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Spring 2024


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New in History of Netherlandish Art Reviews
A Review of Dissimilar Similitudes

In the February issue of History of Netherlandish Art, Barbara Baert reviews Dissimilar Similitudes: Devotional Objects in Late Medieval Europe by Caroline Walker Bynum. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full review. An excerpt appears below:

“In her latest book, Dissimilar Similitudes: Devotional Objects in Late Medieval Europe, Caroline Walker Bynum delves even deeper into the material world of the devotional object during the long Middle Ages. The author’s unmistakable erudition in material culture has provided her with a rich corpus of objects from which to draw. In this volume of collected essays, she starts with notable phenomena such as the Christ cradles from the beguinages of the Low Countries, discussed in Chapter 1, and the crowns placed on Virgin Mary statues in the German convent of Wienhausen, the subjects of Chapter 2. It is well known that ‘a plethora of things’ in the late Middle Ages both embodied the exuberance of spirituality and fueled the growing suspicion among those intellectuals who recognized evil in the unbridled “celebration of the thing.” Dissimilar Similitudes, however, aspires to being more than a historical discourse on the anchoring of objects in their spiritual Sitz im Leben. Walker Bynum writes: ‘I emphasize the way in which each object itself not only stresses its tactility (its thingness, so to speak) but also, in doing so, gives contradictory visual signals simultaneously.’ The beguinage bed, for example, is multi-semantic and multi-functional; it signifies both a motif and a sanctuary. The bed has a tangible purpose in the liturgy and a personal role in the spiritual desires of the nun. Such ambivalence is also inherent in the Marian crowns: ‘The object itself tells us that it is full and empty, glorious yet lacking, achieved yet waiting.’”