This volume is the first in the series Proteus: Studies in Early Modern Identity Formation, and it is based on papers from the first Lovis Corinth Colloquium, held at Emory University in April 2003. (Not all the papers given at the conference are present in the volume; a few of the articles were not originally given at Emory, while others seem to have changed their topic.) The volume’s contributions span Northern Europe and Italy over four centuries, from the early fourteenth through the seventeenth century; and, as Walter S. Melion, one of its editors declares, they consider “the function of images as instruments of soul formation”(1). The Foreword presents the overall series and its aim: to contribute to research on “the concept of self and identity in the early modern period (1350-1650)” through “contributions that address the mediality and instrumentality of text, image, ritual, and habitat as interconnected mechanisms of identity formation.” (xxxii) Melion’s introduction, “Meditative Images and the Psychology of the Soul,” aims at providing “a prelude of sorts to the fourteen case studies that follow.” It achieves its ends by studying three meditative treatises meant to stimulate the soul’s desire to conform to God, ” by inspiring it to consider how the soul’s relation to Christ, the imago dei, is like that of an image to its original” (3).
This hefty volume, almost 500 pages, is certainly rich in the variety of approaches and type of material that it addresses. Some essays focus on single, often very famous works, such as Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights (Reindert L. Falkenburg), the Hours of Mary of Burgundy(Bret Rothstein), or Geertgen tot Sint Jans’s St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness (John Decker). Others present works that are less well-known, for instance Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s print of the Festival of Fools (Todd M. Richardson); while others yet study more general concepts, as is the case for Henry Luttikhuizen’s “Monastic Hospitality: The Cloister as Heart in Early Netherlandish Painting.” Two contributors deal with the Protestant conception of images (Lee Palmer Wandel and Christopher Ocker). Despite the volume’s aim to address works from both Northern Europe and Italy, it still has an obvious northern bias, with only three essays dealing with Italian material (Krüger, McLaren, and Cole; Fabre deals with a range of works, from both Italy and the North).
The volume begins with Klaus Krüger’s discussion of Northern Italian works in which the boundaries between reality and fiction blur ( “Authenticity and Fiction: On the Pictorial Construction of Inner Presence in Early Modern Italy”). This decision would make sense if the volume were to focus on post-Tridentine art and devotion; however, the next essay, by Shelley MacLaren, takes the reader back to the early fourteenth century with I Documenti d’Amore by Francesco da Barberino, in which the text “expounds on the function of images” (80). Thus the ordering of the essays remains unclear, although some profound connections run through the volume and link the contributions. For example, Falkenburg concludes with Bosch’sCarrying of the Cross, in its appeal to respond to Christ’s gaze with our mental eye, while in the very next article Michael Cole discusses (among other things) how Lomazzo’s 1590 book expounds on the aspect of painting that depends on the “eyes of the mind” (144). In the next article, Pierre-Antoine Fabre cites an inscription in a 1588 painting by Giulio Campi, in which the “eyes of the body and mind” are mentioned.
Similarly, several other themes are explored throughout the volume, such as the strategies for engaging the viewer, or the tension between tradition and innovation. Christine Göttler, for instance, shows how Rubens “made use of old devotional pictures to invent and redefine religious and mythological images that emotionally engage the beholder” (480). He also uses typology and the fusion of and/or interrelationship between text and image to shape devotional practice. The reader finds certain writers mentioned by several of the contributors; for example, Cardinal Charles Borromeo is mentioned in at least four essays (Krüger, Fabre, Prosperetti, Melion). It should be noted that an index would have contributed greatly to making such a large book more user-friendly (it would also have helped in avoiding inconsistencies). Considering the volume’s rather high price (euros 125), it is regrettable that many of the illustrations are of varying quality and often reproduced too small to distinguish the details that are discussed. The book could also have benefited from more thorough editing.