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Reviewed by:
  • Images, Relics, and Devotional Practices in Medieval and Renaissance Italy
  • Simone Bregni
Sally J. Cornelison and Scott B. Montgomery, eds. Images, Relics, and Devotional Practices in Medieval and Renaissance Italy. Medieval and Renaissance Text and Studies, vol. 296. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2005. Pp. x + 274.

This solid, varied and well-researched collection of essays explores the relationship and interaction between images and relics of late Medieval and early Renaissance Italy. It will assuredly be of interest to all students of Art History, Religious History, and Italian culture from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century. Images, Relics, and Devotional Practices in Medieval and Renaissance Italy builds upon Peter Brown's seminal study of modern hagiography, The Cult of the Saints (1980), but adds to it a much stronger focus on iconography. As Scott Montgomery explains in his introduction, iconographical representations in reliquaries and altarpieces from chapels and sanctuaries served as "effective sacral advertisements" (1), facilitating, along with the saint's associated relics, the spiritual dialogue between the faithful and the saint.

The essays by American and European Art historians provide the reader with a variety of approaches to examine visual imagery and the nature of religious beliefs in premodern times while offering a fascinating journey in a time and culture permeated by what Montgomery describes as a sacred/magical material culture (3).

All 11 studies are equally strong yet each offers a unique approach and insight. Together, they provide a full panorama of the devotional practices in premodern Italy and make this book an important reference for future endeavors in the field. That said, three of the essays stand out due to their breadth of scope, multi-disciplinary approach, innovation and implications [End Page 145] for future research. Scott Montgomery (7–25) reveals the programmatic plan on the part of the monks of San Miniato, the Romanesque church on the hill overlooking Florence. He details how the imagery of the façade and the crypt containing the body of Saint Minia aimed at promoting him as a competitor for John the Baptist, Florence's primary patron saint. Robert Maniura's innovative essay, "Image and Relic in the Cult of Our Lady of Prato" (193–212) challenges traditional positions and sheds new light on the influence of iconography on late-fifteenth century religious devotion, particularly with regards to the interactions between images, vows and pilgrimages. In "Galganus and the Cistercians: Relics, Reliquaries, and the Image of a Saint" (55–76) Francesca Geen sheds light on the connection in the hagiography of the late thirteenth century between the reliquary of Saint Galganus's head in Siena, its iconography, written sources, and the Cistercian order's "ideological" plan of making calculated changes to Galganus's story in order to promote the Saint as one of their own.

The remaining eight contributions are solid, well-researched essays. Giovanni Freni (27–54) analyzes how the iconography of Lorenzetti's polyptych in the Pieve and the Shrine of St. Donatus reflects the dispute between the pieve and the church cathedral over the relics of Saint Donatus and Saint James Intercisus. Margaret Flansburg (77–93) examines the case of Beato Agostino Novello (peculiar in itself, since Beati, although the object of veneration in the Church of Rome, did not share in the status of the saints). She details the links between the Augustinian agenda of manipulating popular devotion both for locals and for pilgrims (whose circulation was particularly profitable) and Simone Martini's use of imagery on the altarpiece and the reliquary altar. Coeditor Sally Cornelison (95–113) shows how the portrayal of Saint Zenobius and his reliquary as they emerge from the altar panel and the Saint's chapel in the Duomo in Florence are ideological and programmatic in nature. Leanne Gilbertson's essay (115–138) on Margaret of Antioch, the patron saint of childbirth who played a central role in the ritual of child-bearing during the late medieval and early Renaissance periods in Italy, discusses the dynamic relationship of the believers with the saint's relics and the visual representation of her life and miracles on the altarpiece of the Duomo in Montefiascone. Jacqueline Marie Musacchio's...


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pp. 145-147
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Archived 2009
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