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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Thirteenth century religious art - Part I

Attributed to the "Master of Naumburg"
West choir (rood) screen (Westlettner) with Passion frieze, Naumburg Cathedral, ca. 1249-1255
Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Naumburg (Saxony-Anhalt), Germany

Attributed to the "Master of Naumburg"
West Choir Screen Body of Crucified Christ on central post of opening to choir
Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Naumburg (Saxony-Anhalt), Germany

Attributed to the "Master of Naumburg"
Passion frieze [right portion], detail from the West Choir (Rood) Screen
Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Naumburg (Saxony-Anhalt), Germany

Attributed to the "Master of Naumburg"
The Last Supper; detail from far left portion of the Passion frieze, West Choir (Rood) Screen (Westlettner),
Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Naumburg (Saxony-Anhalt), Germany

Attributed to the "Master of Naumburg"
Judas receiving thirty pieces of silver; detail from left portion of the Passion frieze, West Choir (Rood) Screen
Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Naumburg (Saxony-Anhalt), Germany

Attributed to the "Master of Naumburg"
The Arrest of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemne; Denial of Peter; detail from LC. portion of the Passion frieze, West Choir (Rood) Screen
Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Naumburg (Saxony-Anhalt), Germany

Attributed to the "Master of Naumburg"
Two Guards; Pilate washing his hands after judging Christ; detail from RC. portion of the Passion frieze, West Choir (Rood) Screen
Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Naumburg (Saxony-Anhalt), Germany

Attributed to the "Master of Naumburg"
Sorrowing Virgin Mary; left figure from central Crucifixion group, West Choir (Rood) Screen
Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Naumburg (Saxony-Anhalt), Germany

Attributed to the "Master of Naumburg"
Sorrowing St. John the Evangelist; right figure from central Crucifixion group, West Choir (Rood) Screen
Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Naumburg (Saxony-Anhalt), Germany

Naumburg Cathedral is a structure that has remained to a great extent unchanged in its late Romanesque/early Gothic use of forms.

Its main construction period extends from 1213 to approximately 1250.

It has a late Romanesque east rood-screen which is the oldest hall rood-screen preserved in its complete form on German soil. A further choir was added to the main building around 1250 to approximately 1260 in the west that ends in a 5/8 polygon. It is connected to the middle vessel by means of a wall rood-screen that presents an artistic achievement of the highest order combining architecture, vegetable architectural ornamentation and figural sculptures (especially the six relief images from Christ's suffering). The cycle of the figures of the 12 founders are lined in a row on shoulders in the harmoniously proportioned choir room. This is the outstanding work of an artist whose name is not known, but who is designated as the Naumburg Master.

Naumburg Cathedral was secularised after the introduction of the Reformation and administered by administrators. Today, it is in the possession of the Lutheran Chapterhouse and is used for church services.


Matthew Paris OSB (c. 1200 – 1259)
Jesus Mary John
Below L. Head of the dying Christ. On R. Head of Christ full-face with jewelled collar of tunic
From Chronica Maiora I
Manuscript 26
Vellum, 260 x 195 mm (14.2 x 9.6 in.),
Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

"The thirteenth century was one in which the relationship between the local and the universal underwent a crisis partly because the centre was defining itself with a vigour and authority never before seen – the canons of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 are held to be a central document of this process of systematic definition of orthodoxy in the face of heterodox belief. Notwithstanding what has been said already about the importance of seigneurial art, the patronage of the bishops in sustaining cathedral construction and the innovation of such genres as the canopied effigial tomb appears more important than ever.

The relationship between this clerical drive to order and the aesthetic and religious experience of the laity was now vital. We can trace it in three areas especially: the use and dissemination of images, the theology of the sacraments and the doctrine of Purgatory.

We turn first to the function and character of images.

By the thirteenth century the cultural traditions of Latin and Greek Christianity which concerned images and relics had begun to converge. Early medieval western Christianity had accorded to the relics of the saints an importance which the Greek Church attached to images, icons especially. Latin art and architecture had thus focused to a great extent on shrines and pilgrimage. In the Greek Church images were ontologically closer to relics, and in a sense enjoyed greater power for this reason

During the eleventh and twelfth centuries the eastern and western approaches to relics and images drew closer together. Latin spirituality, especially that fostered within the monastic orders by such figures as St Anselm and St Bernard, was coming to lay greater emphasis on the importance of the humanity of Christ.

It is for this reason that issues such as the sacrament of the Mass and the theology of the resurrection and of the bodily Assumption of the Virgin Mary enjoyed such prominence in twelfth century theological debate.

This theology of the Christian body was stimulated further by the spread from eastern Orthodox monasticism of liturgical and devotional practices which placed a premium on the role of images within liturgical and meditative practice. By 1200, and certainly after the sack of Constantinople in 1204, the images associated with these practices – principally icons – became much more widely known in the west, at first in clerical and then in lay circles.

The outcome of these developments was the gradual emergence of the `image-relic’, and so of a visual culture increasingly common both to Latin and Orthodox Christianity. This culture sustained an interest in local subjects and sites of devotion – the power of the saints was as widely felt in the thirteenth century as before – but supplemented it with a more universal imagery of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Image-relics like the Roman image of the Veronica, the Holy Face of Christ, provided a vital arena of devotional and imaginative liberation, and it is in this period that essentially late medieval themes such as the Man of Sorrows and the Arma Christi gained additional importance by having indulgences attached to them, like that composed by Innocent III for the Veronica. The image-relic, then, was implicated not only in the rise of the economy of Purgatorial indulgence, but also in a quite fundamental shift in the focuses of religious attention towards the universal holy body of Christ.

The impact of these changes was widespread. Access to images (which meant primarily their reproduction) gained in importance as a means to salvation.

This favoured the mass-production of those painted panels and illuminated manuscripts which included images of this new devotional type. The expressive content of images changed too: as theological emphasis shifted progressively towards meditation upon the humanity, joy and suffering of Christ and Mary, so the expressive range of images widened to reflect new rhetorical ideals, and in such a way as to implicate the spectator at a more intimate level.

Images address psychological states of mind in the thirteenth century in a way not true previously, and this new attention is intimately bound up with what is often called Gothic naturalism: thus religious images for the first time in western art smile, or express grief. The intense, pathetic world of the icon and the lamentation image became a common visual currency, which the thirteenth-century Latin Church helped to consolidate and institutionalise.

Their most outstanding visual expressions were eventually to be found in central Italian wall and panel painting from the late thirteenth century, though the tendency can also be followed from the mid-century in northern Gothic art, as for example in the sculptures of the rood screen at Naumburg cathedral and on the west façade of Rheims cathedral. Even the most conservative commentators, such as Matthew Paris, the xenophobic midthirteenth-century Benedictine historian-artist at St Albans Abbey, took note.

Matthew’s Chronica Majora of c. 1250 includes some of the first western representations of the Man of Sorrows and the Stigmatisation of St Francis (in 1224), perhaps the most widely known manifestation of the new theology of the body."

From Paul Binski, University Lecturer in History of Art and Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge: Chapter 4 Art and Architecture in The New Cambridge Medieval History Volume V (1198 and 1300) (2008)