery background.  Wearing a brilliant blue garment and purple cloak, Christ addresses Matthew, whose money table has been dramatically tilted to reveal neat piles of gold and silver coins.  Thematically related is a fifth-century gold solidus of Pulcheria with the empress wearing an elaborate coiffure and lavish jewels, a macabre Dance of Death featuring a money-changer from a fifteenth century French Book of Hours, and a regal image of the Queen of Coins on a fifteenth-century Italian tarot card.

Coin Queen
Tarot Card: Queen of Coins, New York, Morgan Library, M.630.21, ca. 1450-1480

May the rocks in your field turn to gold! 

Coin
Solidus of Pulcheria, Washington, Dumbarton Oaks, BZC.1948.17.1182, 414-419