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Corps ressuscitants et corps ressuscites: Les images de la resurrection des corps en Italie centrale et septentrionale du milieu du XVe au debut du XVIIe siecle.

Anne-Sophie Molinie. Corps ressuscitants et corps ressuscites: Les images de la resurrection des corps en Italie centrale et septentrionale du milieu du XVe au debut du XVIIe siecle.

Bibliotheque litteraire de la Renaissance 64. Paris: Honore Champion Editeur, 2007. 484 pp. index. illus. tbls. map. bibl. [euro]88.40. ISBN: 978-2-7453-1345-4.

In spite of its centrality to Christian dogma, the Resurrection of the Dead is treated only summarily in biblical sources. Many details of these events were left to the imagination and perplexity of the devout; Saint Paul addresses their confusion in his first letter to the Corinthians: "But, you may ask, how are the dead raised? In what kind of body? How foolish! The seed you sow does not come to life unless it has first died; and what you sow is not the body that shall be, but a naked grain ... and God clothes it with the body of his choice, each seed with its own particular body.... Listen! I will unfold a mystery: we shall not all die, but we shall all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet-call. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will rise immortal, and we shall be changed." (1 Corinthians 15.35-53, The New English Bible)

As a mystery of the faith, the Resurrection of the Dead occasioned wide commentary in the Middle Ages and has engendered a vast bibliography in the modern age; a recent, vivid discussion is Caroline Walker Bynum's The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 (1995). While most modern scholarship focuses on the written sources, Anne-Sophie Molinie, in the book under review, takes as her subject a corpus of eighty-three paintings of the Last Judgment (or closely related themes such as the Vision of Ezekiel) produced in Central and Northern Italy between about 1440 and 1600, supplemented by forty-five works of graphic art. (The corpus is presented in table form on pp. 125-34.) Primarily iconographic in approach, the author also explores larger, "iconologic" questions, including the reception of images, the impact of Tridentine reforms, and the emergence of individual identity during the period.

The text is organized in three parts. The first treats the textual sources, theological precepts, and visual conventions for the representation of the Resurrection of the Body up to the middle of the fifteenth century. The second analyzes the corpus itself according to geography, location, visual context, and compositional design, including analyses of depicted space. The circulation of compositional types is seen to be a function of local tradition, itinerant artists, and, increasingly, the role of graphic arts in disseminating design ideas. In the third part, the author concentrates her analysis on the representation of bodies, those just emerging from their tombs and those already resurrected, those waiting to be judged and those judged, those saved and those damned. She considers the number, arrangement, dress (or nudity) of the figures, as well as the anatomical treatment of the body, the vocabulary of gestures, and the expression of emotions.

It is in this third part that the author's observations are most intriguing. In focusing on the representation of resurrected bodies, she traces an evolution from a uniform, conventionalized treatment to anatomically accurate and individualized forms, where the resurrection, as part of the quest for salvation, is viewed as a personal event and the sensuous and emotional experience of the individual is central. At the same time, scenes of resurrection are treated as scenes of renewal and reconnection of the body with itself and with others, including angels and saints. The rigidified compositions that characterize early images are increasingly abandoned for animated designs composed of individually gesticulating figures; Signorelli's murals in Orvieto, Michelangelo's later mural in the Sistine chapel, and Federico Zuccari's cupola in the Florentine Duomo are central to the author's discussion. The mechanics of this transformation are examined in the light of the new imagery of anatomical illustration, especially the publications of Vesalius, the humanist literature of manners, the prestige of the antique, and the formulation of new ideals of beauty, as well as theological ideas of the Incarnation, the role of faith in the remission of sins, and the hope for salvation in the post-Tridentine age.

The extensive corpus Molinie has assembled includes many works that are perhaps little known except to regional specialists, and thus will be a useful tool for further study. Unfortunately, few of those works listed are illustrated, and even those are badly served by the small, frequently illegible black-and-white illustrations. This reader's copy was also missing several plates. For the relatively expensive price of $145 ([euro]88.40), the publisher might have lavished more care on the visual aspect of this very rich, suggestive text.


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Author:Cadogan, Jean K.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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