- Chester Art: A Subject List of Extant and Lost Art Including Items Relevant to Early Drama Early Drama, Art, and Music, Reference Series by Sally-Beth MacLean (review)
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 52, Number 4, Summer 1983
- pp. 406-407
- View Citation
- Additional Information
406 LETTERS IN CANADA 1982 Editorial Committee of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities, which has seen fit to sponsor this book in its new Monograph Series. On the principle that some 'manuscripts that are judged to be of scholarly significance fail to find publishers' (p ix), the Federation has in Whitman's case taken upon itself the role of propagator. This book is a dangerous precedent. Old English scholarship is far from neglected by the university presses of this country; a distinguished manuscript on the riddles is not likely to have trouble finding a home, for - in addition to the normal channels - there already exist Canadian monograph series devoted exclusively to publishing the best in the Old English field. That the Canadian Federation for the Humanities has promoted this hodge-podge as representative of the high standard of Old English scholarship practised in Canada today should be a profound embarrassment to all concerned . (ROBERTA FRANK) Sally-Beth MacLean. Chester Art: A Subject List of Extant and Lost Art Including Items Relevant to Early Drama Early Drama, Art, and Music, Reference Series, 3. University of Western Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications. viii, 115, illus. $14.95 The third volume of the EDAM (Early Drama, Art, and Music) Reference Series, Chester Art illustrates both the virtues and the problems of the Series' research methods. Its implicit argument is beyond reproach: that the surviving medieval graphic arts can help us to understand how medieval English drama was performed - in terms of costumes, spatial arrangement, artistic style, and iconographic emphases. Aimed at students of medieval drama, the Series lists its artefacts by subject matter (biblical scenes, saints, iconographic topics, etc.) and then in each entry identifies items by kind (wood carving, roof boss, painted window, etc.), by place, date, and a detailed description of contents. Where the Series' method becomes problematic is in its expectation that the art of one geographical area will be closely related to the drama of that area. In an earlier Series volume, York Art, York's great artistic treasures indeed offered a number of interesting parallels to the York Cycle, even though it is not clear that either one directly influenced the other. In the case of Chester, however, where much less art has survived (the Cathedral windows, for example, are entirely lost), it is doubtful if we understand and 'see' the Chester Cycle one whit better now that the city's medieval art works have all been catalogued. However, conSidering its appointed task, Chester Art is a solid and reliable piece of research. In a sixty-five-page catalogue, MacLean identifies , itemizes, and describes several hundred pieces, almost all of which HUMANITIES 407 are found in the Cathedral (the medieval St Werburg's Abbey) or in Chester's five principal medieval churches. To assist the reader in visualizing some of these works, MacLean includes forty-nine photographs, ranging in clarity from dark to excellent. She also includes a very brief historical introduction, a short history of St Werburg's, an appendix on musical instruments in Chester art, a list of the Cathedral's famous misericords, and a sixteenth-century map of the city. On rare occasions, MacLean suggests a possible, albeit tenuous, connection between Chester 's art and drama. An item describing a St George corbel, for example, follows an item noting that a St George play was performed in Chester in 1492. But usually there is no apparent interrelationship at all. For instance, the EDAM Subject Guide lists twenty-five Old Testament headings , thirteen of which are dramatized in the Chester Cycle. Yet only four of these twenty-five heaclings are represented in Chester art - 'Angels : 'Samson: 'King David: and 'Jesse Tree' - and only one of these four, the angels, appears in the cycle (David appears briefly as a prophet in one of the five cycle manuscripts). 'Probably the most remarkable survival with dramatic interest,' MacLean writes in her introduction, 'is the sandstone carving of the Assumption with the panel of angel musicians on the west front of the Cathedral.' Unfortunately, the Wives' Assumption play was lost ca 1548. And, as MacLean later admits, 'there can be no definite proof of influence' because the accompaniment of musician...