The most original element of this excellent volume lies in its placing visual and textual culture on the same level, avoiding the familiar problem of making the visual ancillary to the textual. Manuscript miniatures are understood as not simply reflecting the text, but as relating to it in myriad complex ways. Rosalind Brown-Grant’s introduction sites the volume at the law–literature interface, where there is of course still much work to be done, before laying the ground for the consideration of an art historical dimension. The pervasiveness of political-legal discourse in the late medieval period is thus understood here to include the visual. Both the visual and textual cultures of the manuscripts studied in the volume—and recreated in its many illustrations—deal with the same issues: that is, questions about the fitness for office of leaders, the links between personal virtues and public office and the punishment of crime, with special focus on the figure of the judge and on the queen’s justice. The corpus studied here is broad, taking in not just overtly political or legal texts but also works less studied in that connection, such as hagiography, and ranging across manuscript and early print works. A number of chapters, including Michelle Szkilnik’s study of Le Jouvencel, show impressive range in tackling sets of manuscripts of the same or related works, bringing out divergent illumination agendas, rather than narrowing in on particular case studies. All the chapters give an introduction to the political context for literary works, so the volume could prove very useful to historians wishing to see literary reactions to major events. Cynthia J. Brown, for example, carefully places Alain Chartier, André de la Vigne and Jean Marot’s debate texts and their illuminations within the context of events around Charles VII, Charles VIII and Louis XII of France, respectively. Some chapters go beyond this and see literary texts as attempting to change political realities. Allegory is of course a very popular tool in the period—for text and images, which often feature personified abstractions—but its use does not, the contributors argue, entail disconnection from political realities. Kristin Bourassa’s meditation on the Songe du vieil pelerin shows how images can broaden out the message beyond a text’s immediate political context: though the Songe was dedicated to Charles VI, the majority of the surviving codices date to the reigns of his successors, Charles VII and Louis XI. New illuminations helped the text take on wider meaning, as it became not just a royal instruction work but a text valuable to all good Christians. A number of chapters give very handy expositions of key thematics: thus, Yasmine Foehr-Janssens is particularly eloquent on women’s relationship to the law, which she explores via depictions of trial scenes in manuscripts of Tristan, Lanval and Lancelot. The queen tends to be judged by physical appearance rather than offering a verbal defence. Even when she is the accuser, proof has to be brought by a man. Foehr-Janssens shows here how romances engage with legal works, whilst offering their own answers to questions about culpability and proof, focussing on the aesthetics and spectacle of justice. Barbara Denis-Morel, for her part, offers a very broad survey of medieval thinking about good and bad judges, before comparing customary to Roman law texts, which are in turn measured up against the agendas of the Grandes Chroniques de France in terms of portraying the figures who dispense justice. Maïté Billoré and Esther Dehoux provide a companion chapter to Denis-Morel’s, with their focus on judges in hagiographical accounts within the Légende dorée, the Speculum historiale and royal breviaries, where there is great violence compared to normative medieval legal writings. Such works avoid showing even pagan emperors in too negative a light, instead making the executioner the villain via distorted features, obscene dress and contorted body language, thus avoiding criticism of the institutions of kingship and justice. Several contributors, including Billoré and Dehoux, display great talent for identifying the meaning of visual details that might escape us, such as clothes, posture or gestures. Brown-Grant’s arguments about the prose reworking of Florimont convincingly show how textual lessons were underscored in miniatures via oppositions between chromatic harmony and disharmony, symmetry and dissymmetry, plain and elaborate costume or controlled and intemperate body language. Anne Hedeman’s contribution stands out for its attention to visual rhetorical tools, such as analogy and amplification, whereas Lydwine Scordia displays the capacity of illuminations to vehicle-nuanced critique of Louis XI, who was found not to meet the ideal of the just ruler, but who was rarely attacked overtly in writing. One problem with the volume, overall, is that the contributors are keen to uncover the (single) meaning of each image, or to reconstruct the (unitary) intention of the illuminators, which tends to reduce visual features to simple signifying tools, and I frequently wondered whether there could be more allowance for images to be polysemous, as is generally expected of texts. But all in all, this is an important and innovative volume. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of French History. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
French History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 27, 2018
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