Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Seeable Signs: The Iconography of the Seven Sacraments 1350-1544

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Seeable Signs: The Iconography of the Seven Sacraments 1350-1544

Article excerpt

Ann Eljenholm Nichols, Seeable Signs: The Iconography of the Seven Sacraments 1350-1544 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1994). xvii + 412 pp.; 5 figures; 97 plates. ISBN o-851I5-342-9. L49.50.

This study is an important contribution to our understanding of the popular practice of religion in late medieval England. Ann Eljenholm Nichols's exhaustively researched, handsomely produced, if somewhat densely argued, book considers the history of medieval sacramental art on the Continent and discusses English windows, but her primary concentration is on the sevensacrament fonts of East Anglia.

The representation of all seven sacraments in a variety of media begins a 'meteoric rise in popularity' from the middle of the fifteenth century, in England and on the Continent (p. I). The subject was especially popular in East Anglia, where at least thirty-nine fonts were built during the next century - compared with only three in other counties. The seven sacraments in art appear either serially (as with the East Anglian fonts) or in a single image (in which the sacraments are typically connected to the wound(s) of the crucified Christ). In her first chapter, Nichols discusses the theological and artistic background of this subject, and its manifestation on the Continent and in England in various media from alterpieces to tapestries.

Chapter 2 argues that English seven-sacrament art is a response to Lollard attacks, especially in the two areas where radical anti-sacramentalism had been strong: the west (the location of most windows) and, even more clearly, East Anglia (the location of most fonts): 'If we overlay a map that identifies the towns and villages that were documented centres of Lollardy in the I420S on one that localizes the seven-sacrament fonts, the correspondence is remarkable' (p. …

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