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6) Re-activating the recipient

[148] In my opening chapter (1.d) I quoted Victor Shklovsky’s doctrine that  ‘...art removes objects from the automatism of perception’.1  Writing in Russia in 1917, at a time when there were strident calls for art to be more polemical and more direct in its appeal, Shklovsky was concerned that both literature and the visual arts risked becoming overly simplistic in style - overly ‘readerly’ to borrow Roland Barthes’ later terminology. For Shklovsky, this development carried with it the risk that the processes of perception would become increasingly automatic  (a phenomenon he described as ‘algebrization’)  and that as a result, art would lose its impact. His argument was neatly summarised by Robert Holub:

The ‘algebrization’ or ‘making automatic’ of perception leads inevitably to a failure to ‘see’ the object; instead one merely recognizes it, i.e. perceives it in a habitual fashion. The function of art, on the other hand, is to dehabitualize our perception, to make the object come alive again.2

For Shklovsky then, the  responsibility of the artist was to de-rail the automatic processes of perception and force the reader/viewer into a more active mode of reception - a process he called ‘defamiliarisation’ (ocтранeний - lit. ‘making strange’). Although his discourse was highly original, the practice of deliberately defamiliarising images in order to re-engage the viewer was far from new. This chapter will focus on some of the methods by which medieval artists ‘made strange’ their visual narratives. After a brief introduction to the underlying theory, the bulk of the chapter comprises a series of sometimes lengthy case studies, which aim to demonstrate these strategies, whilst also reinforcing some of the other theoretical models and terminology introduced in previous chapters.

6.a) metalepsis and other ‘frame paradoxes’

‘Ontological boundaries delimit domains within the semantic universe, and their crossing is a re-centering into a new system of reality’.3

As discussed in chapter 3, {picture} frames isolate a narrative image from adjacent images representing different {chronotopic} frames within the story, and also from the non-narrative world beyond the image field. In this respect the {picture} frame is the ultimate marker of diegetic liminality - it marks the transition point between the various hierarchic levels of the [149] story proper and the purely non-diegetic decorative borders or empty space beyond.  Chapter 3 also considered various means by which artists chose to breach the {picture} frame in order to influence the interpretation of its contents - for example to express movement into or out of the scene, or to emphasise the scale of some particular element within the image. In a rather different vein, chapter 5 considered the multiple diegetic levels that exist within a narrative, and showed how this hierarchy could manifest itself in narrative images cycles. In normal narratives, the transition between different diegetic levels is an orderly process. In verbal narration for example it is signalled by linguistic framing devices, such as quotation marks, italics, or the combination of a person-deictic (name or pronoun) and an illocutionary verb-phrase (e.g. ‘And Jesus answering said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem...” ’). With visual narratives, the transition signals can include cloud-frills and other subsidiary frames, though they are often subtle or omitted - as with some of the examples discussed in the last chapter and in section 8.b below. Often it is only our knowledge of the story that allows us to untangle the extra- and intra-diegetic elements  within an image.

Regardless of how, or whether they are signalled, one normally expects these ontological transitions to be orderly and hierarchical. One does not normally expect that characters within an intradiegetic segment will address or otherwise interact with the characters at a higher, extradiegetic level - as would be the case for example if the innkeeper in the parable told by Jesus suddenly spoke directly to the Pharisees to whom Jesus was telling his story. Nor does one expect a pencil line in a drawing to resolve itself into the hand which holds the pencil that is drawing that line. Instead we expect diegetic levels to behave themselves with decorum, so that the transitions between them are never more than, as Alfred Schütz put it, ‘...little bumps in the topography of the real’.4  The phenomenon known as ‘metalepsis’, on which I will focus in this chapter, is what results when these ‘little bumps’ are deliberately amplified, becoming, as it were, ‘sleeping policemen’ in the topography of the real.

At its simplest, metalepsis can be defined as a deliberate and paradoxical violation of levels within the hierarchical structure of a narrative, such as when an extradiegetic narrator unexpectedly becomes intradiegetic or vice versa. In the literary world, this device is a well-established method for authors seeking to ‘defamiliarise’ their narratives. Canonical literary works in which metalepsis plays a dominant role include Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759-69),  Italo Calvino’s  If on a winter’s night a traveller... (1979) and, in perhaps its most extreme and brilliant manifestation, Brian O’Nolan’s  At-Swim-Two-Birds (1939 - published under his pseudonym, Flann O’Brien).  One also finds examples in the film world, both art-house and mainstream, from Woody Allen’s critically-acclaimed 1985 film The Purple Rose of Cairo [150] to John McTiernan’s 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, The Last Action Hero.  On the stage, metalepsis has an even longer pedigree, originally dating back to the Greek comic device of parabasis (an interruption where the chorus addressed the audience directly in the poet’s name on matters unrelated to the story) but surviving in a range of audience-address practices, as well as featuring as a central plot device in plays like Pirandello’s Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore (1921) and Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound (1961). Finally, in the visual arts of the twentieth century, metalepsis formed the basis of many playful works by Rene Magritte and M.C. Escher (most obviously in the latter’s 1948 lithograph, Drawing hands).  The common feature that links all these disparate cases together is the deliberate and unexpected violation of conventional ontological hierarchies, as different levels or modes of being are suddenly forced to interact.

The versatility of metalepsis as a phenomenon that could apparently span a wide range of genres and media was recognised by the Austrian narratologist Werner Wolf. 5  He identified four criteria or tests by which the phenomenon could be recognised, regardless of its setting. These four tests can be summarised as follows:

  1. its occurrence within art-forms that represent ‘possible worlds’ (such as, though not limited to, narrative ‘story-worlds’).
  2. the existence of recognizable, logically and ontologically distinct levels or sub-worlds.
  3. an actual transgression between, or a confusion and contamination of these sub-worlds.
  4. the paradoxical nature of this transgression with reference to a ‘natural’ or conventional belief in the inviolability in ‘normal’ life and ‘normal’ fiction of the (sub-)worlds or levels involved.

Armed with these clear criteria (which will become clearer still when put to the test), one may now go a-hunting metalepses in medieval narrative art. In the following sections I will present some detailed case studies which demonstrate the phenomenon in stained glass, portal sculpture and manuscript illuminations (as with other examples in this thesis I will also use these case studies to develop further various other theoretical matters of interest).

[151]

6.b) case study 1 - the Good Samaritan window at Bourges

The Good Samaritan window in the ambulatory at Bourges Cathedral (bay 13 in the CVMA numbering scheme) is a nice demonstration both of how metalepsis can be used  and also of how it can be misconstrued by art historians who are not actively looking for it. The basic layout of the window consists of the parable itself (narrative segment 1), in five roundels running from top to bottom down the centre, together with Old and New Testament ‘typological’ images in quadrants surrounding the parable scenes, which constitute narrative segments 2-4  (see Fig. 6.01 for an overview of the arrangement and flows of the four narrative segments and Fig. 6.02, Fig. 6.03, Fig. 6.04, Fig. 6.05 and Fig. 6.06 for detailed views of the five main sections). As has often been noted, particularly by Wolfgang Kemp, this is not a ‘typical’ typological window and the relationship between the parable and the lateral narratives is perhaps less clear than is the case with its cousins at Sens and Chartres.6  The typological narrative meanders its way around the edges of the lancet in an erratic trace, as if the designer were teasing the viewers and challenging them to find the path themselves. Apart from this oddity however,  throughout the upper four registers, {picture} frames behave like they usually do in stained glass. Elements occasionally overlap the internal borders (the red and white concentric rings around the panel edges) but the impermeability of the metal armature is respected.

The regular schema of roundels and quadrants is abandoned in the bottom register however, where the central roundel is enlarged and split horizontally into two lenticular frames (panels 04 and 01), with the final instalment of the parable above and a signature panel below (see Fig. 6.06).  The corner quadrants are also replaced by lateral semi-circles (panels 02 and 03) containing Passion scenes.  Apart from this formal design change, this bottom register also radically changes the relationship between the characters in the narrative world and the {picture} frames that up till now had enclosed and contained that world. In the flagellation scene in the left-hand semicircle, the torturer on the left stretches his arms back across the iron armature behind him, into the rinceaux-filled outer border, to get a better swing on his whip. Just to remove any doubt, the artist has also shown the hem of his billowing tunic just encroaching into this border (see Fig. 6.07, where I have enhanced the relevant details). Meanwhile, as if not satisfied with such minor ontological transgressions, his companion has stepped right out of panel 02 and into the central medallion, leaving only his left hand inside the border of the flagellation scene. This man’s left foot hangs down into the signature panel below, while his right hand, with the whip, overlaps panel 04.  Similar transgressions are occurring on the other side of the window, in (or rather not in) panel 03. Within that panel, Christ is shown [152] crucified onthe Tree of Life, flanked by the sun and the moon, but John the Evangelist observes the scene from the space outside the frame on the left, and catches the swooning Virgin (who has left only the hem of her clothing in panel 03, to emphasise the spatial continuity).

Considering this window in relation to Werner Wolf’s four tests for metalepsis discussed earlier, it is:

  1. ...clearly an art-form representing ‘possible worlds’ with...
  2. ...ontologically distinct levels (the main narrative of the parable, the typological narrative surrounding it, the extra-narrative signature panel and the ‘ontological vacuum’ of the borders).
  3. There is a transgression of these levels, in the form of actors within the main narrative stepping off-stage into the non-diegetic decorative border.
  4. Finally, and crucially, this transgression is paradoxical - since it appears at the end of a series of eighteen ‘normal’ panels (not to mention the wider conventions of stained glass narratives) where such transgressions do not occur.

As well as establishing that this example meets the criteria for metalepsis, one must address the ‘so-what?’ question.  Does the importation of the concept of metalepsis into the study of medieval art contribute anything meaningful and useful to the subject - or is it just empty metaphoricity? Perhaps the best way of answering that question is to consider the functions metalepsis performs in other media and whether one might thereby account for its use in visual narratives. Wolf suggests a number of possible functions for metalepsis, including comic valorisation, sensationalising (e.g. to draw attention to a particular message in a world overloaded with ‘texts’), as a marker of fictionality or a deliberately anti-illusionistic effect and as a trigger to reflections on the boundaries between reality and fiction. But as he points out, all of these functions converge on the more general effect of metalepsis, which is (in the language of reader-response theory) to ‘activate the recipient’. As Wolf put it, ‘...some activity will always be elicited in the recipient by the paradoxical nature of metalepsis: for the ‘madness’ of this device will inevitably make them look for a “method in’t” ’.7  This ‘activation effect’ is both the function of metalepsis as a narrative device in medieval art and also, for me, the justification for studying it as a deliberate artistic practice. As the examples that follow will demonstrate, there was indeed a method in the apparent madness of metalepsis.

Ever since Cahier and Martin’s monumental 1844 monograph, commentators on the Bourges windows have been united in seeing this bottom section of the Good Samaritan window as an [153] inexplicable mistake on the part of the designer.8  Wolfgang Kemp followed this line, expressing his disapproval with characteristic forthrightness:

All this serves as a model of clumsy design that ignores elementary rules of construction and in no way provides an adequate framework for the narrative program. It becomes embarrassing in the bottom section [...] The large circle no longer fits into the space provided and is truncated; the semi-circles on either side shrink accordingly and become too small to contain the corresponding analogous scenes, whose characters spill over into the mutilated central section.9

But is clumsiness really the most credible explanation for the radical change in the armature pattern of the bottom register? However incompetent his geometry, the designer of this window could have divided the vertical space into five equally-sized horizontal bands and thereby kept the same pattern throughout, with the signature panels relegated to the bottom left and right quadrants (just as they are they are in the ‘Relics of St Stephen’ window adjoining this one in bay 15).  Instead, I would argue that what we see here is not ineptitude but a deliberate attempt to focus the viewer’s attention on the most important part of the story. Whichever reading strategy the viewer adopts (reading type and antitype in sequence or reading them in parallel) the eye drifts smoothly down the window from top to bottom, lulled into a sense of cognitive security by the consistent armature pattern and the well-behaved frame boundaries. Until, that is, it reaches the bottom register. Here, at the lowest point, where their physical proximity to the viewer makes the images most legible (the sill of the window is only a metre or so above head height), the concord between artist and viewer is deliberately broken; the armature pattern is disrupted and the impermeability of the diegetic frame is flouted as figures spill out into the margins. The viewer is thus forced into a new reading strategy, and in the process, his attention is refocused onto the ‘punch-lines’ of the respective narratives; Christ’s ultimate act of charity in His Passion, and its parallel in the generosity of the Samaritan.

In his meditation on photography and loss, Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes distinguished between two types of effect a photograph has on the viewer. The studium is the reasoned and rational response conditioned by socio-political, cultural or religious knowledge, while the punctum is the unmediated reaction to some detail within the image - a wounding pin-prick that creates a direct personal and emotional bond between viewer and image.10 The metaleptic elements in bay 13, by disrupting the act of viewing at the most emotionally charged point contributes towards the creation of a just such a narrative and tropological punctum - something which may have been more important to the window’s early thirteenth century designer and [154] patrons than the considerations of formal aesthetics and regularity that have exercised more recent commentators.

6.c) case study 2 - the ‘royal Psalters’

My next examples of metalepsis in 13th century narrative art are all found in a group of manuscripts sometimes collectively described as the ‘royal Psalters’.11 Some of these books have attracted scholarly attention for their possible role in the development of the Bibles moralisées format, though they have not yet been studied in depth as a distinct group.12  From my point of view, the key feature of most of these Psalters (or rather of their prefatory cycles) is the use of multi-part and multi-level framing systems similar to the ones discussed in chapter 3.c.  Of these Psalters, the ones that will be discussed here are:

The prefatory cycles of each of these Psalters feature {interpretive} macro-frames which are maintained consistently over several consecutive folia. Each page is dominated by two main narrative scenes within large round or poly-lobed medallions, with or without hypotactic elements around the periphery. According to Elizabeth Hudson, the use of medallions in this way ‘...was not widespread and seems to be most popular in Paris, circa 1220’.13  Nevertheless, some of these manuscripts were certainly made in England and their dates range from around 1220 to 1280 or later. Clearly then when treating these manuscripts as a group we are not dealing with the production of a single workshop or period but with some looser association, possibly involving the copying of the ‘general form’ from existing manuscripts. As this section will attempt to demonstrate however, not only were the artists/designers responsible for these manuscripts copying the general form, they were also deliberately copying the use of metalepsis - not as a specific motif but as an independent narrative device.

[155] All the manuscripts listed above feature metalepsis in the prefatory cycles to some extent, though the effect is stronger in some than in others. Note that metalepsis is a phenomenon which is only really meaningful when it constitutes a break from the ‘normal’ pattern - so detecting it in an artwork relies on seeing it within the context of a normative sequence of {interpretive} macro-frames, be they pages, windows, or whatever. For this reason I have, where possible, included the complete prefatory cycles for each manuscript in the accompanying plates, so that the viewer may better adjudge the effect.14

The basic mise-en-page of the Royal Psalters is not unlike the earlier Gospels of Henry the Lion discussed in chapter 3.c and is shown schematically in Fig. 6.08A.  The elements present in each manuscript differ. The Psalter of Blanche of Castile  has the simplest schema, with just the two large roundels, marked A and B in Fig. 6.08A. The Lewis Psalter is similar, except that it has scroll-work in panels e-h and most pages have gilded heraldic beasts in panels C and D. Slightly more complex is BNF 1392, which has hypotactic figures, mostly prophets, in panels C and D, in addition to the large roundels. The Křivoklàt Psalter also features prophets in C and D, although panels A and B are complex eight-lobed medallions rather than roundels and it has foliate decoration in the corner panels e-h. The Oscott Psalter is the most fully developed (Fig. 6.08B), having figures in all of the panels A-h, as will be discussed below.

6.c.1) The Lewis Psalter

I will begin with the least obviously metaleptic of these manuscripts - the Lewis Psalter (MS Lewis E 185 in the Free Library of Philadelphia), which was made in Paris c.1225-40. It features twenty five full-page miniatures in its prefatory cycle, beginning on f.1v with a full page initial from the B[eatus Vir] of the opening Psalm  (the remaining text of which does not appear until f.26r). This historiated ‘B’ (Fig. 6.08C), shows David as the Psalmist in the upper loop and beheading Goliath in the lower, whilst in the corners and on either side are quadrants and semi-circles containing musicians. The similarity between a full-page initial ‘B’ like this and the mise-en-page of the royal Psalters generally is probably not coincidental (see Fig 6.08B and C for example). The remaining pages of this prefatory cycle are reproduced in full in Figs. 6.09-14. In every case panel the narrative scenes read from panel A to panel B and events mostly follow in the conventional sequence, except for the Presentation, which is inserted between Christ’s baptism and first temptation (f.8v panel A). The Incarnation and Passion [156] stories run from the Annunciation on f.3v to the Coronation of the Virgin on f.21r. Then follow four pages of Eschatological imagery, which are strictly speaking extra-narrative since they show things that happen ‘outside time’. Indeed, notions of teleology seem to collapse here - the separation of the damned from the elect appears on f.23r, before the weighing of the souls on f.25r.  The full arrangement of episodes is as follows:

Page

Contents of panel A

Contents of panel B

Plate

f.3v

Annunciation to the Virgin

Visitation

 

Fig. 6.09

 

f.4r

Nativity

Annunciation to the Shepherds

f.4v

Journey of the Magi

The Magi before Herod

f.5r

Adoration of the Magi

Dream of the Magi

f.6v

Massacre of the Innocents

Flight into Egypt

Fig. 6.10

f.7r

The wedding at Cana

Baptism of Christ

f.8v

Presentation of Christ

First temptation of Christ

f.9r

Second temptation of Christ

Third temptation of Christ

f.10v

Transfiguration

Healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter

 

Fig. 6.11

f.11r

The entry into Jerusalem

Judas receiving payment from Caiphas

f.12v

The betrayal and arrest of Christ

Peter’s denial / Christ before Caiphas

f.13r

Flagellation

Suicide of Judas

f.14v

Christ before Pilate

Carrying of the Cross

Fig. 6.12

f.15r

Crucifixion

Descent from the Cross

f.16v

Entombment

Resurrection

f.17r

The three Maries at the tomb

Descent into Limbo

f.18v

The Noli me tangere

Road to Emmaus

Fig. 6.13

f.19r

Supper at Emmaus

Incredulity of Thomas

f.20v

Ascension

Pentecost

f.21r

Death of the Virgin

Coronation of the Virgin

f.22v

Christ showing His wounds / Arma Christi

Sounding of the trumpets

Fig. 6.14

 

f.23r

The elect

The damned

f.24v

Abraham’s bosom / ‘many mansions’

Hell-mouth

f.25r

The weighing of souls

Results of the weighing.

Table 6 - Summary of episodes in the Lewis Psalter prefatory cycle

[156] As mentioned earlier, the layout of the Lewis Psalter  is relatively simple. Each page is dominated by two large roundels (A and B in the schema shown on Fig. 6.08A), which are framed within plain bands of colour. The outermost border of the frame is gilded but within this are four rectangular panels, alternating red meander patterns and blue beading. The  lateral semicircles (C and D on Fig. 6.08A) have red or blue grounds and all feature gilded decoration based on stylised heraldic beasts, while the corner quadrants (e-h on Fig. 6.08A), are mostly decorated with gilded scrollwork (heraldic beasts in three cases).  The bulk of the page  is then filled with a ground of diapering. All the decorative and framing elements are in contrasting shades of red and blue and these various colour blocks alternate between verso and recto - a feature that seems common to all of these manuscripts.

In terms of framing, the cycle starts very conventionally. From the first opening onwards, a few elements in the main roundels overlap the edge of the frame - Gabriel’s wings at the top of f.3v, the ears of the ox and ass in f.4r, etc, but these overlaps are very subtle and scarcely noticeable. There are however two openings where the incursion into the border is more significant. The first of these appears in the second opening of the prefatory cycle, f.4v and f.5r (see Fig. 6.09 lower). In the upper roundel (panel A) of f.4v the three Magi seem to be debating which road to take - in the middle of the group is the youngest Magus, who raises his hand and pokes it out of the frame, to point off into the border. There, in the top right hand corner of the page, sandwiched between blocks of gilding and colourful decorative borders, is a gilded and painted circle - the star that will lead them to Bethlehem (see the detail in Fig. 6.15A).15 This scheme is then repeated in the Epiphany scene across the opening, at the top of f.5r, where again the youngest Magus turns towards his colleagues and points off into the border, where the star occupies the same position as it did on the preceding page  (see Fig. 6.15B). The eldest Magus, kneeling before Christ with his offering of gold, looks not at the child but up at the star, as if seeking confirmation that they have found the right stable. This star in the margins of folios 4v and 5r is extremely subtle. Deliberately hidden in a corner of the decorative scheme it can easily be missed (I only noticed it after following the indexical finger of the young Magus), yet once found it draws the viewer in - encouraging us to study the pages more carefully in search of other hidden gems. In this respect it is quite different from the very obvious and challenging metalepsis in the Bourges Good Samaritan window - but it is none the less effective for that and its effect, in re-engaging the viewer, is the same.

The second opening where intrusions into the margin of the Lewis Psalter are very noticeable comes seven pages later, between folios 12v and 13r (Fig. 6.11 lower). The mob coming to arrest Christ in panel A of f.12v crowd on from the right, their  array of halberds, spears and [158] axes poking out through the top of the frame and just reaching into the blank margin above (see detail, Fig. 6.16A). Meanwhile, across the page, in panel A of f.13r, one of Christ’s torturers in the Flagellation scene has lifted his flail out of the top right of the roundel (much like his counterparts in the Bourges window) to get a better swing. Thus the weapons which come to threaten Christ, breaking out of the frame at the top right of f.12v, find their formal counterpart at the top right of f.13r in the weapon used to scourge him. This formal echo in the upper roundels of this opening is matched by a theological echo in the lower ones - a rare but particularly powerful pairing of scenes.  The rather morbid images of Judas’s suicide which proliferated from the thirteenth century onwards were meant as a reminder that his real sin was not betrayal but despair. Here in the lower roundels of folios 12v and 13r, Judas is contrasted with Peter - one who also betrayed his Lord but who never lost faith in his salvation. The final frame-violating element in this opening emerges from the upper left of panel B on f.12v (see detail, Fig. 6.16B). Its blue feathers camouflaged against the blue diaper-pattern ground, the cockerel who marked Peter’s third denial of Christ lifts its head to crow into the decorative margin beyond the image. The violence inflicted on the {interpretive} frame of the mise-en-page in this opening perfectly matches the violence of its contents - after this things calm down again. Although on subsequent pages a few elements overspill their frames (the Cross on f.14v, the Arma Christi and an angels wings on f.22v, for example), the disruption of the layout is never as noticeable as it is in the opening between folios 12v and 13r.

 

6.c.2) The Křivoklàt Psalter

If the frame disruptions in the Lewis Psalter are mainly subtle, the metalepsis in my next example is anything but.  The Křivoklàt Psalter  (Křivoklàt  Castle Library, b.23, also known as the Fürstenburg Psalter) was made in England around 1280.16 Of its prefatory cycle, fifteen full-page miniatures survive (see Figs. 6.17-24). All but one page has the standard layout mentioned earlier, mostly with narrative scenes in the polylobed medallions (A and B), four small quadrants in the corners (e-h) containing vegetal ornament painted on alternating red and blue grounds and two larger lateral semicircles (C and D) containing hypotactic figures who witness the events in one or other narrative scene.  The exceptions to this default schema are noted below. The distribution of narrative scenes is as follows:

[159]

 

Folio

A

B

C

D

 

6r

St Anne with her husbands

Anne’s daughters and grandchildren

Prophet witnessing A

Prophet (with sore foot?) witnessing B

Fig. 6.17

7r

Annunciation

Visitation

Prophet (looking up)

Prophet (looking down)

Fig. 6.18

7v

Nativity

Annunciation to the shepherds

Prophet (looking up)

Prophet (looking up)

Fig. 6.19

8r

Journey of the Magi

The Magi before Herod

Prophet (looking up)

Prophet (looking down)

8v

Adoration of the Magi

Presentation in the temple

Prophet (?) (looking up)

Prophet (?)

Fig. 6.20

9r

Massacre of the innocents

Flight into Egypt

Prophet (looking up)

Prophet (looking down)

9v

Entry into Jerusalem

Last Supper (plus the Magdalen)17

Prophet (looking up)

St Peter (from washing of feet)

Fig. 6.21

10r

Christ before Pilate (washing hands)

Flagellation

Male figure (gesturing towards A)

Male figure (holding up a cup ??)

10v

Carrying of the Cross

Nailing to the Cross

Virgin (watching B)

St John the Evangelist (watching B)

Fig. 6.22

11r

Single image filling frame; Crucifixion with Virgin & St John

11v

Descent from the Cross

Entombment

Angel (censing B)

Angel (censing B)

Fig. 6.23

12r

Descent into Hell

Christ stepping from tomb

Prophet [??] witnessing A

Prophet  [??] witnessing B

12v

Three Maries at the tomb

Noli me tangere

Prophet (?)

Nimbed male figure

Fig. 6.24

13r

Burial of Virgin

Assumption of Virgin

Angel censing B

Angel censing B

13v

Coronation of the Virgin

Angelic musicians

Angel censing A

Tonsured (wingless) man censing A

Fig. 6.25

14r

Beatus Vir... initial (with Tree of Jesse culminating in Virgin and Child) and start of Psalms

Table 7 - Summary of episodes in the Křivoklàt Psalter prefatory cycle

The opening page, f.6r (Fig. 6.17), is something of an oddity, not least because at some point it has been cut out of the manuscript, trimmed - and then subsequently pasted back in as a guarded singleton. Its subject matter is equally odd. Panes A and B are filled with an extra-narrative (overt taxonomic) image showing the so-called Holy Kinship (Anna trinuba et tripara). This unusual iconography, based on the ninth century writings of Bishop Haimo of Halberstadt, features St Anne with her three husbands - Joachim, by whom she conceived the Virgin Mary, his brother Cleophas, whom Anne married after Joachim’s death and finally their younger brother Salomas, whom she married after the death of Cleophas (it being the custom of the [160] times that a young bride should marry the next available brother in line if her husband died). According to the same legend, Mary Cleophas and Mary Salome (the daughters resulting from Anne’s second and third marriages) between them then gave birth to five of the Apostles.18  The visualisation of this family tree on f.6r is a particularly fine example of the ‘overt taxonomy’ type of classificatory images discussed in chapter 2.f. Unlike some other depictions of the Holy Kinship, such as the one that appears in the lower half of the John the Evangelist window at Bourges (see Fig. 2.03D), the artist here has made the various parts of the lineage clear by drawing white bands curving out from Anne through the relevant husbands and down to the three Maries shown with their infant sons in the panel below.

Following the Holy Kinship image, at least one leaf is missing (probably featuring a tree of Jesse and/or early scenes from the life of the Virgin) before the narrative proper gets underway on f.7r with the Annunciation and Visitation (Fig. 6.18).  As with the other ‘royal Psalters’, the consistent mise-en-page of the Křivoklàt Psalter, opening after opening, functions as an {interpretive} frame.  It becomes an ontological map in which different image areas consistently and predictably represent distinct modes of being; first narrative episode (panel A), second narrative episode (panel B), hypotactic witnesses (panels C and D) and the surrounding decorative space, representing a non-diegetic limbo. The boundaries between these different worlds are subtly transgressed, both by the occasional elements overlapping the edge of the frame (e.g. on f.9v, where the hind leg and tail of a donkey dangle in the face of the prophet in panel C, or on f.8v, where the lower quarter of the figure of the high priest Simeon is outside the frame) and also in the connections between the lateral semi-circles and the main medallions - conceptually, in a gaze or gesture, or physically, by the chains of angels’ censers.  Such transgressions remain unobtrusive however (and therefore entirely acceptable within the ontological system established by successive pages, as well as by the general traditions of manuscript illumination, where, as discussed earlier, overextended weapons, toes or finger-tips routinely spill a little way out of their frames). But there is one place in the Křivoklàt Psalter where the transgression of the image-field boundary is both deliberate and obtrusive. This exception is the scene showing the nailing to the cross on f.10v, panel B  (see Fig 6.22 and the detail on Fig. 6.26). Here, one of the executioners has stepped right out of the frame and across the decorative border, from where he leans back into the blank right margin, his foot braced against part of the image frame, the better to strain on the rope stretching Christ’s legs along the cross. Whereas all the other figures in the manuscript who leak into the borders remain firmly anchored within their medallions, this figure has been painted almost entirely outside it. Even in isolation the detail is unsettling but when viewed as part of a sequence of pages, whose uniform layout establishes the viewer’s expectations as to what should appear where, the deliberate [161] violation of the syntagma acts like a magnet, demanding the viewer’s attention and drawing the gaze inexorably to the events of which this is a part. Furthermore, the arrangement of the pages means that this unsettling detail leads the eye from the left of the opening across to the full page Crucifixion facing it on f11 recto.

Following this unsettling opening, the schema resumes as before, with its neatly contained images, before ending, as it began, with an extra-narrative image which emphasises the central role of the Virgin in this prefatory cycle; the Coronation of the Virgin on f.13v (as mentioned in chapter 2.g, this is more properly thought of as an achronic ‘conceptual’ image, rather than as a normal narrative scene). Finally, the initial ‘B’ of the Beatus Vir that faces this image on f.14r continues this theme with another overt taxonomic image, the Tree of Jesse, with King David in the centre and a very prominent crowned Virgin and Child at the top, echoing the pose of the Virgin on the opposite page (Fig. 6.25). Although the connection is lost if pages are viewed in isolation, when taken as a whole, this unusual combination of taxonomic and narrative images does an excellent job of linking the story of Christ’s incarnation and Passion, through his maternal lineage and thence back to the author of the Psalms that fill the rest of the book.

 

6.2.3) The Oscott Psalter

The Oscott Psalter (London, British Library, MS Additional 50000) has the most complex of all the prefatory cycles here, which includes ten pages using the multi-frame schema shown in Fig. 6.08A. In all but one of these, panels A and B contain sequential narrative scenes from the Incarnation and Passion of Christ, panels C and D contain sequential narrative scenes from the Book of Genesis, while the corner quadrants  (e-f) mostly contain busts of figures who are not part of the narrative but who are witnessing, or commenting on it, as if providing us with models of active viewing. In between all these elements is the usual diaper-decorated, non-diegetic limbo which separates the other panels. The one exception to this schema is f.12v, which I will discuss shortly. Interspersed amongst these ten narrative pages are twelve full-page illuminations of standing figures, mostly Apostles shown in a rather hieratic/iconic style (few have any attribute or other means of identification).

Unfortunately, as will be clear from the summary of images given in Table 8 below, the sequence of pages has been disrupted at some point. Whether one follows the normal narrative sequence of the Old or New Testament narratives, it appears that the present folios 10 and 11 belong between folios 16 and 17, while folio 12 (Last Judgement) should presumably come at the end of the cycle (I have not been able to gain access to the manuscript in order to examine the binding).

[162]

The contents of the narrative pages are as follows:

Folio

A

B

C

D

Plate

7r

Annunciation

Visitation

Separation of the firmament

Creation of the waters

Fig. 6.27

8r

Journey of the Magi

Magi before Herod

Creation of the birds and beasts

Creation of Adam

9r

Adoration of the Magi

Dream of the Magi

Adam’s sleep

Creation of Eve

Fig. 6.28

10r

Mocking of Christ

Flagellation

Noah building the Ark

The dove returning to the Ark

11v

Road to Calvary

Crucifixion

Destruction of Sodom

Lot escaping with his daughters

Fig. 6.29

12v

Christ showing his wounds

The weighing of souls

(Trumpeting angels and the awakening of the dead - not in frames)

13r

Massacre of the Innocents

Flight into Egypt

Warning about the tree of knowledge

Tasting the forbidden fruit

Fig. 6.30

14v

Presentation

Baptism of Christ

God admonishing Adam and Eve

Expulsion from Paradise

16v

The betrayal and arrest of Christ

Christ examined before Caiphas

Offerings of Cain and Abel

The murder of Abel

Fig. 6.31

17r

Descent into Limbo

Resurrection

Abraham and Isaac climbing the hill

Sacrifice of Isaac

Table 8 - Summary of narrative episodes in the Oscott Psalter prefatory cycle

Perhaps surprisingly, there are few correlations between the New and Old Testament scenes chosen for each page. One could perhaps argue for a connection between Adam’s sleep and the Dream of the Magi  (panels B and C on f.9r), or between the Massacre of the Innocents and the Fall (panels A and D on f.13r) for example - but these are not regular typological pairings.  Instead the two narratives seem to run in parallel but independently of each other.

Rather more interesting than these Old and New Testament pairings, in terms of the interactions between panels, are the corner quadrants (panels e-h), where a series of busts and other elements maintain a sometimes playful and sometimes sinister interaction with each other and with the stories in the main panels. A summary of these corner-dwellers, and what they appear to be looking at, is given below in Table 9.

[163]

 

Folio

e

f

g

h

Plate

7r

Young male, looking across to f

Young male, looking across to e

Bearded man looking at B (Visitation)

Young man looking at B

Fig. 6.27

8r

Bearded man in academic bonnet watching A (journey of Magi)

Crowned bearded man pointing up with finger echoing gesture of Magus

Bearded man in bonnet looking towards h

Bearded man in pointed bonnet looking towards g

9r

Angels swinging censers towards the Adoration scene in A

The heads of three horses (presumably awaiting the sleeping Magi in B)

Fig. 6.28

10r

Man in bonnet

King with sword gesturing towards Mocking of Christ in A (Pilate?)

Bearded man in pointed bonnet

Bearded man in pointed bonnet

11v

Man making rude gesture towards Carrying of the Cross in A

Bearded man observing A

Female monastic praying towards Crucifixion in B

Male monastic praying towards Crucifixion in B

Fig. 6.29

12v

Schema disrupted (see below) - Adoring angels and dead emerging from tombs

13r

Figure in closed helmet observing Massacre of the Innocents in A

Figure in chainmail coif observing Massacre and raising finger (in admonishment?)

Youthful figure in crown, praying towards Escape into Egypt in B

Bearded man in academic bonnet, praying towards B

Fig. 6.30

14v

Youthful figures, each holding out two candles as attendants at the Presentation scene in A

King Saul (with sword) observing Baptism in B

King David (with harp) observing B

16v

Angels with hands raised in prayer facing towards Arrest of Christ in A

Caricature male Jew gazing out towards viewer

Caricature male Jew looking across towards g

Fig. 6.31

17r

Young male heads looking towards Harrowing of Hell in A

Chainmailed soldiers looking up at Christ’s resurrection

Table 9 - Summary of the corner quadrants (panels e-h) in the Oscott Psalter prefatory cycle

The simplest explanation of these heads might be that they are eye-witnesses within the image - that they serve as a model of ‘active viewing’, such as seems to be the case with the heads on the first page of the cycle, f.7r. Others however are more directly linked to the stories. At the bottom of f.14v (Fig. 6.30) in panels g and h, King Saul and King David, both of whom were anointed by Samuel, are clearly Old Testament types for the anointing of the new King of the Jews by John the Baptist in panel B. The switch to horses heads in panels g and h on f.9r (Fig. 6.28) adds a humorous note to the scheme, as well as tying in with the scene of their masters above, just as the figure of Pilate, apparently overseeing the Mocking of Christ on f.10r (Fig. 6.29) adds a note of menace. Humour and menace are combined on f.13r, where the knight’s [164] closed helmet in panel e has narrowly avoided being skewered by Herod’s sword, emerging unusually from behind the {picture} frame of panel A.  On f.11v (Fig. 6. 29), the cruelty of the figures jeering at Christ on the way to Calvary in panels e and f is contrasted with the pious devotion of the two monastics below the crucifixion in panels g and h. The most unsettling of all these corner details however is the bearded figure in a pointed Jew’s hat, who returns the viewer’s gaze from the bottom left of  f.16v - the only figure in the series to do so (see Fig 6.31 and the magnified view in Fig. 6.32). His expression is perhaps accusatory, perhaps conspiratorial - and is compounded by the sneer of his companion in panel h.  A page dedicated to treachery and betrayal (the kiss of Judas, Cain murdering his brother) is an uncomfortable point in the story for the observer thus to become the observed.

Apart from these absorbing details in the margins, the main image designed to re-engage the viewer of the Oscott Psalter is the page which now sits in the middle of the cycle (f.12v) but which was originally probably meant to come at the end - the Last Judgement (Fig. 6.29). The end of narrative time is also marked by the end of the narrative schema. The main roundels are still there - Panel A with Christ showing His wounds, accompanied by angels bearing the Arma Christi and representatives of the Church Triumphant, and panel B with St Michael and a now-defaced devil at the weighing of souls - but the rest of the panels are gone. Instead the space is filled with angels adoring their God and blowing trumpets to summon the dead from their tombs, which fill the lower part of the page.

6.2.4) Paris Arsenal 1186 and BNF 1392

Tempted as I am to continue working through these manuscripts in detail (and as a group they certainly merit closer attention), to do so would add little to my discussion of metalepsis and would moreover be hampered by the lack of readily available photographs. Instead I will simply point out the main metaleptic images in each before moving on to other material.

Paris, Bibl. Arsenal, ms. 1186 (also known as the Psalter of Blanche of Castile and St Louis) is one of the earliest of all the ‘royal Psalters’, dating to the 1220’s.  Paris Bibl. nat., ms. lat. nouv. acq. 1392, is also from this period or possibly slightly later. Both manuscripts are described, with a few plates, in Leroquais’ survey of Psalters in French libraries. 19

The Psalter of Blanche of Castile has one of the simplest page designs of any in this group, with just the  two large roundels (the frames of which are interlocked) and none of the marginal panels. The prefatory cycle starts with two full page images - the Fall of the Rebel Angels on f.9r and the Creation of Eve on f.10r - before settling down to the two-roundel pattern with the Expulsion from Paradise and the labours of Adam and Eve on f.12r (Fig. 6.33 lower). This [165] standard mise-en-page is then maintained throughout most of the rest of the sequence. The first metaleptic element appears on f.13v (Fig. 6.33 upper). Panel A shows Noah and his family squeezed into a rather overcrowded-looking Ark, with three drowned corpses and couple of fish in the water below. On the prow of the Ark perches the dove, returned with an olive branch in its beak. By the thirteenth century it had become normal to show the raven which Noah sent out first feeding on carrion left behind by the receding flood waters - the artist here has included this detail on the top-right of the page, where the raven is using the outermost {picture} frame as a perch on which to feed. 20 As well as being a device that disrupts the viewer’s expectations about the page layout (thereby drawing attention to itself), this also plays on the idea discussed in chapter 3, of the ‘outside the frame’ as a kind of spatial otherness - emphasising that the raven ‘went forth and did not return’. The next disruption of the mise-en-page of Arsenal 1186 comes several pages later, on f.24r. Here, for the all important details of the Crucifixion and Descent from the Cross, the artist has retained the two interlocking roundels but has also added half circles either side of the centre, housing personifications of Ecclesia and Synagoga (iconic signs functioning as conventional signs which are also symbols of the triumph of Christianity). As with the Křivoklàt  example discussed earlier, this changing of the design for the central scene of Christ’s Passion is entirely  understandable, marking the episode as somehow different from the rest of the narrative. The elaboration of the layout here also allows the inclusion of symbolic elements in what otherwise remains a narrative image. The final, and most striking, disruption to the mise-en-page comes much later in the book, on f.170, in the midst of a group of four pages of Eschatological imagery (Fig. 6.34). As with f.12v of the Oscott Psalter, the upper roundel shows Christ displaying His wounds, while here the lower roundel shows the separation of the elect and the damned. While the elect prepare to follow the angel who politely gestures towards the left of the page, the damned are already chained together and being dragged off by an enthusiastic little devil who has marched right out of the roundel and surrounding border, and is merrily heading off into the blank parchment to the right.

Although several of these examples might suggest that these ‘marginal’ metalepses are generally associated with negative elements in the narrative (Christ’s torturers, Noah’s raven, the devil collecting the damned), my final example from the ‘royal Psalters’ is quite the opposite. The ‘disappearing Christ’ motif, in which Christ is only shown from the waist downwards while the rest of him disappears behind a cloud-frill, emerged at the end of the first millennium as the standard model of Ascension imagery and remained popular throughout most of the middle ages (see for example f.20v of the Lewis Psalter in Fig. 6.13).Such images were a way of marking Christ’s transition from the earthly realm (visible) to the transcendent (not-visible). [166] The artist of BNF 1392 took full advantage of the theology underlying the iconography to make his own Ascension image on f.13r really stand out (see Fig. 6.35). Here Christ is shown in full, but he and his cloud-frill mandorla span the upper border. The upper half of his body is in the margin beyond the frame, while his lower half remains within it. Perhaps more than any other example, this artist has shown categorically that the elements outside the frame are ontologically distinct from those within it. Here the inside of the frame is the earthly realm - still visible to the disciples, while the area outside the frame has come to represent the transcendent, visible only to the extradiegetic naratee (the external viewer). Hence for the viewers within the image, the disappearing Christ motif remains the same as ever.

6.d) case study 3 - the Bibles moralisées

Another interesting variation on metalepsis can be found in the Bibles moralisées. Given the unparalleled combination of scale and repetitiveness that characterises these books (in some cases over six hundred pages, each with the same distinctive layout), it is hardly surprising that the artists tried to find strategies to keep the viewer engaged.  A full exploration of the narrative devices used in these extraordinary books would be a massive undertaking  so for this case study I shall restrict myself (mostly) to a single metaleptic motif  - horses or oxen wandering out of the image frame -  and its appearance in just two of the manuscripts; the Vienna 2554 and Toledo Bibles moralisées.

The earliest of the Bibles moralisées, Vienna 2554, has a complex but well-behaved mise-en-page with relatively impermeable image boundaries. The interstices between the roundels and their text blocks are filled with foiled squares containing figures, mostly angelic, some of whom gaze out in a hieratic manner and some of whom observe or comment on the actions  in the roundels around them. As well as acting as the observers within the image (similar to the corner medallions in the Oscott Psalter), these figures satisfy the Gothic horror vacui, leaving very little free space into which narrative elements from the roundels could spill. In spite of this, there are several places in the manuscript where characters do manage to escape their narrative frames, either into this decorative limbo between the roundels or, more noticeably, into the lateral text blocks. The first of these incursions into the margins occurs on f.13r. Roundel B3 illustrates Genesis 45:17ff, where Joseph’s kin relocate to Egypt with all their belongings. In spectacular fashion, the pair of oxen pulling the four-wheeled cart march out of their narrative roundel and across the adjoining text panel towards the edge of the page - leaving the scribe to squeeze in his text around them (Fig. 6.36). These wandering draught animals become something of a leitmotiv throughout the Bibles moralisées. In Vienna 2554 they re-appear twice on f.54v (Fig. 6.37) - first pulling Elisha and his plough out of roundel B1 and across the adjacent text panel, then again in the subsequent episode, where Elijah gives Elisha his cloak. [167] Prophets and plough are left behind in roundel A3 while the oxen tramp across the decorative ground and into roundel B3 where, in an additional comic touch, they roll their eyes upwards to watch the two prophets dining together (see detail, Fig. 6.37C). The final twist on this motif comes with the illustration of IV Kings 2:11-13 on f.56v (Fig. 6.38),  where Elijah’s celestial chariot flies off dramatically out of the top left of roundel B3 and into the decorative border. Note that in the moralisation image corresponding to Isiah’s heavenly exit (roundel B4), Christ’s ascension echoes the frame violation in the narrative scene above - a formal mirroring of narrative and moralising images which recurs frequently in these manuscripts.  It is worth mentioning that the artists of Vienna 2554 were perfectly capable of fitting a cart and horses/oxen into the frame when they wanted to (see Fig 6.39A for example). That they chose not to is indicative of a conscious artistic decision - as with my first example of the Good Samaritan window, these frame violations are rarely, if ever, the result of accidents or clumsiness. If nothing else, the resulting visual disruption is something of a relief from the otherwise monotonous page design.

Naturally, animals are not the only metaleptic elements in Vienna 2554. One of the most striking examples is the death of Absalom on f.47v (see Fig. 6.39 C). The tree in which his hair tangles grows vigorously out of the top of the page but the three spears Joab thrusts through Absalom’s heart all stop abruptly at the edge of the text-block - a twist which simply heightens the paradoxical nature of the transgression between the three different ontological frames (i.e. between the narrative image, textual commentary and non-diegetic borders). One final (and far less obvious) example from Vienna 2554 appears at the top right of f.26r (see Fig. 6.39B). After smashing the gilded calf, Moses burns the pieces, mixes the ashes with water and makes the Israelites drink it (Exodus 32:20). In a  scatological detail that relates more to the moralisation and perhaps to the medieval topos of expelling demons with a fart, the figure on the right is shown with a blast of golden lines radiating from his backside and out into the text alongside.21

In spite of the other examples, it is the oxen wandering off into the margins that are the most distinctive metalepses in Vienna 2554. Clearly there was something about these merry animals that appealed to the designers of the later Bibles moralisées. The artists of the Toledo / OPL bibles incorporated ox-carts into the story even when they did not feature in either the biblical text or the illustrations of the earlier manuscript. For example, Genesis 50 makes no specific mention of how Jacob’s funeral bier was transported and in Vienna 2554 it is shown being carried on men’s shoulders - yet in the Toledo / OPL Bibles the coffin is transported on another of these ox-carts wandering off into the margin (Toledo p.29, A1 - see Fig. 6.40A). Nor does it [168] stop there. Compared with just four examples of draught animals breaking out of their frames in Vienna 2554, in the first volume of Toledo / OPL  we find no less than eleven - these are detailed in Table 10 and illustrated in full in Fig. 6.40A-H and Fig. 6.41A-C. As before, the artists were quite capable of keeping such details within the frame boundaries when they chose, as can be seen from the scene of Elisha and Elijah on p.138 (Fig. 6.41D).

Toledo

OPL

Roundel

Narrative context

p.22

f.28r

A1

Joseph’s triumphal ox-cart

p.26

f.32r

A1

Joseph’s brethren’s ox-cart

p.29

f.35v

A1

Jacob’s funereal ox-cart

p.41

f.47v

B1

Pharaoh’s troops pursuing Moses in an ox-cart

p.42

f.48r

B1

Pharaoh’s troops in the Red Sea (now drawn by horses!)

p.102

f.132r

A1

Ark of the Covenant carried in an ox-cart (theft of the Ark)

p.102

f.132r

A3

Ark of the Covenant carried in an ox-cart (destruction of the Philistines)

p.118

f.150r

A1

Ark of the Covenant carried in an ox-cart (recovery of the Ark)

p.118

f.150r

A3

David dancing in front of the Ark as it is brought home

p.141

f.173v

A3

King Achab is shot whilst fleeing in an ox-cart

p.142

f.174r

B3

Elijah carried up in a celestial chariot

Table 10 - Metaleptic Ox/horse carts in the Toledo Bible moralisée

Indeed, as one pages through the manuscript, these metaleptic draught animals and their minor variations such as Absalom’s mule (which has taken over from the tree as the metaleptic element in this scene - see Fig. 6.41E and compare with Fig. 6.39C), almost take on the character of a ‘running gag’. Once one has noticed it, it is hard not to be led through the pages in search of more examples, which is quite an achievement given the almost hypnotic regularity of the mise-en-page. However, even a paradox becomes a convention when repeated often enough - and as a convention is then capable of being paradoxically violated. Arguably this is precisely what happens with Isaiah’s chariot (p.142, B3 - see Fig 6.41C) which, unlike the ten metaleptic carts that calmly wandered into the margins before it, flies off out of its frame at an alarming seventy degrees to the horizontal. Although this is also a motif copied from Vienna 2554, the Toledo/OPL artists have flipped the scene horizontally, sending Isaiah off into the vacant right-hand margin, where the effect is far more noticeable than in the prototype. Of all the metalepses in this manuscript however, none is quite as dramatic as the scene of Aaron and Hur helping Moses keep his arms up during the battle with the Amelekites (Exodus 17:12), where the group of figures invade the upper margin (see Fig. 6.41F). As with many other examples, this is a scene which was fully contained within the frame in Vienna 2554 (f.23r, B1), suggesting the [169] designers of the later Bibles moralisées were well aware of the utility of this meta-communicative device and were consciously looking for opportunities to deploy it.

6.e) case study 4 - the dado sculpture on Auxerre Cathedral’s west façade

A particularly imaginative set of polyscenic narratives can be found stretching across the dado level on the west façade of Auxerre Cathedral, including the stories of Joseph, the Prodigal Son, Genesis, David and Goliath and the meeting of David and Bathsheba. While some of the reliefs are almost completely lost due to weathering much remains, and the cleaning of the west façade between 2005 and 2009 has revealed details that were previously hidden under centuries of grime. These carvings, dating from between 1250 and 1280, have attracted scholarly attention in the past primarily because of their classicising style and sheer exuberance, yet they are also strikingly original in some of their story-telling techniques. 22 The artists responsible for these carvings showed a keen awareness of the flexibility of framing devices, often playing with notions of solidity and transparency as well as issues of relative depth.

The south portal of the west façade is flanked by five episodes from the story of King David, divided between six niches (See Fig. 6.42); David spying on Bathsheba, Uriah riding off to war, his subsequent death in the front line, the marriage of David and Bathsheba and the royal couple seated in state. All of these scenes are contained within elaborate rayonnant microarchitectural niches separated by pilasters, some of which have broken or eroded away in places but which once formed a sold barrier between each niche. The convention that such elaborate sculptural niches house either iconic figures or else self-contained narrative episodes is subverted by the opening scene. David, housed within an additional microarchitectural framework denoting his Palace, gazes out of a window, through the once solid pilaster, and into the adjoining niche, where Bathsheba is bathing with the aid of her maid. The artist has given us a cut-away window frame, on which the overexcited king steadies himself and through which he directs his scopophilic gaze (see Fig. 6.43B and Fig. 6.44).  The King’s voyeuristic act perhaps excuses the real viewer’s interest in what is happening in the adjoining frame - unquestionably one of the most sensual bathing scenes to be found anywhere in Gothic art. A final play on the porosity of these frames comes in the spaces between the gables where two of the group of female [170] personifications stretch out their cloaks, as if to shield our own gazes as well as theirs from the scenes below (Fig. 6.43A).

Flanking the north portal at dado level are a series of twelve cusped quatrefoils arranged over two registers, telling the story of Genesis from the creation of Adam until the death of Cain in ten panels, followed by a single image of Noah’s Ark, split between two panels (see Fig. 6.45 for details of the individual scenes). Most of the quatrefoils are sparsely populated, with two or three figures on a plain background, neatly contained within their frames. This all changes for the last two panels, which are combined into a single ‘explicit continuous’ scene (see chapter 3.e) of Noah’s ark, shown floating on the waves. This image is visually striking, partly because it breaks so decisively with the one-panel-per-scene system used for the rest of the portal but also because of the uncompromising way the mullion and cusping of the {picture} frame slices through the middle of Noah’s floating menagerie. Closer inspection (see Fig. 6.46) reveals that the interaction between frame and contents is far from straightforward. Particularly visible at the boat’s prow and stern is the way that the artist has positioned the boat and the waves in front of the innermost cusped frame, but behindthe outermost cusping. We have seen many examples where the overlapping of frame elements was used to indicate relative planes of depth in a scene (according to whether elements past in front of or were occluded by the frame), but here the artist has self-consciously reversed that convention to create a paradox. It is as if the narrative world that is here depicted in shallow relief is representing a ‘real world’ no deeper than the space between the inner and outer mouldings of the frame.

The last portal, in the centre of the façade, also has the most detailed relief carving. To the right of the north portal is a once very rich telling of the parable of the Prodigal Son, alas now too eroded to study in detail. To the left of the door however is a much better-preserved frieze, presenting what is one of the lengthiest and most detailed depictions of the life of Joseph ever to appear in portal sculpture (second only to Rouen - see chapter 8.b.9).  Joseph’s story, from his first dreams until his appointment as Pharaoh’s chief minister (Gen 37-41), is told in two registers which start by the door and read from right to left along the top, before returning to the doorway and reading right to left again along the bottom (see Fig 6.47). Positioned around eye level, these scenes are full of detail and highly legible, encouraging close inspection. Because of their scale and the way the panels wrap around the angles of the embrasure and buttress, the viewer has to physically move along the frieze to follow the story. The {picture} frames are a mixture of cusped quatrefoils and trefoil lancets, containing one or more scenes each (the diagram on Fig. 6.47 shows the distribution of scenes between the  numbered panels).

In just two places in the Joseph cycle, at the beginning and end of the upper row, we find what appear to be ‘implicit continuous’ scenes (see chapter 3.b.4). The first of these is split between panels 1 and 2 (see Fig. 6.48).  Panel 1 is an initially confusing composition which actually [170] contains three distinct {chronotopic} frames. On the right Joseph is shown asleep in his bed, beneath some clouds in which several stars are visible. To the left of this, he is shown sleeping again, beneath several sheaves of corn. These two scenes clearly relate to his two dreams, reported in Genesis 37:9 and 37:7 respectively (both these dreams are actually described analeptically in the Genesis text, when Joseph tells his brothers and father about them). As with most of the visualisations of the Genesis 40 dreams discussed in chapter 8.b, the intradiegetic and extradiegetic components are not clearly signalled, except by the cloud-frill surrounding the stars. Sixten Ringbom is one of the few commentators to have discussed the difficulties in visualising this scene:

Joseph tells his family that he had dreamt that the sheaves and stars had made obeisance to him. Ever since the Vienna Genesis these subordinate that-clauses were translated into visual terms by a combination of contiguity and juxtaposition. The sleeping figure of Joseph is juxtaposed, first with the sheaves and, second, with the sun and the moon and the eleven stars. The dream representations then form parts of a cycle where they are followed by scenes showing Joseph expounding his  dreams to his brothers and parents.23

Joseph’s extradiegetic telling of the dreams is what occupies the left hand side of panel 1 and all of panel 2. In the narrow lancet of panel 2, Jacob is seated, facing back into panel 1, with his hand raised as he admonishes his son, as described in Genesis 37:10:

...his father rebuked him, and said: “What meaneth this dream that thou hast dreamed? shall I and thy mother, and thy brethren worship thee upon the earth?”

Jacob sits in panel 2 as if it were a niche, his left knee gently overlaying the frame - the same frame which Joseph seems to retreat behind, his hand resting on the intervening cusping at the edge of panel 1 (see Fig. 6.48A).

At the far left of the upper row are a slightly different cusped quatrefoil and another trefoil lancet between which, again, two episodes are split (Fig. 6.48B). On the right, beneath an elaborate canopy of rayonnant microarchitecture denoting an interior scene, Potiphar’s wife tries unsuccessfully to seduce Joseph. Immediately to the left, she is repeated within the same frame, facing left towards the adjoining lancet, into which Joseph has already made his escape. Connecting the two adjoining {picture} frames is Joseph’s cloak - one end is grasped by Potiphar’s wife, the other end slips from Joseph’s shoulders as he escapes - but the cloak itself seems to continue behind the intervening cusping (see detailed view in Fig. 6.49). This continuity is hard to see in photographs but much clearer in-situ, particularly after the recent cleaning - and it would presumably have been very obvious indeed with all its original polychromy intact.

[172] The moment depicted in panel 12 marks a peripeteia or dramatic turning point in the story - the start of Joseph’s second misfortune. Yet here it also marks a literal turning point in the act of reading the story, since this is the point where the viewer needs to break off, walk back to the door and continue from the far right of the second row.  Perhaps this witty detail of a cloak leaking between the two frames was the artist’s way of keeping the viewer interested and encouraging them to read on.

6.f) conclusions

Nowadays we are accustomed to marketing agencies inventing ever more desperate and imaginative strategies to ensnare the jaded viewer and to help their clients’ messages stand out from the visual noise that surrounds us. Advertising posters incorporating video screens or loudspeakers, billboards with elements of the image extending beyond the outer frame and shop window displays featuring living models are just a few recent marketing gimmicks whose success is based on cognitive dissonance. The gap between our immediate perception and our default expectations about the world is sufficiently jarring as to demand closer attention as we seek to resolve or eliminate the paradox. Because thirteenth century Europe was not a world of billboards, newspapers and omnipresent advertising images, it is often assumed to have been a less ‘image-oriented’ culture than our own - and therefore perhaps one in which ‘visual overload’ was not a problem. Nevertheless there were certain settings – in or around the great churches or within the prefatory cycle of a richly illuminated Psalter for example – where the narrative images were rich and profuse enough to risk swamping the viewer’s cognitive faculties, dissolving meticulously devised narrative programmes into a kaleidoscope of shapes and colours. It was in precisely this context that medieval artists devised meta-communicative strategies involving metalepsis or other forms of visual paradox to re-engage the viewer and focus his or her attention onto some key scene or other. This chapter has focussed on a particular form of metalepsis involving frame violations but there are potentially several other meta-communicative devices to be explored whose ultimate function was similar. These phenomena are worth considering in their own right, as fascinating insights into the communicative effect of narrative art, however they are also worth studying for what they might reveal about the transmission of ideas beyond the simple visual motif  (for instance, in my examples taken from the ‘royal Psalters’, it is the principle of metalepsis that is being copied between works, not specific metaleptic motifs). Such phenomena have traditionally been ignored by art historians - and therefore they may provide a useful and hitherto untapped source of clues about artistic practice and the transmission of ideas.

 

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1 Victor Shklovsky, Art as Technique, first published (in Russian) 1917, reprinted in English in L. T. Lemon and M. J. Reis, Russian Formalist Criticism: Four essays, Nebraska 1965, p.13.

2 R. C. Holub, Reception Theory: A Critical Introduction, London 1984, p.17.

3 M.-L. Ryan, Possible worlds, artificial intelligence, and narrative theory, Bloomington 1991, p.175

4 A. Schütz, Alfred Schütz on phenomenology and social relations: selected writings, edited and with an introduction by Helmut R. Wagner, Chicago 1970, p.254.

5 W. Wolf, 'Metalepsis as a transgeneric and transmedial phenomenon' in Narratology beyond Literary Criticism: Mediality - Disciplinarity, ed. J. C. Meister, T. Kindt and W. Schernus, Hamburg 2005.

6 W. Kemp, The Narratives of Gothic Stained Glass, Cambridge 1997 [1987], chapter 5. For Kemp this window seems to have been something of a bête noire - as well as his criticism of the design of the lower section discussed below, he also described the window as an ‘...example of the clear failure to express a difficult statement’ (p.69) and a ‘solecism’ (p.72)

7 W. Wolf, 'Metalepsis as a transgeneric and transmedial phenomenon' in Narratology beyond Literary Criticism: Mediality - Disciplinarity, ed. J. C. Meister, T. Kindt and W. Schernus, Hamburg 2005, p.102

8 C. Cahier and A. M. Martin, Monographie de la Cathedrale de Bourges. Premiere Parties. Vitraux du XIIIe Siecle, Paris 1844, Vol II (unpaginated).

9 W. Kemp, The Narratives of Gothic Stained Glass, Cambridge 1997 [1987], p.70

10 R. Barthes, Camera Lucida [La Chambre Claire], London 1993 [1980], esp. p.25-28.

11 I will resist capitalising ‘royal Psalters’ to avoid possible confusion with any Psalters in the British Library’s ‘Royal’ pressmark.

12 For their relationship with the Bibles Moralisées, see J. Lowden, The making of the Bibles Moralisees, Pennsylvania 2000, Vol.I, p.51 and associated bibliography. For the individual manuscripts, see Nigel Morgan’s two definitive surveys; Early Gothic manuscripts 1, 1190-1250, London 1982, and Early Gothic Manuscripts II 1250-1285, London 1988.

13   E. Hudson, The Psalter of Blanch of Castile: Picturing Queenly power in thirteenth century France, Ann Arbor 2002, p.65.

14 The Křivoklát Psalter is the only one of these manuscripts to which I have been able to gain access in person. I am indebted to the Czech National Museum for allowing me to view and photograph the manuscript, to Mrs Vokounova of  Křivoklát Castle for being so generous with her time and also to Dr Zoe Opacic of Birkbeck College, London, and Dr Klara Benesovska of the National Academy of Sciences in Prague, both of whom were instrumental in arranging access. Of the other manuscripts, the images of the Lewis Psalter were all downloaded from the outstanding website of the Free Library of Philadelphia (http://libwww.freelibrary.org/medievalman/index.cfm - accessed 23/01/2010), the Oscott Psalter and Psalter of Blanche of Castille were scanned from assorted photographs in the Conway Library. The page from BNF1392 came from V. Leroquais, Les Psautiers Manuscrits Latins des Bibliotheques Publiques de France, Macon 1941, plate LXV.

15 The paint on the border immediately below this star appears rubbed and damaged, suggesting that the book’s owners have followed the example of the young Magus and pointed towards this star as well.

16 On the basis of the saints listed in its calendar pages, this Psalter has been linked to Worcester. The feast of St Thomas Becket has been scratched out, showing that it was still in England at the time of the Dissolution - how it subsequently found its way to Bohemia remains unknown. See J. Krása, 'The English Psalter in the Library of Křivoklát Castle', in Umění, XX, 1972, pp. 211-26.

17 In one of the many fascinating quirks of this manuscript, the artist has chosen to conflate the Last Supper with the meal at the house of Simon the Pharisee - showing the Magdalen drying Christ’s feet with her hair, even as He prepares to give the sop to Judas.

18 I am indebted to my colleague Dr. Mellie Naydenova-Slade for her patience in explaining the details of the Holy Kinship to me - a chore she had to endure several times before it finally sank in.

19 V. Leroquais, Les Psautiers Manuscrits Latins des Bibliotheques Publiques de France, Macon 1941.

20 Unfortunately, whoever photographed this page for the Conway Library clearly did not consider this detail important and cropped the image so as to almost exclude the raven. Annoying as this is, it is also indicative of the relative disinterest traditionally shown towards issues of framing.

The moralisation text for f.26r B2 reads ‘That they drank to their God and returned to among their foundations signifies the good Christians who drink the water of baptism and expel the devil through their bowels’. (transcription from G. B. Guest, Bible Moralisée: Codex Vindobonensis 2554, Vienna, Österreische Nationalbibliothek, London 1995, p.83). The best known ‘farting exorcism’ is found in Sulpicius’s life of St Martin, who drives out a demon in ‘a foul effulgence of wind’ - a scene quite charmingly depicted in that saint’s window at Bourges (bay 07, panel 11).

22 The traditional connoisseurial study is F. Nordström, The Auxerre Reliefs: A Harbinger of the Renaissance in France during the reign of Philip le Bel, Uppsala 1974. More iconographically-oriented studies are W. Craven, 'The Iconography of the David and Bathsheba Cycle at the Cathedral of Auxerre', in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 34(3), 1975, pp. 226-37, and D. Denny, 'Some Narrative Subjects in the Portal Sculpture of Auxerre Cathedral', in Speculum, 51(1), 1976, pp. 22-34. To date there have been no studies that treat the Auxerre portal sculptures as visual narratives in their own right, although they were discussed in the author’s MA thesis; S. Whatling, Narrativity in French Gothic Portal Sculpture (MA Thesis), University of London (Courtauld Institute of Art), 2005, pp.26-34.

23 S. Ringbom, 'Some pictorial conventions for the recounting of thoughts and experiences in late medieval art' in Medieval iconography and narrative: a symposium, ed. F. G. Andersen, Odense 1980, p.45. In the terminology I adopted in chapter 5, Rimgbom’s ‘that-clauses’ are of course the transitions between different levels of diegetic embedding.

 

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