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  • The Miraculous Image in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance
  • Diane Cole Ahl
Erik Thunø and Gerhard Wolf , eds. The Miraculous Image in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Analecta Romana Instituti Danici 35. Rome: Bibliotheca Hertziana, 2004. 320 pp. append. illus. bibl. €95. ISBN: 88–8265–000–0.

This important volume includes papers from an international conference held 31 May–2 June 2003, sponsored by the Accademia di Danimarco and the Bibliotheca Hertziana (Max-Planck-Institut) in Rome. Organized by the editors, "L'immagine miracolosa nella cultura tardomedievale e rinascimentale" investigated the role of miraculous images in shaping faith and sacred topographies during the early modern period. The speakers challenged the misconception that belief in miraculous images was exclusively a medieval phenomenon, as Aby Warburg and Hans Belting had argued so influentially. Collected here, their papers demonstrate the vitality of miraculous sites and images well into the seventeenth century.

Following a historiographic introduction by André Vauchez, Richard Trexler analyzes the broad "anthropology of devotion" and social constructions of the miraculous. Erik Thunø considers the spaces of devotion, identifying the building of centralized pilgrimage shrines around sacred images as characteristic of Renaissance Mariolatry. While focusing on Santa Maria della Consolazione in Todi, he distinguishes patterns typical of all these shrines, including their extramural location and administrative autonomy. Paul Davies describes how the dim interiors of such pilgrimage shrines were conceived to be illuminated by thousands of candles, their sheer quantity confirming the image's power. Robert Maniura investigates sixteenth-century "miracle books" from Santa Maria delle Carceri in Prato, revealing that many miracles were effected indirectly through [End Page 869] prints and lead tokens of the sacred image enclosed within its walls. Megan Holmes dates the cult of the Annunziata in Florence to the first outbreaks of plague in their city and the consequent need for an apotropaic image.

Three papers focus on miraculous images in Renaissance Rome, where precious icons of the Virgin were carried in processions during times of crisis and on special feast days. Giulia Barone reconstructs the history of Rome's most venerated icons, observing how new sacred images were introduced in the late Quattrocento. Bram Kempers elucidates the relationship between Raphael's London Portrait of Pope Julius II and Chantilly Madonna of the Veil, and the miraculous icon in Santa Maria del Popolo, to whose intervention Julius ascribed his recovery from mortal illness. Barbara Wisch identifies the crucial role of confraternities as custodians of sacred images. She describes how confraternities vied with each other and the clergy for the keys that secured the images, the prestigious rights to display them, and the donations they elicited.

The final essays expand the geographic scope of the volume. Morten Steen Hansen interprets Parmigianino's decoration of Santa Maria della Steccata, Parma, as a glorification of the miraculous icon enshrined in the church. Employing interpretative strategies inspired by Walter Benjamin, Jane Garnett and Gervase Rosser investigate how the mechanical reproduction of miraculous images transformed the accessibility and control of the sacred in Liguria. Michele Bacci reconstructs the devotional practices and topographies of sailors who plied the Mediterranean coast without reliable maps or instrumentation. Reconstructing their journeys through the litanies they chanted, he demonstrates how they used the most visible holy sites as markers to create a "sacred chart" for navigation. Susan Verdi Webster expands her research on confraternal imágines de vestir, considering the influence of the medieval Virgen de los Reyes of Seville on Spanish sculpture through the seventeenth century. Alexei Lidov proposes how processional rituals involving icons, specifically the Hodegetria of Constantinople, created sacred space in the profane sites they traversed. In the volume's last essay, Gerhard Wolf, coorganizer of the conference, recapitulates the papers' contributions and speculates on magic, miracles, and the image in Christian thought. He identifies the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as the time when the "image became more active, or interactive, than ever before with the spectator who anticipated a miracle."

Thoroughly researched and adequately illustrated in black-and-white, the papers in this volume have significant implications for our understanding of Renaissance art, history, and spirituality. While disclosing the varieties of sacred experience, they reveal related patterns of worship...


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pp. 869-870
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Archived 2009
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