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  • Maiestas Domini: Une image de l'Église en Occident Ve-IXe siècle
  • Lawrence Nees
Maiestas Domini: Une image de l'Église en Occident Ve-IXe siècle. By Anne Orange Poilpré.(Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf. 2005. Pp. 300. €35.00 paperback.)

The author revisits an iconographic theme, Maiestas Domini, that has been comprehensively treated before, notably in Frederik Van der Meer's monograph of 1938. In modern art-historical jargon the term is applied most particularly to images that surround an enthroned figure of Christ with the beast-symbols of the four evangelists, and it is often extended to images that, drawing on the Apocalypse, represent a lamb instead of an anthropomorphic figure of Christ. Here the author's focus is primarily on early Italian images, monumental mosaics, and also some small-scale works in metal or ivory, and on Carolingian manuscript illustrations.

The term Maiestas Domini is elastic and difficult to define, and the author is aware that it is a Latinate pseudo-medievalism when used in an iconographic sense, applying important textual constructs to images seldom if ever so designated in medieval sources. The author, strongly influenced by many studies of Yves Christe, presents an ecclesiological rather than theophanic (Van der Meer's emphasis) or parousiac interpretation of the imagery. In the author's view, the earliest examples of her themes, primarily in monumental mosaics in Rome, are statements about the nature and power of the institutional church. Later images are related to ecclesiastical reform, sometimes not very persuasively. For example, the author argues that the unusual image in the Gundohinus Gospels (from Francia, after 754) should be related to Boniface's reform mission east of the Rhine, although no evidence is presented connecting it with Boniface or with that area, and despite the image's close association with a rare text on the facing page that, as she states, strongly supports a dogmatic rather than an ecclesiastical interpretation. An extended discussion of the Godescalc Evangelistary makes interesting reading, but has as its premise the notion that five images displayed on five separate pages in a book, so that they can never be seen together, should nonetheless be interpreted within the category of the Maiestas Domini image, all or nearly all of the other examples of which are visible as an ensemble. One would wish for a presentation of premises and evidence rather more open to alternative interpretations. Too often such conclusions seem arbitrary, and thus unpersuasive.

The book's illustrations are, unfortunately, grossly inadequate. There are a few color plates, all of familiar images available in many other publications. Most of the illustrations provided are in black-and-white, but many of these are presented through very crude drawings rather than photographs, a procedure never explained. Photographs are expensive and annoying to acquire, especially as many institutions now assess significant or even punishing reproduction fees even for such a scholarly publication as this, but one expects to see them unless for some reason unobtainable. In too many cases the reader is not even directed to another publication where a photograph rather than a drawing might be seen, and many works are not illustrated at all, even when discussed at length. Unless already an expert in this area, with a library at hand [End Page 297] and pre-existing knowledge of what sources to consult, the reader often has no means of evaluating the author's interpretations against the visual evidence. It seems that the author does not want to lose sight of larger interpretive issues by becoming bogged down in details. Ah, but in the details is the devil (or whoever, for there are many variants of the saying).

Basically the author reads the images against modern secondary literature, and agaInst primary sources, both patristic and early medieval. For example, in discussing the important Maiestas Domini image from the Codex Amiatinus (Monkwearmouth-Jarrow before 716) she adduces Ambrose's commentary on Luke for the view that Christ is present in the four symbolic symbols of the Evangelists, while the four Gospels represent ecclesia. The connection between text and image is not explored in detail, however. Is the citation just...


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pp. 297-298
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