- The Renaissance Pulpit: Art and Preaching in Tuscany, 1400–1550
Early in this book, the author makes the fairly large claim that the Renaissance pulpit is ‘one of the most important types of sculpture in Italian art’ (p. 9). While I am not persuaded that Dr Debby’s study establishes anything like this claim, I do find it persuasive on the more specific topic indicated by its subtitle, i.e. the way in which the design and placement of Tuscan pulpits throughout the period 1400–1550 can be related to the role of preaching during this same period.
Debby’s interdisciplinary approach to this topic is admirable in its aim to combine art history with social history, the study of sermons and the preaching function generally. In practice, however, the balance seems to be heavily skewed toward art history. As the text moves from an overall survey of Renaissance Tuscan pulpits to a detailed consideration of five noteworthy exemplars in Florence and Prato, the discussion becomes predominantly concerned with formal artistic analysis.
This kind of discussion is not unwarranted, given the calibre of some of the artists concerned, such as Brunelleschi and Donatello, but it does tend at times to overwhelm other aspects of the author’s argument. Debby’s formal artistic analysis is supported by the book’s extensive illustrations, although in a number of instances I found them insufficiently detailed to show the features that the corresponding text was seeking to highlight. [End Page 207]
The Renaissance Pulpit is likely to be of most value, then, to art historians; but Parergon readers with broader interests in social and intellectual history will nevertheless find worthwhile material here on a number of topics. Three such topics, I think, deserve particular mention: the role of the mendicant preaching orders and their influence on church interior design; the relationship between the sculptural decorations on pulpits and contemporary rhetorical and theatrical practices; and finally, the changes which the Tridentine reforms brought about in the design of pulpits and of church interiors generally.
The book would have benefited from tighter editing to reduce the number of repetitions and to eliminate occasional inconsistencies. While the bibliography seems complete vis-à-vis the references in the text, the index is unsatisfactory. It lists proper names only (persons, places) and would have been much more useful to the reader if it had also included key terms – such as ‘allegory’, ‘rhetoric’, ‘sacre rappresentazione’ – and the names of the various religious orders mentioned in the text.
University of New England