Biography 26.3 (2003) 469-471
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Cynthia Hahn's long-anticipated study is a very useful addition to the many books and articles that have been published in the last several decades concerning western medieval hagiographic imagery. Much scholarship in this area can be traced back to the stimulating article written by Francis Wormald in 1952, "Some Illustrated Manuscripts of the Lives of Saints." In this article, Wormald discussed the flourishing of hagiographic illustration in western Europe between the tenth and thirteenth century particularly in the formof libelli manuscripts, which is to say, manuscripts concerning texts and illustrations devoted to the life of a single saint (or in some cases, two or more related saints). Wormald connected the production of these manuscripts to a variety of social, cultural, and religious factors during these centuries, primarily the interest in saintly-cult-promotion of the monastic high Middle Ages. Wormald also provided in this article an extremely useful "list" of these libelli manuscripts, which list has inspired many subsequent specific studies of most all of these individual examples, including a previous dissertation and subsequent volume by Hahn on the Ottonian illustrated Lives of Kilian and Margaret. The majority of the other libelli manuscripts mentioned by Wormald have also received detailed scholarly attention in the past several decades, which Hahn acknowledges in her introduction, text, extensive endnotes, and bibliography.
Hahn's book gathers together and organizes this hagiographic imagery in a comprehensive and thematic system, classifying the textual and pictorial material by the "types" of saints who, in the medieval period, were honored (for divergent purposes) with illustrated libelli manuscripts primarily. Martyrs, confessors, monastic, lay, male, female, and royal saints are each afforded individual chapters in her book, following two introductory chapters in which she reviews the historical background, settings, and contexts for the production of hagiographic texts and images from the early Christian period through the late Middle Ages. Her discussion of the "cult of images" and the textual, social, liturgical, as well as pictorial requirements for the hagiographic dossier provides excellent background for beginning students of hagiographic texts and images. Her analysis of pictorial and textual narrative "constructions" and "rhetorical devices" (with, of course, emphasis on repeated textual/visual themes—or topoi—and their levels of larger meaning/symbolism) provides a firm grounding for her subsequent analysis of specific pictorial narrative cycles. [End Page 469]
Hahn is primarily interested in "narrative cycles" (not in single or condensed individual hagiographic images which also provide a critical mass of medieval artistic imagery), and in explicating how these pictorial "narrative cycles" serve best to point up the specific saintly characteristics of different types of saints. She thus helpfully identifies a number of relevant themes expressed in text and imagery for the different "classes" of saints she considers in her chapters. Martyrs' lives and deaths (chapter three), for example, require slightly different textual and visual topoi than non-martyred saintly confessors—whether bishops (chapter five), or monks and abbots (chapter six), or non-martyred female saints such as nuns and queens (chapter eight), or martyred virgin saints (chapter four).
The manuscripts discussed by Hahn include the Life of Saint Amand (eleventh century), the Lives of Saints Benedict and Maurus (eleventh century), the Life of Saint Radegund of Poitiers (eleventh century), the Life of Saint Quentin (eleventh century), the Life of Saint Cuthbert (twelfth century), the Passion of King Edmund (twelfth century), the Passions of Saint Alban and Amphibalus (thirteenth century), and the Guthlac Roll (thirteenth century). Hahn emphasizes how the careful construction and sequencing of written and pictorial narrative topoi serve "to manipulate the response of the reader" (120), and through visualization and active engagement with the images, the hagiographic scenes are "engraved on the heart" of viewers (50-51). Hahn reiterates that "every new text or picture relies both...