Trinity and Incarnation in Anglo-Saxon Art and Thought

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Trinity and Incarnation in Anglo-Saxon Art and Thought. By Barbara C. Raw. [Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England, Volume 21.1 (NewYork: Cambridge University Press. 1997. Pp. x, 221. $59.95.)

In this book, as in her previous volume in the same series, Anglo-Saxon Crucifixion Iconography and the Art of the Monastic Revival (1990), Barbara Raw explicates the meaning and function of a group of late Anglo-Saxon works of art by "relating" them to the literature of the period, something she claims "no one [so farl has attempted- (p. 2). Certainly no one has brought such a wide range and abundance of contemporary writings to bear on pre-Conquest English art as this able scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature. In the present volume everything from theological treatises, liturgical texts, and homilies to private devotional works, Old English poetry, and above all the writings of Aelfric are called upon to elucidate Anglo-Saxon beliefs concerning the Trinity and Incarnation and the pictorial means artists found to express them,

A short introduction briefly notes the remarkable character of the AngloSaxon images of the Trinity, all manuscript illustrations, which in number and ingenuity are unparalleled in early medieval art. It also includes a discussion of "the different, but complementary ways" in which "art and literature express religious truths" (p. 6). Analysis of the individual images is postponed, however, to the last four chapters of the book, the preceding four being devoted to theologry and the theon? of images.

The first two chapters review the early development of the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation, the evidence for increased devotion to the Trinity in Anglo-Saxon England, anti the nature of that devotion. The next two consider early medieval arguments regarding the validity and function of religious images and the problems of representing a God who is not only invisible and immaterial, but also three persons in a single nature. All of the sources cited on religious art are continental, except for Bede, since late Anglo-Saxon authors, including Aelfric, ignored the subject. Raw is thus left to speculate as to what the homilist's views might have been.

The analysis of some thirty images of the deity in the remaining chapters is organized by pictorial type, each of which Raw associates with a different mode of divine revelation: the "portrait-image" which "implies a presence," narrative illustration which "recalls God's intervention in history," and symbolic representation which"corresponds to the indirect forms of revelation" (p. …