The benedictional of Æthelwold


The benedictional of Æthelwold

by Robert Deshman

(Studies in manuscript illumination, no. 9)

Princeton University Press, c1995

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Includes bibliographical references (p. 269-279) and index



This text explores one of the great works of medieval art, the Benedictional commissioned by the powerful Anglo-Saxon bishop, Aethelwold of Winchester (963-84). A seminal work in the formation of the "Winchester style", the manucript embodies a highly intricate and often novel presentation of images. The book considers the iconography, style, ornament and text against the backdrop of their pictorial, liturgical and literary sources. This examination enables the author then to anchor the work within the patron's historical and cultural context: his monastic reforms, his culting of saints, his political ideals, the ideological connotations of earlier artistic styles and, most importantly, his unusual hermeneutic modes of thought and visualization, wherein extremely abstruse theological concepts are reified in clouds, architecture, drapery and even ornament. Employing traditional art historical tools, Deshman nonetheless develops an innovative methodological thesis, that specific visual and conceptual motifs run through the large and varied cycle of images, tying them together in a complex multilayered programme. This programmatic pictorial technique, "cycle symbolism", occurs in an exceptionally systematic fashion in Aethelwold's manuscript, but was used widely in medieval art. Deshman's analysis offers a way of looking at and understanding picture cycles, one that has fundamental methodological implications for the entire field of manuscript illumination.

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