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Reviewed by:
  • Early Modern Visual Allegory: Embodying Meaning
  • April Oettinger
Cristelle L. Baskins and Lisa Rosenthal, eds. Early Modern VisualAllegory: Embodying Meaning.Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007. xviii + 298 pp. index. illus. $99.95. ISBN: 978–0–7546–5760–6.

The thirteen essays that make up Early Modern Visual Allegory examine the complex ways in which visual allegory renders meaning. Building on the important studies of Panofsky and Gombrich and a vast interdisciplinary literature on allegory, this anthology contributes to recent scholarship, including the proceedings of the 1990 conference Iconography at the Crossroads and the discourses on the semiotic study of allegory that followed. Through a series of case studies of early modern visual allegories found in painting, sculpture, prints, festivity, and urban spaces, the volume invites readers to consider how the disconnect between the abstract ideas expressed in allegory and its physical embodiment challenged both the production and interpretation of allegorical images.

While the volume' s editors, Cristelle Baskins and Lisa Rosenthal, have organized the essays into four groups —"Making Allegory," "Allegories of Place," "Allegory and Audience," and "Allegory as Carnal Knowledge" —they encourage their audience to identify themes shared among the studies. Given that allegorical imagery often takes the form of the female body, it is not surprising that the link between allegory and the female figure makes up a recurring and predominant theme in the volume. Upon reading the anthology as a whole, there emerges a web of common threads, including visual allegory' s associations with rulership and authority, civic and national identity, and the sacred sphere. [End Page 961]

The essays of Thofner and Kromm explore the deployment of visual allegory to shape images of rulership. While Kromm' s study treats the implications of Minerva and Bellona in Rubens' s famous cycle of the life of Marie de' Medici, Thofner' s essay provides an interesting comparison of allegorical modes of picturing male and female authority in Antwerp and Brussels, focusing on images of the Habsburg Archdukes Albert and Isabella in portraiture and in festival ephemera. In both cases, allegorical images of rulers also embodied the identity of the state. Kaplan' s and Baskins' s contributions examine the deployment of allegorical language for picturing cities under siege, as in Kaplan' s reading of The Assault, a cabinet painting attributed to Giorgione in the final years of his life, and Baskins' s engaging essay on Florentine personifications of its rival, Pisa. Female personifications and lactating women were invoked by images of Spanish conquest, nationalism, and control in the colonies of the New World, a subject that Vá zquez and Dean explore in their contributions to the volume.

Several studies examine revivals of civic and national identity through visual allegory. Lasansky' s study of the redesign of Siena' s Palio in Fascist Italy, as well as the efforts to proclaim Saint Catherine patron saint of Siena and Italy, provides a fascinating chapter in the history of allegory, nationalism, and urban renewal. Lasansky' s essay makes an interesting comparison to that of Naginski, which presents a case study of feminism in the age of Romanticism —and in light of French civic and cultural identity—through the example of a surviving model for a proposed monument to Clé mence Isaure, a fifteenth-century lady from Toulouse who was held to have founded the Academy of Floral Games. In a similar vein, the essays of Rosenthal and Sheriff address allegorical personifications and modes of representing Truth or the lactating female body in light of intellectual debates on the roles of rationality, imagination, desire, and the senses in the acquisition of knowledge in seventeenth-century Flanders and eighteenth-century France.

Agostin' s, Lincoln' s, and Hertel' s contributions point to the challenges of interpreting allegory. Agostin and Lincoln' s essays address the interrelation of word and image in sixteenth-century allegorical imagery. While Agostin focuses on Vasari' s poetic interpretations of Michelangelo' s allegories, Lincoln treats the reception of a 1579 edition of the Life of St. Benedict: specifically, how monastic readers might have interpreted the printed illustrations in light of the text. Hertel' s essay on Wincklemann' s dilemma —his search for allegory in Greek art and his broader quest for the...


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pp. 961-963
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Archived 2009
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