Nuns as Artists: The Visual Culture of a Medieval Convent
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997) 318 pages, cloth $55, ISBN 0-520-20386-0.
As a Benedictine, I have been repeatedly frustrated over the years with the tendency amongst scholars to ignore a healthy hermeneutic of suspicion in minimizing the contributions of my monastic foremothers, and therefore of most women. I have been privileged to visit my community's grossmutterhaus, Saint Walburga's in Eichstatt, Germany. The walls, shelves and corners are filled with over 900 years of hearty and healthy living. There are letters from Teresa of Avila, books owned by Anne Boleyn and other royalty, and paintings by some of the nuns and by local believers who brought them as thank-offerings to Saint Walburga for prayers answered.
I was delighted to encounter Jeffrey Hamburgers book. He has taken seriously the artistic work or nonnenarbeiten of unnamed nuns at Eichstatt, devotional pieces produced around 1500. Fortunately for the reader, these art pieces are acknowledged and studied as vital and dynamic to the interior lives of these nuns.
Nuns As Artists begins with an analysis of the style and iconography of these images, setting them within the cultural context that produced them. Context is more than enclosure. Spiritual training, ecclesial control and monastic reform, or more accurately the birth of new forms of religious life, are also considered. …