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Reviewed by:
  • Italienische Bruderschaftsbanner des Mittelalters und der Renaissance
  • Barbara Wisch
Andreas Dehmer . Italienische Bruderschaftsbanner des Mittelalters und der Renaissance. I Mandorli 4. Munich and Berlin: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2004. 400 pp. index. append. illus. bibl. €68. ISBN: 3–422–06460–5.

The subject of this important book is the Italian Bruderschaftsbannergonfalone in Italian — the great painted processional banner after which so many confraternities took their name during the late Middle Ages and early modern era. Perhaps the most characteristic object associated with sodalities, the term gonfalone actually applies to a whole range of objects, including paintings on panel as well as on canvas and silk with elaborately worked borders. Through the study of confraternal and civic statutes, inventories, laude, contracts, and eyewitness acounts, it is now recognized that thousands of costly gonfaloni were produced — and almost as many damaged and destroyed through constant use in processions. Measuring as large as three by four meters, they were omnipresent visual prayers, reifying the presence of the heavenly patrons and their confraternal devotees. When not en route, the banners were often displayed in special tabernacles in confraternal chapels where they developed permanent cult status. Among the best known are the Umbrian gonfaloni, especially those painted by the workshop of Benedetto Bonfigli and borne through the streets of Perugia to ward off plague. Banners depicting the favorite confraternal advocate, the Madonna of Mercy with brethren, citizens, and saints sheltered under her protective mantle, are another noteworthy group that have received serious scholarly attention.

This significant book by Andreas Dehmer is the first to examine the broad category of painted processional banners, most important those commissioned by confraternities in central and northern Italy. The chronological parameters span the thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries, culminating around 1575 (although he does not discuss the changes wrought by the Council of Trent). Based on his 2002 dissertation for the University of Regensburg, Dehmer's book seeks "a full understanding of the functions, pictorial content, and visual language" as well as the "general historical development" (10) of gonfaloni.

Introductory material is presented in the first of five chapters. Chapter 2 provides a balanced overview of scholarship on Italian confraternities and their art patronage. Dehmer follows the main tenets of introductions to recent volumes of collected essays in these areas. The real contribution of this book begins in chapter 3 with a judicious discussion of the state of the research on banners. Dehmer offers [End Page 592] a succinct account of the classification of these objects: shape, material, support, differentiation from civic, church, and military banners — the confraternal forebears. He also examines the use of banners as key elements in the staging of Franciscan and Dominican preaching. Considering the thorny problem of terminology, Dehmer addresses the difficulties in precisely interpreting documents that name processional objects.

Chapter 4 explores the diverse functions and symbolism of painted banners within their confraternal contexts, as revealed through statutes prescribing their use as well as devotional texts. The book is extensively documented with published primary material (often from obscure, local Italian periodicals) and unpublished archival sources, both within the text and in appendices. In fact, all of Vasari's discussions of gonfaloni in the Lives (1568) are quoted in a separate appendix, including the Ricordanze about his own production of seven banners (four are extant and illustrated) painted predominantly for his native Arezzo. Such documentation belies the traditional assumption that only minor artists produced such ephemera. Chapter 5 is a discursive iconographic catalogue. Chapters 4 and 5 provide the interpretative armature for the illustrated catalogue of 120 banners. Listed by present location, the catalogue covers central and northern Italy, begin- ning in 1366 with earliest extant example. A noteworthy correction to cat. no. 45 — the gonfalone made for the Corpus Domini confraternity of Gubbio and now newly restored — is the convincing attribution to the young Raphael, who, along with his father, belonged to the eponymous confraternity of Urbino.

Inevitably, there is a certain amount of repetition in the text. Nonetheless, this beautifully produced volume is profusely illustrated with sharp black-and-white images. In addition to the catalogue, wide-ranging, contemporary depictions of processions in different media visually corroborate the texts. In no other...


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pp. 592-593
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Archived 2009
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