Seeable Signs

July 1994
100 black and white, 4 line illustrations
496 pages
24.4x17.2 cm
ISBN: 9780851153421
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Boydell Press

Seeable Signs

The Iconography of the Seven Sacraments, 1350-1544

Ann Eljenholm Nichols

Representations of the seven sacraments in medieval art examined in the context of theological, didactic and liturgical sources.
Seven-sacrament art - the representation of all seven sacraments - first appeared in Europe as an occasional subject in the 14th century, but by the middle of the 15th it had become widely popular. In this interdisciplinary study, Ann Eljenholm Nichols provides an analysis of the iconography of the sacraments. The book begins with a comprehensive survey of all known continental work, some of it never before published, but it focuses on English work. Nichols argues that before 1450 there existed an international iconography of the sacraments, but that thereafter English work diverges so radically it is necessary to speak of a distinctive insular iconography. The explanation for that difference, she believes, is to be found in the peculiar religious climate created by the Lollard rejection of the sacramental system. The need to counter-attack, to make the sacred signs seeable, accounts for the theological character of the font iconography. Her book makes an important contribution to the cultural and social history of medieval England.

ANN ELJENHOLM NICHOLS is Professor, Department of English, Winona State University.

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Handsomely produced and lavishly illustrated... the best and most comprehensive account to date of the theology and practice of the sacraments, and their representation in all media, in the later middle ages... This stimulating, learned and lucid book has placed every student of medieval religion and art in her debt. TLS

An important contribution to our understanding of the popular practice of religion in late medieval England... in helping us to see and understand what was obscure and neglected, it is a model of serious scholarship. MEDIUM AEVUM [C. David Benson]

Makes a major contribution to our understanding of late medieval religion in England. ...The book raises various important questions, in particular...whether the [representations of the sacraments] should be seen as expressions of popular religion or rather as teaching imposed by churchmen on a hesitant or reluctant laiety. JNL OF ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY

A book of rare quality in the freshness and many facets of its subject, in its learning, and in its exemplary presentation. CHURCH HISTORY