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Mourning into Joy: Music, Raphael, and Saint Cecilia.

It must have been difficult for the author to settle on a title for this book. The legend of Saint Cecilia and its slender factual substratum are dealt with here, and much attention is given to Raphael's celebrated Ecstasy of St. Cecilia (Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale). But though Saint Cecilia is revered as the patroness of music and the the author is a musicologist, music in the terrestrial sense is not the book's subject; neither chant nor the numerous polyphonic settings of Cecilian texts is described. Music as silent ecstatic prayer is central to Connolly's argument. Its connection with neo-Platonic thought on the harmonic laws governing the cosmos and extending to human personality and behavior is mentioned but only briefly.

Biblical themes of joy-into-mourning (Job, Lamentations, penitential psalms) and its converse mourning-into-joy (Esther) are of central concern in Connolly's version of the development of Cecilian myth. Much space is given to the iconographic tradition of the penitent David, which shares some features (David's discarded harp) with Raphael's Cecilian program and, to a lesser extent, with its predecessors, still few in number despite the author's determined search to find Cecilian depictions fitting his argument. As with many other strands of the book's argument, David's connection with Cecilia seems to me more one of casual resemblance than of substantial link.

There are many subjects pursued here. One of the most fascinating is that of the rise of Cecilian legend. Revered as a (married) virgin/martyr, the "historical" Cecilia seems to have lived after the age of persecution; her legend was subsequently interwoven with that of several male martyrs in the Passio Sanctae Caeciliae (c. 500?), which contrasted the cantantibus organis of the saint's wedding music with the internal music of adoration in Cecilia's heart. From the work of the seventh-century English bishop/monk Aldhelm, the "exterior" musical references passed into Cecilian liturgical texts, forming the foundation for the saint's eventual identification with sounding music - a link that Connolly thinks false and that is indeed refuted in Raphael's painting with its broken instruments at Cecilia's feet and a decrepit organ about to fall from her hands. Cecilia was buried in a catacomb but her body was removed to her titular church in Trastevere where, surviving several exhumations and much alteration to the ninth-century church fabric, it remains today.

Saint Cecilia in Trastevere is near the site of a late-antique shrine to the Roman goddess Bona Dea, a proto-feminist healer whose cult Connolly thinks was absorbed into that of the saint. This connection, even if not really provable, is tantalizing, and perhaps constitutes the most interesting thing in the book.

Much else - too much to summarize here - is introduced to thicken the web of Cecilian legend, including medieval devotional writing (primarily that of the fourteenth-century Jean Gerson), scholastic theology, and various iconographic elements. All of this is pressed into service to explicate the scheme of Raphael's painting. The result is impressive if perhaps over-elaborate; I wonder what the reaction of art historians to it will be.

An immense amount of work over a long period of time went into this book. It is persuasive in argument, well written, and elegantly printed. Most of it is sober reportage and balanced discussion. Yet the voice is that of an enthusiast, with occasional glints of fanatic dedication to the message. Several of the chapters are really sermons, a continuation by the author of the devotional tradition he espouses. The combination is a perplexing one, but the achievement is considerable. All in all, an extraordinary book.

JAMES HAAR University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Haar, James
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1997
Words:595
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