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A Tribute to Robert A. Koch: Studies in the Northern Renaissance.

As demonstrated by the impressive selected bibliography that inaugurates this collection of eight essays, Robert A. Koch, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University, is a man of many talents. His work on the history of northern art, which spans some fifty years, crosses the borders between the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Spain, addresses a variety of media, and reflects disparate approaches to the study of art, from attribution and iconographic interpretation to the occasional investigation of the "context" of a work. The rich tapestry of subjects and methods employed by the authors represented in this volume - all of whom were Koch's students at Princeton - is a fitting tribute to the considerable range of Koch's scholarship and to his effectiveness as an academic advisor.

Three of the papers in the collection are iconographic studies, or at least partially so. Gregory T. Clark proposes that an enigmatic vegetal form in the work of Hieronymus Bosch must be read as a sign of the corrupt nature of humanity and as a reminder of Bosch's intensely negative view of the material world. John Oliver Hand attributes a Saint Jerome in his Study in the Art Museum at Princeton University to Joos Van Cleve and relates the work to other iconographic types of Saint Jerome. Charles Minott proposes that the seemingly disparate subjects portrayed in the Crucifixion Altarpiece in Dijon are linked in a complex web of expression that bridges the late Gothic and the Renaissance.

Two articles discuss artists' workshops and the art market. J. David Farmer's investigation of the Brussels atelier of Bernard van Orley reveals a highly productive studio that provided images both on commission and for the open market. Lynn F. Jacobs's study of documents shows that patterns of production and sale for south Netherlandish carved altarpieces produced for the market do not differ markedly from commissioned examples. Finally, Burr Wallen's paper, the only one in the group that is not an art historical study, demonstrates that the transformative moral values of the Burgundian court must be seen not as a decline in ethical standards but as a means by which the dukes aspired to boost their political authority.

Of the eight papers in the volume, those by Dorothy Limouze, who argues that prints by north Netherlandish artists Jan Sadder and Joos van Winghe carried different inflections of meaning for Protestant and Catholic audiences, and Craig Harbison, who proposes that the reception of Hans Burgkmair's woodcut, Naked Christ on the Cross, differed with the varying experiences and beliefs of its viewers in Augsburg, offer the collection's most insightful contributions to the literature. By allowing for the possibility of various interpretations relative to viewer experience, the two essays begin to "erode the notion . . . that a work of art should be seen above all as fulfilling the requirements of a single, specific text, or a single, consciously articulated iconographic program" (75). Indeed, the field of northern Renaissance art has been slow to recognize that the meaning of images can vary from viewer to viewer, even within the same geographical region and historical period; in this respect, studies that explore the implications of this compelling premise merit especially strong enthusiasm.

Despite the strengths of the individual essays, the volume as a whole is not without its problems. The arrangement of the articles in alphabetical order by the authors' last names precludes the presentation of the papers in any kind of cohesive fashion, leaving the reader grasping for a thread of continuity. The collection also could benefit from a wider range of alternative methodologies, as could the field of northern Renaissance art in general. All in all, however, this group of perceptive papers is a welcome addition to the literature and a highly suitable tribute to a first-rate scholar and mentor.

ANDREA PEARSON Bloomsburg University
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Author:Pearson, Andrea
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1997
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