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Janel Mueller and Joshua Scodel (eds.), Elizabeth I: Translations (University of Chicago Press, 2009)

Janel Mueller and Joshua Scodel (eds.), Elizabeth I: Translations. University of Chicago Press, 2009. ISBN: 9780226201313 and 9780226201320. 2 vols, 490 pp. and 494 pp. Hbk. $50 per vol.

Reviewed by Helen Hackett

[1]  There is, of course, an unceasing flood of books about Elizabeth I, many of them doing little more than repackaging familiar stories about the Virgin Queen. Janel Mueller and Joshua Scodel are to be applauded for making a genuinely new contribution to the field, by rising to the considerable challenge of a comprehensive edition of Elizabeth’s translations. These two handsome volumes complete a set begun by the Collected Works of Elizabeth (edited by Mueller with Leah S. Marcus and Mary Beth Rose in 2000) and the accompanying volume of source materials, Autograph Compositions and Foreign Language Originals (which appeared from Mueller and Marcus in 2003). The four volumes together will not only grace any bookshelf, but will engender much fruitful discussion: not only of Elizabeth, who may now take her place as a significant and accomplished early modern author; but also of translation, as an important literary art of the period which we are perhaps still only beginning to take as seriously as we should.

[2]  It was not long ago that those wishing to read Elizabeth’s works were compelled either to seek them out in scattered archives or to rely on modern publications which provided only a sample, such as G.B. Harrison’s edition of her letters (Cassell, 1935), or Leicester Bradner’s of her poems (Brown University Press, 1964). In 2004 the renowned early modern manuscript scholar Steven W. May published an edition of Elizabeth’s Selected Works (Washington Square Press) which is extremely valuable, but sadly this has not achieved wide availability, at least in the UK: there is no copy in the British Library, for example. Moreover, it does not aim for the same coverage as the Chicago edition, including, for instance, only three translations as against the Chicago edition’s thirteen.

[3]  In a Latin prayer of 1563 Elizabeth thanked God for making her ‘distinguished and superior in the knowledge and use of literature and languages, which is highly esteemed because unusual in my sex’ (Collected Works, p.141). Much later, in 1597, her court marvelled as she retorted to the impertinent Latin oration of a young Polish ambassador with an extempore and eloquent Latin speech of her own. This new edition conclusively demonstrates that her achievements in languages and translation were prodigious, from the displays of skill in her youthful gift-books, to presentations in middle years to her godson Sir John Harington, to the rapid and voluminous translations of her last decade. At the age of eleven she presented her stepmother, Queen Katherine Parr, with The Glass of the Sinful Soul, an English translation of Marguerite de Navarre’s Le Mirour de L’Âme Pécheresse. The next year, Queen Katherine received her own Prayers or Meditations translated into Italian, but this was not enough for Princess Elizabeth, who had simultaneously translated the same text into Latin and French for her father. These were classroom projects which demonstrated not only the linguistic prowess and elegant italic hand attained by a humanist education, but also, in the choice of texts, a proper piety, and, in their beautiful hand-crafted bindings, the feminine skill of embroidery. They exhibited to the royal family and the court young Elizabeth’s excellence in all areas of princess-ship. By contrast, the extensive translations of her later life – volume 2 alone covers the years 1592-98 – seem to have been undertaken mainly for personal satisfaction, though not necessarily as an entirely private practice; as the editors point out, it was in Elizabeth’s interests to let her courtiers know that she spent her leisure time in such mind-sharpening pursuits. Her lengthiest translation is Boethius’s De Consolatione Philosophiae of 1593, which occupies nearly 300 pages of annotated parallel text in the present edition, and which her secretary Thomas Windebank estimated took her no more than 30 working hours spread over a month.

[4]  Among the many well-designed features of the volumes is the inclusion of plates illustrating the degeneration of Elizabeth’s hand from the lapidary italic of her adolescence to the hasty running script of the adult Queen. We see in graphic form her transition from one seeking to impress others with her writing to one writing to please herself. The almost preternatural visual correctness of her youthful script and the daunting intellectual power of one who translated philosophy and theology for fun are also offset by the mistakes in her translations which the editors identify, and which lend her a refreshingly human aspect. Indeed, Mueller and Scodel find that throughout her life she had a ‘self-reliant’ and ‘nonscholarly approach to translation, which, as far as we have been able to determine, never extended to consulting endnotes or appendices in any of the Renaissance editions that she used’ (vol.2, 57).

[5]  Critics have often been sceptical of George Puttenham’s claim in The Arte of English Poesie (1589) that the best poet of the age was ‘the Queene our soveraigne Lady, whose learned, delicate, noble Muse, easily surmounteth all the rest that have writte before her time or since’. Suspicions that some courtly sycophancy might have been going on here are not assuaged by Puttenham’s assertion that Elizabeth’s poetry surpasses all others ‘even by as much oddes as her owne excellent estate and degree exceedeth all the rest of her most humble vassalls’ (51). Yet what emerges from her translations is a writer who took real pleasure in intense engagement with her source texts and in the artful wielding of language, developing a distinctive personal style that is surprisingly knotty and muscular. Indeed, despite that humanist education, Elizabeth developed an English verse style that tended to Anglo-Saxon ruggedness rather than elegant neo-classicism. She makes vivid and expressive use of archaisms and alliteration: her version of a choral ode from Hercules Oetaeus (attributed to Seneca) deploys words like ‘cark’ and ‘clots’, participles like ‘y-got’ and ‘y-tied’, and phrases like ‘gainful grasps’ and ‘hoarded heaps’, all of which may encourage us to believe that she did indeed relish Spenser’s writing (vol.1, 439). She tends to pithy contraction rather than expansion, a terseness especially appropriate to another Seneca translation: ‘The winter bringeth his colds: shiver then’ (vol.1, 418). Her approach to metre is flexible, often in the later translations evidently affected by haste, but this adds to the arresting and frequently elliptical effect. Another welcome feature of the present edition is the provision of parallel texts, in original and modernised spelling; the modernised texts give aid and ease to the reader, but the original texts convey the frequency of excisions and revisions in Elizabeth’s later translations, and the idiosyncrasy and force of her writing, as in the lyrics in her Boethius:

happy to muche the formar Age
With faithful fild Content
Not Lost by sLuggy Lust
that Wontz the Long fastz
to Louse by son got Acorne (vol.2, p.150)

This was a project requiring polyglot skills comparable to those of the remarkable Queen herself, and it is no surprise that it involved two editors and four research assistants. The introduction to each work offers admirably close analysis of style, metre, and relation to the source text. Works of doubtful attribution are included as appendices, and overall there is careful and judicious attention to questions of attribution, date, and the relative authority of different sources. Some of the translations of Elizabeth’s works included in the Collected Works are revisited and revised (e.g. vol.1, 213). Presentation is generally excellent, though there are a few typographical errors in the section on Elizabeth’s Sententiae. This collection of Latin sayings ought perhaps in any case to have belonged in the volume of Autograph Compositions and Foreign Language Originals, but such is its interest that one can hardly object to having it in print here.

[6]  A pressing question is provoked by these volumes: how far is Elizabeth herself present in her translations? She is, perforce, always speaking through the voices of others in these works, always standing behind them, and she therefore to some extent remains enigmatic. This is particularly so in the Sententiae, which contain sections on Rule, Justice, Mercy, Counsel, Peace, and War. Their aphoristic nature makes it tempting to read them as evidence of Elizabeth’s beliefs on these subjects: for example, there are lines here to support the theory that she governed England as a monarchical republic – ‘He who is wise listens to counsels’ (vol.1, 370) – and others that confirm that she was no democrat – ‘There is no sound counsel in the common people’ (vol.1, 374). These assertions are by no means irreconcilable, but all the same such a range of positions are struck in the Sententiae that it may be more fruitful to read them as debating points rather than a personal manifesto.

[7]  However, Mueller and Scodel provide introductions to each work which persuasively connect them with topical contexts, and there are many ingredients here, from Elizabeth’s choice of works to translate to the local details of translation, which surely offer insights into her preoccupations and character. A recurrent theme is her belief in the monarch as God’s agent: during her brother Edward’s reign she presents him with a gift-book and addresses him as ‘you who learn of Christ daily, and have the next place and dignity, after Him, on earth’ (vol.1,303). For herself, the evidence here as well as in the Collected Works suggests that this belief in a sacred vocation led to humility rather than arrogance, and to a patient submission to God’s will. Indeed stoicism is a persistent attitude and tone, underpinning the Boethius, the Seneca translation, and most of the works here in one way or another. Also very evident is Elizabeth’s devout Protestantism: one of her early translations, aged 12, was of Calvin’s Institution de la Religion Chrestienne, while in her copy of a book by Cranmer she wrote in Latin of ‘the error of transubstantiation, which now for many ages has seized control to such an extent that virtually the whole of Christendom is defiled in this manner with the stain’ (vol.1, 402). It is striking, therefore, that her Biblical quotations and allusions reveal a reliance on the Vulgate Bible (vol.1, 337).

[8]  Elizabeth’s sense of herself as a female ruler comes to the fore in several ways. Mueller and Scodel find that one of her favourite words is ‘care’, in the senses of both anxiety and nurture, and both her care for her subjects and their care for her (vol.1, 426). They further suggest that she thought of herself as particularly gifted in clemency because of her gender (vol.2, 6). Certainly the Sententiae and Cicero’s Pro M. Marcello address the difficulties of balancing justice and mercy in ways which bear intriguingly on Spenser’s depiction of Elizabeth as Mercilla in The Faerie Queene. ‘It is permitted to the common people’, writes Elizabeth, ‘but not to a good king, to weep’ (vol.1, 356) – Mercilla, of course, faced with the trial of Duessa / Mary Queen of Scots, does weep, more than she should. Elsewhere the Virgin Queen distances herself from sexuality: for instance, in De Curiositate, cancer of the uterus in Plutarch’s Greek becomes cancer in a woman’s genitals in Erasmus’s Latin, and then ‘whether a wife a cancer hath in secret, hidden place’ in Elizabeth’s English (vol.2, 414-15). Fascinatingly, however, the editors find that another of her favourite words is ‘breed’, an ironic preference for a notoriously childless queen (vol.1, 426). Yet it is pleasing to imagine that she smiled wryly to herself as she translated Boethius’s passage on the unkindness of children, with its conclusion, ‘Which makes me allow Euripides’ opinion, who said he was happy in mishap that lacked offspring’ (vol.2, 203).

[9]  This leads us irresistibly towards psychological speculation, and the translation which is most provocative of this is the first, The Glass of the Sinful Soul. As scholars have observed before, its striking images of marriage and parenthood can surely not have been encountered with emotional neutrality by the eleven-year-old Elizabeth, however intellectually remarkable and old for her years she may have been, and however estranged from our own notions was an upbringing in the Tudor court. Writing for her fourth stepmother, and very much under the eyes of the father who declared her illegitimate and sent her mother to the executioner’s block, Elizabeth ventriloquises Marguerite de Navarre’s eroticised supplication to a father-God:

Thou dost handle my soul (if so I durst say) as a mother, daughter, sister, and wife … I never saw it, or else it was kept wondrous secret, that any husband would forgive his wife after that she had offended and did return unto him. There be enough of them which, for to avenge their wrong, did cause the judges to condemn them to die. (vol.1, 57, 77-9.)

Did Elizabeth choose the text herself? If so, with what thoughts and feelings? Or was it chosen for her by her tutors? If so, what on earth were they thinking? This of course takes us far beyond scholarship to novelistic hypothesis, but, for this reader at least, this extraordinary work renders this irresistible.

[10]  Elizabeth’s last work in this edition is a passage of De Arte Poetica, translated in 1598. Though primarily a versified work of literary theory, this too reverberates strikingly with the Queen’s personal and political circumstances, in this case towards the latter end of her reign and her life. Parts of the fragment concern the role of poetry in recording the deeds of rulers, and dwell on the ephemerality of both actions and words. ‘All mortal deed shall end’, writes Elizabeth, and ‘Cumbers, many a one, besiege the agèd man’ (vol.2, 469, 481). As her trusted advisers one by one died of old age, as her favourite, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, thirty-two years her junior, grew ever more fractious and impatient, and as ambitious young men gathered in a disgruntled faction around him, Horace led Elizabeth to dwell on the weaknesses of the old man (or, presumably, woman), who is ‘crabbed; whining; the praiser of past time’ (vol.2, 483). She concludes, ‘Lest, therefore, agèd part be giv’n unto the young, / And man’s estate bequeathèd to the boy, / Let us abide in such as best agree, and in their time’ (ibid.). Here she breaks off, leaving the work unfinished. Could it be that it was simply too pertinent for comfort?

[11]  Such questions must continue to hang in mid-air unanswered, but it is exciting that this edition equips us to ask new questions of Elizabeth, and to revisit old questions with new insights. For Elizabeth, her translations were evidently a place where she not only honed her impressive linguistic and literary skills but also thought through political issues. Exploring the voices and ideas of others was also perhaps a way of thinking about herself. For us, this important publication will enable significant re-assessment of a Queen whom we thought we already knew so well.

University College London, September 2009

Christopher S. Wood, Forgery, Replica, Fiction. Temporalities of German Renaissance Art (University of Chicago Press, 2008)

Christopher S. Wood, Forgery, Replica, Fiction. Temporalities of German Renaissance Art(University of Chicago Press, 2008) 416 pp.; 116 b/w ills. Hbk. $55.00 / £38.00. ISBN-13: 978-0-226-90597-6

Reviewed by Andrew Morrall

[1]  The ambition of Christopher Wood’s wide-ranging study is to re-think the existing historical models that explain the nature and reception of artistic production in late medieval and early modern Germany. Wood seeks to resolve the problem of the apparent lack of a German “Renaissance” in the Italian sense of rediscovery and re-identification with the arts of Greek and Roman antiquity, and in doing so, to provide a model that would reconcile into it a large body of culturally significant material, including tombs, monuments, buildings, epitaphs, inscribed tablets, coins, medals, which have found little interpretive purchase within existing art historical scholarship.

[2]  The larger historical framework within which Wood operates is the grand narrative of disenchantment (71), of the breakdown of the medieval – theologically bound – worldview and the emergence of modernity and the secular, rational sensibility that is its hallmark. Emblematic of this paradigm is the emptying of the medieval cult image of its magical qualities of immanence and its replacement with the authored, secular work of art, valued for its uniqueness of expression, its concern with aesthetic values, and its semantic freedom, a model laid out in Hans Belting’s influential Bild und Kult: Eine Geschichte des Bildes vor dem Zeitalter der Kunst (Munich, 1990) (transl. by Edmond Jephcott as Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art (Chicago, 1994). In Italy this process was hastened by identification with the arts and letters of the classical past, together with the adoption of a collective notion of “the arts” as a defining aspect of society and as an index of its civilization. In the German lands, while the Reformation served effectively to kill off the devotional and cult image, the secular, collective idea of “the arts” as possessing this larger defining cultural role was slower to emerge.

[3]  Wood argues that it was competing attitudes to the classical past and the differing conceptions of history and of the operations of time underlying each – the “temporalities” of his title – that determined the two cultures’ respective attitudes to the image and artefact and allowed the idea of “the work of art” to emerge only slowly and with different emphasis in Germany. The Germans saw the past not, as the Italians came early on to do, in terms of rupture and discontinuity with a lost golden age of arts and learning, but rather in terms of unbroken heritage and connection, best grasped in political terms, in the line of German Holy Roman Emperors that could be traced back continuously to those of the Roman Empire. Under this dispensation, there were no “middle ages”, and indeed these later centuries, denigrated as “barbaric” by the Italians, were celebrated by the northerners for their achievements in political organization, technology, engineering and architecture (the empire, the great cathedrals, the invention of gun powder and of moveable type), which stood on equal par with those of ancient Rome. Northern Europeans of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, locked into this framework of temporal continuity, also lacked any sense of a strict chronological mapping of the past. It took them longer than their Italian contemporaries to develop a sense of anachronism, the sense that the past was different in quality from the present; it left them uncritical about evidence, lacking the modern historical perspective that sees “sources” – textual and material remains – as themselves the product of historical forces; and it left them without any sense of or interest in causation. Within this elastic temporal continuum, as Wood vividly demonstrates, contemporaries had no means – or reason – to distinguish between buildings, styles and artifacts of different ages: they made no distinction between Roman or Romanesque, artists could clothe ancient soldiers in the costumes of the contemporary Landsknecht without any sense of anachronism, and a scholar of stature like Conrad Celtis could imagine he saw ancient effigies of druids in medieval portal carvings of saints.

[4]  The medieval, mythopoeic sense of history has tended to be viewed in terms of its teleological functions: that it was written chiefly to justify contemporary claims to power, or to provide exemplars of virtue and vice, as in a mirror to princes, where all manner of heroes, biblical, mythological, historical, suspended outside of chronological time, could rub shoulders without anachronism. Wood’s focus is upon how this fluid sense of temporality conditioned the understanding and significance that contemporaries brought to the artefacts, images and monuments of their past and present. He argues against what he calls the “anachronistic representationalism” (83) of modern scholarship, which interprets the artefact in terms of individual authorship or the conditions of its production within a local cultural order and specific geographic space. These perspectives (“fifteenth-century Florence”, say, or “Prague, 1600”) are the twin pillars of a concept of historical time upon which modern cognition and knowledge of the past depend; both are necessarily retrospective constructs, and were themselves ultimately the product of the philological and archeological movements that only began with fifteenth- and sixteenth-century humanism.[1] Instead, Wood argues that the pre-moderns, lacking such a perspective, drew meaning from objects “referentially,” primarily as they formed a “link to an origin” (33). He applies to the German Renaissance a theory of “substitution”, a hypothesis he developed already in an Art Bulletin article of 2005, co-authored with Alexander Nagel.[2] According to this theory, all manner of artefacts, buildings, monuments, devotional images, were understood as part of “substitution chains”, which linked an individual image or artefact to a distant, original source via chains of intervening variations across time. Wood conceives of such chains as essentially typological: they transmitted certain unchanging characteristics that held true beneath local variations and usages. In this light, the fascinating array of forgeries, copies and replications of older works that Wood brings to his discussion could be regarded as perfectly valid because they looked back to and stood in for a supposed original. By the same token, a theory of substitution can explain how a version of the Madonna, even one painted within living memory, could have been regarded as “ancient” if it effectively transmitted, by means of some authenticating reference, the authority of a distant original, as for instance, versions of the supposed ad vivum likeness of the Virgin by St. Luke. The later Madonna’s precise date of manufacture or the conditions of its authorship were irrelevant in the face of this transmitted, transcendent meaning.

[5]  The theory of substitution seems to have evolved from a consideration of certain categories of cult image, where the typological link between a string of images and a celebrated original – St. Luke’s portrait of the Virgin or the sudarium of St. Veronica – can be established fairly clearly by a reliable and traceable tradition. In other cases, a substitutional chain is inferred rather than demonstrated. Wood suggests for instance that certain buildings – a venerated church, say – even if completely rebuilt over time, drew meaning from the fact that they were understood to contain within themselves a continuity of reference to an original structure or site. Such chains, Wood argues, were created retrospectively by contemporary beholders and the links to common origins might be various. Wood posits a putative relation between the early Christian basilica as ur-type and later church architecture, suggesting that one retrospective chain might have been found in the survival of the basilical plan, another in the retrieval from pagan buildings of arches and vaults (44).

[6]  Wood’s grasp of a pre-modern typological understanding and his recognition of a referential reading of objects is an important insight and one which will be undoubtedly influential for future scholarship in the field.  His proposed model of the substitutional chain of material artifacts works well as a metaphor to describe a meta-historical process, one not consciously articulated by contemporaries and whose operations are largely impossible to trace. However, within a pre-modern sense of the past where time is effectively collapsed, one wonders whether the idea of “chains that trailed behind artifacts” into an indeterminate past (38) is not too concrete an image and one that contains too strong a sense of staged, linear regression, to accurately describe the subjective apprehension of the typological within the thing beheld. Today’s strictly chronological view of history offers up no adequate vocabulary for this experience, which, like the operation of myth, refers to an event, person or thing, which in some sense had happened or existed once, but which in another sense, continues to happen or exist all the time.

[7]  Evidence of substitutional thinking in other areas of the culture can perhaps illuminate this experience in ways that both support and complicate Wood’s reading of the material artefact. A contemporary analogy in the realm of language is the proverb, the sententia, or adage, whose concentrated form, like the devotional image, was weighted with an authority whose origin was obscure and often lay in the presumption of long transmission. In the Adages, Erasmus explains this phenomenon. He calls proverbs “symbols” in which ancient wisdom was contained. It was precisely their lack of a traceable source and their antiquity which gave them their authority as universal truths. Erasmus quotes Juvenal as saying of the proverb,  “Nosce teipsum” (Know Thyself), that it “descended from the sky,” oracle-like (1, vi, 95). Yet even as Erasmus acknowledges this “transcendent” sense of origin, his own treatment of the saying in effect historicizes it: he notes that it was found written over the doors of the temple of Delphi and traces its usage through a series of classical and early Christian authors, from Plato, Cicero, Varro, Ovid and Pythagoras to Macrobius. Erasmus thereby imposes upon the indeterminate, “timeless” line of transmission his own historically more specific substitutional chain, a line of descent within historical time that threatens to weaken or dislodge the apparently transcendent power of “received” utterance and replace it with a new weight of specific historical authority. He also subjects the adage to his own highly rhetorical sense of literary form.

[8]  The clear articulation of these two modes in Erasmus’s exposition, indeed of the one (the “received”) working through the other (the linear, historical) and continuing undiminished within Erasmus’s self-conscious rhetorical elaborations, casts a tangential light on the gradual shift in the understanding of the artifact from the “referential” to the “representational,” concepts that are key to Wood’s theory of the transformation of the image to work of art. They show also how the two modes might intersect and merge, a point Wood is sensitive to, for instance, in his engaging analysis of the life-size bronze effigies of ancestors made for Maximilian’ I’s tomb in Innsbruck (Chapter 6). In a similar vein, recent scholarship on the devotional image has attempted to refine Hans Belting’s account of the transition of the cult image to the work of art by suggesting how the strategies of aesthetic representation of the “modern” artwork were in fact instruments used to enhance or express the older inherited quality of immanence and religious affect.[3]   Wood’s arguments significantly expand the parameters of these investigations by offering in effect a general theory that covers the entire world of artefactual and artistic production and gives intelligible shape to the historical processes involved.

[9]  The greater part of Wood’s study is devoted to grasping the referential purposes of the artefact. He does so via a method of historical anachronism, by deliberately seeking out instances of historical opacity, blind spots to our modern sensibility, the probing of which sharply illuminate a pre-modern worldview quite remote from our own. He uses a contemporary account of the emperor Maximilian I directing canon fire on (apparently) one of the oldest Roman edifices in Trier, as well as pope Julius II’s breathtaking self-confidence in tearing down the basilica of Old St Peter’s as evidence that contemporaries lived within a temporal continuum that did not permit a modern sense of “age-value” (61-62) in respect of ancient monuments. His search for anachronism leads him to explore neglected aspects of the later medieval and early modern visual record. Some of the most sustained and original scholarship in this wide-ranging and densely argued volume is found in the chapters devoted to medieval forgeries, to replicas, to early Renaissance archeology and antiquarianism and to an investigation of the forms of epigraphy and typography in the north, areas outside the mainstream of art-historical study, but whose consideration sheds essential light onto problems of stylistics, of contemporary understanding and reception, and the cultural preconditions of artistic production. His account, for instance, of the retrospective labeling of older relics and tombs with deliberately archaic inscriptions suggests they were regarded not as forgeries in the modern sense, but as necessary, self-evident confirmations of older, perhaps pre-literary, truths. In a discussion about the retrospective re-fashioning of earlier tombs, the development among sculptors of the late Middle Ages in making accurate and detailed physiognomic likeness is regarded, in respect of tomb effigies, not as evidence of period or personal style, but as a form of visual rhetoric, created out of a need to answer a well-established memorial function. “Likeness is an effect generated not by literal analogic correspondence to a real model, but by an excess of information with respect to the apparent function of the image (139).” Regarded as a kind of copia, realism becomes a rhetorical gloss, a device that “intensified the bond between living and dead subjects,” by strengthening the referential link to the person entombed.

[10]  At its heart, the theory of substitution is concerned with the issue of authority. The image or artefact as substitute carried within itself a value or an “essential” meaning that remained culturally stable and ensured continuity across time, a “fixed ground” (43) underlying the more immediate functional frames of reference it might have. The relocation of authority, both theological and secular, brought about by the Reformation, fundamentally undercut the ideological foundations of the referential image. Humanist philology and archaeology also fuelled the growth of skepticism and critical historiography that played a crucial part in undermining these old authorities. This process was reinforced by the new culture of print. Central to Wood’s argument is that it was the published artefact –illustrated in woodcuts and set about with explanatory text– that effectively stripped the original of its “privileged relationship to origins” (176). The woodcut illustration to the authoritative text, by its potential to replicate itself endlessly as well as by the mechanical, impersonal nature of its medium, introduced what Wood terms a “newly invented rhetoric of credibility” a record of eyewitnessing, that made of it a new instrument of knowledge, replacing the older reliance on the material artefact and in effect interrupting the older substitutional chains of relationship. More fundamentally, the new culture of print, through its work of replicating and categorizing knowledge, imposed new structures and categories on the previous flow of medieval experience. Finally, Wood proposes that, from within this nexus of forces that brought about a more rational, detached attitude towards the world, the concept of “art” emerged as a field of “fictionality” where the sense of anachronic play of the medieval sensibility could survive. From this developed the idea of the picture or sculpture as a self-sufficient, autonomous ground of individual creativity.

[11]  The range of material on which Wood draws is extraordinary, as is the command of his sources and the rigour and originality of his thinking. All make for consistently fascinating reading. Wood’s style combines sections of strenuous abstract theorizing with vivid narrative and descriptive exposition, buoyed up by a dramatic sense of the epic in the play of historical forces, and enlivened by idiosyncratic rhetorical flourishes and striking incursions of wit, all too appropriate in a scholar who has brought to light the reflexive qualities of Renaissance artists. The book will become essential reading for anyone working in the field.

Bard Graduate Center, New York, September 2009


[1] For an early twentieth-century rationale and critique of this model, see respectively, Georg Simmel, “Das problem der historischen Zeit” (1916), Brücke und Tür: Essays des Philosophen zur Geschichte, Religion, Kunst, und Gesellschaft, ed Michael Landmann (Stuttgart, 1957): 3-31; and, in respect of the dating of artistic styles, Erwin Panofsky, “Zum Problem der historischen Zeit,” (1927) republished in Aufsätze zu Grundfragen der Kustwissenschaft, ed. Hariolf Oberer and Egon Verheyen (Berlin, 1985): 77-83. [back to text]

[2] Alexander Nagel and Christopher S. Wood, Interventions: “Toward a New Model of Renaissance Anachronism,” Art Bulletin 87, no. 3 [September 205]: 402-32.[back to text]

[3] See for example, Klaus Krüger, Das Bild als Schleier des Unsichtbaren: ästhetische Illusion in der Kunst der frühen Neuzeit in Italien (Munich, 2001). [back to text]