by Jennifer P. Kingsley. Penn State University Press, January 2014. 248 p. ill. ISBN 9780271060798 (cl.), $79.95.
Reviewed September 2014
Kasia Leousis, Architecture and Art Librarian, Library of Architecture, Design, and Construction, Auburn University, firstname.lastname@example.org
In her work, The Bernward Gospels: Art, Memory, and the Episcopate in Medieval Germany, Jennifer Kingsley presents detailed evidence that Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim greatly influenced the iconography found in the manuscript's pictorial narrative to shape his legacy as a important representative of Ottonian eleventh-century episcopacy. Bishop Bernward commissioned the manuscript as a bequest for the monastery of Saint Michael's Abbey and scholars believe it was written by a single scribe between 990-1020. Kingsley provides a thoughtful critical assessment of the pictorial cycle and examines the bishop's motivation for self-presentation as both an individual and the bishopric through his selection of particular visual elements.
Through careful and detailed analysis of examples from the pictorial narrative, Kingsley clearly demonstrates that these visual texts had more complex, layered, and meaningful interpretations than previously imagined. Following the theme of memory, she brings the reader's attention to the dedication pages where Bernward is shown presenting the book as a founder's gift to the abbey as he stands in front of the altar bearing Hildesheim treasury objects used for the celebration of the Eucharist. Kingsley argues that this portrayal captures and records for present and future viewers a powerful memory of the bishop as founder of Saint Michael's Abbey and in effect translates the treasury list, itself an important record of Bernward's artistic patronage, from text to image. Spiritual transformation and salvation through service, sight, and touch are the focus of succeeding thematic chapters. Bishop Bernward, according to Kingsley, becomes a "model for how to see and grasp Christ" through his gift of the manuscript and act of founding Saint Michael's Abbey. In Kingsley's concluding analysis of the pictorial program, Bernward played an important role in the selection and design of this visual narrative not only to memorialize his artistic patronage but to secure his legacy as a servant to his diocese, recalling the hagiographic narrative of a bishop-saint.
One of the highlights of this work is the illustrative section where eighteen color plates are reproduced in full-page size depicting the elaborately jeweled metalwork front cover, dedication pages, and important scenes from the pictorial narrative. Thirty-five full-page and half-page black and white illustrations are arranged throughout the text. Kingsley provides a substantial bibliography of primary and secondary sources, appendix with the complete analysis and description of the manuscript, and an index. Aimed at upper level undergraduates or graduate students, reasonably priced, and well produced, this book is recommended for the museum or academic research library that supports the disciplines of art history or medieval studies.