This book contains two separate and very different parts. First, in an introductory study (pp.1-96), Walter S. Melion closely scrutinizes The Art of Vison in Jerome Nadal’s Adnotationes et Meditationes in Evangelia. Melion provides an initial general account of format and function, a summary of previous scholarship on the Adnotationes, and a short life of Nadal (1507-1580). Second, the text of The Infancy Narratives from Nadal’s Annotations and Meditations on the Gospels, accompanied by reproductions of the original Wiericx brothers engravings, is given in a complete translation by Frederick A. Homann, S.J. (pp.97-180). Homann also attaches “Some Notes and References” at the end, intended to clarify theological and doctrinal issues in Nadal’s text that may be obscure to twenty-first-century readers.
Divergent purposes already are evident in Melion’s scholarly adherence to the Latin title of Nadal’s book, opposed by Homann’s reader-friendly English. Indeed, even when Melion quotes passages from The Infancy Cycle, he does so through his own translations rather than using those made available by Homann. It is hard to recognize the same text behind these two translations. Homann’s purpose is stated straightforwardly in “A Note about Translation.” He wants to change Nadal’s complex, humanist Latin prose into English that can be followed by modern readers schooled on TV sound bites and Newsweek journalism. Since, for Homann, S.J., the text retains intact its original religious character, his translation enters directly into the living Jesuit spiritual tradition. But for Melion the Adnotationes are the object, if not exactly of historical analysis, then at least of learned commentary in the manner of sixteenth-century humanism. Instead of readability, it seems as if he wants to demonstrate through his translations that Nadal’s texts were conceived and formulated in a past tradition of ideas, structures, and terms. Although it is perfectly valid to offer the passages as historical artifacts, one might expect that this scholarly approach would be supported by the Latin texts, enabling readers to judge for themselves the accuracy of translations. In the body of his essay Melion inconsistently quotes Latin texts sometimes with, and sometimes without, an English translation or paraphrase. In so doing, Melion addresses an ideal learned audience that may no longer exist. This reader headed straight for the dictionary.
Although difficult to read, Melion’s essay rewards patience by tracing the intricate connections between vision and spiritual knowledge that run through some chapters of Nadal’s book. Each chapter starts with an engraving that illustrates sequentially the gospel reading of the week, with the places and successive events marked by letters that match descriptions in a table at the bottom of the sheet; below; these markers also agree with a more expansive, lettered set of annotations in the text that follows the gospel reading itself.
To make the most of his theme, Melion focuses attention on a small group of chapters, selected from the whole book rather than from just the Infancy Cycle, in which vision and seeing play an active part in the narrative, even becoming a metaphor for the process of meditation itself. For example, in Christ’s appearance to the apostles after the resurrec-tion, faith is confirmed by sight and by Christ’s statement that all power is given to him. These are things we can make present in spirit through meditation. Melion convincingly places the beginning of this spiritual journey in the engraving that moves the viewer to devotion. When the disciples meet Christ on the way to Emmaus, he disguises himself, an innocent deception that prompts meditation, suggesting spiritual exercises on the necessity of Christ’s suffering on the road to salvation. Christ’s divinity is hidden, then revealed to sight. The blind man of Jericho is prompted by faith to ask Christ for help, and his faith is answered by grace that provides sight.
Melion subtly unravels the intricate connections woven between physical and spiritual sight, present and eternal time, crossing between images and meditations. He always makes sense and writes clearly. As a result the analysis is stimulating and instructive, a useful essay to read and consult. Yet the essay works more as a commentary than as a history. One does not really come away understanding Nadal’s position in a history of visual images used for meditation. It is even difficult to figure out how Nadal’s approach to meditation differs significantly from what Ignatius of Loyola had set out earlier in his Spiritual Exercises. No attempt at all is made to situate the engravings in a larger tradition of meditation narratives, for example, in relation to the spiritual pilgrimages that Reindert Falkenburg has proposed as the underlying structure of Joachim Patinir’s landscapes (Joachim Patinir, Landscape as an Image of the Pilgrimage of Life, trans. Michael Hoyle, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 1988). Nor does Melion make any reference to a history of book illustration in which the Adnotationes fits (see The Illustrations of Books Published by the Moretuses, Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp, 1996). Sometimes his commentary becomes confusing, because it is hard to see where a paraphrase of Nadal ends and Melion’s own opinion begins.
Thus Melion’s essay makes a real contribution to our knowledge of links – between the sense of sight as understood in the sixteenth century, religious pictures, and religious meditation. He builds on solid foundations. Homann’s translation of The Infancy Cycle from Nadal’s book is consistently readable, and the quality of the illustrations is excellent. It is also gratifying that the Wiericxs’ engravings are reproduced in color, thus conveying the tonal richness of their work. An added feature of the book, slipped inside the back cover, is a CD-ROM containing high resolution scans of all 153 engravings from the 1607 edition of the Annotations. It allows magnification of details up to 3 x. Beyond that the images disintegrate into pixels.
Two more volumes are planned. Vols. 2 and 3 will present translations of The Passion Narratives and The Resurrection Narratives from Nadal’s Annotations, though without explanation about why these sections have been chosen. In the Preface Joseph F. Chorpenning, O.S.F.S., describes Melion’s study as a thorough introduction to Nadal, his book, and its images. So one wonders whether the subsequent volumes will be illuminated by further interpretive studies.