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The Catholic Historical Review 87.2 (2001) 308-309

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Book Review

La sostanza dell'effimero:
Gli abiti degli ordini religiosi in Occidente

La sostanza dell'effimero: Gli abiti degli ordini religiosi in Occidente. Edited by Giancarlo Rocca. [Catalogue for an Exhibition at the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant'Angelo, 18 January-31 March 2000.] (Rome: Edizioni Paoline. 2000. Pp. 646. Lire 220,000 paperback.)

This handsome volume in large format and dense triple-column text began as a catalogue for an exhibition at Rome on male and female Order costume. At the hands of some 200 specialist collaborators, and with the resources of the monumental Dizionario degli istituti di perfezione 1 involved, it became a deep and subtle history of the evolution of religious garb, from eremetical nudity and monastic origins, past canons, mendicants, military Orders, and clerks regular to the current adaptations and mass abandonment.

General historical essays in some 250 columns open out into a tour of some 300 Orders or Order groups in over 1,500 dense columns. Almost every page sparkles with color illustrations, interspersed with black-and-white drawings or photos, and graphics on elements such as biretta and wimple. More than a coffee-table book, its volume of annotated information makes this a rich encyclopedia on its topic.

The genre of catalogue disposes the materials around the original exhibits; but those proceed systematically through each Order group with its own inner chronology. In this roll call of the most influential mass movement of Christendom's two millennia, comprehensive indexes provide a needed finding-aid. [End Page 306]

Costume plays a critical role in any era, and the staggering variety of religious regimentals, therefore, has implications for the study of culture, society, spiritual meanings, taste, and non-verbal communication or pedagogy. Libraries will want this book as a reference tool for church history, art and theater programs, women's studies, and theology (the volume introduces a theology of costume). The reader fortunate enough to own a copy can dip into it as a trove of arcane information enriched with suitable bibliography throughout. Since the book derives from the larger Dizionario or DIP, we may hope for further such exhibition-encyclopedias, perhaps starting with the many architectures of the Orders.

Robert I. Burns, S.J.
University of California at Los Angeles


1. DIP, ed. Guerrino Pelliccia and Giancarlo Rocca, 9 vols. to date. Rome: Edizioni Paoline. 1973-1997. Each volume reviewed in CHR.



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