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Cover for the book Art, Ritual, and Civic Identity in Medieval Southern Italy

Art, Ritual, and Civic Identity in Medieval Southern Italy

Nino Zchomelidse
  • Copyright: 2014
  • Dimensions: 9 x 10
  • Page Count: 308 pages
  • Illustrations: 61 color/149 b&w illustrations
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-05973-0

Winner, 2015 Howard R. Marraro prize, the American Catholic Historical Association

“This remarkable book transforms our understanding of the meaning and function of the liturgical art of Italy: the pulpits and ambos, monumental sculpted candlesticks, pavements, and chancel screens that are among the greatest masterpieces of medieval sculpture. Nino Zchomelidse’s volume is the first coherent explanation of how these liturgical objects articulated the dynamic role of liturgical theater to further the goals of the Gregorian reform. Indeed, this ecclesiastical furniture reconfigured religious ritual in both horizontal and vertical space within the medieval church, enhancing vision, drama, and the visual experience of the laity. Created by some of the greatest sculptors of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, these liturgical objects were initially commissioned by bishops and the upper clergy, who were often buried adjacent to them; by the mid-thirteenth century, however, they were appropriated by members of the patrician elite as affirmations of local pride and multigenerational family commemoration.

Zchomelidse is the first scholar to fully utilize the visual and textual evidence of the Exultet rolls to explicate medieval ritual within church interiors prior to the Council of Trent. Her deeply learned and insightful interpretation is a milestone for scholarship on the dynamic roles of art, ritual, theatrical presentation, and patronage in central and south Italy.”
Art, Ritual, and Civic Identity in Medieval Southern Italy offers a rich analysis of the roles that pulpits, candlesticks, and other fixtures played in preaching and liturgical performance. Examining local and continuously changing practices, multiple uses of single monuments, music, burial customs, iconography, the relation of words to images, church reform, the meaning of unfolding, the significance of darkness (and light), and myriad other issues that enliven the appreciation of specific works, the book provides a subtle overall account of how design and decoration not only framed but also fashioned the real activities that took place in medieval churches.”
“What were the conceptual relationships between liturgical manuscripts and church furnishings during the Middle Ages, and how were those relationships enacted and understood during liturgical performances? Nino Zchomelidse’s learned and highly interdisciplinary study of three centuries of medieval art in turbulent southern Italy provides complex and compelling answers to such critical questions. This well-researched and beautifully produced book is an essential contribution to the burgeoning field of southern Italian studies, as well as to art history and medieval studies in general.”
“This book fully realizes medieval scenography. It vividly presents practices of liturgical performance in a rich range of light, spectacle, smell, and touch that unfolds in an entirely realized time and place. South Italy in the Late Middle Ages comes to compelling life in Zchomelidse’s hands, and the illustrations, so well chosen and finely produced, form an integral part of her strongly persuasive arguments. The cultural lives of the south Italian cities are faceted and evocative. Anyone interested in performances of identity ought to read this significant work.”
“In this sumptuously illustrated and beautifully written volume, Nino Zchomelidse invites the reader to reimagine the southern Italian church as a space in which elaborately carved furnishings, illustrated scrolls, and decorated candlesticks guided ritual movement, captured the sound of voiced prayer, united communities in common worship, and proclaimed civic pride.”
“From start to finish, in her fascinating analysis of ambos and candlesticks of Campania, Nino Zchomelidse keeps her eye firmly on the points cited in the title: Art, Ritual, and Civic Identity, summarising the complexity of the links between art and liturgy from several points of view and tracing out a line of development for liturgical furnishings within the religious and historical milieu in which they were made. The approach is interdisciplinary and opens the door to social, liturgical and musical history, including the latest trends in art-historical studies that look at the concepts of agency, performativity, and the anthropology of images. The results of this study are presented in a fascinating way even for a public that has little knowledge of these (sometimes arduous) subjects.”
“This is a complex and erudite study based on the author’s close reading of the liturgical texts and close observation of the liturgical objects. It answers many questions about the arrangement of the pulpits and the unfurling of the Exultet rolls while focusing on the liturgy that inspired the works of art.”
“Formidably learned, its dense arguments ranging widely over literature and theology as well as sculpture and painting, and discussing Byzantine, central, and northern Italian exemplars as well as those from southern Italy, the book is by no means easy reading. However, it thoroughly repays the effort it demands. In her introduction the author briefly reviews earlier publications on the material and artistic culture of southern Italy, commenting on their rising number and growing importance. The present volume is a distinguished addition to these studies.”
“[Nino Zchomelidse] is to be thanked for producing a work which is both stimulating and provocative.”

In Art, Ritual, and Civic Identity in Medieval Southern Italy, Nino Zchomelidse examines the complex and dynamic roles played by the monumental ambo, the Easter candlestick, and the liturgical scroll in southern Italy and Sicily from the second half of the tenth century, when the first such liturgical scrolls emerged, until the first decades of the fourteenth century, when the last monumental Easter candlestick was made. Through the use of these objects, the interior of the church was transformed into the place of the story of salvation, making the events of the Bible manifest. By linking rites and setting, liturgical furnishings could be used to stage a variety of biblical events, in accordance with specific feast days. Examining the interaction of liturgical performance and the ecclesiastical stage, this book explores the creation, function, and evolution of church furnishings and manuscripts.

Nino Zchomelidse is Assistant Professor of Art History at Johns Hopkins University.


List of Illustrations




1 Staging the Logos: The Ambo in the Medieval Mediterranean

2 Unfurling the Logos: The Exultet Rolls of South Italy

3 Liturgical Change and the Double Stage

4 Trees of Light: Exegesis and Liturgy in the Context of the Easter Candlestick

5 Allegory and Remembrance: Lay Patronage in the Angevin Kingdom

6 The Saint and His City: Hagiography, Relics, and the Panels of Santa Restituta in Naples

Epilogue: Imitatio Christi and Civic Identity in Angevin Gaeta


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