Margaret Goehring proposes the need for a new paradigm for the study of medieval landscapes, one that moves beyond anachronistic concepts of pictorial landscape formulated in Renaissance and Post-renaissance aesthetics. She argues the need to appreciate the diversity and complexity of landscape imagery from Northern European medieval manuscript illumination using contemporary ideology.
The book is divided into four thematic and self-contained chapters. Chapter 1 analyses the rhetorical function of landscape, beginning with demonstrating how the visual vocabulary of landscape imagery acted as easily identifiable mnemonic loci to enable the organization and rapid recall of knowledge. The assertion, drawn from the fourteenth-century ars memorativa, that memory systems created in the Middle Ages were more dependent upon visual signs than their classical language-based predecessors is central to this argument. Goehring draws contemporary rhetorical modes and ideological traditions into her analysis of specific Carolingian sources, the Utrecht Psalter and the Gospel Book of Francis II. The chapter closes with a section on Carolingian calendar imagery. She asserts that this period witnessed the development of a new visual tradition in which the months were associated with seasonal labors rather than single allegorical figures, which Goehring illustrates was a reflection of the aristocratic concern for land management.
Chapter 2 places the ornamental functions of landscape in context with the material aspects of manuscript production. Ornament is defined as “both a method of image-making and a strategy to amplify meaning” (53), characteristics which Goehring asserts are shared with landscape imagery. The chapter begins with demonstrating that the repetitive iconography of landscape imagery was a result of methods of production associated with late medieval workshops. Goehring then addresses the concept of amplificatio in relation to artists’ use of landscape to negotiate and enrich textual authority. She presents a coherent argument that unravels a complex issue and supports her conclusion. The depth of scholarship and analysis is exemplified by her handling of the complex relationship between image, layout and text in the image of the Martyrdom of Saint Pancras from the Boucicaut Hours (f. 29v). Unfortunately typos are more prevalent in this chapter than the others, and the references to figures 29 and 30, on page 68 and again on page 70, are reversed. While this is obviously remedied by a careful reading, it is nonetheless an unnecessary distraction at a critical point of her argument.
The third chapter explores the visual representation of space in landscape imagery within didactic and moralizing literature. The key assertion is that landscape functioned as a “cognitive space” rather than a “narrative setting” to “guide the reader and underscore textual authority” (28). This process involved a strategy in which the images guided the audience to engage in active viewing while simultaneously reinforcing the authority of the work through the appropriation of well-known iconographic patterns. The bulk of the chapter is devoted to demonstrating how landscape was used to frame and present knowledge within encyclopedic image cycles. By tracing the evolution of the image cycle in the Propriétés des Choses the author illustrates how decorative schemes and landscape imagery took on increasingly diverse meanings over the work’s lifetime. By the fifteenth century there was a flexible visual vocabulary able to “accommodate both the variety of reading strategies and competing ideological agendas” (118). The chapter concludes by outlining the role medieval authors and patrons had in establishing iconographic models designed to guide reading and reception. The author’s subtle analysis of the mutually exegetic nature of text and image in this chapter is particularly noteworthy.
Goehring’s final chapter explores how visual representations of place in landscape imagery were understood not only as geographic/spatial locations, but also as a means to stimulate social interaction and reinforce identity. The chapter is divided into three parts: an examination of images of cities, a discussion of how artists used symbolic geography in historical landscapes to communicate identity, and a case study of two thirteenth-century rent books. In this final section Goehring, sometimes too subtly, weaves together themes developed in the preceding chapters. Her modest conclusion that the multivalent meaning and use of landscape imagery during the medieval period needs to be freed from the contemporary bonds of interpretation belies the extent of work that has gone into producing this book.
Goehring has moved beyond the confines of her original thesis, completed in 2000, and has undertaken a sweeping analysis, bringing in evidence from the eighth to the sixteenth centuries. By limiting her study to examples from Northern France and the Southern Netherlands, she has avoided making her project too cumbersome. She is also acutely aware of the inherent danger of broadening the definition of landscape so much that it becomes meaningless. However, by limiting her regional focus and thematic strands she manages to narrowly avoid this pitfall. Finally, Goehring deserves to be credited for her efforts to update her work with notable scholarship produced in the intervening years between her dissertation and this book’s publication. At times the author’s arguments would have been strengthened by drawing explicit links between themes developed in her chapters and more sustained analysis in place of lengthy description. For example, in chapter 2 when discussing manorial lordships and management vis-a-vis landscape imagery, an opportunity was missed by not drawing attention to the foundation postulated in chapter 1 regarding the development of this trend in Carolingian imagery. Similarly, her conclusion would have been bolstered by pushing beyond the brief summary and developing a broader thematic agenda that addressed the implications of her work. Finally, additional images could have been supported by avoiding duplication. All sixteen color plates are included as black and white images embedded in the chapters. Eliminating these duplicates could have allowed for the inclusion of more unique images, the reduction of description, and consequently a more sustained analysis that would have bolstered Goehring’s insights. However, none of these points should detract from her thorough research, and the coherently presented and convincing argument that will certainly encourage further research.
Centre for Medieval Studies
University of York