Elizabeth Ross writes convincing arguments in elegant prose. Moreover, her book is a refreshing, jargon-free study, dripping with ideas and analysis. Penn State Press has outdone itself to produce this lavishly illustrated volume, complete with a fold-out scaled-down replica of the famous view of Jerusalem from Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio, a well-known incunable whose scholarship she is expanding.
Ross is an organized thinker and has distributed her topics logically, beginning with an introduction to late medieval pilgrimage and to the book under scrutiny. She provides a clear biographical sketch of the stated author of the Peregrinatio, the cleric Bernhard von Breydenbach from Mainz, who travelled with a retinue in 1483 to the Holy Land. The reason that he, his travels, and his incunable make such good fodder for the art historian is that Breydenbach took with him an artist, Erhard Reuwich of Utrecht – an embedded visual reporter, as it were. Breydenbach, who is pilgrim, author, confidante to the minor nobility, and enthusiastic early adopter of printing, teams up with Reuwich, a painter and professional visualizer, to create a new portal to the Middle East, giving their Western European audiences a view of the Holy Land that goes far beyond what previous illustrated travelogues had provided.
Many scholars have recently studied pilgrimage, encounters with the ‘other’, and the images and objects these travelers brought home. Several have worked on Flex Fabri’s account of Jerusalem pilgrimage, the Evagatorium in Terrae Sanctae, Arabiae et Egypti, peregrinationem, as this work was edited and transcribed a century ago. It has provided a valuable source for understanding early modern pilgrimage ever since. Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio has also appeared in many studies, with its woodcuts widely discussed. This is in part because, due to Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt’s having published the images from Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio in 1929, these too have been easily accessible. Readers may find Ross’s study is given urgency by the current political context in the Middle East, which in some ways calls to mind the European panic over Islamic encroachment in the late fifteenth century. Ross discusses the fifteenth-century situation at length, and lets the twenty-first century situation remain, until the last few paragraphs, part of the tacit background.
Despite the familiarity of its images, questions of attribution have plagued the Peregrinatio. In the introduction Ross deals deftly with the question of who made the original designs (before a block cutter turned them into printable woodcuts). Candidates have included Gentile Bellini, the Housebook Master, the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet, and others. Art historians have asked: how can an artist of Reuwich’s stature have such a paltry earlier oeuvre? Ross turns the question around: “Instead of asking who first sketched the images of the Peregrinatio, we can ask how it is that we and the Peregrinatio’s earliest readers came to believe that Reuwich produced them himself based on on-site observation. We believe it because artist and author designed the Peregrinatio to convince us that it is so” (p. 18). Regardless of the exact origins of the eventual woodcuts, Reuwich has created a ‘multimedia bricolage’ whose visual presentation was highly novel. In fact, Bellini and Carpaccio copied the woodcuts, not the other way around. As Ross puts it, “The Peregrinatio’s utility testifies to the reception of Reuwich’s images as factual documents and their influence on European visualization of the East” (p. 84).
Her answer to this conundrum forms the spine of one of the two main arguments that imbue the five chapters of her study. The first argument is that Breydenbach and Reuwich construct themselves as first-person reporters, with all the authority that entails and entrusts, despite their having drawn, in fact, from various textual and image sources. This argument thus has to do both with the production and reception of the book, and with the duo’s sources, experiences, reconfigurations, and choices. The second big argument is that the Peregrinatio functions to whip up anti-Islamic sentiment and to pit Christian Venice against heathen Jerusalem. This argument is therefore rooted in social and political history. To make this argument, Ross performs some careful and convincing close readings of the texts and woodcuts.
In the service of these arguments Ross closely analyses the printing industry. Breydenbach published his Peregrinatio under the shadow of the Censorship Edict of 1485, which attempted to eradicate heretical translations (which could fall into the hands of laymen and women and corrupt them), wrong versions, and anti-indulgence sentiments from the new mass-produced world. Printing standard and authorized editions was a way to promote religious hegemony. Review boards were set up to vet texts on religious matters thereby ensuring they were not heretical. Breydenbach shows himself in the dedication to submit wilfully to the archbishop’s edict. In doing so, he describes the Peregrinatio’s ideal readers – educated elites, particularly preachers – and notes that the book will publicize the threat of Islam. Despite these assurances in the Latin editions, his book also appeared in vernacular editions. At least one of the early German copies was read by a woman, and the Dominican nuns in Offenhausen possessed the vernacular edition. Furthermore, Ross shows how the publishing industry itself thrived from selling indulgences to defend against the Turkish invasion. Printers capitalized on indulgence vendors, just as indulgence vendors harnessed the new power of mass-communication that printing afforded.
In one of the key themes of the book’s imagery, glorious Christian Venice is pitted against Jerusalem, which is crumbling under the neglect of heretical forces. The View of Venice is the largest in the book, covering 8 pages, whereas the Map of the Holy Land fills only 6. The Peregrinatio contains a 28-page discourse on Islam and its errors and catalogues the people living there. In Ross’s words, “The Peregrinatio’sdesigners intended, then, that the two pairs of texts and image – the encomium to Venice and the laments for the Levant, the view of Venice and the view of Jerusalem – should frame the first division of the book and present the pilgrims’ understanding of the balance of culture and power in the region” (69).
Ross spends a chapter analyzing the fold-out Map of the Holy Land with the view of Jerusalem at the center. Although this map has been studied and digested many times before, Ross’s take on it is fresh, concise, and smart. Placing it at the end of a late medieval mappa mundi tradition, she writes, “This cartographic model for collecting, vetting, and envisaging knowledge is Reuwich’s model for the creation of his Map of the Holy Land… [H]e knits together the ‘world landscape’ of his native Netherlandish painting tradition; pieces of his own pilgrimage experience; Breydenbach’s text; portolan charts; city plans; Arab and other itineraries of travel between Gaza, Cairo, and Lower Egypt; texts and images based on the Christian geography of the Church Fathers; and an early fourteenth-century map associated with a crusader-era description of the Holy Land” (103). Reuwich thoroughly reconfigures the mappa mundi tradition but maintains the position and scale of Jerusalem at the center of the world, as well as its theological and political purpose. Just how did Reuwich manipulate the views from various high places around Jerusalem? How can we account for the impossibility of the resulting panorama? To some extent Ross had already addressed this in the previous chapter by showing that the various elements in the fold-out map form a pastiche. Here she further elaborates upon how the artist pictured the Islamic city. Both the text and the images reveal a Christian pilgrimage experience mediated by Muslims, who have reconfigured the city itself for a different set of needs.
Ross has firmly grounded her arguments in primary material, including Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio and its images, contemporary pilgrims’ accounts, other printed works, edicts, paintings, and so forth. She has also grounded her work in a web of recent scholarship. In the text itself she cites Adrian Pit (14), Hans Tietze & Erika Tietze-Conrat (17), Jürg Meyer zur Kapellen (17), Falk Eisermann (19, 59), A.J. Minnis (27), Juergen Schulz (34), David Friedman (35), Christopher S. Wood (50), Johannes Helmrath (56), Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt (58), Reiner Haussherr (73), Michael Barry (94), Walter Melion (113), David Marshall (119), Michel de Certeau (138), Frederic Jameson (138), and Maurits Smeyers (170). There are many more recent scholars in the footnotes and bibliography, but these are the ones whose arguments Ross pulls into the body of her text. They index her greatest scholarly debts. Frederike Timm (17) and Stephan Hoppe & Sebastian Fitzner (147) are treated more critically.
My only concern with this book, and I assert it somewhat sheepishly as I do not think the problem was introduced intentionally, is that there are so few women scholars in the text. In the list above, there are only two, marked with asterisks. Of the two she cites, one is mentioned negatively, and the other is half of an academic couple. I have been going to conferences about late medieval pilgrimage and mapmaking and printing for two decades now, and I recall hearing at least as many female voices at these events as male. But they are absent from these pages. Perhaps under-footnoting is yet another form of sexism, one that usually goes undetected. In fact, political scientists Daniel Maliniak, Ryan Powers, and Barbara F. Walter have recently documented the gender gap in citations in academic, peer-reviewed journals in International Relations. They have found that “women are systematically cited less than men after controlling for a large number of variables including year of publication, venue of publication, substantive focus, theoretical perspective, methodology, tenure status, and institutional affiliation” (abstract; International Organization, 67, no. 4, Oct. 2013, pp. 889-922). I might have expected to see Kathryne E. Beebe, Hanna Vorholt, Lucy Donkin, Catherine Delano-Smith, Katrin Kogman-Appel, Bianca Kühnel, Andrea Worm, Lesley Smith, Mary Carruthers, Evelyn Edson, Josephie Brefeld, Reindert Falkenburg, Molly Faries, Sabine Griese, June Mecham, Jeanne Nuechterlein, or Barbara Schock-Werner in the bibliography, but these people, mostly women, are absent. Under-footnoting of female scholars is everyone’s concern, because when it happens in one scholar’s work it is then replicated down the line, as if that person is erased from the discipline itself, and her work rendered somehow unimportant, or even suspect, simply because it is not cited.
I hope this neglect does not befall Ross’s book, as it deserves to be widely read. I for one will use, and enthusiastically refer to, Ross’s excellent work. And you should too.
Kathryn M. Rudy
University of St Andrews