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593

Benjamin Anderson, Cosmos and Community in Early Medieval Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017. 204 pp. isbn 9780300219166 (hbk.)

Benjamin Anderson’s Cosmos and Community in Early Medieval Art addresses a very interesting topic, namely, how the relationship between cosmos and community was mediated via key objects that manifested the interactions between sovereigns, intellectual elites, and society at large in the Middle Ages. Uniquely, Anderson has chosen to analyze objects that represent the cosmos in the Islamic, Frankish, and Byzantine worlds, and his chapters unfold accord- ing to his assessment of these civilizations. In his introduction, Anderson gives an anecdote from the reign of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus that clearly demonstrates that the ruler had access to a privileged knowledge of the cosmos that was withheld from the masses (pp. 1–3) — a disposition that, in the final chapter, Anderson accuses the Byzantines of maintaining. This is a position that I do not agree with. For now it is important to highlight that the introduction deftly assesses the relevant scholarship, gives an outline of Anderson’s methodology applied throughout, and ends with a statement that the book “proceeds from solitude to community before ultimately confronting the limits of the latter,” i.e., in Byzantium (p. 17). Chapter one is titled “Tyranny and Splendour.” Anderson takes the tyran- nical image of the cosmological throne of the Sasanian ruler Khosrow — infamous for its opulence and which included images of the “stars, the sun and the moon” (p. 20) — indicating his authority over the universe at large, and contrasts it with the Great Mosque of Damascus, the mosaics of which depicted “the finitude of the world” (p. 34) and apocalyptic motifs that mitigated the authority of the caliph (pp. 33–34) — but not in an entirely successful way, since the latter was still considered “the axis that unites heaven and earth” (p. 43). Finally, this chapter addresses the Frankish “Cathedra Petri,” which depicts the constellations “Sagittarius, Orion, Hercules” and “Serpentarius, Perseus, Centaurus, Arcturus, and Capricorn” (p. 39) along with Sol and Luna. This object was gifted by Charles the Bald to the papacy, which prompts Anderson to conclude that far from indicating tyranny (since the pope never used it as a throne), it represents a threefold relationship between ruler, com- munity, and bishop (p. 43). This is far more holistic than it simply being used by the pope, for instance. Chapter two, “Declaration and Transaction,” addresses the significance of the circulation of objects “along networks of political authority” (p. 69). While some items, such as the Star Mantle of the Ottonian ruler Henry II, which depicted Christ in Majesty surrounded by saints and the zodiac (pp. 50–51),

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/15685276-12341515

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were clearly representations of cosmic rule, they were not used as such; the mantle was never worn by the emperor, but gifted to the church (p. 52). It is shown that the uneasiness of the Ottonians in representing themselves as cosmic rulers can be traced back indirectly to Charlemagne, prototypical king for the Germans of this time. Charlemagne did indeed own a silver table that represented the cosmos, flanked by tables depicting the cities of Rome and Constantinople, themselves cosmic centers (p. 55). Despite this, Anderson argues that the Frankish king never insisted on the cosmic ramifications of his rule (pp. 55–63). Anderson then addresses frescoes in the complex at Qusayr ‘Amra, which served as a way-station near Amman “along a primary route linking Syria and Arabia” in the Umayyad era (p. 63). He attests that the bath in this complex, which included celestial images, served political ends insofar as a “bath would indeed be an absurd location for a declaration of cosmocracy, but is well suited to the types of informal political transactions through which political bonds are solidified” (p. 69). Once again, at the end of this chapter, the ostensibly static image of the Byzantine emperor as cosmocrator is contrasted to the dynamism inherent in views of the cosmos reflected in the objects heretofore addressed (p. 71). Chapter three, “Carolingian Consensus,” addresses illustrations of the cosmos and the constellations of the zodiac in Frankish astronomical- computistical and natural-scientific manuscripts. For the author, the consensus in representations of the cosmos demonstrated by these manuscripts points to a promotion of their “familiarity across a broad geographic expanse and among members of various overlapping elites: courtly, aristocratic, ecclesiasti- cal, and monastic” (p. 104). Anderson notes that this created a sort of egalitar- ian knowledge base among various European elites, implying that the image of the emperor with sole knowledge of the representation of the universe — manifested in the reigns of Septimius Severus and Khosrow, and generally in Byzantium — had been curtailed. The final chapter, “Byzantine Dissensus,” portrays Byzantium as a nega- tive corollary to the civilizations addressed in the previous chapters. While Byzantine churches incorporated the zodiac into their architectural designs — Anderson offers two examples, the Pantokrator Monastery in Constantinople (p. 111) and Panagia Gorgoepikoos in Athens (p. 113) — Anderson argues there were “two rival cosmological models in Byzantine elite circles” (p. 138), namely the Antiochene “barrel-vaulted chamber” (p. 127) based on literal renditions of Genesis, and the circular model incorporating images from the zodiac to refer to the constellations (pp. 107–126), the latter constituting a more scientifi- cally accurate representation. In the cases of these conflicting representations,

Numen 65 (2018) 589–619

book reviews

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Anderson addresses for the most part the extant manuscript tradition. His approach has resulted in a reductionist labelling of the Byzantine represen- tations of the cosmos as confusio universorum (p. 127). The attempt to fit the schema of the Byzantine emperors neatly into the model represented by Septimius Severus (p. 143), that of the autocrat as sole arbiter of knowledge, is contrived, because it is a well-established fact that the later Byzantine period witnessed a resurgence of the astronomical sciences. Theodore Metochites, St. Gregory Palamas, Nikephoros Gregoras, Theodore Meliteniotes, George Gemistos Plethon, and George of Trebizond are just some of the names associ- ated with this resurgence. (More and more, scholars are beginning to appreci- ate that some of these figures actually launched the Renaissance in the West, thereby contributing, in a context other than their own, to shared representa- tions of the cosmos across various strata of society.) That Byzantine emperors of the later period often did not have the means nor the interest to sponsor the sciences can be explained in relation to the fact that while culturally, theologi- cally, and scientifically the civilization prospered, it was financially, politically, and territorially in decline. In other words, the image of the sole Byzantine autocrat monopolizing representations of the cosmos is a reductionist conclu- sion that Anderson must have arrived at by limiting his analyses to the objects addressed in this volume. Despite this shortcoming, I highly recommend this volume for its insightful assessment of shared visual representations of the cosmos across three major civilizations of the Middle Ages. Doing so is a feat in itself, accentuated by the wonderful illuminated manuscripts that are reproduced throughout.

Mario Baghos

Charles Sturt University mbaghos@csu.edu.au

Numen 65 (2018) 589–619