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Reviewed by:
  • Les Cinq sens entre Moyen Âge et Renaissance: enjeux épistémologiques et esthétiques ed. by Olga Anna Duhl, Jean-Marie Fritz
  • Charlotte E. Cooper
Les Cinq sens entre Moyen Âge et Renaissance: enjeux épistémologiques et esthétiques. Sous la direction d’Olga Anna Duhl et Jean-Marie Fritz. (Sociétés.) Dijon: Éditions universitaires de Dijon, 2016. 188pp., ill.

This collection of essays, the proceedings of a colloquium that took place at the Université de Bourgogne in 2011, seeks to investigate the extent to which the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries mark a change in the representation and function of the five senses. It is one of a number of recent essay collections on the theme of the five senses in the Middle Ages to have been published in the last year, suggesting a general interest in this area (others include Penser les cinq sens au Moyen Âge: poétique, esthétique, éthique, ed. by Florence Bouchet and Anne-Hélène Klinger-Dollé (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2015; see French Studies, 71 (2017), 255–56), and The Five Senses in Medieval and Early Modern England, [End Page 405] ed. by Annette Kern-Stähler, Beatrix Busse, Wietse de Boer, and others (Leiden: Brill, 2016)). The texts discussed in this collection differ from those in Penser les cinq sens, suggesting this could be a rich field for future research. The volume proceeds chronologically through a variety of French texts, as well as the works of the Italian author Pietro Aretino. As Jean-Marie Fritz indicates in his Introduction, and as several contributors remind us, these five senses were often in fact six or even seven in number. Olga Anna Duhl shows that the five senses were not necessarily conceived as such, but could be seen as three internal senses to which three further external senses corresponded. This collection shows the multiple ways of moralizing sensory experience: Ana Pairet and Gabriela Tanase’s contributions show that for Christine de Pizan the senses were positively associated with knowledge that could be seen, tasted, and even inhaled. Their association with Eve meant that they could also be envisaged in a negative light, as analysed by Anne-Marie De Gendt. Jean Drouyn’s La Nef des folles is granted particular attention, with three essays taking it as their subject. All three discuss the episode of the three foolish virgins, who render the senses in a negative light. The choice to include three essays on a single work is somewhat curious: although each approaches the function of the five senses in La Nef from a different angle (the transition from representing the five senses with male figures to female figures at the turn of the sixteenth century; its female audience; and its mixture of verse and prose), there is a great deal of repetition across the essays. Indeed, if there is a criticism to be made, it is that the collection would have benefited from some editorial consistency: individual essays take different approaches towards offering translations of non-French material (in particular, Latin), and one of the figures is reproduced no fewer than five times (twice in very poor quality resolution). The final two essays move away from the literary French texts to focus on medical treatises and on Italian comic texts. Throughout the volume, the connection between the senses and interpretation becomes something of a leitmotif, of which Ariane Bayle gives a fascinating account in her essay on diagnostics in sixteenth-century medical treatises. Another common question is that of the hierarchy of the senses as perceived by different authors. Giuseppe Sangirardi shows that, for Castiglione, seeing and hearing are to be trusted over the sense of touch. In medical treatises, although all five senses are shown to be important in the examination of a patient, it is the sixth sense, understanding, that proves most important of all. The volume convincingly shows that there is a variety of ways to interpret the five senses in the medieval and early modern period, opening up the possibility of further enquiry in this area.

Charlotte E. Cooper
St Edmund Hall, Oxford


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pp. 405-406
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