The Medieval Review

TMR 03.02.13

Reviewed: Corbet, Patrick, Monique Goullet, and Dominique Iogna-Prat, eds.
Adelaide de Bourgogne: Genese et representations d'une saintete imperiale: Actes du colloque international du Centre d'Etudes Medievales-UMR 5594 Auxerre 10 et 11 decembre 1999
Dijon, France
Editions Universitaires de Dijon
Pp. 227
ISBN: 2-905965-56-8
Reviewer: Dr. Kimberly A. LoPrete , National University of Ireland, Galway,
TMR ID: 03.02.13

This handsome volume of essays is one of several commemorative collections to result from conferences in honor of the Ottonian empress Adelaide (d. 16 December 999). As daughter, sister, and aunt of kings of Burgundy, wife in turn of a king of Italy and Otto I, mother of both a queen of "France" and Otto II, and grandmother of Otto III, Adelaide frequently found herself at the center of the tumultuous dynastic politics accompanying the reconfiguration of western European regna as the Carolingian empire ultimately dissolved in the second half of the tenth century. Well-deserving of the epithet "mother of kingdoms" the future pope Gerbert of Aurillac bestowed on her, as well as exemplarily fulfilling the traditional reginal role of "mother of the realm," Adelaide also founded several monasteries and patronized the early Cluniacs before Urban II declared her a saint a century after her death.

In order both to distinguish from other commemorations these proceedings organized and edited by CNRS-affiliated research groups and to relate them to issues of particular interest to several French scholars, the thirteen brief essays published here focus on the form, extent, and historical significance of Adelaide's memory as represented from the tenth to the nineteenth centuries and with special reference to her sanctity. The contributors, recruited from Germany (2), Switzerland (1), and Italy (1), as well as France (10), were provided with specific remits, which they punctiliously fulfilled. Thus the volume, with a concise introduction (Patrick Corbet), overview of Adelaide's life (Michel Parisse), and conclusions (Michel Bur), numerous illustrations in color or black and white, and instructive notes at the foot of pages, offers a high degree of thematic unity and interesting information, but it remains frustrating nonetheless.

On the positive side is the range of topics investigated under the common theme. The collection contains studies of the name Adelaide across Europe in the first millennium (Regine Le Jan), and in the house of Savoy to the seventeenth century (Laurent Ripart); of verbal images of Adelaide by her contemporaries Hrotsvita of Gandersheim and Odilo of Cluny (Monique Goullet), and by writers in Italy down to the twelfth century (Paolo Golinelli); of visual images of the saintly empress in the tenth and eleventh centuries (Daniel Russo), thirteenth-century Meissen (Martial Staub), and nineteenth-century France (Denis Cailleaux and Patrick Corbet); of anniversary commemorations in Saxony and dependencies of Cluny (Franz Neiske); of regional memories of Adelaide in Switzerland (Jean-Daniel Morerod), and Alsace, where the empress was buried at her foundation in Seltz (Dom Rene Bornert); and of Rossini's unsuccessful opera Adelaide di Borgogna (Andre Batisse).

Of particular importance is Neiske's deflation of Cluny's relationship to the sainted empress. On the basis of recent manuscript studies produced in Germany, he reveals the unreliability of the evidentiary thread tying Seltz's first abbot to Cluny, discloses Cluny's apparent lack of interest in her miracle-working powers, and discusses how the push for Adelaide's canonization at the end of the eleventh century came, not from Cluny, but from an emperor-friendly bishop of Strasburg. A related consequence is that the Roman synod of April 1099 is as, or more, likely to have been the setting for the formal declaration of her sanctity as that of January 1097, which has become entrenched in modern scholarship as if it were an incontrovertible fact.

Also noteworthy is Corbet's summary analysis (complemented by Cailleaux's discussion of a forgotten painting by F.-A. Pernot), of images of Adelaide, including depictions in stained glass and monumental sculpture, commissioned from leading artists by the sometime king Louis-Philippe and his relations in the first half of the nineteenth century. Adelaide became a dynastic saint for the house of Orleans at the turning of the eighteenth century when the father of Louis XV, from the then-enthroned Bourbon branch of the royal family, married Marie-Adelaide of Savoy. Through careful iconographic comparison, Corbet argues convincingly that Adelaide intentionally came to be portrayed as a dispenser of charity. That image was ultimately, if not immediately, derived from the earliest sources though distinct from other near-contemporary representations of the sainted empress that feature instead the long-romanticized image of her flight from a rival for the Italian throne or potentiality to embody impersonal theological virtues. In the context of the July Monarchy and revitalized social role of Catholic benevolent institutions, such monumental images underscore the public-political face of queens' compassionate charitable activities, often dismissed by historians as mere expressions of personal or domestic piety, in any governing regime (medieval and modern alike) rooted in dynastically-transmitted claims to monarchical legitimacy and ideologically centered on a conception of the political community as the patriarchal family writ large.

Of wider methodological interest is Morerod's examination of Adelaide's Nachleben in the lands of the modern-day Switzerland. He shows that any assessment of the cumulative extent and historical significance of the cult of her memory across the population is quite probably incomplete if it is derived only from such official and direct evidence as liturgical feasts, altar dedications, parish patronage, and toponyms. On the one hand he mentions evidence for informal vernacular and oral transmission of Adelaide's holy memory, drawing attention to sources that are perforce under-represented in medievalists' evidentiary quivers; he also points to specific local or political contexts that can account for cases of "historical forgetting" at most indirectly related to general causative factors such as Adelaide's gender, exalted status, or "nationality" often adduced to explain what is frequently presented in this volume as a saintly afterlife of quite limited impact. More important, by examining records of property transfers down to the sixteenth century (including periods long after there was a direct tie between the lands and the empress's foundation of Seltz that originally controlled many of them), he found grants made to honor saint Adelaide or evocations of her as the allodial proprietor of lands in lay hands well after any "legitimizing efficacy" (119) of that status in relation to the estates had passed. As also suggested by the wide range of sources (including coins and seal effigies) consulted by Bornert, assaying the impression of the holy empress in the hearts and minds of a population disproportionally mute to modern historians is not a straightforward task.

The volume's frustrating aspects appear on two levels. The occasionally vexatious typographical error (e.g., table of contents, 229; 32 nn. 10-11; and 107 n. 92), the semi-legibility of some digitally-reproduced images, and the lack of a common bibliography or general index are less irksome than substantive issues arising from the articles' very brevity and restricted focus. Sometimes the reader faces what is largely a descriptive list of evidence on the assigned topic, with little contextualization of individual items, leading to conclusions couched in rather negative terms. One case is Golinelli's comprehensive overview of Italian sources that transcends convenient utility precisely when he exceeds his remit and mentions portrayals of Adelaide in a variety of media from the thirteenth to twentieth centuries. No surprise comes from his conclusion that the depictions owe little to her saintly status, but the reader could benefit from Golinelli's expert assessment of the wider significance of those features of her story that were drawn upon and memorialized as historical contexts changed, how representations of Adelaide compare with those of other crown-transmitting widows or female regents, and the relative emphasis on male or female agency in portrayals of her escape from captivity, perhaps as compared with Hrotsvita's account. Golinelli, who has published extensively on Adelaide and women who could be deemed her politically-active successors in northern Italy, no doubt has perceptive views on such matters, and his essay thus points to other features capable of frustrating the volume's readers.

Though the papers are often written by well-established scholars, those published here can be unrepresentative of their author's wider oeuvre, and several are not always cognizant of other studies, often in English, that informatively treat sources and issues raised. Familiarity with such publications could deepen certain discussions through more complete contextualization of key points and lead to more nuanced conclusions about the significance of Adelaide's afterlife in shorter and longer terms alike. Staub, for example, courageously agreed to analyze monumental choir sculptures in Germany, more traditionally treated by art historians, from the optic of new conceptual approaches to the memorial meaning of such life-like images, but did not have the scope here to develop his intriguing suggestions linking different representational schema to changing and politically-sensitive notions of the location of deceased persons of power in the very decades when doctrines of purgatory were being hammered into shape. Batisse marks an important first step with his discussion of Rossini's opera, not the only such work to develop Adelaide's potential as a Romantic icon, but whether its instant failure owes more to fickle operatic fashion than offended political sensibilities remains unclear.

Neiske rightly stresses Adelaide's active role in overseeing the memorialization of imperial family members, but for the sites where the empress was commemorated sends readers to source lists published elsewhere without summarizing what they reveal. His remarks on the first score could be amplified meaningfully, as could Goullet's, with reference to Dhouda and important studies of women's roles in preserving family memory and the writing of history, most notably by Elisabeth van Houts, Janet Nelson, and Joan Ferrante.[[1]] Goullet, with good reason, highlights differences of genre underlying Hrotsvita's and Odilo of Cluny's portrayals of Adelaide, but her remarks on the Gesta Oddonis and medieval circulation of Hrotsvita's works would benefit from the studies published by Katharina Wilson, while the gender difference of the authors also merits consideration.[[2]] Has Parisse inadvertently uncovered in Adelaide an early example of intentional delay, for reason of emotional and physical health, in the consummation of a child-fiancee's political marriage until she reached at least fifteen, as John Parsons noted not infrequently was the case among later twelfth- and thirteenth-century Plantagenet queens[[3]]; or would he persist in his "nationalist"-political explanations of filial revolts and imperial troubles in Italy after reading Pauline Stafford?[[4]]

Goullet salutarily apprises readers of lost portions of Hrotsvita's text concerning Adelaide, pointing to the danger of unintentionally assuming that extant data is all that once was produced. That potential problem, as Constance Bouchard reminded scholars embarking on onomastic studies,[[5]] merits consideration by Le Jan and Ripart, who seem to assume on occasion both that evidence has survived of every girl born to the families studied, and that daughters known to have been called Adelaide (or Adela, the hypocoristic form) were named in honor of one -- and only one -- person: a relation positively identifiable on the basis of reconstructed family trees and presumed general naming rules, sometimes of questionable validity. Such problematic assumptions, along with Bouchard's comments on the role of biological accident in the transmission of women's names, as well as evidence such as the copy of Odilo's Epitaphium Adelaide commissioned by Robert the Pious's daughter Adela of Flanders (d. 1076), should be examined before the general conclusions of their articles are accepted as definitive. Not all readers will be convinced that the naming patterns meticulously adduced demonstrate the eclipse by the eleventh century of the empress's numinosity in both the Rudolphian and Ottonian-Salian royal families and in princely houses of northern Italy alike.

The representative character of extant survivals would also profitably be addressed by Russo. His static and ultimately anagogic "reading" of two (possibly three) early images of a genuflecting Adelaide (not all descriptions of which match his photographs) could be complemented with reflection on powerful women's active imitation of saint Helena and the protective powers in this world of relics like the true cross often collected by them (as discussed by Suzanne Wemple and JoAnn McNamara, among others), for Adelaide was not the only holy queen to be represented alongside those figures. Indeed, the collection of Adelaide's miracles receives little direct attention in the volume as a vehicle for fixing or fostering contours of her memoria, apart from Bornert's list from it of pilgrims to her shrine (though it may have figured in Iogna-Prat's unpublished paper). This is a surprising gap in light of recent publications on portrayals of female sanctity in, for example, the miracles of saint Radegund or saint Faith (Foy) of Conques that circulated in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

These remarks should not detract from the insights and information in this collection that encapsulates what appears to have been a stimulating conference, allowing scholars to explore new domains, exchange data and views, and contemplate the historical significance of multiform evocations of an impressive and influential tenth-century woman. They do, however, raise the question of the volume's appropriate audience. Scholars seasoned in the field of early medieval women will doubtless find some tantalizing perspectives and revealing details as they tread over much well-trodden ground. Whatever their native tongue, neophytes in that complex arena, whether students or general readers, medievalists with other main interests, and scholars in non-medieval periods, would be better advised to start their general or particular researches into Adelaide and her memory with numerous studies already available, many of which are signaled in the volume's notes.[[6]] The growing linkage of research funding in the "human sciences" to corporate endeavors with easily quantifiable "output" notwithstanding, the scholarly community would have been significantly better served if the authors had been given the opportunity to revise and publish their papers as journal-length articles, with main points fully developed in relation to historical context and current scholarly literature alike.


[[1]] For useful discussions now available, with reference to important articles of the late 1980s-early 1990s, see Joan M. Ferrante, To the Glory of Her Sex: Women's Roles in the Composition of Medieval Texts (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), esp. ch. 3, and Elisabeth van Houts, Memory and Gender in Medieval Europe, 900-1200 (London: MacMillan Press, 1999), esp. chs. 3-4.

[[2]] Inter alia, Katharina M. Wilson, ed., Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: "Rara Avis in Saxonia"? (Ann Arbor: Michigan Medieval and Renaissance Monograph Series, 1987), and her The Ethics of Authorial Stance: Hrotsvit and her Poetics (Leiden: Brill, 1988).

[[3]] See John C. Parsons, "Mothers, Daughters, Marriage, Power: Some Plantagenet Evidence, 1150-1500," in idem, ed., Medieval Queenship (New York: St. Martin's, 1993), 63-78, whose findings found echoes in France discussed in the articles by Theodore Evergates and Kimberly A. LoPrete in Theodore Evergates, ed., Aristocratic Women in Medieval France (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999).

[[4]] Among the works of Pauline Stafford, note especially her Queens, Concubines, and Dowagers; The King's Wife in the Early Middle Ages (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983).

[[5]] See now, Constance B. Bouchard, "Those of My Blood": Constructing Noble Families in Medieval Francia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), chs. 6-7: two articles on women's names first published in Medieval Prosopography in 1988; these, other of her publications, and Thierry Stasser, "Adelaide d'Anjou, sa famille, ses unions, sa descendance: Etat de la question," Le moyen age 103 (1997): 9-52, also reveal that the positive identifications of some of the Adelaides discussed by Le Jan and Ripart are not confirmed by conclusive evidence.

[[6]] English readers should also note David A. Warner's translation of Odilo's Epitaphium Adelaide in Thomas Head, ed., Medieval Hagiography: An Anthology (New York: Routledge, 2001), 255-71; and Mary Bernardine Bergman's of Hrotsvita's Gesta Oddonis, in Boyd H. Hill, Jr., ed., Medieval Monarchy in Action: The German Empire from Henry I to Henry IV (London: Allen & Unwin, 1972), 118-37 (alongside translations of some other sources concerning Adelaide).

The Medieval Review
The Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University
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