The Crusades and Visual Culture eds. Elizabeth Lapina, April Jehan Morris, Susanna A. Throop, and Laura J. Whatley (Ilko)

Elizabeth Lapina, April Jehan Morris, Susanna A. Throop, and Laura J. Whatley (eds)

The Crusades and Visual Culture

(Ashgate, 2015) 286 pp. $109.95


Contrary to the ample scholarship on the political, military, and diplomatic aspects of the crusades, the research on their material culture and artistic heritage frequently disappears into the background. Therefore, the topic of “The Crusades and Visual Culture” is already admirable. The book contains twelve studies and an introductory essay by the editors who did not write their own contributions. In this introduction they named as one of the key research questions of the volume how crusader ideologies were communicated visually for different audiences, media, and periods. According to this aim the essays are indeed concerned with a great variety of material from the Holy Land to Europe throughout the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, which gives an insight into pluralistic views about crusader art, a key aspect of this volume.

The first study, by Lisa Mahoney, seeks to understand the significance of the Frankish icon as a new religious and artistic phenomenon in the Latin Kingdom. By examining two icons as her main examples, Mahoney argued that their Byzantinizing style can be traced back to their intention to provide communication with the holy. However, as she convincingly contended, taking into consideration differences in size and location, their function ultimately differed from Byzantine icons, and instead the Frankish icons should be interpreted as votive offerings.

Gil Fishhof suggested a new interpretation of the images of St Peter in the sculptures from the Nativity church of Nazareth. The rare representations of the eastern missions of the Apostles on the famous five capitals, which were the subject of the classic monograph by Jaroslav Folda, have long been in the focus of research. While earlier scholars proposed that the Crusaders used the iconography of these missions in order to promote the legitimacy of their settlement in the Holy Land, Fishhof elaborated this claim to connect these images with specific ecclesiastical and political challenges of the archbishopric of Nazareth at the time of the creation of these sculptures. She argued that special attention was given to St Peter in the iconography because of the attempt of archbishop Lethard II to consolidate and reassure the legitimacy of his ecclesiastical status and promote his church.

John Munns examined the cult of the Cross in England and its relations towards the crusades. One of the highlights of this topic is a stone cross representing scenes from the life of St Helen. While her role in the discovery of the Cross is often brought up in relation to crusades, her cult in England in this context is less often presented. Munns also assessed the rites of taking the cross, and moreover, the contemporary ecclesiastical spiritual milieu in England which was dominated by Anselm of Canterbury, a fervent promoter of the crucified Christ. Focusing on an increasing interest in Christo-mimesis, Munns showed how the Crucifixion functioned as an effective symbol in the crusades, choosing the English kingdom as a case-study.

Richard A. Leson offered a new hypothesis about the origins of the Resafa Heraldry Cup. This gilt-silver drinking cup is one of the most well-known metal works from the time of the First Crusade. Departing from the heraldic decoration of the basin, Leson convincingly argued that while the cup was made in western Europe, its decoration was completed during the siege of Acre in 1190. Moreover, he offered an insight into the use of this precious object whose “heraldic cosmology” was involved in a prescriptive visual strategy for ensuring the legacy of Raoul of Coucy, consolidating old and gaining new allies.

While depictions of crusaders engaging in battle are often studied, their departure and return home is far less frequently in the spotlight of research. The chapter by Nurith Kenaan-Kedar intended to collect and analyze these images on twelfth and thirteenth-century wall paintings and sculptures in France. She showed that these scenes are located mostly in private chapels and offer opportunity for further research to study the intentions of their patrons, the former crusaders and their families.

Departing from the unusual iconography of the illumination of St George victoriously conquering Jerusalem, Esther Dehoux argued that the breviary of Philip the Fair was commissioned with a double-edged message for the king. Moreover, further representation-choices of the volume, especially the predecessor Capetian kings, were intended to remind Philip of his sacred mission of re-conquering Jerusalem and the holy places. Dehoux contended that the three soldiers next to St George, who are unsuccessfully trying to conquer the city with their catapult, also reminded the ruler that he can achieve his goal only with the help of God.

P. D. A. Harvey presented maps depicting the Holy Land and Jerusalem. This subject requires the modern reader to view them from a different perspective than their modern counterparts as they were not in fact used by crusaders in the planning of their campaigns to the Holy Land. Harvey showed instead how the surviving maps were mostly connected to book production. While they do not represent significant artistic – or precise topographic – value, they are precious sources of the contemporary religious milieu, for which purpose previous research generally ignored them.

Cathleen A. Fleck researched the function of the images of the thirteenth-century Riccardiana psalter. Through her two main examples, the iconography of the miniatures of the Women at the Tomb and Christ’s entry to Jerusalem scenes, Fleck highlighted how these pictures sought devotional connection with the Holy Land. She claimed that the illuminations of the psalter contributed to a virtual pilgrimage for somebody, probably a nun, who was unable to visit the Holy Land personally.

Debra Higgs Strickland examined how a set of five full-page drawings added to the ending blank pages around 1250 of a psalter created fifty years earlier for Westminster Abbey possibly changed the meaning of the liturgical book. She argued that the drawings can be understood better if sorted into two sets (the king and the crusader knight; St Christopher and the archbishop) and a single unit (the vernicle), which all add crusader re-interpretation of the codex from different aspects. This argument nicely comes together with the textual context. The prayers and psalters included in the original book therefore could be read by mid-thirteenth-century readers as a “typological forecast” for the crusades, which were indeed in the air during the reign of Henry III when the additional drawings were created.

Maureen Quigley was concerned with the question of how travel descriptions can develop crusading impact without explicit crusading content through the example of the illuminations of the Royal MS 19 D I of the British Library. While the Alexander prose and the travels of Marco Polo were extensively analyzed by previous scholarship, the less pompously-decorated texts of the volume have been ignored by art historians. Quigley instead argued that within the book the translations of Jean de Vignay form a single visual group. Moreover, she contended that these parts dedicate the whole manuscript as a personal gift to a “crusader” ruler, namely Philip VI of Valois, who could have been inspired for his crusade by the travel stories compiled by Vignay.

Norman Housley dealt with responses of images in the context of crusades against the Turkish threat. Picking out three main examples, namely the pulpit of Santa Croce by Benedetto da Maiano, a wall painting at the Olomouc Observant church, and the Thuerdank illustrations, he illustrated the rich variety and potential of these images. Moreover, he claimed that these depictions reference the crusade in several ways, and they are also able to illuminate issues which made crusader aspirations problematic.

Nora S. Lambert studied the frescoes (1502–1508) depicting scenes from the life of Pope Pius II painted by Pinturicchio in the Piccolomini Library of the Sienese cathedral. She argued that these paintings, especially the fictional scene of the arrival of the pope at Ancona, reminded the viewers of the continued relevance of not only Pius II and the Piccolomini family, but also the yet-unfinished task of the crusades.

These studies together present a very colourful variety of materials. It is refreshing that the volume presents chapters about maps and drinking cups – two media which are traditionally neglected in research dealing with crusader art. The wide time frame, which goes up to the beginning of the sixteenth century, also challenges traditional research limits. In this regard, however, it would have been perhaps helpful for the reader to have defined more precisely what the authors meant under “crusader art” and explain how and why the time limits have been chosen. The volume also challenges the traditional geographical limits of the art of the crusades. Including several western European art pieces which are topically connected to crusaders was a very fruitful decision. One of the other most useful features of the volume that it raises questions about the identity of the patrons – even providing an example for artistic commission by a noble on crusade, and deals with the neglected categories of women and pilgrims. Therefore, this volume is an important new contribution towards understanding and challenging crusader art, which will hopefully inspire further research.

Krisztina Ilko
Pembroke College, University of Cambridge

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