Bücheler, Anna:

The Making of a True Story: Virgilian Poetry in the Flabellum of Tournus

In comparison to the numerous literary allusions to classical poetry in Carolingian texts, only few works of art survive that testify to the reception of classical poetry in Carolingian art. This paper investigates the appropriation of Virgil's Eclogues in a unique Carolingian work, the Flabellum of Tournus, a liturgical fan that was made for the monks of St. Philibert in 875. The paper argues that the six Eclogue ivories that were mounted on the side panels of the fan relate a version of the monastery's history in Virgilian guise. The poems represented on the panels of the fan echo key moments of the monks' tragic flight from Norman invaders. By merging their own history with illustrations of Virgilian prose, the makers of the fan dramatized the story of the loss and rescue of St. Philibert's relics and also authenticated their own history through references to a classical text. Reading the story of St. Philibert's monks against the messianic message of the fourth Eclogue and placing the object in the wider historic context of the Norman invasions in the ninth century, further explains the choice of a flabellum. The fan serves a protective function and simultaneously illustrates the spiritual aspirations of the monks that were endangered especially at times of war and unrest. The appropriation of Virgil's Eclogues in the Flabellum of Tournus, thus, makes this fan a unique record of one monastery's tribulations and spiritual goals, and also unravels the meaning of one of the most compelling artistic creations forged by the Carolingian interest in the classical tradition.

Anna Bücheler studied art history, medieval history and law in Munich, Tübingen, Boston, and Toronto. In 2004 she graduated from Tübingen University with an M.A. thesis on Hildegard of Bingen’s illuminated “Scivias.” She received her PhD from the University of Toronto in 2014. Her thesis is entitled Ornament as Argument: Textile Pages and Textile Metaphors in Medieval German Manuscripts, 800—1100. 2011–2012 she was a pre-doctoral fellow at Zürich University in the project TEXTILE: An Iconology of the Textile in Art and Architecture. At Zürich University she also taught as sessional lecturer, held a pre-doctoral position at the Kunsthistorisches Institut from 2013—2014 and is currently postdoc at Zürich University at the Lehrstuhl für mittelalterliche Kunstgeschichte (Prof. Dr. David Ganz).