Representing History, 900–1300
Art, Music, History
Edited by Robert A. Maxwell
Representing History, 900–1300
Art, Music, History
Edited by Robert A. Maxwell
“Books of this nature offer an implicit comment on the state of the discipline; this volume provides evidence of a healthy current environment embracing much diversity of subject and method in the investigation of the historical past.”
- Sample Chapters
The contributors are Jaume Aurell, Jeffrey A. Bowman, Susan Boynton, Ardis Butterfield, Margot Fassler, Patrick J. Geary, Lindy Grant, James Grier, Cynthia Hahn, Joan A. Holladay, Laurent Morelle, Lawrence Nees, Susan Reynolds, Gabrielle M. Spiegel, and Christine B. Verzar.
“Books of this nature offer an implicit comment on the state of the discipline; this volume provides evidence of a healthy current environment embracing much diversity of subject and method in the investigation of the historical past.”
“Representing History stands as a model starting point for those wishing to consider the multitude of ways in which the past was made meaningful by writers, artists, and composers in the Middle Ages. The contributions range widely and as a whole offer an almost ideal balancing of theory and practice across the disciplines.”
“This truly interdisciplinary volume shows us that history writing in the Middle Ages was the province not only of chronicle writers and archivists, but also of liturgists, ecclesiastical and lay authorities, musicians, patrons, and artists. These insightful essays make clear that medieval people employed sophisticated and inventive strategies to shape the past, to justify or destabilize the status quo, and to imagine the future. The fascinating reverberations among these essays lead us to a more refined understanding of the practice of history, its theoretical underpinnings, and its real-world impact—both in the Middle Ages and in our own time.”
“This volume does great service to the medieval studies across a wide range of disciplines and is highly recommended.”
Robert A. Maxwell is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania. His previous book The Art of Medieval Urbanism: Parthenay in Romanesque Aquitaine was published by Penn State Press in 2007.
Gabrielle M. Spiegel
The essays in the present volume explore the range of modalities medieval authors employed both to record the historical past of the Middle Ages and to encode its significance. All of the essays were originally written for a conference with the same title as this book, held at the University of Pennsylvania in October 2006. As the title “Representing History” indicates, the conference was explicitly crafted to foreground questions of representation and of the narrative, visual, liturgical, and even musicological strategies medieval authors deployed in their attempts to grapple with issues of history, memory, identity, genealogy, and religious devotion.
What distinguishes the present volume from most earlier attempts to explore similar questions is the extraordinary range of materials investigated, covering the representation of various aspects of the medieval past not only in chronicles but also in liturgy, stained glass, popular song, sculpture, cartularies, reliquaries, and, finally, contemporary modern history as well. Representing History bears eloquent testimony to the enormous expansion of the field of medieval historiography over the last several decades, in sharp contrast to its relative neglect during the sixties (when I began my own work in the field), a period when scholarship on medieval historical writing and thought was largely devoted to the identification of what could be accepted as historically “true” in accounts of the past and to the radical expurgation of everything that could not. Medieval histories were approached as essentially unreliable sources, from which one might hope, after much labor, to extract some useful empirical facts, for it remained difficult to create a narrative of medieval political and social life without some reliance on the information provided in historical texts. Thus historiographical texts were scanned for their small harvest of empirical evidence, after being shorn of the fiction, forgery, myth, legend, prodigies, and miracles that seemed endlessly to fill their parchment pages.
Thus, as Robert Stein has noted, “historiographical research at this time consisted entirely of the effort to locate and rationalize the medieval historians’ principles of procedure in order to determine their relative trustworthiness as sources.” Standard monographs devoted to medieval historical writing in this period, such as Benoit Lacroix’s L’historien au Moyen Âge (Montreal, 1971), Denys Hay’s Annalists and Historians: Western Historiography from the VIIIth to the XVIIIth Century (London, 1977), V. H. Galbraith’s Historical Research in Medieval England (London, 1951), and even to some extent Bernard Guenée’s Histoire et culture historique dans l’Occident médiéval (Paris, 1980), focused on the rhetorical techniques and principles borrowed from classical authors such as Cicero (though honored more in the breach than in practice) and, by combing the prologues of medieval historians for statements relating to eyewitness testimony, reliability, fidelity to sources, and so on, sought to set forth the protocols by which these authors proclaimed their allegiance to historical “truth.”
Moreover, what little concern there was with medieval historiography was confined to addressing texts explicitly labeled annales, gesta, historia, vita, chronique, and the like, that is, texts that self-consciously pointed to themselves as historical writings concerned with reporting and explicating some segment of the past. Although all medievalists were aware of the interpenetration of theological and historical consciousness in the Christian Middle Ages—a function of the historical character of Christianity itself, with its focus on the central event in the Christian scheme of the world, the Incarnation, the appearance of Christ in history—few medievalists at the time would have explored the liturgy for the particular nature of the historical consciousness embedded within it, or thought of musical, artistic, and sculptural forms as material ripe for historiographical investigation. Similarly, there was a tendency to credit archival materials as pure documentary artifacts and to see them as radically distinct in nature and protected from the kind of manipulation, rhetorical embellishment, and distortion typically ascribed to chronicles and other forms of historical writing in the Middle Ages, except in the case of acknowledged forgeries.
All this began to change in the late sixties and early seventies when a handful of scholars, notably William J. Brandt, Nancy Partner, and Robert Hanning, began to recognize, as Stein points out, “that reading medieval chronicles presented a general historiographical problem larger than the question of their factual reliability.” As forms of realistic narratives, claiming truthfully to represent events that happened beyond the text, medieval historiography posed the question of the formal techniques of representation that informed their literary presentations of the past. Or as I put it somewhat later: “To ask what were the minimum requirements for realism in medieval historiography was tantamount to asking what was the generative grammar that defined historical writing in the Middle Ages, the linguistic protocols that permitted the transformation of the past into historical narrative.”
From this point forward, medieval historical texts were subject to literary as well as factual analysis, a procedure strongly aided and promoted by the publication in 1973 of Hayden White’s Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore), which forthrightly proclaimed the figural and tropological nature of all historical writing, contemporary and medieval alike, and therefore its inescapably literary character, which demanded formal literary analysis of its modes of emplotment and choice of tropes in order to understand just what sort of literary/historiographical text was to hand—and Clifford Geertz’s Interpretation of Cultures, which proposed to examine culture generally as “an interworked system of construable signs,” based on a semiotic model of language. Together, these two works ushered in the “linguistic turn” in historical studies, which advocated literary theory as the basis for understanding all forms of representation, including the historical.
The present volume’s focus on “representation,” with its evocation of narrative and stylistic components, is heir to this developing tradition in the study of medieval historical consciousness and is itself a sign of the sea change in approaches to the medieval understanding of the past and the ways in which this understanding was made part of medieval life through its incorporation in writing and devotional practices of diverse kinds, and the manifold roles it played in historical, legal, art-historical, and liturgical settings. Not surprisingly, then, the essays presented here are as much concerned with fiction, argument, utility, style, and ideology as they are with “truth,” to the extent that the latter even continues to come under consideration.
Another notable aspect of the present approach to the representation of the past in the Middle Ages is the degree to which genre proves to be a less-than-useful category in aligning the texts and artifacts studied. To be sure, the essays focus on discernibly different sorts of productions: chronicles, charters, works of art, musical and liturgical pieces, and the like, but the degree to which all the works considered are engaged in similar problems and deploy similar means—historical, fictional, and representational, in the broadest sense—makes it difficult to sustain clear generic distinctions. The stained-glass windows at Chartres prove to be as ideological in motivation as any chronicle, and the chronicles, in turn, as fictional in style and content as any literary work. And the same could be said of any of the works considered here.
One might argue that traversing genres is exactly what the organizers of the conference had in mind, by purposefully mingling indiscriminately papers on history, visual and monumental art, liturgical and musical pieces, and charters. However, the investigation of these diverse groupings of materials demonstrates that this is not merely an artifact of contemporary thought. Rather, medieval writers, stonecutters, illuminators, painters, and musicians were no less indiscriminate in their use of available resources and did not respect generic categories, however differently they worked. Throughout this volume, thematic concerns with questions of legitimation, history and memory, identity and genealogy, are omnipresent, whatever the sort of text or monument in question. What all these examples of the medieval historicizing imagination disclose is the pressure exerted on modalities of representation to shore up fragile authority, to authenticate identities by linking past and present—whether genealogically or typologically—and to create narrative coherence out of the disparate fragments of historical knowledge that an author, painter, musician, liturgist, or cancellarius could glean and put to use.
For example, both essays dedicated to the most conventional and widespread form of medieval representations of the past—the writing of history and hagiography—demonstrate the extremely diverse nature of the materials used in the production of the texts discussed: the Crònica, or Llibre del Rey en Pere de Aragó e dels seus antecessors passats (Book of King Peter of Aragon and of His Ancestors) of Bernat Desclot, a Catalan author writing toward the end of the thirteenth century, and the texts for the Divine Office at Limoges, in which the well-known eleventh-century Aquitainian chronicler Adémar of Chabannes sought to promulgate the apostolic status of Martial, patron saint of the abbey in Limoges built on his tomb.
Historians have long recognized that Adémar was, to quote James Grier’s essay, “a liar and forger of improbable scope and energy,” yet he is also deemed to be one the “most sophisticated and accomplished historians of his century in Aquitaine.” The effort to establish the apostolic status of Martial, Grier suggests, must have seemed absurd even to Adémar, since it entailed rewriting the life of a third-century missionary to make him a participant in the Last Supper, an intimate of Jesus Christ, and Saint Peter’s delegate to Gaul. To be sure, attempts to promulgate apostolic status for monastic founders are hardly unknown in the Middle Ages, two of the most famous being the identification of Saint Denis in France with Dionysius the Areopagite, the first-century philosopher and disciple of Saint Paul, and the so-called discovery of the tomb of Saint James the Greater, which required the prior miraculous translation of the saint’s remains from Judea (where he had been put to death by Herod) to Spain, where he eventually came to rest at Santiago de Compostela. But neither of these cases involved the rewriting of biblical history, as did Adémar’s audacious promotion of Martial.
The fact that an erudite historian—as Adémar certainly was—would deploy his knowledge and talents to construct such a bizarre story within the confines of liturgical chant speaks volumes about how medieval authors approached the past, the ideological and pragmatic interests with which they invested it, the uses to which they were willing to put the historical knowledge to which they had access, and the authoritative and even sacral stakes that more often than not were implicated in the entire enterprise. If Adémar betrays himself by the sheer audacity of his fictions (and they are equally present in his Chronicon), his goals and manner of working resemble those of a host of other chroniclers and hagiographers. Like Hilduin in creating the legend of Saint Denis, Adémar borrows from established texts such as Gregory of Tours and existing saints’ vitae to make the case for Martial’s apostolic status, also borrowing the authority of recognized and prestigious historians to “convince and seduce” his audience of the authenticity of his forged life of Martial. Yet we are not accustomed to think of the anonymous author of the Vita Genovefae, Hincmar of Reims, or Helgaud of Fleury (all contributors to the legend of Saint Denis) as shameless propagators of myth and falsehood, since to do so would be to devalue and discount what was, in the end, standard modes of constructing historical narratives in the Middle Ages, and hence to delegitimize the texts thereby produced.
Jaume Aurell’s analysis of the historiographical modes Desclot employed in writing the Book of King Peter of Aragon and of His Ancestors in thirteenth-century Catalonia brings into even sharper relief the purposefulness with which medieval chroniclers drew upon an arsenal of literary techniques, historical sources and legends, and linguistic devices in framing a persuasive and ideologically motivated narrative of this important Catalan king’s reign, thus harnessing a variety of sources to produce an account that justified the political and social situation of his time.
As voraciously as Adémar, Desclot pillaged legend and oral testimony, to which he added material from vernacular literature, something not available to Adémar, though had it been, the latter would doubtless have happily used it. Desclot’s forthright invention of the character of Montcada, taken from legend and present in the text to serve a “plot function,” highlights the narrative strategies—the troping, emplotment, and discursive manipulation—that shape his historicizing project, in his attempt, like Adémar, to influence “the content, reception, and future use of the narrative.”
What is especially interesting in the case of Desclot is that he not only drew upon earlier chronicles, legends, epic poems, popular tales, and oral testimony in composing his history but also elected to include archival records, in particular chancellery records such as royal mandates, diplomatic treaties, and letters—material to which he would have had access as (he is thought to have been) a member of the royal chancellery. No less than Adémar does Desclot reveal himself as an inveterate fabricator of historical fiction, not only in his use of literary forms, as Aurell demonstrates in his analysis of the narrative techniques with which Desclot shaped his chronicle, but also in his willingness to invent characters such as Montcada. Moreover, Aurell asserts, the insertion of archival records should be viewed as part and parcel of those literary and narrative strategies. Desclot chose to include chancellery records in recounting the recent past, he insists, not because of their presumptive truthfulness, but rather because their very nature as “record” invited belief. They did so primarily because they possessed what Aurell calls a “formal reliability.” Like many medieval chroniclers, Desclot drew upon the records of the past and sought to embed his ideological arguments in history in order to endow that ideology with the prestige and imprescriptible character that the past was able to confer in medieval society. In purely formal terms, there is little in Desclot’s narrative to distinguish the authoritative status granted records or extracts from that granted prior histories and legends, oral poems, and outright fictions. All fall within the compass of Desclot’s realistic style, which smoothly argues for the reality and credibility of his tale as an authentic representation of the Catalan past.
Indeed, Aurell suggests, it is the very historicization of the fictional elements of the past in Desclot’s chronicle that had the power to generate later myths, so that, in medieval Catalonia at least, historical texts “held greater authority or influence over the generation of myths and legends than did other writing genres, including poetry and fiction. The historical imagination [. . .] became a crucial element for the creation of historical-legendary tales.” This priority of historical tradition over literary production in medieval Catalonia may have had something to do with the enormous influence French epic poetry exerted in the region, the effect of which was to stifle local literary efforts, so that in Catalonia historical narration came to perform the functions that epic poetry assumed elsewhere—namely creating a national past of great prestige and legitimacy. It remains the case, however, that in Catalonia and elsewhere historiographical fictions stimulated literary legends as often as, if not more often than, they drew upon them. In that sense, any attempt to distinguish between history and, say, epic poetry as discrete genres, obeying distinct rules of composition and evidence, is a fairly useless enterprise, despite repeated assertions on the part of medieval chroniclers that what they seek to purvey is the “truth” of the past. The image—the “representation”—of history in such texts both draws upon and contributes to epic legends; both parts of the equation are “fictions” in the sense of being the product of poiësis, an intentional “making” of the text.
The reader of this volume must decide for him- or herself whether the literary character and fictional nature of much of Desclot’s chronicle supports Aurell’s concluding argument for a fundamental continuity in the character of historiography between the Middle Ages and modern/postmodern times, at least to the extent that historiography, both then and now, is shaped by questions of narrative representation. I would not be quite so quick to abolish the distance between medieval chroniclers and contemporary academic historians, since the two operate with quite difficult protocols and ethical commitments; today’s historian derives the content that goes into what, I agree, becomes an equally prefigured (that is, troped) and ideologically impressed narrative of the past in its textual embodiment in ways that are altogether different from the reliance on a combination of compilation, legend, oral testimony, hearsay, and “eyewitness accounts” that was the stock “methodological” procedure for the vast majority of medieval chroniclers. Medieval protocols for “doing history,” as François Hartog has recently demonstrated, took from ancient history the conviction that eyewitnesses provide the most reliable testimony, yet did not also adopt the ancient habit of questioning their veracity. Hence the susceptibility of medieval historical texts and representations to invasion by fiction, forgery, myth, and miracle, once a claim to “testimony” could be indicated. I think it bears repeating that the normal recourse to legends and the omnipresent methods of inventio and compilation does not allow us to question everything we read or see in medieval representations of history, however difficult it is to determine which parts invite belief and which incredulity.
Surprisingly, such questions of believability prove to be germane even when the object of investigation is the medieval cartulary, which has always functioned among medievalists as the last bastion of the “documentary,” without which any effort to recover “what actually happened” in the Middle Ages would be unthinkable—a position similarly entertained, though with far less confidence in the certainty of its outcome, with respect to medieval chronicles not so very long ago.
Cartularies, as Patrick Geary explains in his essay, “From Charter to Cartulary: From Archival Practice to History,” are relatively late in developing in the Middle Ages, and the principles on which they were formally organized are not easy to discern. Although we think of them, primarily based on late collections, as records of property transactions, not all are geographically, or even chronologically, organized. In the fragment of a very early cartulary he studies, preserved today as a double sheet in the monastic archive of Müstair in Raetia and dating from the end of the eighth century, the cartulary is rubricated in terms of donors. Thus, the underlying motive that gave the cartulary its shape in this case appears to be, not the archival preservation of transactions respecting church property, but the fixing, in a new type of text, of memoria—the memory of ecclesiastical identity through its relationship with those who were donors to the church.
Nonetheless, as Geary shows, one cannot divorce the creation and maintenance of cartularies from pressing pragmatic concerns with management and administration and the need, as time passes, for a documentary record of the increasingly complex systems that characterized ecclesiastical and lay property holding. Yet even here, cartularies function on many levels, incorporating in their very organization meanings driven by ideological programs and claims to identity and authority, functioning, in this sense, in ways very like narrativized chronicles in their willingness to falsify genealogies and otherwise manipulate the historical record for practical and political gains. As in the case of the medieval chronicle, fiction in the archives makes a routine appearance in the service of representing history.
This process is precisely the focus of Jeffrey Bowman’s essay, “From Written Record to Historical Memory: Narrating the Past in Iberian Charters.” The pragmatic utility of charters in the Iberian Peninsula, where for the earlier periods chronicles and annals are lacking, has long been appreciated, but Bowman argues that historians should turn to them not as poor substitutes for otherwise missing narrative sources but as narratives in their own right—at once documentary record and recorded history. And like all forms of historical representation, these cartularies, no less than chronicles, reshaped social and political realities, a function long attributed to forgeries in the Middle Ages but rarely to official cartularies.
That Iberian cartularies may have been more prone to such historical elaborations surely has something to do with the constant devastation occasioned by Muslim attacks and raids, for I take it to be axiomatic that loss is one of the most prolific breeders of the desire to recuperate historical memory and the historiographical record. Thus it is not surprising to find, as Bowman points out, that these records focus their narrative energies on disasters—energies all the more pragmatically crafted since they are aimed at the restoration not only of history but of property as well, claims for which, as he indicates, a practical command of history was a necessity. The intersection of, and interchange between, charter and chronicle was to become increasingly common in later periods throughout the medieval West, as historicizations of all kinds—documentary, genealogical, historiographical, and “visionary”—formed a complex matrix within which historical consciousness and imagination thrived. And Professor Bowman makes a point surely worth pondering further: that “traversing generic boundaries [in the Middle Ages] constituted not so much a violation of rules as a method of authentication.”
“Mixed genres” is certainly an apt term to use in describing the Cartulary-Chronicle of the Abbey of Saint-Bertin drawn up by the monk Folcuin in the middle of the tenth century, as analyzed by Laurent Morelle. Completed in the winter of 961–62, Folcuin’s text is a curious mélange: the typical history of a monastery’s abbots, a kind of Gesta abbatum, intermixed with passages taken from contemporary general histories of the Frankish kingdom, such as the Liber historiae Francorum, and local hagiographic texts, consulted for passages about the Norman invasions as well as the lives and virtues of local saints, into which Folcuin inserted heavy doses of charters. A history of neither the abbey, nor the deeds of its abbots, nor the Frankish realm, the text relies heavily upon traditions handed down by the elders of the monastery, supplemented by the charter evidence that Folcuin terms “‘instruments concerning the transfer of possessions’ (traditiones possessionum) accomplished by the faithful (traditiones fidelium).” This mixing of genres is, moreover, apparent in the very structure of the work, in which a profound break occurs in the years 892–900, the point at which Folcuin abandons his heavy reliance on charter evidence in the earlier part of his text in favor of the kind of historical narration more commonly found in chronicles. Yet it remains true, as Morelle says, that “charters lie at the heart of his strategy to reappropriate the past for the Saint-Bertin community” and thus serve as the instruments of a communal project of “re-presenting” sources as witnesses to history. From that perspective, it is impossible to determine whether Folcuin’s work is more properly designated a chronicle or a cartulary; hence Morelle’s composite title.
Interestingly, Folcuin’s Gesta et traditiones, despite its title, is not primarily a “commemorative” project celebrating the accomplishments of the abbey’s forefathers, nor is it designed primarily as an administrative tool to document the monastic patrimony, despite the heavy inclusion of charters in it, although the work does affirm the continuity of abbatial succession and patrimonial action. Rather, according to Morelle, Folcuin composed his text because of a rupture in the abbey’s history, which in 944 had been reformed at the order of Arnoul, count of Flanders, the result of which was to force the monks then in place to move out and turn the monastery over to an external group willing to accept reform of its monastic practices. Thus, as in the case of the Iberian cartularies, rupture and loss stand at the origin of the impulse to narrate the past and, like the Iberian examples again, to restore not only history but property as well—hence the mixed character of Folcuin’s work, at once chronicle and cartulary, gesta et traditiones.
Chronicles not only had the capacity to incorporate documentary records of all kinds but also offered ample space for visual configurations of the past within the context of the illuminated manuscript, as Joan Holladay demonstrates in her essay, “Charting the Past: Visual Configurations of Myth and History and the English Claim to Scotland.” The subject here is the representation of genealogical trees inserted by Matthew Paris into all three volumes of his Chronica majora, a magisterial work of medieval English history, composed toward 1250. Genealogies were critical aspects of royal history, establishing the succession of lineages—and by inference the intrinsic legitimacy of the ruling houses—that governed the realm. However, since in England (unlike France) the succession of royal houses was not established by blood, there was a discrepancy between the genealogy of family and the genealogy of office that Matthew’s visual imaging sought to record. He did so by a system of “double entry,” placing kings along an axial position in the center of the manuscript page but also including them in small medallions on the side of the central trunk, together with their siblings, equally royal in blood but not part of the royal succession. The visual distinction between the larger axial medallions in which the kings appear and the smaller ones reserved for family members visually charts the distinction between succession to the throne and familial descent—a distinction that became crucial at those moments when the succession failed to pass from father to son and a new dynasty was installed.
In producing this imagery, Matthew used the roll form, which in England was the normal format for official royal records, such as charter and Exchequer rolls, thereby endowing his visual genealogies with a quasi-juridical, diplomatic character. Moreover, as Holladay points out, the very “form of the roll embodies the idea of historical succession.” Matthew may have modeled his use of the roll on Peter of Poitiers’s Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi, suggesting, in its very format, a status and sacred character—divine right, as it were—for the sequence of kings parallel to that for the genealogy of Christ.
No less than in Desclot’s chronicle or Adémar’s Divine Office, Matthew Paris’s genealogical rolls, and the succession of similar ones Holladay studies in her article, are ideologically inflected and intended to make a political claim, in this case of the right of the king of England to the throne of Scotland—a right visually figured in the roll by its representation of the marriage that established the unification of the two realms. Although King Edward I, in asserting a claim to the throne of Scotland, drew on a wide variety of historical sources (notably Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britannie), his use of genealogical rolls, Holladay suggests, no doubt derived from their simplified character, for in inscribing time onto space and providing a strict image of succession, visual genealogies allow “no subtle or complex discussion of how the transitions from one reign to the next or from one generation to the next occur” and thus, to an extent, foreclose debate on questions of succession. Still, as Holladay also points out, “genealogy, like all other forms of history, was subject to manipulation and changed meanings with the forms that carried it.” Once again, it appears impossible to maintain a generic separation between diverse kinds of historical consciousness in the Middle Ages, even in its visual representations, since the constant interchange between forms produces multivalent meanings that medieval authors purposefully deployed.
Multiple meanings and the difficulty of determining the precise intentions of those who fashioned narratives and images of historical events in the Middle Ages is similarly the subject of Lindy Grant’s essay, “Representing Dynasty: The Transept Windows at Chartres Cathedral.” Here, too, contemporary politics, sacral images, royal genealogies, and historical traditions are put into visual play to create a complex program of stained glass that would seem to focus on those who had participated in the Albigensian Crusades (and thus to encourage the crusading ventures of the kings of France), but was also directed at a specific moment in the contemporary politics of the royal house, namely just after the Treaty of Vêndome in the spring of 1227, when the regent, Blanche of Castile, brought the revolt of Peter of Brittany to an end and succeeded in reconciling Philip Hurepel, Louis VIII’s illegitimate brother, to the Crown. The arguments establishing this are too complex to repeat, but the transept windows appear to be as much about dynastic politics as abstract kingship, the more typical interpretation of these majestic images.
However, as Grant herself acknowledges, there remains a certain undecidability about the windows that does not seem easily resolved. Are the windows dedicated to the depiction and celebration of the participants in the Albigensian Crusades, in particular that of 1216, as she initially and persuasively argues, or are they more generalized images of Capetian sacral kingship? Is the typological relation established between the Capetian dynasty and the kings of Judah part of a sacred history that runs through Christ, thereby strengthening the sacral import of the program? Or are the windows more concerned with a particular moment of dynastic politics, as noted above—are they historical or prescriptive, illustrating not what has been but what ought to be?
The very inability to determine the intended meaning of these images raises the question, do we really need to choose? Are not all such images polyvalent? The kings of Judah may function as quasi-sacred genealogical ancestors for the Capetians on the model of Christ’s royal genealogy, but it was also common in crusading chronicles to compare and typologically link crusaders to Maccabees, serving both purposes at once. If the windows were meant as propaganda, to whom were they then directed? In many texts, medieval propaganda is directed to audiences already convinced of the correctness of the view being purveyed. In that sense, the ideological goals of historical representation have as much to do with the construction of an identity of the self as they do with persuading others to adhere to a particular view, which is to say that they are often more expressive than argumentative in character. How one comes down on this issue doubtless is influenced by the particular cases under consideration.
Undecidability also reigns at the core of Lawrence Nees’s essay on a monument long thought to be “the tomb of Hincmar” at Saint-Remi, a designation he forthrightly declares to be wrong and misleading. His article illustrates the sometimes fragile nature of both monumental remains and the historical knowledge medievalists can procure about them. Neither tomb nor Hincmar’s, the monument is akin to a royal throne yet cannot safely be designated as such either, serving instead, Nees argues, as a sort of backdrop or mise-en-scène for the actual throne used at the royal coronation at Reims.
To arrive at this interpretation, Nees had to peel away centuries of scholarship that insistently pointed to the monument as the tomb of Hincmar, despite the absence of a recumbent figure (though the tombs of the Carolingians Lothair and Louis IV also lacked recumbent figures). Unpacking the referent and meaning of the sparse monumental remains often gave rise to iconographic designations of figures as diverse as Charles the Bald and Ecclesia for the same image! Only by disposing of almost all the existing scholarship on this monument can Nees convincingly show that the primary focus of the throne—as well as the equally upright royal tombs—at Saint-Remi is related to the abbey’s claims to be a royal coronation church, rather than its attempt to compete with Saint-Denis as a royal necropolis, claims that were, however, to remain unfulfilled. Indeed, it is evidence from that ongoing competition with Saint-Denis, with Suger—the person most likely responsible for the forged Charlemagne charter that claimed for the abbey of Saint-Denis the right to crown the kings of France and to be the depository of the royal insignia—that provides the most persuasive point of comparison in interpreting the putative tomb of Hincmar as a coronation throne, since Suger similarly created, or at least restored, the well-known Throne of Dagobert in support of his claims on behalf of Saint-Denis. What is impressive about Nees’s patient reconstruction of the evidence for and logic of identifying the fragmentary monumental remains of the “Hincmar monument” as part of the ritual of royal coronation is the range of erudite learning marshaled to interpret this resistant, fragile relic of the past. Only by traversing genres and making use of every imaginable sort of evidence, whether textual, visual, documentary, or legal/canonical, can we hope to disengage the possible meaning of these silent stones and thus restore to them their proper history.
Christine Verzar’s essay is dedicated to a similar enterprise in its examination of history and myth in texts and images of Matilda of Canossa. But unlike Holladay and others who seek to show the comparable mechanisms employed in both textual and visual sources, Verzar insists that “it is essential that the present-day historian or art historian distinguish the various strategies used in texts from those used in images to represent the individual and his or her history.” Indeed, she insists, when the case under consideration is a biography, “the historian and art historian have often come up with rather different interpretations as a result of their respective verbal or visual sources,” the result of a fundamental discrepancy between the focus of word and that of image in medieval biographical representations. To illustrate this point, Verzar undertakes a review of the materials related to the life of Matilda of Canossa.
Matilda is hardly an unknown figure to medievalists, even to undergraduates, who are routinely exposed to the history of the Investiture Controversy. Brought to our attention by this controversy, in which she was embroiled, she comes down to us as no less a controversial figure, one that resonates through the centuries to the present time. Evidence for her life and activities, Verzar shows, is transmitted in a variety of texts, including a contemporary biography. In addition to these textual remnants, there is ample evidence of her own patronage of artistic monuments, which includes the commissioning and donation of illuminated manuscripts to her favorite monastic institution, her donations to the cathedral of Modena, and her deliberate reemployment of ancient pagan sarcophagi for members of her family and her intellectual circle, to “stress their Roman heritage and political legitimacy as rulers of Central and Northern Italy.”
Indeed, these artifacts variously represent Matilda as a champion of Italian unity and generate a series of myths that depict her as a counterfoil equal in lineage and stature to her imperial adversary, the German emperor. The “imperial” image of Matilda is extensively supplemented by visual and textual indications of her activity as a patroness of churches and as a supporter of pilgrimage and a crusading enthusiast, activities sometimes veiled in historical/legendary allusions that serve to emphasize her dual commitment to the vita activa and the vita contemplativa. For Verzar, the use of this wide variety of modes in the depiction of Matilda raises the question whether the resulting artifacts should be considered “images or representations,” to which the answer appears to be both, with a decided weighting on the side of representation. The meaning of this distinction, it would seem, is that rather than present a transparent picture of Matilda’s life, which the laudatory biography by Donizo seeks to do, the visual representation of Matilda, as well as her own purposive use of visual artifacts, tends more to the allegorical than the factual. Thus, Verzar argues, the overall message and artistic strategy suggested by a study of the visual materials is “a veiling of her public image, a restraint in the representation of her physical form that is effected by heightened attention to potency and pious good deeds.” Hence, in most of the visual representations of Matilda, it is “her metaphorical presence, rather than any physical likeness or narration of her actions, that illustrates her story.” Once again, the tendentious and ideological nature of medieval representation makes recovery of the “truth” even of a single, reasonably well-documented life difficult to achieve.
Perhaps the most innovative work represented at the conference and in the present volume concerns medieval liturgy—not a domain one usually considers with respect to representing history in the Middle Ages, despite the very large place that the liturgy occupied in medieval devotional practices. Four essays fall into this group, and uniformly they introduce the category of memory in ways that both complement and contest the primacy of what we normally think of as medieval historical consciousness. Of the four, the one closest to the kind of approaches considered so far is Susan Boynton’s essay, “Writing History with Liturgy,” which proffers the story of two archivist-historians, the monk Gregory of Catino, chronicler of the imperial abbey of Farfa in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, and the Spanish Jesuit Andrés Marcos Burriel, an eighteenth-century humanist and professor of theology. As Boynton indicates, what unites these otherwise disparate figures is that both “followed analogous trajectories while transcribing and organizing an archive. Each wove transcriptions of archival documents into historical narrative and pursued a novel approach to history writing in which the medieval liturgy was deeply implicated.” Thus, in contrast to the cartulary-chronicle authors discussed above, who drew on the archival resources at their disposal to document past events and to “authenticate” historical claims, these figures “shaped their historical narratives as much through the power of imagination as through interpretation of the transcribed documents.” In contrast, as well, to an outright forger and fabricator such as Adémar of Chabannes, who invented history to forge a fictive life of Martial as the basis of a new liturgy, Gregory and Burriel filtered their understanding of history through liturgical structures and memories of liturgical performances in order to commemorate the past by using the performative power and character of history. In this process, Boynton argues, memory, not record, lay at the heart of their procedures—a memory of events and liturgical practices that generated novel structures of history.
In mediating their perceptions of the past through the liturgy, Gregory and Burriel inflected the understanding of history and temporality, since the liturgical structuring of time fused different temporal strata “into a dense synchronic fabric,” one that created a multilayered sense of temporality. For medieval people, liturgical memory flowed, above all, through two channels: ritual and recital, continually reenacted and hence reexperienced throughout the course of the liturgical cycle. Thus, as in all cultures in which liturgical practice shapes the understanding of history, more recent or contemporary occurrences acquired meaning only insofar as they could be subsumed within the categories of biblical events and their interpretation bequeathed to the community through the medium of Scripture or the Divine Office—that is to say, only insofar as they could be transfigured, ritually and liturgically, into repetitions and reenactments of ancient happenings. Although the historical events of the past remain unique and irreversible, psychologically they are experienced cyclically, repetitively, and, hence, atemporally. In liturgical commemoration, as in medieval poetic oral recitation, the fundamental goal is, precisely, to revivify the past and make it live in the present, to fuse past and present, chanter and hearer, priest and observer into a single, collective entity. The written text, when it represents a transcription of a once-live recital, commemorates both the past that is sung about and the performance itself. History, in the sense that we understand it to consist of unique events unfolding within irreversible linear time, is absorbed into cyclical, liturgical memory.
It is in this sense that history acquires its performative character, not because it relies upon the performance of the liturgy, but because it linguistically creates a vision of the past that exists in the present, in the “real time” of liturgical celebration. Hence, Boynton argues, “these forms of memory created a constant interplay between written and oral modes of recalling the past, of bringing those absent or departed into the present.” By interweaving liturgical lessons into the construction of his chronicle, then, Gregory of Catino wove a new version of the history of Farfa that was “doubly commemorative, in effect rewriting history with liturgy.” Similarly, Burriel, appointed to the Royal Commission on the Archives, whose task was to write a new ecclesiastical history of Spain, not only incorporated into his account archival documents from the cathedral archive of Toledo but also drew extensively on its manuscripts of the medieval liturgy, eventually identifying the ecclesiastical history of Spain with the Old Hispanic rite, a set of liturgical practices that had been displaced by the Roman liturgy in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The early Hispanic liturgy became for Burriel, Boynton argues, a way of defining the identity of the Spanish nation.
Here too, then, we find moments of rupture and crisis at the origins of the preoccupation with representing history—the break in liturgical practice for Burriel, the refoundation of Farfa in 700 and its subsequent claims to jurisdiction over San Vincenzo al Volturno for Gregory of Catino—ruptures that a liturgical conception of time, with its capacity to insert events into immemorial practices ceaselessly recalled and recycled, could repair by creating, as Boynton wonderfully calls it, a “seductive fantasy of historical continuity” and coherence.
The liturgy was not the only element of church practice that could become the bearer of historical imagination and argument. As Cynthia Hahn’s article on relics and reliquaries shows, monastic, episcopal, and imperial treasuries and collections of relics were equally the bearers of historical memory in the service of articulating an institution’s understanding of its distinctive qualities. Indeed, she argues, “treasuries represent a unique opportunity for historians to catch a glimpse of the purposeful construction (and constant reconstruction) of institutional identity.” In the choice of both relics and treasures to collect, but even more so in the choice of which objects to display, abbeys, cathedrals, and imperial courts made implicit pronouncements about the sacred nature of their existence and character. The array of holy relics preserved in such treasuries evoked the court of Heavenly Jerusalem and thus perpetuated the model of a company of saints, thereby strengthening the sacral status of the institution. Thus, at Quedlinburg, an imperial abbey where the Ottonian emperors were wont to celebrate Easter, the canonesses consistently strove, even after the passing of the Ottonians, to promulgate a perception of the monastery “as a repository for imperial bodies and prestigious treasure—a nexus of sacred power.” That Quedlinburg had to fight during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to maintain its independence against assertions of episcopal control from Halberstadt and Paderborn only made the assertion of its sacred identity all the more compelling.
The desire to articulate this vision of the abbey’s identity, Hahn argues, lies behind a significant conceptual and physical reorganization of the abbey in the twelfth century, one that “gave the monastery a means to make its treasure more effective visual evidence of imperial prestige” to visitors of high status. This the canonesses did through the construction of a treasury room in the north transept of the church, which contained several tables for the display of objects; the interior wall facing the crossing was ornamented with a latticelike motif in stone, and entry to the room was via four stairs to a platform continuous with the altar area. The physical elevation of the treasury room argued for its conceptual importance, which was further enhanced by elaborate processions at Easter, when the bishop of Halberstadt visited and the riches of the abbey were displayed. Hahn argues that these sorts of “participatory liturgical dramas and processions . . . [gave] the canonesses an opportunity to exhibit the luxurious objects of the treasury,” a glittering array that “must have emphatically furthered their claims to imperial prestige.” The assertion at the heart of this spectacle was that “the canonesses [were] imperial women able to operate independently of the court.” Insofar as the primary duty, hence identity, of the canonesses lay in prayer for the empire and the imperial family, the objects residing in the treasury served as a liturgical focus for that task and implicitly validated the abbey’s prestige and independence as the protector of imperial memory and its abbesses as “actors on the liturgical (and possibly political) stage.”
The display of relics and treasure as a mode of framing identity and validating historical claims to independence indicates the often implicit ways in which the medieval historical imagination drew upon the past and its artifacts to represent a particular status in the present, relying upon communal memory and commemorative practices to silently authenticate its claims. Questions of memory and authenticity also abound in the one essay specifically devoted to music, Ardis Butterfield’s provocative “Music, Memory, and Authenticity: Representing Sound in History,” which poses the question whether music can represent history—a question that has only recently come to the fore among medieval musicologists. At issue here is not whether a history of the social place and function of music can be written—for surely it can—but whether sound as such can represent history, and whether historians can write the history of sound/music. As Butterfield notes, even though scholars such as Paul Strohm have argued that there exists a “literary tradition of ‘writing about music although not of music,’” the thrust of this statement is to suggest that “music history turns out to be about everything but music: music is a ‘cultural practice,’ ‘discursive,’ ‘performative,’ ‘visual,’ ‘verbal,’ and ‘archival,’ but not musical.” The very evanescence of sound and its intrinsic distinction from writing makes the effort to recuperate music historically seem virtually beyond reach.
To ask whether music can represent history, according to Butterfield, entails three related domains of inquiry: the relationship between music and transcription, that between music and language, and the question of historiographical ideologies. In all three domains, writing on music is infiltrated, she argues, by literary and textual assumptions, despite a clear desire on the part of scholars to craft a version of musicology not textually or linguistically mediated. In a medieval context, music faces the same problems as oral epic poetry, since the original performances remain beyond reach and come down to us only after being written down (or notated, in the case of music). Not until the advent of recording does it become possible to recover “authentic” versions of original performances; medievalists, however, must hermeneutically infer everything they know about the character of oral and musical works in the Middle Ages from later transcriptions, where sound has passed into writing. From this perspective, Butterfield poses the interesting and logical question of why music’s evanescence seems so much more of an impediment than does that of spoken language. Or, as she frames it, “why does language have so much more natural a place in history?” Although Butterfield does not answer this question directly, the answer surely would involve the normally univocal character of speech, in contrast to polyphonic music, making the latter much harder to replicate or “read” off the notated page, except by the trained ear.
As a test case for understanding how one might construe music’s capacity to represent history, Butterfield presents evidence based on medieval popular May songs, the earliest citations of which survive in a manuscript of Jean Renart’s thirteenth-century Roman de la rose—that is, in their written incarnations, although notably absent is musical notation, despite Renart’s claim that he “caused fine songs to be notated in [his romance] for the sake of recording songs in memory.” The stated motive here, in these as in other examples of May songs, is nostalgia for a once putatively carefree time, evoked through this process of historicization. Thus, like the historically inflected materials presented throughout the book, music also serves to argue for the persistence, the continuity, of the past in the present. And as in the case of the liturgical writings, “memory” stands in for history, in such a way that both are encompassed within a framework of commemoration.
Moreover, to “record in writing”—to “notate the songs,” in Renart’s phrase—is tantamount to narrating it, thus placing music fully within the context of the written text. For Butterfield, the “very fact that music is absent from the manuscript of Renart’s Rose makes us realize that language is only apparently transparent.” Like the music it incorporates, the textual manuscript is equally an artifact of the “rewriting of the evidence it presents.” Thus, she concludes, whether we are dealing with words or notes, narrative or song, all bear witness to a desire to create history, through a process in which the present is being rewritten as the past. In that sense, she argues, “music in general is always mimicking the processes of history.” But what it “represents” is not so much history itself as the process of historicization—a characteristic that might also apply to the written texts of the Middle Ages, one that music’s phonic evanescence and hermeneutic “intransigence” serves to highlight.
Like many of the articles included in the present volume, musicologist Margot Fassler’s piece “The Liturgical Framework of Time and the Representation of History” makes large claims with respect to revising our understanding of the nature of historical consciousness and commemorative practices in the Middle Ages. Like Boynton, Fassler emphasizes the existence of two sometimes competing notions of time in the Middle Ages, construed on the one hand as an irreversible sequence, or what medieval chroniclers were wont to call a series temporarum, and on the other as a cycle, as was operative within a liturgical context. In the mode of “time’s cycle,” as Fassler says, citing Stephen Jay Gould, events “have no meaning as distinct episodes” but rather are “fundamental states immanent in time, always present and never changing.” But rather than consider both forms of temporality wholly distinct, Fassler begins with Augustine’s blending of them in a conceptualization of history that drew heavily upon his experience of liturgy. Thus, for Augustine, as for the whole of the Middle Ages, Fassler argues, historical time could represent the unfolding of events in a linear, and teleologically tendentious, process and also be “held and contemplated.” Events and personages of the past were considered both real and symbolic, hence, in some sense, both real and unreal. They were, she argues, commemorations, memories of a past that happened but, when placed in a liturgical context, partook of the eternal present enacted and reenacted within the cyclical course of the liturgy.
It is impossible to rehearse the richness of argument in Fassler’s presentation, which offers a full review of earlier scholarship on the question of the place of liturgy in history and other “representational views of the past” by medieval scholars. Suffice it to say that, for Professor Fassler, “other modes of reenacting the past are more important than written ones, and the liturgical framework accounts for these as well,” in the sense that the liturgy functioned as “one place where textual communities remained oral communities.” Given the fundamentally historical nature of Christianity as a religion, it would appear only natural to posit the centrality of liturgy in the re-creation and representation of the past, so much so, she argues, that liturgy is the foundation for understanding and representing the past during most of the Middle Ages. Then why, she queries, has it been “almost completely left out of the intensive study of medieval historiography in recent decades—at least until very recently?” Clearly one answer is the secular nature of modern and higher education, which included the study of medieval history by professional historians but tended to be shy of the seminarians who principally undertook the study of liturgy and liturgical practices.
Fassler’s scholarly work in general, including the present article in particular, offers a healthy and welcome corrective to this tendency and enormously deepens our appreciation of the central role that the liturgy played in the medieval understanding of history, both sacred and profane. Saints’ lives clearly were one place where historiographical, hagiographical, and liturgical modes of figuring the past overlapped, and if one agrees that the celebration of the Mass is basically a “reconstruction of an historic event,” whose “many ways of envisioning and reenacting the Eucharistic meal . . . are basic to the Christian understanding of history,” then the liturgy itself becomes a place of historical performance, as Boynton also argues. In addition, as Fassler reports, there are a host of practices fundamentally linked to the liturgy, including sermons, homilies, prayers, martyrologies, and necrologies, as well as processions, festivals, and dramas, that took place outside the Mass and Office but that nonetheless fall within a liturgically influenced understanding of history in the Middle Ages.
Fassler’s argument that liturgy functions as a “fundamental default mode for the representation of the past in the Latin Middle Ages” opens up for consideration and debate the place that liturgy occupied in historical thought throughout the range of historiographical texts produced in the Middle Ages. To be sure, liturgical understandings of time profoundly affected the manner in which many historiographical texts were organized, from Augustine and Bede on, but—as this volume bears witness—there were also many forms of writing history in the Middle Ages that hewed more closely to an ancient pattern of secular history, in which history played an exemplarist role and was organized along temporal lines of pure succession. There were also many ways of coming to terms with and deploying the past in texts and images, not all of which were necessarily liturgical in aim or nature. However scholars of medieval historiography eventually decide this question—and the consideration of liturgy’s place in historical writing is, we should remember, a relatively new one—Fassler’s essay illuminates central aspects of historical consciousness and commemorative practices in the Middle Ages, ones that surely occupy a much larger place in the medieval understanding of the past and the manner in which it was represented than any of us had understood before. As in the case of the other contributions to this volume, it demonstrates the extreme fluidity between past and present, the factual and the legendary, history and memory, in the medieval approach to the past.
Somewhat surprisingly, these issues reappear in the one article devoted to contemporary historiography, by Susan Reynolds, “Two Centuries of Representations of the Middle Ages.” Whether presenting the Middle Ages as a quintessentially feudal society, an age of faith (one eventually so corrupted that “celibacy was practiced in the very streets”), or a golden age of harmonious Gemeinschaft-style communitarianism, contemporary historians are no less prone than their medieval counterparts to the willful, if not necessarily conscious, shaping of the historical past according to sensed ideological needs and social and political aspirations, however different such needs and aspirations are from those that moved medieval authors to create their portraits of the past, and however different the protocols followed in their pursuit of knowledge and their presentations of history. And one could easily extend these three cases, as Reynolds acknowledges, to include a host of others in contemporary historiography, equally tendentious and teleological in nature (“the origin of the modern state,” the “discovery of the individual,” the Renaissance of the twelfth century, or, more recently, the “rediscovery of alterity,” etc.).
That historians as sensitive, adept, and expert as Marc Bloch, George Duby, Jacques Le Goff, and Henri Pirenne (to mention only the francophones) are as caught in webs of signification as their medieval predecessors indicates something profound about the character of historical work, whether informed by narrativist intentions or consciously struggling against them: that (all) historical work is subject to a certain inescapable distortion that derives from the very act and nature of representing history.
The present volume offers a broad array of cases that through their diverse ways of representing medieval history demonstrate the manifold ways in which historical imagination, both in the Middle Ages and now, has framed the understanding of the medieval past. It enormously enriches our sense of the variety and complexity of this process, at once documentary and fictive, real and imaginative, and adds substantially to our knowledge of the techniques employed and subjects included within the compass of the medieval understanding of the past. This does not mean, in our case or the medieval case, that we never get anything “right” about the past or are incapable of learning about it, from it, or for it, but only that we come to the writing table, the canvas, the stone, and the keyboard as sentient human beings with hidden and not-so-hidden agendas that govern our historical perceptions and shape our intuitions and insights and thus invariably inflect our judgments, frame our logics, and nourish our imaginations.
© 2010 Penn State University
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