Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
October 15, 2019
Mariah Proctor-Tiffany Medieval Art in Motion: The Inventory and Gift Giving of Queen Clémence de Hongrie University Park: Penn State University Press, 2019. 232 pp.; 28 color ills.; 30 b/w ills. Cloth $89.95 (9780271081120)

In the summer of 1315, Clémence de Hongrie sailed from her childhood home in Naples to marry King Louis X of France. Louis died a year later, leaving Clémence a pregnant widow, and five months after that their infant son Jean also died; Clémence lived the rest of her life as a dowager queen at the French court. On October 5, 1328, in anticipation of her death, she dictated her testament. And after her death on October 13 of that year, her executors, representatives of the king, and a group of goldsmiths gathered to inventory and value her possessions as they were either passed on according to the terms of her will or sold. This document is one of a group of inventories made of the possessions of members of the French royal family in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Like many of the inventories in this group, Clémence’s was published in the late nineteenth century, but it has not been the subject of extensive study until now with Mariah Proctor-Tiffany’s new book. The book uses “data driven” methods to examine the inventory “as a whole” in order to understand the circulation of artworks in Europe in the later Middle Ages and Clémence’s use of art to assert her identity as queen. These two topics are interwoven throughout the book’s seven chapters, and the book is well illustrated throughout in service of a third subject: the reconstruction of lost works of art that once formed part of Clémence’s collection.

Identity is emphasized in the first chapter. Here Proctor-Tiffany outlines Clémence’s biography and highlights a time of crisis in her life: after the death of her husband and son, she came into conflict with the new king, Philippe V, who withheld her income for several years, during which time she ran up extensive debts with the Bardi banking family. This crisis is central to Proctor-Tiffany’s account as she argues that it motivated Clémence’s use of artworks to present herself as a virtuous queen and so protect her status at court.

The second chapter focuses on movement. It discusses the process of the production of the inventory and what the document reveals about the art market in Paris in the early 1300s. Clémence’s inventory is particularly revealing on that point because it includes sale prices and purchasers for most of the items it lists. Proctor-Tiffany uncovers differences between the appraised and sale prices of certain items and argues that this is evidence that they were sold at auction. Her analysis of the purchasers listed in the inventory reveals the existence of specialized dealers in metalwork and in textiles who purchased items for resale on a secondary market. She traces the careers of the goldsmiths who are identified as participating in the creation of the inventory and argues for their growing status. And she argues for Clémence to be recognized as a collector of art objects alongside other medieval collectors such as Suger of Saint-Denis and Jean de Berry. Overall, the picture she presents of artists, dealers, and collectors, buying and selling works of art at auction and by other means, is strikingly modern.

Chapters 3 and 4 return the focus to identity. Proctor-Tiffany highlights how the precious materials used for the objects listed in Clémence’s inventory would have signaled her royal identity, specifically against the background of sumptuary legislation passed by Philippe IV in 1294. That legislation prohibited members of the bourgeoisie from wearing gold, precious stones, and crowns of gold and silver, all materials and object types that appear frequently in the inventory. It also limited the number of outfits members of the bourgeoisie could own and the quality of cloth they could wear, limits that the clothing documented in the inventory far surpassed. While her ownership of these items marked Clémence apart from those who were below her in status, her participation in courtly trends marked her as belonging within the community of the royal family. These trends included a taste for animals and for pastoral scenes that are represented in the inventory in the form of metalwork clasps and secular sculptures. The fourth chapter focuses on the books documented in the inventory as revealing of Clémence’s interests and concerns. One of these books, an Ovide moralisé, is most likely a surviving manuscript now in the Bibliothèque municipale de Rouen (Ms 1044). This manuscript is notable for the declining number and quality of illuminations from its front to its back: Proctor-Tiffany argues that this is a direct result of Clémence’s financial crisis during the period of her conflict with Philippe V. At the same time, she argues that the emphasis on moralizing and didactic literature in Clémence’s library is evidence of her interest in studying proper behavior as a way to reform her image in order to resolve her conflict with the king and so secure her income and status.

Finally, chapters 5, 6, and 7 link movement and identity through an extended discussion of gift-giving. The first of these chapters briefly considers the significance of gift-giving in medieval culture and reviews the anthropological literature on gifts. Chapter 6 focuses on a procession that Clémence and other royal women participated in on July 9, 1318, that culminated with them presenting gifts of metalwork objects and textiles at the altar of the church of Saint-Magloire in Paris; chapter 7 examines gifts of art objects that Clémence received and made during her life and at the time of her death. The gifts Clémence made to Saint-Magloire are particularly interesting because, at the time she made them, the Bardi had demanded repayment of her loan and she had pawned her jewelry to satisfy them: why, then, was she giving away precious items instead of selling them to pay her debts? Proctor-Tiffany argues that giving these gifts was a way for Clémence to present herself as a proper queen and so to argue for her place at court and the return of her income, which was ultimately more valuable to her than the gifts themselves.

In focusing on Clémence’s use of art objects to assert her identity as queen, Proctor-Tiffany contributes to a growing body of scholarship that argues for medieval women’s agency in relationship to works of art. This volume is feminist in its intent, although Proctor-Tiffany does not use that term for her work; she also repeatedly raises the issue of potential gendered differences in the ownership and use of art objects, primarily by comparing Clémence’s inventory to those of her male and female contemporaries, including that made for her husband Louis X. Proctor-Tiffany notes that Clémence’s inventory included a larger number of images of saints than Louis’s and writes that this could be linked to gender, in that images seem to have played an important role in women’s devotional practices. Likewise, she identifies the contrast between the large number of garments listed in Clémence’s inventory and the extensive amount of armor in Louis’s as a product of differing gendered expectations. However, she is reluctant to commit to gender as a useful category of analysis, writing that she prefers to consider Clémence and Louis as individuals rather than “passive actors, unwittingly carrying out the gendered expectations of their court” (9). I was troubled by this loaded description of gender-based analysis: it would have been more accurate for Proctor-Tiffany to have acknowledged that while Clémence’s status as a queen allows us to approach her as an individual because she left behind extensive textual traces (including the inventory), this approach also sheds light on larger patterns of gendered experience.

The book is most useful in presenting a new model for working with inventories by treating them as meaningful wholes. Proctor-Tiffany began her work with Clémence’s inventory by transforming it into a spreadsheet that allowed her to analyze all of the data it contains: the origins of the objects therein, along with their sizes, weights, materials, prices, and purchasers. The primary product of this work is the depiction of the fourteenth-century Parisian art market that appears in chapter 2. She also used the dominant media represented in the inventory to transform the document into a pie chart. This chart shows that 55 percent of Clémence’s net worth, as documented in the inventory, was in metalwork objects, far surpassing the amount represented by other artistic media such as textiles and manuscripts. As metalwork objects are more likely to have been melted down than to have survived, documenting their primacy through the inventory provides an important corrective to modern understandings of medieval art, which have tended to privilege what has survived—manuscripts, for example—rather than reflecting medieval systems of value. Hopefully Proctor-Tiffany’s method of working with Clémence’s inventory and its results as documented in this book will serve as inspiration for other scholars interested in inventories to adopt similar forms of analysis. The book’s conclusion includes a call for just this sort of work, and the volume ends with appendixes that present the text of Clémence’s testament and inventory, making these particular documents available for further study.

Marian Bleeke
Associate Professor, Department of Art and Design, Cleveland State University