Place Published: Philadelphia
Publisher: Saint Joseph's University Press
Date Published: 2010
Book ID: 47
Early Modern Catholicism and the Visual Arts Series, Vol. 1
394 pages + introduction, bibliography, and index | 12.75 x 9.25 inches | 157 color and b/w images
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The Meditative Art: Studies in the Northern Devotional Print, 1550-1625 asks how and why printed images were utilized as instruments of Christian meditation and contemplation. The book consists of an introductory essay on meditative image-making, followed by nine case studies focusing on various prints and print series produced in the Low Countries that offered templates for visually-based processes of soul-formation anchored in the imitation of Christ. Engraved by such masters as Philips Galle, Hendrick Goltzius, Boëtius à Bolswert, and Jan, Hieronymus, and Antoon Wierix, among others, these prints served to mobilize the votary's sensitive and intellective faculties, harnessing them to the task of restoring the soul's likeness to Christ the Word made flesh. The images are seen implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) to allude to an image theory grounded in the mystery of the Incarnation, and in diverse ways to trope the themes of pictorial artifice and imitation. By calling attention to their status as pictorial images, the author argues, these prints claim to be sanctioned by the condition of representability espoused by Christ Himself.
In addition to chapters on the illustrated meditative treatises of Benito Arias Montano, Jerónimo Nadal, and Antonius Sucquet, there are chapters on prints as catalysts of penitential and commutative self-reformation, as well as on prints as meditative sources of works in other media, such as Otto van Veen's Carrying of the Cross. The book ends with an epilogue on the erotic form, function, and meaning of Hendrick Goltzius's celebrated devotional print of the Annunciation.
"This monumental book, well served by its promising title, will take its place on the shelves of the art historian's as well as the literature historian's private library, in the section dedicated to images as Christian spiritual exercises -- a section that has grown voluminously since its inception and continues to expand. [...] Melion's study, lavishly and abundantly illustrated by excellent photographs of engraved series of devotional images, is at first glance a very useful anthology of this genre of images, which emanated often, in the period, from Jesuit quarters. [...] Melion has made us realize how much, in this contemporary field of research in which he excels, the histories of religion, rhetoric, literature, and art have to converge and cohere. Melion's precise, methodical, and utterly modest book is an outstanding model of the 'pluridisciplinary' demanded by the subject. His close reading (completed by a thought-provoking body of notes and an apposite, but exhaustive, bibliography) of texts and images in several major illustrated books produced in the same area and in the same genre is a major contribution to the understanding of the self-consciousness of the visual arts as a Christian practice, in one of their major homes in Europe at that time."
Marc Fumaroli, Art Bulletin
"Walter Melion's The Meditative Art: Studies in the Northern Devotional Print, 1550-1625, like the early modern works it studies, calls for a disciplined eye and close reading. [...] For readers willing to face the challenge, Melion's book reveals the complexities and nuances of early modern visual piety in a fresh and powerful manner. Not only does it provide a new interpretation of prints seldom studied, it also encourages readers to examine artistic and devotional practices linked to early modern Christianity in much more profound ways."
Henry M. Luttikhuizen, College Art Association Reviews Online (caa.reviews)
"Walter Melion's magnum opus sets the standard for the study of printmaking in Antwerp during the Catholic Reform of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His choice of material, some of it familiar, some relatively unknown, results in a representative account that is as judicious as it is felicitous. The high quality of the analyses derives from his recognition that image and text should not, as so often occurs, be treated separately, but rather, as equal partners that are mutually complementary, indeed interwoven. His impressive knowledge of illustrated and unillustrated meditative treatises testifies to years of meticulous research in this field. In addition, Melion's intra- and interdisciplinary approach to art of the Catholic Reform opens the way for the renewed study of what Wittkower and Jaffe called the "Jesuit contribution," that is, the order's strategic use of images to engage the beholder."
Birgit Ulrike Münch, Sehepunkte Rezensionsjournal für die Geschichtswissenschaften
"The book is superbly illustrated with an engaging enlargement of a detail of an image at the opening of each chapter. Also enlarged, high-quality reproductions of the full images follow at the end of the chapters. Melion discusses the readers' access to the prints and the visual memory being built by the consulting and memorizing of these prints (in chapters 2, 4, and 7), but that they are best studied when they are enlarged — in The Meditative Art the medallions of Wierix's Septem Psalmi Davidici are almost doubled in size for maximum effect […]
Melion's in-depth studies into the specificity of the functionality of these prints fill a significant lacuna in the existing scholarship. […] Melion's well-researched analyses show how individual prints were made efficacious. That The Meditative Art refrains from reflecting on the confessional origins of the prints all too intensely, paves the way for excellent explorations of intriguing bimedial puzzles.
Els Stronk, Renaissance Quarterly
"The Meditative Art is an important contribution not only to our understanding of the function of images in (Jesuit) spirituality and to our understanding of the print culture of the Netherlands (especially Antwerp) in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century (whose extraordinary significance to more "mainstream" art history is still underappreciated), but also as a model for the close reading of images in conjunction with mutually illuminating texts. This volume inaugurates a series, entitled "Early Modern Catholicism and the Visual Arts," by Saint Joseph's University Press, which has in recent years published several significant works in the history of art (not the least of which are three volumes of translations from Nadal's Adnotationes with the relevant illustrations and substantive introductory essays by Walter Melion), each carefully produced and well illustrated. We hope that subsequent volumes in the series can match the high quality and import of Melion's Meditative Art."
James Clifton, Historians of Netherlandish Art
"In my opinion, Walter Melion's The Meditative Art is the most important book about the relationship of art and theology of this generation. Drawing on traditional art-historical methods (stylistic analysis, iconographic research, and source searching) and informed by modern theory (structuralism, semiotics, reception theory, and phenomenology), it raises art-historical investigation and hence the discipline of art history itself to an entirely new level. In a comprehensive introduction and eight brilliant chapters, it reveals the myriad ways in which art during the Counter-Reformation and immediately afterward engaged meditative practices. Arguing that picturing and looking at pictures were intended to imprint the image of the living God on the spiritually prepared viewer, it persuades the reader that concerted seeing was itself understood to be a form of meditation and hence an instrument of personal re-formation necessary for approaching God."
Herbert L. Kessler, Professor of the History of Art, The Johns Hopkins University
"As one would expect, Professor Melion has worked out his ideas in considerable detail and with great care. His research is impeccable; the main argument and its subsidiary elements are both muscular and refined. […] This text has many strengths. Chief among this book's manifold strengths is the manner in which it conveys the unity of diverse interests — pictorial and literary, artistic and spiritual, and so forth — that governed the making and viewing of these objects. Another is Professor Melion's rare sensitivity to plays both visual and verbal. […] With respect to the disciplines of cultural history, intellectual history, and the history of art, Melion's work has the potential to reshape how scholars understand a number of critical topics: the reciprocal relationship of spiritual and mundane concerns, the semiotic potential of craftsmanship, moments of interpretive commonality during a time of continued religious tension, and, above all else, the importance of seeing well for later sixteenth- and seventeenth-century piety."
Bret Rothstein, Associate Professor of the History of Art, Indiana University
"At one level, this work is a cluster of close and deeply informed studies of graphic and painted images […] produced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for devotional use. In bringing those studies together, Walter Melion has produced a work of central importance for scholars of art, literature, and theology in early modern Europe. […] This work offers scholars of early modern Europe ways of thinking through images, not as simple templates for meaning, but as themselves participating far more fully in meditations on the Incarnation and Epiphany, at once delineating unexpected and fertile affiliations among texts and images and between Catholic and Lutheran, and redrawing where theological divergences on the theology of the Incarnation and the meaning of the Epiphany might have been."
Lee Palmer Wandel, Senior Fellow, Institute for Research in the Humanities, Professor of History, Religious Studies, and Visual Culture, University of Wisconsin-Madison