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A Study Project on Continuous Pictorial Narrative

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Showing Time: Continuous Pictorial Narrative and the Adam and Eve Story


This chapter goes into the substance of our study project on continuous pictorial narrative by describing the aims, hypotheses, method and the phases of the study itself. Furthermore, in this chapter a general repertoire of 1000 artworks realised in this narrative mode is analysed, considering author, date, technique, type of artefact, dimension, location, and themes dealt with in the narrated stories. Finally, the chapter presents a comparison between the configuration of the general repertoire and that of the thematic repertoire on the story of Adam and Eve, constituted by 100 artworks, from which we chose to start our in-depth study of the peculiarities of continuous pictorial narrative.

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  1. 1.

    During the cataloguing of the artworks included in the general repertoire, Argenton and Prest entirely developed the first three steps of the study programme and had also analysed and recorded the occurrence of the four indicators envisaged for the first research phase of the individual thematic repertoires, aimed at analysing the compositional organisation, i.e. context, number of scenes, narrative progression and spatial disposition. However, given the complexity of the artworks, they then postponed the verification of data on these indicators, as well as the resolution of cases left in question, to the systematic analysis of the individual thematic repertoires.

  2. 2.

    The repertoire of pictorial stories narrated in a continuous mode, collected by Argenton and Prest, amounted to 968 works. We considered it opportune to enlarge the repertoire, giving us as a limit the number of 1000 works. This number was fixed in order to contain the exploration of works in time and is certainly susceptible to further enlargement. During the collection of works of continuous pictorial narrative, Argenton and Prest found several other works representing stories, only in part here considered. Among these, for example, in addition to the 19 works depicting the episode of Betrayal of Jesus included in the general repertoire, Argenton and Prest found 61 others on the same subject (for a total of 80 works), which however are represented in a synoptic mode and therefore were excluded from the general repertoire itself. Of another noteworthy number of works found by Argenton and Prest, in total 510, concerning the story of Judith and Holofernes, only 20 are realised in a continuous mode and therefore considered in the general repertoire analysed here, while the others are mainly monoscenic and, to a small extent, synoptic. We cite only these two themes because they were already discussed by Argenton (2019). In fact, in his study on “amodal completion and pictorial representation”, Argenton (2019) examines both the story of Judith and Holofernes represented in a painting attributed to Mantegna, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, and the episode of Betrayal of Jesus, especially in the representation by Giotto and Giusto de’ Menabuoi (Argenton, 2019, pp. 99–133), to illustrate the use of amodal completion as a perceptual-representational strategy, within the procedures involved in the “dynamics and expression”. The episode of Betrayal of Jesus is also included in the essay “Flight of the Apostles”, mentioned above and written by Argenton together with Prest, in which they inquire, through the analysis of 22 works by different artists, into the pictorial use of amodal completion (Argenton & Prest, 2008b, pp. 271–289). To these themes the authors of this work intend to dedicate specific research, starting from the corpus of works found by Argenton and Prest, of which, as said, 80 concern the episode of Betrayal of Jesus and 510 the story of Judith and Holofernes.

  3. 3.

    It must be said that the collection of images, although quite systematic with respect to the available sources, was not extended to specific research on the individual artists, which could lead to the identification of further works represented in the continuous narrative mode.

  4. 4.

    In the general repertoire, the oldest works concern the third-century Dura Europos synagogue paintings, which are deemed to represent “the earliest continuous narrative cycle of biblical images known in art” (Gutmann, 1988, p. 25). For an analysis of these frescoes, see Kessler (1994, pp. 302–348).

  5. 5.

    Actually, some works from later centuries have been found, which have been excluded from the repertoire due to their very small number.

  6. 6.

    The works are: Anonymous, Crucifixion and Nativity, late thirteenth to early fourteenth century, Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai; Hendrick de Clerck, Garden of Eden with Fall of Man, 1597–1610; Master of Marradi, Judith and Holofernes, 1490–1510; Bartolomeo Montagna, St. Jerome in the Desert, c. 1470–1523; Luca Signorelli, St. George and the Dragon, 1495–1505; Veronese and Workshop, Judith Goes to the Camp of Holofernes, 1558–1631; and Veronese and Workshop, Judith at the Banquet of Holofernes, 1558–1631 (see Chap. 5).

  7. 7.

    For each work, the following data are provided: author, title of work, date, technique, dimension, when it could be traced, and location. Finding reliable data on these descriptors was very laborious. Dimension proved to be the most difficult descriptor: seldom mentioned in art history texts for any type of work, especially for frescoes, it seems to be often unknown to conservators and even restorers, and it is for this reason that the general repertoire lacks dimensions for about a quarter of the works. It is also difficult to find uniformity in the indication of the titles of the works but also of the techniques used, so we have chosen to report the data found on the official reference sites, where they exist. Finally, as far as the attribution is concerned, it should be pointed out that the intense work of art historians not infrequently leads to changes in authorship and, even if before the publication of this book we thoroughly checked this datum as well – finding a fair number of ‘surprises’ – it may well be that some authorships and consequently some dates have further changed. This may be due, on the one hand, to the intricate events that characterised the history of art in the centuries leading up to the Renaissance, for which documentation is often scarce or incomplete, and, on the other hand, to the increasingly in-depth studies of existing documents and, not least, to the use of new technologies that make it possible to obtain additional data (see Chap. 5).

  8. 8.

    The other 15 themes found in the Old Testament concern Amon and Tamar (2 works, second book of Samuel), Cain and Abel (8 works, book of Genesis), Creation of the World (1 work, Book of Genesis), Elijah (1 work, Book of Kings), Esther (7 works, Book of Esther), Jonah (3 works, Book of Jonah), Joshua (1 work, Book of Joshua), Lot (4 works, Book of Genesis), Noah (5 works, Book of Genesis), Samson (4 works, Book of Judges), Solomon (1 work, first Book of the Kings), Susanna (8 works, Book of Daniel) and Tobias (6 works, Book of Tobias).

  9. 9.

    The frequency of the other 175 stories is distributed as follows: 9 works for saints Augustine, Dominic, Paul; 7 works for saints Francis of Rome, James, Mark, Nicholas of Bari, Vincent Ferrer; 6 works for saints Jerome, Zenobius; 5 works for saints Anthony, Barbara, Rainerius, Ursula; 4 works for Blessed Agostino Novello and saints Andrew, Humility, John the Evangelist; 3 works for saints Ambrose, Cecilia and Valerian, Clement, Cosmas and Damian, Ephysius, George, Lawrence, Sebastian, Theodore, Veranus; 2 works for saints Bertin, Christopher, Corbinian, Denis, Lucy, Margaret, Roch, Sylvester, Thomas; and 1 work for saints Agnes, Alexius, Athanasius, Basil, Castrense, Catherine of Siena, Clare, Julian, Louis King of France, Martin, Mary Magdalene, Michael, Minias, Nicholas of Tolentino, Placidus, Romuald, Sigismund.

  10. 10.

    The other works about mythology, literature and civil history up to the Roman era concern: 3 works for Antiochus and Stratonice, Orpheus and Eurydice, Theseus, Virginia; 2 works for Aeneas, Argonauts, Europe, Paris, Prometheus, Trajan; 1 work for Apollo and Marsyas, Artemisia, Brutus and Portia, Camilla, Cloelia, Coriolanus, Christine de Pizan (The Book of the City of Ladies), Enalus and Poseidon, Julius Caesar, Pasiphaë, Perseus and Andromeda, Pyramus and Thisbe, Tiberius and Cornelia, Tuccia.

  11. 11.

    The images collected by Argenton and Prest numbered 93 and, as with the general repertoire, it was considered appropriate to arrive at a round number, namely 100. Indubitably, the search for works on a specific subject or phenomenon can never be considered complete, as Argenton acknowledges (2019, p. 96, n. 5), “since it is highly unlikely that other examples will not emerge from further research”. The works of continuous pictorial narrative about the story of Adam and Eve are certainly many more. Just think of the large number of existing illustrated Bibles, in which other continuous narratives are likely to be found. This is what happened to us during the analysis of the collected repertoire, coming across new images that we decided not to consider so as to set a time limit to the work.

  12. 12.

    The text used as a reference is The New Oxford Annotated Bible, edited by Coogan et al. (2010). We are aware that the long time span over which the works in the thematic repertoire are distributed and their cultural and geographical origin would have required a specific in-depth study of the biblical sources of reference for each work. However, in the economy of this work, it has not been possible to touch on this subject, as well as other historical-critical-artistic aspects.

  13. 13.

    Greenstein (2016, Pl. VI), in describing Maitani’s Genesis pilaster, situates, for example, the Creation of Eve in the second register. White (1959, p. 294), in describing the same work, places the Creation of the World in the first register and the “Animation of Adam” in the second register. We have followed the suggestion of these scholars, although in reality the first two registers, from bottom to top, do not appear as clearly separated as the upper registers. In the second register, we have considered all three scenes present, although the Forming of Eve is partly separated by the ivy vine decoration, which, however, starting above the figures, does not seem to interrupt the narrative continuity.

  14. 14.

    There exists a copy made by Cranach of the left-hand panel of Bosch’s Last Judgment triptych included in the thematic repertoire of the story of Adam and Eve. Cranach’s copy has not been included in the repertoire.

  15. 15.

    The Genesis frontispiece of the Bamberg Bible, in which the story of Adam and Eve is narrated, is divided into four registers. We have considered only the first three as single units because in the fourth register, representing “the burial of Cain” (Kessler, 1971, p. 155), there is no repetition of characters, except for the hand of God.

  16. 16.

    The page of the Pantheon Bible, in which the story of Adam and Eve is narrated, is divided into four registers. We have considered only three registers as single units because in the first one, representing scenes from chapter I of the Bible, there is no repetition of characters.


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Correspondence to Laura Messina-Argenton .

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Messina-Argenton, L., Agostini, T., Prest, T., Verstegen, I.F. (2022). A Study Project on Continuous Pictorial Narrative. In: Showing Time: Continuous Pictorial Narrative and the Adam and Eve Story. Springer, Cham.

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