http://northernrenaissance.org | ISSN: 1759-3085

Creative Commons License

Published under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License.

You are free to share, copy and transmit this work under the following conditions:

Jan Machielsen, Martin Delrio: Demonology and Scholarship in the Counter-Reformation (Oxford University Press, 2015)

Jan Machielsen,  Martin Delrio: Demonology and Scholarship in the Counter-Reformation (Oxford University Press, 2015). ISBN 978-0-19-726580-2, 434 pp., £90.00.

Reviewed by Robert F. W. Smith

[1] Martin Delrio, an early modern Flemish-Spanish Jesuit, will be almost wholly unknown to most British readers. If he is known at all, it will probably be as the author of a popular volume of disquisitions on demonology and witchcraft, which appeared in an abridged English translation in 2000, edited by P. G. Maxwell-Stuart. As Jan Machielsen k2-_3d0d73c0-9bfd-4c25-a07c-dd8b89fe68a7.v2shows in the introduction to this volume, to post-Enlightenment British novelists such as Walter Scott and Charles Dickens, Delrio’s name was practically a byword for superstition. Yet seventeenth-century commentary on Delrio reveals a different picture: a 1609 Vita focussed on his high standing within the Republic of Letters, and as late as 1688 a French critic, Adrien Baillet, ranked him alongside Lipsius and Scaliger in the trinity of humanistic scholarship, in the place that would today be given to Isaac Casaubon. The objective of this book, the first full-length biographical study of Delrio since 1609, is to restore him to the proper context of Renaissance humanism and Counter-Reformation scholarship in which his life and career should be understood.

[2] Born in 1551, Delrio initially seemed destined for a career in the law or royal administration, but was radicalised by the turbulent events of the Dutch Revolt, in which his family chose the Spanish side and lost everything. He joined the Society of Jesus and devoted himself to scholarly pursuits, teaching, and waging intellectual warfare against the Church’s enemies. Of the same generation as Bellarmine and Suárez, he was one of those who made the Jesuit order an intellectual force to be reckoned with, producing editions of the Senecan tragedies, the poetry of Claudian and parts of Scripture. He wrote major theological and exegetical works, and projected a commentary on the whole Bible (but only got as far as Genesis). In his own lifetime, Delrio’s reputation received particular lustre from his status as confidante of Justus Lipsius, whom he was credited with reconverting to Roman Catholicism. He died in 1608 after a teaching career which spanned the length and breadth of Christian Europe, from Salamanca to Graz.

[3] This book is, first and foremost, a biography of Martin Delrio, but as the author says in his introduction, “biography is concerned with more than the deeds of its subject; it offers a vantage point from which to view… culture” (p. 14). Accordingly, he uses Delrio’s case to explore the ill-understood Jesuit theory of obedience, and to argue for a re-examination of the assumptions scholars bring to demonology and witchcraft literature. In particular, he calls for the “Malleus mould” (p. 7) – the tendency to relate early modern thought on demons and dark magic to that notorious fifteenth-century manual for witch-hunters, as if it had some special primacy – to be discarded. He also considers in detail the question of the place of classical scholarship in the post-Tridentine church, in this interesting window of time when the Jesuits were still in the process of establishing their reputation for education and learning. While the Counter-Reformation has been seen as bringing the Renaissance attitude of liberal enquiry to an end in Catholic Europe, in his subject’s conflicted attitude to Seneca, a philosopher he found both delightful and impious, Machielsen sees a more complicated truth. Arguing that the Counter-Reformation was a “textual project” (p. 166) – not only because of the Catholic emphasis on a canonical corpus of texts, but also the Jesuit culture of “active, pen-in-hand reading” (p. 247) – he shows that textual criticism is “a very useful prism though which to view early modern Catholicism” (p. 167). The different strands of Delrio’s activities – demonology, theology and scholarly controversy – were not, as might be easily assumed, contrasting or mutually exclusive, but complimentary, united by an emphasis on textual purity. Delrio approached all of them with a mentality “forged by [confessional] trench warfare” (p. 363): his whole life was in essence a struggle to defend sacred authority against what he understood to be erroneous, irrational and false, whether in the form of the Protestant heresy, the lies of diabolists and demons, or misconceived practices in textual criticism.

[4] This book will inevitably be of particular fascination to scholars interested in Justus Lipsius. In the chapter dealing specifically with their friendship, Machielsen engages with a current debate in biography, the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ which (some argue) the emphasis on self-fashioning in Renaissance historiography encourages, and the problem of ‘sincerity’ in early modern epistolary friendships. Were Lipsius and Delrio really friends? Machielsen argues that while the friendship revealed in their correspondence was a mutually beneficial public performance, allowing Delrio to bask in his friend’s reflected glory, and Lipsius to impress the impeccable authenticity of his conversion upon the Catholic world, there is ultimately no reason to doubt that it was also genuine and heartfelt, despite their differences over questions of textual criticism. Joseph Justus Scaliger plays a major role, too, as Delrio’s antagonist in a dispute over the authenticity of the pseudo-Dionysian corpus, which was really a proxy war between Protestant and Catholic conceptions of history. Neither Delrio nor Scaliger emerge particularly creditably from this encounter, which, as Machielsen’s illuminating discussion demonstrates, makes painfully explicit some of the tendentious assumptions and agendas underpinning much of the scholarship of the early modern period.

[5] Before reading this book, some might have wondered why Martin Delrio should have been the subject of a major new English-language biography of a Northern Renaissance personage, rather than a more well-known figure. Jan Machielsen has answered that question; but still, while comprehensive modern biographies of major figures such as Ortelius, Bodin and Theodore de Bèze remain unavailable in the English language, we can only live in hope that they will one day appear – and that when they do they will be cast from the same mould as this. It is not that nothing has been written about these men, but that the studies which do exist are widely dispersed among journals, editions and essay volumes, and usually do not aim at universality. Of course, the number of scholars who could produce work of this quality must be limited, and funding is an issue. Machielsen received funding from the British Academy in support of this project, which is an encouraging sign.

[6] Although Machielsen declares that this book “is not meant to be comprehensive or the final word” (p. 22), it would be doing him an injustice not to take this with a pinch of salt. This is an erudite, impressively wide-ranging study, which triumphantly achieves its author’s aim of removing Martin Delrio from the demonological ghetto he was previously confined to and illuminating the wider cultures of learning, scholarship and belief of which he was a part. It may not be the final word – indeed, it would be a shame if a book like this did not inspire further scholarly interest in its subject – but it is admirably comprehensive, and firmly re-establishes Delrio as a significant figure of the Northern Renaissance. It is in every way an excellent accomplishment.

Norfolk, UK, May 2016

Tom Turpie, Kind Neighbours: Scottish Saints and Society in the Later Middle Ages (Brill, 2015)

Tom Turpie, Kind Neighbours: Scottish Saints and Society in the Later Middle Ages (Brill, 2015). ISBN: 9789004298224, 207 pp., €99,00.

Reviewed by Claire Harrill

[1] Tom Turpie’s monograph considers the relationship between Scottish saints and Scottish society across the later imagesMiddle Ages, focussing on the ‘Kind Neighbour’ type of saint, as defined by Eamon Duffy as those who were called on to explain and cure sickness in humans and animals, to provide aid in cases of extreme weather, and to deal with the everyday difficulties that medieval medical science was ill-equipped to remedy (p. 2, & FN 7: Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (London: Yale University Press, 1992), 161.) Turpie’s book contextualises the varying popularity of Scotland’s most prominent saints both regionally and across time as devotional habits changed in accordance with the shifting political landscape.

[2] Turpie begins with a consideration of the relationship between patron saints and identity, particularly national and political identity. He traces the establishment of St Andrew the Apostle as national patron saint from the early Middle Ages (eighth century) to the twelfth and fifteenth century when Andrew’s status as patron saint was fully confirmed due to royal involvement (p. 15). Turpie argues for the wide-ranging political implications of this choice of patron saint. The possession of the relics of an apostle – something only three sites in Western Europe could claim – formed one of the bases through which Scotland’s churchmen attempted to assert their autonomy from the English church (p. 16, 18). Turpie goes on to consider unofficial Scottish patron saints Kentigern and Columba. Kentigern had a strong association with Glasgow, and Columba with the Western Isles rather than mainland Scotland and its royal dynasty. The Bruce and Stuart dynasties favoured the shrines at Dunfermline and St Andrews to the shrines of Kentigern and Columba (p. 31). Turpie argues strongly that royal devotion to St Andrew was essential to the establishment of Scottish sovereignty and the consolidation of both Scottish regnal and ecclesiastical power. While Turpie’s argument for St Andrew’s importance is thorough and convincing, I do wonder if the dismissal of St Margaret of Scotland as ‘an ancillary patron, important primarily as the progenitor of the royal house,’ throughout misses the opportunity to draw productive comparison between the patronage of these two saints and the way they were both used politically, especially since Turpie does consider the political importance of the shrines and Royal Mausoleum at Dunfermline Abbey, which was the centre of Margaret’s cult (p. 39).

[3] The second chapter engages with the ubiquity of saints in daily life: patterns of work and rest, rents, debts and wages were all shaped by their feast-days (p. 48). Turpie breaks down the idea of ‘Scottish saints’ as a homogenous group and instead considers local and institutional interests in more detail. Only Ninian, Duthac and Kentigern had reputations for attracting significant numbers of pilgrims into the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (p. 63). Among these, Ninian was the only one who consistently attracted large numbers of domestic and international pilgrims (p. 64). In this chapter, Turpie also discusses some of the sources that can tell us about the popularity of saints. Cathedrals and small chapels appear to have reflected which saints were fashionable at the time of building, whereas medium-sized churches were less susceptible to this (p. 88). Turpie points out that despite the local prominence of Ninian, Duthac and Kentigern, there nonetheless seems to have been no nationwide royal campaigns to rejuvenate interest in Scottish saints in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as devotional habits shows the same shift towards Marian and Passion cults as seen elsewhere in Europe (p. 93).

[4] Chapter Three is concerned with what shaped saints’ cults in the later Middle Ages. Royal patronage had a very large role to play, but the impact was not necessarily long-term. Devotion to most of the medieval Scottish saints, including many of those included in the Aberdeen Breviary, was largely limited to the shrine of that saint and its surrounding area (p. 94-95). St Ninian was the most popular Scottish saint of the later Middle Ages, and Turpie focuses on the political opportunities offered to patrons of Ninian’s shrine at Whithorn. Royal patronage of Whithorn was used to integrate Galloway into the Scottish kingdom in the Middle Ages (p. 99). Ninian’s popularity even crossed the Anglo-Scottish border; shrines to Ninian survive in the North of England, in County Durham and Yorkshire, but Turpie emphasises that this was a direct result of royal patronage. Ninian was made popular in England by Richard III, and as such much of the English devotion to him is post 1477 (p. 113). The second most popular saint of the later middle ages was Duthac, who was popular with merchants and associated with Scottish independence. James IV was a supporter of Duthac’s cult, probably because of Duthac’s strong connection with warfare – James even possessed Duthac’s hair shirt, which had a reputation for protecting the wearer from harm. Royal favour had more of an impact on the smaller cults of lesser saints Fillan, Monan and Triduana. Of particular political interest is David II’s royal chapel to Fillian in Fife. This chapel likely had a political agenda, since it ‘helped to reinforce royal control over the lucrative earldom, which was a bone of contention between David and his rival, Robert the Steward (the future Robert II) in the 1350s and 1360s’ (p. 130). Before David II, there is only limited evidence of a local cult. Political changes in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries led to the decline in the cults of Columba and Kentigern, though Bower’s Scotichronicon gives a false impression of the enduring importance of St Columba, since he wishes to present the saint as protector of Inchcolm, the foundation over which he was abbot. Of these saints, Ninian was really the only one who endured. Ninian had cross-border, and survived into the later Middle Ages when many of the smaller Scottish saint cults had been replaced with pan-European Marian and Passion cults.

[5] The final chapter considers in more detail the specific political uses to which saints’ cults were put by the Scottish monarchy in the later middle ages. For example, James IV marked feasts and owned relics, and Bruce political policy included patronage of St Ninian at the shrine at Whithorn. James II and III made use of patronage to bolster their political interests, but it was James IV who was particularly interested in promoting Scottish saints, for which Turpie points to James IV’s specification in a patent issues to Chepman and Millar in 1507 that Scotland’s first printing press should prioritise books of the legends of ‘Scottis saints’ (p. 146). Scottish kings also used domestic pilgrimage as a method by which to remind their subjects of their presence. Only the reformation would break the link between Scottish saints and the Scottish royal family.

[6] Over the course of this monograph, Turpie demonstrates that royal patronage and nationalistic agendas might have gone some way to shape devotion to saints in Scotland in the late middle ages, but the landscape was ultimately determined by the broader changes taking place across Western Europe. The most important contribution of this book is, I believe, its focus on the local importance of these different Scottish saints and its demonstration of the importance of the physical location of shrines to political and community life in medieval Scotland. Much is gained from breaking down both Scotland and the category of Scottish saints into individual localities and figures. Through this approach, Turpie has been able to demonstrate that both domestic and international politics shaped local and national patterns of devotion to these various Scottish saints.

[7] Turpie’s monograph also opens up some interesting questions about the roles of other, more overtly political and politicised saints. In particular, discussion of the political role of saints might in future be expanded to include comparison with Scotland’s only royal saint, St Margaret of Scotland. There are moments in the monograph that indicate the political role of saints in Scotland is complex and in need of further study. For example, Turpie says that Robert I’s 1329 burial at Dunfermline was a ‘search for legitimacy’, through a connection with St Andrew, to whom Robert I attributed his victory at Bannockburn (p. 30). Dunfermline Abbey was a royal mausoleum, and burial there would connect Robert I with the dynasty he sought to claim descent from, but Dunfermline was the shrine, burial-place and foundation of St Margaret of Scotland, not of St Andrew. A consideration of the political and devotional significance of Scotland’s only officially canonized saint, only significant female saint and only royal saint might provide a productive counterpoint, and fit well with Turpie’s nuanced and precise analysis of the deeply personal and localised nature of devotion to saints across the Middle Ages.

The University of Birmingham, May 2016

Worshipping at the Altar of the Bard

Polaris Podcasts: a JNR special by State of the Theory


[1] Welcome to the first in a series of posts showcasing podcasts which will, we hope, be of interest to our readers. State of the Theory is a podcast about power, politics and popular culture by Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri and Dr Hannah Fitzpatrick at the University of St Andrews. In each episode Anindya and Hannah discuss a topical news story or trend in pop culture in light of critical theory. Recent episodes have focused on fascism, sexualities, free speech, the Panama Papers, Hillsborough 1989, and Walter Benjamin.

[2] State of the Theory‘s latest episode, ‘Worshipping at the Altar of the Bard’, was generously made with a JNR/Polaris audience in mind. You can listen here:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/262914893″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

– and you can join a discussion about the episode by posting questions and comments below, and by tweeting at the journal (@JNRJournal) and at Anindya (@DrAnindyaR) and Hannah (@DrHFitz).

[3] Many early modernists object to representations of Shakespeare’s life and works that elide a myriad of messy issues. Offering something in the way of an aspirin to those who had little choice but to RSVP ‘yes’ to the party of the last four centuries, ‘Worshipping at the Altar of the Bard’ takes up the politics of the commemoration of Shakespeare in 2016, on the 400th anniversary of his death. Anindya and Hannah discuss conflicting representations of Shakespeare as distinctively British and universally human, morally instructive and morally relativistic. We hope you will weigh in on these points with arguments of your own and with any thoughts that have been niggling in response to the 400th anniversary commemorations.

[4] Anindya and Hannah give a particularly interesting reading of the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012. The well-known Shakespearean actor Sir Kenneth Brannagh played the leading engineer of the industrial revolution, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, reading Shakespeare. Rather than celebrate ‘Great Britain’ with the ‘scepter’d isle’ speech from Richard II, the ceremony’s director, the film maker Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), selected Caliban’s ‘the isle is full of noises’ speech from The Tempest. This throws up a range of issues in light of postcolonial readings of The Tempest and of Caliban’s subjugation. As Anindya says, the character of Brunel is here celebrating an industrial Britain which has benefited from a repressive empire, using the words of Shakespeare’s Caliban, who arguably has not.

[5] All this is not to deny the power of Shakespeare’s language, but following Foucault, where there is power there is resistance. And as many of our readers are acutely aware, resisting Renaissance narratives is often a profitable thing to do, at least intellectually.

[6] Listen, let us know what you think, and feel free to continue the discussion about the themes raised in this JNR/Polaris special. As State of the Theory focuses primarily on critical theory, it would also be interesting to know if listeners have any particular thoughts on the role of theory in early modern studies. If in some respects we are now ostensibly ‘post-theory’ – following the more explicit work of poststructuralism in drawing our attention to the production of cultural norms which we seemingly deviate from, even as we live by them – is it worth revisiting theory? Or not? What is some of the work being done in this respect that readers would recommend?

[7] If you make or listen to a podcast that you think we should feature as part of ‘Polaris podcasts’ please let us know at northernrenaissance@gmail.com.

Zoë Sutherland

Shirley Neilsen Blum, The New Art of the Fifteenth Century. Faith and Art in Florence and the Netherlands (Abbeville Press, 2015)

Shirley Neilsen Blum, The New Art of the Fifteenth Century. Faith and Art in Florence and the Netherlands (Abbeville Press, 2015). ISBN: 978-0-7892-1192-7 (h/bk), 314 pp., 182 col. ills. and 18 drawings, $85.00.

Reviewed by Anne Kirkham

[1] The glossy front cover of The New Art of the Fifteenth Century. Faith and Art in Florence and the Netherlands The New Art of the Fifteenth Century Coverjuxtaposes Fra Angelico’s Gabriel from the Convent of San Marco in Florence with Robert Campin’s Virgin from the Mérode Triptych made for the Engelbrecht family in Mechelen. By re-sizing the large fresco and small domestic altarpiece, the resulting image announces the interest of both Northern and Southern artists in closely observed details and realistic representations of space that Shirley Neilsen Blum calls attention to throughout her book. In this composite picture a humanized angel, ‘wings thrusting through the recently disturbed air’, under a colonnade opening onto a simple garden, bows to a woman, absorbed in her book, within a well-appointed ‘ordinary middle-class Flemish home’.

[2] Blum’s vivid writing demonstrates her passion for the works she discusses. Her visually attentive descriptions encourage the reader to engage closely with the many artworks and details reproduced in this generously and splendidly illustrated book. Moreover, the book provides careful explanation of elements in the works reliant on knowledge of the Bible and its interpretation in medieval Christianity, as well as on the practices of Christianity in the late middle ages ranging from the role of religious orders to personal piety, from the ritual of Mass to participation in mystery plays.

[3] Enthusiasts for a new ‘take’ on the New Art of the Fifteenth Century may be a little underwhelmed. Blum’s focus on realism and visual effects, and her approaches to symbolic interpretation and patronage cover familiar ground. Her interest in relating rather than, as previously, relativizing Northern (here Netherlandish) and Southern (here Florentine) art in the fifteenth century was well-established at the turn of the twenty-first century. New approaches to the ‘new art’ of the fifteenth century, for example based around emotion or multi-sensory experience, are increasingly available, but not here (although Blum occasionally anticipates new interests, for example she highlights the painting of ‘touch’ and its significance in connection with Rogier van der Weyden’s Deposition). Some explanation is offered in the preface where Blum states that her manuscript was completed in 2004 and revised only to incorporate Susie Nash’s work (2005–08) on Claus Sluter’s Well of Moses. What is unexplained in the preface is why the author and publisher have ventured to publish the work more than a decade later. The inside fly-leaf argues for an audience of general readers and students and, for the most part, this argument stands up, but with certain reservations.

[4] Tucked away in the preface, rather than opened up in the introduction, is the justification that the book’s chapters on the ‘greatest hits’ of fifteenth-century Florence and Flanders provide ‘thorough analysis of how formal invention was joined to religious content’. This is a fair summary of what the chapters do, but it is a shame that no critical comment on the privileging of canonical artistic centres and artworks was incorporated into a revised introduction, given the delay in publication. Instead, the introduction offers some background to: perspective; the Church; Feast Days; popular religious drama and literature; lay patronage; and the depiction of God in man’s image that are all necessary to any reader new to the art under discussion.

[5] Following the introduction are four chapters focused on works that Blum interrogates to demonstrate what she terms, ‘the emergence of the new art’. The first chapter considers Sluter’s sculptures at the Charterhouse of Champmol, Dijon and Donatello’s sculptures for both the Cathedral and Orsanmichele in Florence. Sluter’s sculptures (c. 1391–1404) are the earliest works in the book and the chapter is the only chapter not focused on wall or panel paintings. Making reference to well-lit photographs Blum demonstrates the theatrical qualities of the innovative statues that are lauded, but then laid aside as her ‘discussion of sculpture is confined to these early years, when sculptors in both regions made significant discoveries that were later adopted by painters’. This allows for a lot of attention to painting.

[6] Masaccio’s Trinity on the wall of Santa Maria Novella, Florence and Jan van Eyck’s Rolin Madonna panel are compared in chapter two. This establishes points of connection in relation to patronage, liturgy and the representation of architecture in space for those that may approach these paintings – and others to be discussed – as apparently different artworks. Chapter three offers a clear account of the fresco programme of the Brancacci Chapel, Florence to which Masaccio was a major contributor. In chapter four Blum considers The Ghent Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers, but, as a reminder to the reader that parts of her study are quite dated, she notes that her discussion of the work owes much to the scholarship of Dhanens (1973 and 1980), Panofsky (1953) and Philip (1971). Recent analyses of the Brancacci Chapel (Nicholas A. Eckstein) and The Ghent Altarpiece (Stephan Kemperdick and Johannes Roessler) were published in 2014.

[7] Blum argues that Jan van Eyck and Masaccio established radical styles serving Christian tradition that persisted in fifteenth-century painting. Accordingly she sets aside the four chapters of the second part of the book to focus thematically on scenes from the early life (Annunciation, Adoration of the Shepherds, Adoration of the Magi) and death of Christ (Passion scenes) that both dominated the Church’s liturgical year and were ‘a focus of late medieval spirituality’. These chapters explain the significance in the late middle ages of these episodes in Christ’s history and how that significance was translated in paint. Chapter six (Adoration of the Shepherds) is perhaps the most satisfying read as it is crafted as a sustained essay on two works, both for Florentine bankers, The Portinari Altarpiece by the Ghent artist, Hugo van der Goes, and The Sassetti Altarpiece by the Florentine, Domenico del Ghirlandaio. These works, respectively from the 1470s and 1480s, are also the only major representative works from later in the fifteenth century.

[8] Any reader will delight in the book’s images that include an enfolded Ghent Altarpiece and many exquisite close-ups, for example of Benozzo Gozzoli’s Journey of The Magi frescoes in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence. The book, by its own admission, pre-dates new approaches to fifteenth-century religious art, but the sub-title of the book, Faith and Art in Florence and the Netherlands, is well served by the text and will be valued, especially by newer audiences of this art, for its explanations of fifteenth-century Christian thought and practice of which the art forms part.

The University of Manchester, May 2016