Three exhibitions on Matilda of Canossa were held in 2008 in Mantua, in Reggio Emilia, and at the monastery of San Benedetto Polirone. The volume under review is the catalog for the Reggio Emilia show, and it exemplifies both the strengths and weaknesses of the current culture of exhibiting in Italy. The opportunity to engage a broad public audience in an exploration of the medieval past is salutary, of course, and one must applaud the public entities and corporate sponsors that make such encounters possible. It seems, however, that one model of engagement has overcome all others: the big, blockbuster exhibition. Some topics and themes are well adapted to this model, but others are merely smothered by it.
The Reggio Emilia show is a case in point. At the core of this exhibition was an interesting collection of sculptural fragments, mosaics, and liturgical objects from the cathedral of Reggio Emilia and parish churches in the region. Other pieces were sensibly added—chiefly manuscripts, tomb reliefs, and inscriptions—to illustrate the patronage of the countess Matilda. This relatively modest assemblage offered an opportunity to reflect upon local ecclesiastical cultures and assess the impact of a figure such as Matilda whose cultural horizons and contacts were so much broader. An important interpretive question surfaces in several of the contributions to this volume that could have given it real coherence:Was there a distinctive culture of "reform"? The mini-monograph (more than 150 pages) by Massimo Mussini on ecclesiastical architecture in the countryside argues that Matilda's support for the adoption of the common life as a tool of reform is evident in the forms of rural churches. The evidence here is too tenuous to sustain the claim, but the systematic overview of surviving structures is valuable. Giacomo Baroffio's contribution on medieval musical notation and the diffusion of a Roman style in the eleventh and twelfth centuries is also tantalizing, even if the connection to reform is more suggestive than solid. Three more methodologically acute essays on this issue are Giuseppa Z. Zanichelli's intelligent analysis of Matilda's manuscript patronage as supporting reform but also memorializing her lineage, Dorothy Glass's nuanced reading of the Genesis frieze on the façade of the cathedral of Modena as a local articulation of reform concerns, and Peter Cornelius Claussen's incisive survey of the very different architectural and sculptural [End Page 107] styles evident in Rome across the "reform" era. Also extremely valuable are Tiziana Lazzari's essay and maps charting the development of the family patrimony inherited by Matilda. The publication of these essays and objects makes a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of Matilda and reform.
A great deal of extraneous material was added, however, to make this a big exhibition and a huge catalog: objects with no apparent connection to Matilda or the "treasury" of the Canossa and equally tangential essays (e.g., on the First Crusade). One can understand the desire to avoid a focus on Canossa, since the place and event were treated in a 2006 exhibit in Paderborn, but the chosen conceit—of the "treasury"of the Canossa being the castles, churches, and monasteries of the territory around Reggio Emilia—seems ultimately to have been overwhelmed by the urge to aggrandize. While we can be grateful for the publication of several fine essays and numerous color photographs of medieval objects, we can also hope that the "grande pubblico" is addressed more coherently and directly in future exhibitions.