Art on Paper by Tamar Cholcman is based on the author’s 2006 dissertation. Its study of ephemeral art in the Low Countries uses one book, the 1602 festival book by Johannes Bochius, Historica narration profectionis et inaugurationis serenissimorum Belgii principum Alberti et Isabellae… (Plantin-Moretus, 1602), which was produced to accompany the joyeuse entrée of the Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella, Infanta of Spain, into Antwerp in 1599. Cholcman argues that Bochius is the “sole creator” of both the event and its accompanying book (p. 37), and as such his account – and those like it – should be fundamental to any attempt to assign meaning to similar events. Bochius’s intrinsic book (Cholcman’s term), representative of a privileged type of ephemeral art documentation, “can be defined as a new genre of the rhetoric figure of ekphrasis, formulated and conceived solely to fit the needs of eternalizing the ephemeral (p. 33).”
Cholcman’s first two chapters provide an overview of the history of the joyeuse entrée in the Low Countries and the place of Charles V’s “imperial concept” in relation to it. Unfortunately lacking is a description of Bochius’s text and its engravings in detail. Cholcman also fails to mention the ample introductory material and component parts, which appear in the text prior to Bochius’s description of the entry and which comprise a full half of the text. Instead, Cholcman argues at length that few researchers draw distinctions between types of accounts of ephemeral events, such as eyewitness accounts and intrinsic books. She concludes that intrinsic books should be considered inseparable from ephemeral works of art. Clearly Cholcman privileges the intrinsic book over other types of available documentation, which seems unnecessarily limiting.
It is a shame that Cholcman was not inspired to broaden her approach outside the necessarily narrow methodology of a dissertation. She rejects recent approaches to the material, such as Margit Thøfner’s dialogic approach to texts, captions, and images, for example (Oxford Art Journal, 22, 1999; A Common Art: Urban Ceremonial in Antwerp and Brussels during and after the Dutch Revolt, 2007), and Mark Meadow’s use of rhetoric and ritual theory in framing both the production and reception of civic processions in the Low Countries (Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, 52, 1999). For Cholcman, these methods discount the primary importance of the intrinsic book and thus deny the reconstruction of authorial intention, the tracing of artistic precedents, and the analysis of iconography that she perceives as central to our understanding of ephemeral art (pp. 36-37).
Given her aim to reconstruct Bochius’s intentions as author, Cholcman’s main focus, in the next three chapters, is on Bochius’s engagement with contemporary humanist letters and late Classical rhetoric in light of his role as spokesman for the city of Antwerp. “The Voice of the People – The Demand for Autonomy” traces Bochius’s literary sources and the realization of Bochius’s rhetorical aims in the accompanying engravings. Bochius’s “view-directing text” aids in understanding the dynamic Versatile Theater monument – its “actual meaning” (p. 76) – which argued for an autonomous Belgium and specifically for a return to the Golden Age of Emperor Maximilian I. Bochius’s replaying of the Greek Psychomachia helps to elucidate vernacular political rhetoric of the day (although Cholcman does not mention vernacular cognates). While scholars of the Renaissance will appreciate Cholcman’s broad understanding of the classical literature that Bochius weaves throughout his argument, the author often dismisses the importance of images as evidence, especially if they somehow diverge from Bochius’s descriptions. In the Versatile Theaterengraving, for instance, Bochius “does not suggest an iconographical meaning” for the visual elements of the crowd, the sculpted crucifix, and the prominent courtly viewer, and therefore, according to Cholcman, these elements have little more significance than being “added by the engraver as illustrations to enhance the feelings of both horror and delight of the spectators” (p. 72). Similarly, the makers of the book’s drawings and engravings are deemed irrelevant.
In “The Debate over Women’: The Visual and Artistic Representation of Women’s Nature,” Cholcman describes how Bochius positioned the Archduchess Isabella’s role and sovereignty within the querelle des femmes. Proposing the marriage of Albert and Isabella as a saving grace to the Low Countries, Bochius draws upon exempla, such as the Sabine Women, who acted as civic peacemakers, and Venus, in her power to unite, not conquer. Bochius proposes that passive female behavior can be valuable to peace, while also suggesting a more active role for Isabella as a mediator between Spain and Belgium. “Commodities of Art – the Foreign Merchant Communities and their Involvement in City Pageantry,” attempts to define Bochius’s role in the plastic representations by the merchant colonies, chiefly Spain, Portugal, Genoa, Milan, and the Fugger family, who supplied monuments to the event. Cholcman concludes that Bochius mediated between the need to satisfy the foreign colonies with their sometimes conflicting interests to those of Antwerp and the need to appease the intentions of the city of Antwerp, veiling, for the most part, the voice of these merchants beneath his overarching main message.
Cholcman’s epilogue makes an abbreviated mention of audience and the book’s distribution, a “small and select group, who had to be wealthy enough to buy the books and educated enough to read and understand them” (p. 133). She concludes regarding all intrinsic books that it was “the literati’s perception and reception of the event that was recorded in the books, which was the only perception of the event that acquired an eternal expression” (p. 133). In this section Cholcman quotes Justus Lipsius’s views on ephemeral art from his work De Constantia, 1594. Such mention is brief but intriguing, and might have constituted a more substantial line of inquiry for our understanding of contemporary viewers and readers.
Brepols’s reproductions are unfortunately of low quality, making much of Cholcman’s iconographical discussion difficult to confirm. It is unfortunate that Brepols, apparently in a cost-cutting measure, could not work with the author for greater editorial excellence. Readers are cautioned to be wary of editorial mistakes including misspelled author names and incorrect page references for key secondary sources. Chapter titles are unnecessarily descriptive, and the book retains a dissertation’s pacing. Despite these concerns, scholars of Renaissance books and prints will appreciate Cholcman’s elucidation of Bochius’s iconographic program in relationship to contemporary and late Classical texts.
Rhode Island School of Design Museum