The Catholic Historical Review 88.4 (2002) 759-761
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The Uta Codex: Art, Philosophy, and Reform in Eleventh-Century Germany. By Adam S. Cohen. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 2000. Pp. xv, 276. $65.00.)
Nobody who has seen the Uta Codex, a masterpiece of Regensburg book art and book construction from around 1025, is ever likely to forget it. Adam Cohen's book on it is very valuable and helps to fill a gap, since it is the first full-scale study of Regensburg art in the 'Ottonian' period since Swarzenski (1901). First of all Cohen discusses the date; here he has steered a marvelous course between historical common sense and the palaeographical big guns. Next he places the book within the context of monastic reform, beginning at Regensburg with Wolfgang as bishop and Ramwold as abbot of St. Emmeram. He is always sure-footed on monastic politics, brilliant, for instance, on historical memory and reform at Regensburg (pp. 94-96). Then there follow in-depth studies of the great frontispiece and evangelist illuminated pages and afterwards general studies of the visual sources and concepts (visual and textual) of these pages. The Uta Codex, with its highly sophisticated images and tituli, gives one an exceptional opportunity to make a study of the now fashionable text and image issue, and Cohen has seized it admirably.
These in-depth studies are all written with perfect lucidity and in a style which makes them a pleasure to read. The illuminated pages are always beautifully described, and their visual meaning is brought out with great insight. The judgments on their visual sources seem to me almost always unerring and, as in the case of their geometrical structure, sometimes brilliant. The knowledge of relevant parallels, e.g., in Anglo-Saxon art, is very broad and appositely applied. An exceptionally strong feature of the book is that, amidst the richness of these pages, Cohen is always stressing their conceptual unity, what I am tempted to call a Platonist unity. (Plato's Timaeus is mentioned only in passing in this book, but I believe it to be more fundamental to the intellectual culture of this period than might at first meet the eye.) This is how Cohen puts it (p. 113)—profoundly: these compositions come together not simply because their progressions could illuminate each other, but also because they reflect parallel operations in God's single universal system. His critique reminds me of what in Mozart criticism is sometimes called the Master's 'serialism.' Also the discussion of the 'Harmony of the Gospels' (pp. 128-134) is superbly done.
It seems necessary to express some reservations. The principal of these is that there is a certain degree of learned overkill in the interpretations. In discussing the numbers which represent the harmonies in the crucifixion page, for instance, there is a learned palaver (p. 69 and notes at 220-222), while Cohen, who is in general aware of the importance of Boethius's Arithmetic, overlooks that a short passage in this work provides the obvious explanation (Arith II, 49, 3). For ordinary educated people in this period, it was not primarily the tracts on music but this text which was the basic source of understanding of musical theory—this text and Martianus Capella Book IX. Again, in the picture of the Erhard Mass, the second titulus is first misunderstood (p. 81)—it should [End Page 759] be understood as meaning that Christ nourishes the Church on earth (in the Eucharist) by faith (per fidem) and the angels in heaven by the actual sight of Him (per speciem)—and then Eriugena is invoked to explain the derivation of the fides-species formula. Now Eriugena was undoubtedly important for this picture, as Boeckler and Bischoff showed, but here one really needs to apply Occam's Razor. One should not prefer two explanations, or a more unlikely one, when one, or a simpler one, will do. This formula comes in better-known writings of Gregory the Great (altogether underplayed by Cohen), e.g., at...