Patterns in the Framing: Patience and The Hours of Catherine of Cleves

Patterns in the Framing: Patience and The Hours of Catherine of Cleves

By Rita Williams

CONCEPT: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Graduate Studies (2005)

Introduction: Framing, both as an actual artistic method and as a topos, was widely used in the Middle Ages, both in secular art and in works bent upon religious instruction. For example, in The House of Fame, Geoffrey Chaucer describes Josephus on a pillar framed by bearing on his shoulders “[t]he fame […] of the Jewerye” (lines 1430-1436, 365). Another, anonymous poem, Pearl, frames the narrative within the Holy City itself:

In a dramatic final move that ties mystical transport to daily collective ritual, the New Jerusalem in Pearl also takes the narrative into a church, as if the textual city were itself an invitation over a triumphal arch, a theophanic move that is furthered as well by Eucharistic echoes. Some readers have suggested that the poem unfolds in imitation of the Mass [….] The image of the Lamb, both symboland enactment of the Eucharist, places the narrator, and reader as well, before the Eucharist, or more exactly within the performance of the Mass.

Both these framing moments are accomplished via enargeia, the vivid word painting whose method is to “use words to yield so vivid a description that they— dare we say literally?—place the represented object before the reader’s (hearer’s) inner eye”. Enargeia is a subset of ekphrasis, “’the reproduction, through the medium of words, of sensuously perceptible objects d’art’”. Ekphrastic descriptions, which, as Stanbury argues in the opening quote, can be used to create an “illusion of an existing object while actually moving freely to the intelligible realm beyond the senses”, were widely used in the medieval period. In a time greatly concerned with explaining, and representing, the works of God to man, both were deployed to bring “together the courts of earth and heaven”.

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