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  • The Tree: Symbol, Allegory, and Mnemonic Device in Medieval Art and Thought ed. by Pippa Salonius and Andrea Worm
  • Walter Cahn
The Tree: Symbol, Allegory, and Mnemonic Device in Medieval Art and Thought. Edited by Pippa Salonius and Andrea Worm. [International Medieval Research, Vol. 20.] (Turnhout: Brepols. 2014. Pp. xvii, 255. €125,00 paperback. ISBN 978-2-503-54839-5)

This volume is a collection of nine well-illustrated essays drawn from papers originally delivered at a session of the annual International Medieval Congress held at the University of Leeds in 2008. Their authors, drawn from a younger generation [End Page 913] of scholars active in England, Germany, and Holland, deal in perspicuous fashion with the figure of the tree, whose presence as a metaphoric and structuring device is ubiquitous in the imagery of the high and later Middle Ages.

The introduction by the two editors provides an informative conspectus of previous scholarship on various aspects of this many-sided topic. The first paper, by Marie-Pierre Gelin, treats the arboreal construction of the royal genealogy of Christ from the House of David embodied in the form of the Tree of Jesse. Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, if he did not actually invent the theme, gave public prominence to it for the first time through its inclusion among the stained-glass décor of the choir of his newly rebuilt church—an example widely followed soon thereafter in France and England (pp. 13–34). In the study that follows, Andrea Worm deals with sacred history from Adam to the Incarnation, graphically set forth as an unfolding of genealogy in examples of manuscript illumination, and widely disseminated in Peter of Poitiers’s Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi (pp. 35–67). Marigold Anne Norbye, in the next contribution, takes up the application of the arboreal schema to the display of French royal genealogies (pp. 69–93). Annemieke R. Verboon’s essay on the diagrammatic visualization of medieval concepts of logic in the so-called Tree of Porphyry, inspired by Boethius’s Commentary on the Isagoge and its thirteenth-century Latin translation by Petrus Hispanus, comes next (pp. 95–113), followed by the study of Simone Wittekind of the arboreal imagery in the illustrations of the fourteenth-century copy of the Speculum humanae salvationis from the Austrian abbey of Kremsmünster (pp. 117–42). The last four papers of the collection are devoted to the appearance of the theme on Italian soil. Ute Dercks concerns herself with the iconography of the two Trees of Paradise in Italian Romanesque sculpture (pp. 143–58); Barbara Baert and Liesbet Kusters focus on the function of trees in scenes of the Noli me tangere (pp. 159–86); Ulrike Ilg analyzes the tree as a symbol of Mendicant identity (pp. 187-212); and Pippa Salonius proposes a wide-ranging interpretation of the Tree of Jesse sculpted on the façade of the cathedral of Orvieto (pp. 213–36).

In the process of selection of these essays, the editors have sought to assemble a well-rounded book that would adequately inform and “encourage others in their own exploration” of the subject, “leading to further ramifications and growth in the argument” (p. 9). In this endeavor, they have largely succeeded. Overlapping developments or repetition, seemingly unavoidable in these circumstances, have been so far as possible minimized, recurring themes and the accompanying illustrations cross-referenced, and extensive bibliographies appended to the introduction, each of the essays, and the volume as a whole (pp. 243–48). Although the contents of the resulting publication have in this way been enriched and made more accessible, the demanding reader may also note omissions of some significance or topics that might have deserved fuller treatment. Among the former, there is the absence of a discussion of the genealogical diagrams of the Saxon, Ottonian, and Salian dynasties found in manuscripts of Ekkehard of Aura’s continuation of Frutolf of Michelsberg’s eleventh-century Chronicle or, for that matter, of the royal line of the kings of England and their Anglo-Saxon forebears, initially elaborated in the [End Page 914] time of Edward I by Matthew Paris, and later repeatedly updated and widely circulated in roll...


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