on 7 February 2009
Norman's book on the importance of the image of the Virgin in medieval Siena is delightful. As anyone who has read her essays for the Open University will know,she writes in a very clear and engaging way and is able to well illustrate her arguments without resorting to specialist theoretical language.
Her subject is an important one for medieval studies, particularly as she deals with Sienese images of the Virgin as an expression of 'civic christianity' and indicates the political uses to which these images were put. On the way she analyses a great many images, including a number of altarpieces important to the cult of the Virgin and produced before Duccio's famous Maesta, the Maesta itself, and other panel paintings which extended Mary's traditional iconography and ensured the influence of Sienese artists beyond the boundaries of the commune.
I know of no other text with this focus. I would recommend it to students of medieval visual culture and also to lovers of art who love Siena. The production values are good- I am particularly impressed by the illustrations which are lavishly used.
When I was in Siena last year I went to see how the children of the various contradas had decorated the street tabernacles of the Virgin and found the same blending of the religious and the secular - having read this book I now understand so much more about contemporary Sienese attitudes - I can see in modern Siena echoes of a medieval past.