Hortulus 14.1 (Fall 2017)
Focusing on the Sainte-Croix Triptych, a staurotheca produced in the diocese of Liège around 1160, this essay draws attention to the connected origins of the triptych format and that of the arma Christi in western European art and examines how this format and iconography worked in relation to the framing and presentation of relics of Christ and the saints. The character of the arma Christi as an imagined treasury of relic-objects is stressed and interpreted as part of a broader, conceptually rich visual language of the relic treasury at work in this example of twelfth-century reliquary arts. Drawing from spatial and sign theories, the essay argues that the rhetoric of the thesaurus (the medieval Latin term for the treasury that referred both to the container or vault for treasury objects as well as to the collection of objects housed within it) is a productive counterpart to the nested interiority of the reliquary that has been more fully developed in the scholarship. The arma Christi is shown to partake of and derive meaning from the representational mode of the thesaurus. Susan Stewart’s differentiation of the souvenir from the collection is used in the final portion of the paper to flesh out the paradigm of the thesaurus while further contextualizing the staurotheca in comparison with other types of reliquaries with which it shares compositional features.
The purpose of this paper is to explore concepts of personal spiritual autonomy within seventh-and-eighth-century Anglo-Saxon monastic culture, in an attempt to illuminate and contextualize the professed desires of contemporary monastics to escape the distraction, vice, and spiritual constraint of the physical world. Monastic authors of both prose and meter, regardless of genre, praise the personal development of an internal contemplative condition as a lasting, transcendent, and liberating response to the weariness of the external world. I specifically consider Aldhelm of Malmesbury’s prose De Virginitate, and the hagiographic traditions of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne and Guthlac of Crowland to suggest the thematic prevalence and orthodoxy of contemplative extrication among contemporary religious irrespective of their ecclesiastical occupation, material surroundings, and gender. In his treatise on virginity, Aldhelm posits the necessity of fostering a renewing spiritual focus upon God alongside corporal expressions of virtue, which when sought in isolation, precipitate a tyrannical personal servitude to stagnate hubris. The hagiographies of St. Cuthbert and St. Guthlac exhibit conceptual parallels, as the saints maintain an inner contemplative condition while engaged in active episcopal duties and spiritual warfare respectively. The fostering of a contemplative spirituality subsequently liberated the saints from sanctimony and worldly preoccupation, while facilitating a purer religious virtue. These thematic parallels suggest a contemporary religious understanding of personal freedom and liberty as spiritual conditions, dependent on an individual’s internal relationship to God and the divine, and frustrated by a degree of active social participation, worldly reflection, and self-absorption.
The age of Carolingian rule traditionally demarcates the point at which Europe arose from the ashes of the Roman world. It was the end of the turbulent period following the fall of Rome during which, according to the historian Henri Pirenne, “the tradition of antiquity disappeared, while the new elements came to the surface”, thus heralding the start of the Middle Ages. Michael McCormick and others have argued that this era was, in fact, a continuation of Late Roman and Byzantine traditions instead of a shocking rupture between East and West. The key to understanding this era comes from perceiving how the Franks appraised their achievements and how that worldview influenced their international relations. The 871 letter to the Byzantine Emperor Basil I provides the best window to view this Frankish thinking in action. Louis II’s bold, imperial political testament has been overlooked in the discussion of the Carolingian political thought and foreign relations. Only two articles (Grierson and Fanning) have dealt with its contents or meaning at any length. This is almost certainly due to it having been produced by a supposedly weaker Carolingian monarch who has yet to be accounted for in a biography, in comparison to the glorious and more well-documented courts of his ancestors or his uncle, Charles the Bald. Despite this discrepancy, the 871 letter is the most forthright summary of Frankish perceptions about the world order and claims to Rome’s imperial legacy written in the entire period.
BOOK REVIEW: Kungamakten och lagen. En jämförelse mellan Danmark, Norge och Sverige under högmedeltiden (Kingship and Law: A Comparison between Denmark, Norway and Sweden in the High Middle Ages)—Review by Beñat Elortza Larrea