The Clement Bible at the Medieval Courts of Naples and Avignon: A Story of Papal Power, Royal Prestige, and Patronage






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Publication: Church History
Author: Weakland, John E
Date published: March 1, 2012

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This meticulously researched volume by Cathleen A. Fleck, Assistant Professor of Art History at Saint Louis University, is based on documents and collections in some twenty-five libraries and institutions throughout Europe and the United States. In addition, the author has made use of the latest scholarship on the Avignon Papacy and Great Schism, the Angevin rulers, and, of course, pertinent sources dealing with the art and architecture of the period related Avignon and Naples especially. As she correctly points out, her book is "the first to discuss the Clement Bible within the ideological discussion of the Avignon papacy" (17). Apart from the extensive endnotes following each of the eight chapters, there is a lengthy and very useful bibliography of printed sources (305-34) followed by an index of primary materials found in archival documents and manuscripts (335-37). The epilogue traces the alterations to the Clement Bible by post-medieval owners. In addition, an appendix includes an invaluable descriptive list of illuminations in the Clement Bible.

The introduction contains a detailed discussion of the primary and secondary sources used in the book as well as her contributions to the subject. She points out that in the fourteenth century, the key cities of Naples and Avignon were linked, and the Clement Bible was at both the Angevin and Papal Courts. This book is a "biography" of that luxury Bible of Pope Clement VII (the opposition pope in Avignon from 1378-94). The author traces the Bible's production in Naples (c.1330) through its changing ownership and meaning in Avignon (c.1340-1405) to its presentation as a gift to King Alfonso of Aragon. The Bible then passed into private hands in France in the late fifteenth century. Finally it disappeared from circulation for about 350 years, and is now the prized possession of the British Library. In tracing the history of the Bible, Fleck looks at its physical location and privileged treatment and its value as an exchange commodity. Furthermore she argues that its iconography is a reflection of contemporary political and religious issues. The Bible also reflects the court cultures where it was located. In examining the art, the author provides new information concerning workshop practices and techniques, especially in the two court cities. Although Fleck's book is in part intended for art historians, the work will appeal to medieval and Renaissance historians, scholars in papal history, theologians, library and collection specialists as well as cultural anthropologists. In particular, she notes, "this study gives a better understanding the fourteenth-century courts of Angevin Naples and papal Avignon where the Clement Bible lived." In addition, "it allows scholars to see the manuscript as an artifact of political and theological propaganda, as a singularized commodity, as a masterpiece of painting, and above all, as an intriguing character" (3-4).

In the first chapter, the author looks at the Bible in relation six similar Bibles illustrated during the reign of King Robert and persuasively demonstrates that the Clement Bible's patron had ties to Naples. In chapter 2, Fleck connects the Bible, Naples and its first known owner, Raymond de Gramat, the bishop-abbot of Monte Cassino. The following chapter contains a discussion of the Clement Bible in relation to Neapolitan monumental art, for example, the wall frescoes in the church of Santa Maria Donna Regina; and chapter 4 analyzes the similarities between Neapolitan monumental iconography and the Clement Bible, with a focus on the Hierarchies of Angels. Chapter 5 looks at Benedict XII's acquisition of the Bible by right of spoil in 1341 and based on a papal inventory locates the Bible's place of honor in the palace chapel as a prized possession for private viewing. The following chapter examines the Clement Bible and art in Avignon from 1341 until the Great Schism. The papal palace and the art within it manifested the power and wealth of the pope. Apart from aesthetic reasons, the choice of Matteo Giovannetti as the palace painter also aligned the pope visually with the Italian peninsula and Rome. Chapters 7 and 8 continue the story from 1378 to the death of Clement VII in 1394 and beyond. His successor, Benedict XIII, took the Bible with him into exile on the Spanish peninsula in 1403. Clement VIII, the last opposition pope of the Avignon obedience, presented the Bible to King Alfonso of Aragon and Naples in 1424, perhaps in the hope of further assistance from the king. After Alfonso, the library of the Aragonese in Naples was dispersed. "The mid-fourteen hundreds mark the end of the medieval history of the Clement Bible" (270), but not the end of the story. Post-medieval owners continued to appreciate the beauty and worth of the Bible and changes made after 1500 only increased its value, until finally the British Library acquired it in 1952. Professor Fleck concludes this impressive work by expressing her thanks for the privilege of being "able to peruse such a precious object in close detail" and perhaps feeling the same way as the many medieval owners of the Clement Bible must have felt in having it in their possession.

Author affiliation:

Ball State University

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