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Reviewed by:
  • Art and the Augustinian Order in Early Renaissance Italy
  • Meredith J. Gill
Louise Bourdua and Anne Dunlop, eds. Art and the Augustinian Order in Early Renaissance Italy. Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007. xvi + 232 pp. index. illus. $99.95. ISBN: 978-0-7546-5655-5.

The Augustinian Hermits have not always received the same scholarly attention as the other mendicant orders. This is not to say that they have lacked a rich tradition of historical analysis. Since their relatively late institution in 1256 by Alexander IV, they have possessed this in abundance. From the beginning, the Hermits' chroniclers identified Augustine as their father and founder, often in polemical dialogue with the older Augustinian Canons, and they portrayed themselves, further, as a community who modeled the saint's paradigm of a life of faith conjoined to reason. Rudolph Arbesmann O.S.A., P. Damasus Trapp O.S.A., and, more recently, Eric Saak, among others, have given us a distinctive sense of the order's medieval luminaries and institutional culture. In the realms of Augustine's broader iconography and literary reception, the magisterial legacy of Jeanne and Pierre Courcelle and the discoveries of Brian Stock and Carol E. Quillen have been of fundamental importance. Yet somehow the Hermits have escaped the spotlight. Their own relation to the historical Augustine is only one aspect of his many identities.

This volume offers eleven essays on the artistic patronage of the order in the later Middle Ages. While it does not answer in any simple way the question posed by the editors as to whether, and how much, the mendicant orders were directly responsible for artistic innovation, it provides us with probing case studies. In her helpful introduction, Anne Dunlop reviews the framework by which the role of visual culture in mendicant foundations —the "mendicant thesis" —may be understood, as well as an outline of the history of the Hermits. Her bibliographic survey is especially useful since some of the scholarship, much of it published in Europe, is not as accessible as it should be.

In her opening essay, Cordelia Warr assesses the medieval controversies [End Page 1245] attending the matter of the Hermit's habit, highlighting the charged character of the episodes of Augustine's baptism and vestition, and providing a prologue for Louise Bourdua's lucid treatment of the vicissitudes of the saint's tomb in Pavia where, within an interior that was literally divided in two, the relics became a touchstone in the struggle with the Canons. In her careful analysis of Simone Martini's panel of the Blessed Agostino Novello (1324), Cathleen Hoeniger not only brings to life a figure much beloved by his order but also traces the connections between the painting and the holy remains, squarely addressing the ways in which Sienese identity and works of art, including a tomb-altar, articulated a mendicant, specifically Franciscan aesthetic. Donal Cooper reprises this theme later in the volume in focusing on a series of arresting depictions of Augustine's (apocryphal) vision, or ecstasy, before the Trinity, in which the saint's bleeding heart resonantly paraphrases Francis's wounds. Anne Dunlop gives another holy man his due in her discussion of the decoration of the Cappellone of San Nicola at Tolentino (ca. 1325), in which she argues for a governing, Augustinian "structuring principle" (89) of imitation. In a related light, Janis Elliott and Catherine Harding suggest in their essays that the Hermits promulgated a vision of themselves in their interiors that was inflected with a subtle ideal of learning. Elliott proposes that, in his now fragmented frescoes in Padua's Eremitani, Guariento imaginatively responded to the perspectives of the order's theologians, Giles of Rome (d. 1316) and Gregory of Rimini (d. 1358); this resulted in a unique juxtaposition of the Last Judgment and the Passion. In the dado of the apse, as Harding posits, where the same artist painted allegories of the Seven Planets and Seven Ages of Man, we are invited to read —with both eye and mind —an ingenious diagram adumbrating a hermeneutic that was quintessentially Augustinian, in two senses.

In an intriguing sequel to Hoeniger, Diana Norman...


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pp. 1245-1246
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Archived 2009
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