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  • Image and Imagination of the Religious Self in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe
  • Jeffrey Chipps Smith
Reindert R. L. Falkenburg, Walter Melion, and Todd M. Richardson , eds. Image and Imagination of the Religious Self in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Proteus: Studies in Early Modern Identity Formation 1. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2007. xxxii + 484 pp. + 12 color pls. illus. €25. ISBN: 978-2-503-52068-1.

In April 2003 Walter Melion and Reindert Falkenburg organized Emory University's first Lovis Corinth Colloquium. The fifteen stimulating essays of the present volume are the polished products of this gathering. The impact of art on mind and spirit has been a popular subject for the past couple of decades. David Freedberg's The Power of Images (1989) foregrounded prevailing research on the relationship between images and imagination. The role of art in helping to define the religious self has been the subject of much of Falkenburg and Melion's personal research.

Melion's lengthy introduction ("Meditative Images and the Psychology of Soul" ) nicely sets out the thesis and themes of the colloquium. He wants the participants to ask "how and why pious men and women manipulated, or better, cultivated their souls by means of religious images —verbal, visual, textual, pictorial, seen, or imagined —that elicited affective responses symptomatic of the soul's powers of sensation, cognition, and transformation" (1). How do the five external senses, notably sight, receive, translate, and order images so these can be processed by the five internal senses (memory, imagination, fantasy, estimation, and common sense)? How do images function to aid or to measure "the soul's progress toward (or distance from) God"? Melion discusses three published meditative texts to demonstrate the relations between spiritual exercises, images, and one's soul.

The wide-ranging essays examine the application of devotional practices to specific images (and vice versa). The role of the spectator-worshiper is extensively discussed, or at least acknowledged, in every essay. Klaus Krüger addresses the viewer's willingness to accept meaningful artifice. This could take the form of a kneeling Carmelite monk experiencing the heavenly apparition of the Virgin and Child, which the viewer sees merely as a door appearing in the clouds, or cult [End Page 1329] images, such as the Madonna of Loreto, which gain authority over time because of their archaic style and their psychological remoteness. Particularly fascinating is Krüger's look at Marian images in Santa Maria presso San Celso in Milan, specifically the pictorial transfer of spiritual authority from an older painting to Annibale Fontana's Madonna Assunta (1586). Then around 1610 Giovanni Battista Crespi depicts Fontana's sculpture as the focal point of a visionary adoration by Sts. Francis and Carlo Borromeo.

Several of the essays demand much of the original viewers. Michael Cole opens with a discussion of the problem of how some Italian artists, such as Caravaggio, portrayed angels. Rather than dwelling on the material form of these immaterial creatures, they stressed "an angel mediating between a visionary and a vision" (134) in pictures such as Saint Francis being held by an angel. Reindert Falkenburg (on Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights), Todd Richardson (on Bruegel's Festival of Fools), and Bret Rothstein (on the marginalia in the Hours of Mary of Burgundy) make interesting assumptions about the visual sophistication and sense of play that some contemporary viewers of these works must have possessed. John Decker and Henry Luttikhuizen tackle Geertgen tot Sint Jans's St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness as a meditative aid likely for a member of the Knights of Saint John Hospitaller in Haarlem. Decker sees St. John, whom he virtually ignores, as taming the wildness of the landscape (one's soul). Luttikhuizen stresses the empathetic observation of Saint John, the "ideal monk," as a means for cleansing one's soul, imitating Christ, and coming closer to God. Leopoldine Prosperetti investigates how Jan Brueghel the Elder's paintings of hermit saints provided Federico Borromeo a spiritual refuge. Melion assesses Hendrick Goltzius's Life of the Virgin series (1593-94) from a meditative perspective rather than its customary treatment as exemplum of aesthetic virtuosity. Christine Göttler examines Rubens...


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pp. 1329-1330
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Archived 2009
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