Feike Dietz, Adam Morton, Lien Roggen, Els Stronks, and Marc Van Vaeck, eds.: Illustrated Religious Texts in the North of Europe.
Illustrated Religious Texts in the North of Europe, 1500-1800 is a collection of essays examining the complexities of conception, distribution, production, and exchange of printed images in the international and multi-confessional contexts of Northern Europe. The work is a superb example of an interdisciplinary collaboration that converges to illuminate a single, multi-faceted theme.
The volume grew out of a conference organized by the Universities of Leuven and Utrecht in 2012 entitled "Crosscurrents in Illustrated Religious Texts in the North of Europe, 1500-1800." The book's title remains close to the conference title, though it could easily have adopted a narrower scope. The studies presented in this volume are thematically coherent, more so than in many essay collections. The majority are concerned with printed images in books made or used in the Dutch Republic or London, with connections to neighboring countries receiving significant attention. The grandest geographical range is reached by Mia M. Mochizuki's discussion of a Jesuit press exported to Japan in the 1580s. Moving beyond books, the contributions by Walter Melion and Adam Morton treat larger format printed images that circulated independently. While the crossing of national boundaries is one theme of the volume, its strongest impulse is to analyze various ways images crossed confessional lines, particularly those between Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist Reformed communities. Throughout the chapters, the focus is on production; readers and viewers are regarded in terms of broad groups defined primarily by doctrine and recognized through texts that suggest potential meanings or probable uses for their images. One should not look here for evidence of individual users' interactions with images. Overall, the book successfully complicates the conventional notion that Protestants rejected religious imagery as idolatrous by demonstrating many varieties of nuance, reinterpretation, and cross-pollination. I shall touch on each chapter in turn.
The introductory chapter, "The Function and Nature of International Religious Contacts in Northern Europe," by Els Stronks, Adam Morton, and Feike Dietz, is clear and informative, serving simultaneously to frame the subsequent chapters and to contribute an independent discussion of book production and the book trade in an international and inter-confessional market. The introduction also clarifies the aims of the volume's two sections and positions each article within both the section and the entire work, guiding readers, whether they engage with all the essays or specific selections, to the book's ultimate message.
The work organizes the essays into two sections primarily distinguished by the relevance of each chapter's conclusions to the volume's overall concerns. Part I, "Crosscurrents in Ideologies and Motives," comprises the first five chapters. Alexandra Walsham's study, "Idols in the Frontispiece? Illustrating Religious Books in the Age of Iconoclasm," opens the section with what might serve as a second introduction to the whole collection, since it does much of the historiographic work that serves the later chapters, identifying nine trends that distinguish the scholarship of recent decades from that of earlier generations. Next, Lee Palmer Wandel considers distinct ways of seeing specific religious identities in "Catechisms: Teaching the Eye to Read the World." Teaching religion, Wandel argues, meant teaching a way to read and see not only images and sacred texts but also the world as a whole. Thus, the books produced for teaching religion, particularly those by Calvin and Canisius, trained learners in habits of mind that defined how communities experienced time and made sense of their place in the world. Also concerned with reading by multiple denominations, Walter S. Melion analyzes "Religious Plurality in Karel van Mander's The Nativity Broadcast by Prophets of the Incarnation of 1588," a large, single-sheet print adapted from Federico Zuccaro's fresco in the Roman Jesuit church of SS Annunziata. This print, Melion demonstrates, was produced to accommodate Catholic, Mennonite, and Reformed audiences. The analysis is founded on meticulous visual analysis of the images tied to religious texts that distinguished the three religious communities.
Mia M. Mochizuki's essay, "The Diaspora of a Jesuit Press: Mimetic Imitation on the World Stage," takes the collection in its most unexpected direction. In the 1580s the Jesuits aspired to establish a press in Japan that would disseminate both religious texts and the technologies of moveable type and copperplate image printing. Although the peregrinations of the press were somewhat different from those originally intended, the project was a partial success. The copperplates used with the press also had an interesting afterlife as fumi-e, images to be stomped upon to demonstrate the rejection of Christianity (132). Mochizuki's work reveals much about the diffusion of ideas through missionary networks that is much more complex than older centrifugal models would suggest. The final chapter in Part I is Adam Morton's "A Product of Confession or Corruption? The Common Weals Canker Wormes (c. 1625) and the Progress of Sin in Early Modern England." The Canker Wormes is a single-page print illustrating the contamination of society by the greed and corruption of its constituent actors. The print's mode is ostensibly secular, but as Morton demonstrates, it exemplifies the intermingling of Protestantism and secular popular culture. Taken together, the discussions in Part I break down a range of binaries that characterized earlier scholarship on early modern print culture.
"Forms of Exchange and Mobility" is the focus of Part II. The case studies work together to describe the book market as shaped by the multi-confessional context. The section opens with David J. Davis' "Godly visions and Idolatrous Sights: Images of Divine Revelation in Early English Bibles." While Protestant Bibles generally avoided images of God, frequent exceptions were images of Old Testament prophets' visions of God. Davis describes a "sphere of permissibility" (181) in which these images served several purposes including articulating a political idea, aiding the interpretation of confusing passages, providing models for viewers' own spiritual lives, and anagogical contemplation--a mode of viewing associated with Catholic tradition but espoused by Calvin. "Recycling and Reforming Origins: The Double Creation in Claes Janz. Visscher's Theatrum Biblicum (1643)" by Amanda K. Herrin investigates a series of prints that portray the two accounts of God's creation of humans in Genesis I and II. Visscher reused existing plates for his Teatrum Biblicum and adjusted them in significant ways. Herrin demonstrates that Visscher's alterations brought the images to parallel more closely the two chapters of Genesis. While the changes made the images more palatable to Calvinists, Herrin argues that Visscher's primary goal was to remove divisive material that would have limited his audience to a single religious group.
Dirk Imhof's contribution is similar to Mochizuki's essay in its focus on the context of production and its limited use of visual source material. His study examines the letters between Thomas Sailly, Jesuit almoner for the troops of Alexander Farnese after the conquest of the Southern Netherlands and the Plantin Press in Antwerp. In "An Author's Wishes versus a Publisher's Possibilities: The Illustration of Thomas Sailly's Prayer Books Printed by the Plantin Press in Antwerp c.1600" Imhof traces the aspirations of Sailly to supply the troops with Catholic prayer books, and how they were negotiated and sometimes compromised by the publisher, particularly with regard to the illustrations. How these books were ordered and financed, and how the images were "conceived and realized" (219) is a strong reminder that such objects never did come into being simply by the will of a patron alone.
Els Stronk's essay "No Home Grown Products: Illustrated Biblical Poems in the Dutch Republic," questions the degree to which the Dutch book market could be described as open and tolerant (221). By focusing on the printing of picture bibles in an international context, Stronks shows that the Dutch Republic was more cautious than its neighbors about printing illustrated religious poetry. Moreover, printers may have relied on foreign images and translations into Dutch of poetry written elsewhere less out of an attitude of toleration than because importation provided a way around domestic objections to these very practices. Feike Dietz also examines the crossing of national borders in her essay "Linking the Dutch Market to its German Counterpart: The Case of Johannes Boekholt and a Newly Discovered 1661 Edition of Levendige herts-theologie," addressing a Dutch edition of a German emblem book. Dietz makes the case that the "more or less official" condemnations of the Catholic use of images limited the development of visual literature in the Dutch Republic (242). How ever, international examples, such as the German Lebendige Hertzens-Theologie in this case, provided a network of ideas and exchange that enabled literary and visual developments despite local restrictions. This work explicitly builds on her recent monograph Literaire levensaders: Internationale uitwisseling van woord, beeld en religie in de Republiek (Hilversum, 2012), and provides a useful English language summary of that work's key findings.
The final essay is Erin Lambert's "Singing Together and Seeing Differently: Confessional Boundaries in the Illustrated Hymnal." Considering how hymns, texts, and images not only crossed confessional boundaries but also asserted them and rebutted opposing ideas, Lambert's is one of the more widely accessible essays, which could serve well to bring the volume's overarching themes into an advanced undergraduate or an interdisciplinary classroom.
The book is primarily suited to specialist scholars at the graduate and professional levels. The essays are precise and nuanced and a body of prior knowledge puts the reader at an advantage. Exceptions may be the essays by Davis and Lambert, which define most of their terms and are explicit about their implications, and so may be suitable as stand-alone essays.
Footnotes are thorough, and are, happily, in true footnote location on the page with their text. A comprehensive bibliography for the volume is lacking and would have been desirable, though the notes to the introduction go a long way toward filling the same function. Instead, the book concludes with an Index Nominum, which includes the historical actors, artists, printers, politicians, religious leaders, and key characters discussed throughout the eleven essays, apparently even those mentioned only briefly. The list appears exhaustive, including even the likes of Apollo and Abraham, Patriarch of Israel. It seems that this index would be very useful to scholars working in this particular field of printed religious texts for linking these essays to their own studies. However, for those hoping to contextualize this volume within a broader sphere of inquiry, a comprehensive bibliography might have been more useful. Illustrations are plentiful throughout and allow the reader to follow and verify visual arguments. All are black and white, but since very nearly all of them reproduce originals printed in single-color ink on paper, this is not a compromise.
The work is conclusive in demonstrating that the religious contexts in which illustrated books were produced in the North of Europe between 1500 and 1800 were complex and locally nuanced. Readers are also effectively convinced that authors, engravers, and printers acted in response to those religious contexts, but that their agency reached far beyond merely reflecting those circumstances. Motivated by market concerns as much as confessional identities, the makers and distributors of images acted within networks of exchange, both ideological and tangible, that were distinct from, though not independent of, the mosaic of religious convictions that characterized the region.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2015|
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