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The Fullness of Time

Temporalities of the Fifteenth-Century Low Countries

The Low Countries were at the heart of innovation in Europe in the fifteenth century. Throughout this period, the flourishing cultures of the Low Countries were also wrestling with time itself. The Fullness of Time explores that struggle, and the changing conceptions of temporality that it represented and embodied showing how they continue to influence historical narratives about the emergence of modernity today.
The Fullness of Time asks how the passage of time in the Low Countries was ordered by the rhythms of human action, from the musical life of a cathedral to the measurement of time by clocks and calendars, the work habits of a guildsman to the devotional practices of the laity and religious orders. Through a series of transdisciplinary case studies, it explores the multiple ways that objects, texts and music might themselves be said to engage with, imply, and unsettle time, shaping and forming the lives of the inhabitants of the fifteenth-century Low Countries. Champion reframes the ways historians have traditionally told the history of time, allowing us for the first time to understand the rich and varied interplay of temporalities in the period.

304 pages | 5 color plates, 32 halftones, 1 map, 2 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Art: European Art

History: European History

Medieval Studies

Music: General Music


The Fullness of Time opens up a kaleidoscope of time-related cultures in the late medieval Low Countries. . . . Champion expresses his hope that the book 'can help us think further about the purposes of historical investigation, knowledge, and practice, and how they should be related to time.' I believe it can."

Reinhard Strohm | Journal of the American Musicological Society

"The Fullness of Time. . . abounds in fresh and occasionally startling perspectives on the ways in which men and women of the fifteenth-century Low Countries—in flourishing towns such as Leuven, Ghent, and Cambrai—experienced time’s flow. With stupendous erudition and narrative verve, Champion investigates how the 'passage of time was ordered by the rhythms of human action, from the habits of a guildsman to the devotional practices of an Augustinian canon', a project that gives him the opportunity to engage with a wide range of objects, from antiphonaries and altarpieces to bells and musical clocks."

Philipp Nothaft | Speculum

"This rich and stimulating book will surely provoke other historians to explore comparisons with other regions and times... Champion ends with the hope ‘that this book will be taken as a prompt to ask these kinds of questions about the past in more detail, because I believe that how we come to be who we are in time is one of the most important questions we can ask’ (p. 198). I am sure that book will achieve this and much more."

Hannah Skoda | EHR

"How do we reconcile eternity with the human perception of time? This is a primary question that Matthew S. Champion explores in The Fullness of Time: Temporalities in the Fifteenth-Century Low Countries, a thoroughly engaging account of the ways various temporal systems – the everyday rhythms of workers, political history, and devotio moderna’s innovations in liturgical and devotional practices – overlay each other in fifteenth-century Leuven, Ghent, and Cambrai. . . . The Fullness of Time provides its readers with a fascinating overview of myriad ways time operates in a particular region at a particular time."

Dennis Austin Britton, University of New Hampshire | Postmedieval

“Champion argues that, in contrast to standard perceptions of ‘timelessness,’ the fifteenth-century Low Countries . . . practiced a complex and multi-layered approach to time that has been little recognized. His purpose is to unpack this ‘fullness’ of time, to explore how time is made manifest in both social life and cultural production. . . . An absolutely fascinating read . . . . If you’re up for a challenge and open to the curiosity of exploration, this book will reward you tenfold. Highly recommended.”

Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians

“This text pushes against the concept of a smooth break between medieval time, punctuated by the liturgical reenactment of cosmic events collapsed from the past, present, and future, and newer, more modern temporalities shaped by rational science and mercantilism. . . . Well researched and very well written. . . . Champion does an excellent job of balancing the daunting bibliography of an interdisciplinary approach on a complex conceptual topic with the restraint necessary to produce a readable volume . . . . The end result is a book that is accessible to scholars from across the disciplinary spectrum and appropriate for both scholarly research and a wide variety of upper-division undergraduate topics.”

The Medieval Review

"Champion’s focus is primarily on how the liturgical intersected with the secular in the fifteenth-century Low Countries, but his work bears far broader implications for the analysis of medieval Augustinianisms, and provides a fundamental analysis for study into the shift towards a secularized, mechanical sense of time."


“In this stunningly original and meticulously researched account of time in medieval culture, Matthew Champion extends an august scholarly tradition by virtue of the extraordinarily rich and diverse sources he brings to bear on excavating the experience and philosophy of time in the Low Countries. Drawing on a variety of witnesses from the painted altarpiece, to the urban procession, to the toll of city bells, to the inner voices of the prayerful, to the rumination of the theologian, Champion offers readings that are insightful and moreover virtuosic in the ease with which they move between disciplinary discourses. In particular, The Fullness of Time offers a profound meditation on the role of sound in shaping the tempos of medieval life, the likes of which has rarely been undertaken before in the fields of history or musicology. Generously documented and beautifully written, it will surely be read and admired for many years to come.”

Emma Dillon, King's College London

“A keen interest in time and chronology characterizes the long Middle Ages, but it is by no means confined to calendars and computus. This brilliant and provocative book shows how concepts of time permeated everyday life in the fifteenth-century Low Countries. It welds together such seemingly disparate topics as altar painting, manuscript illuminations, ducal entries, bells, biblical history, music, and chronology into a coherent and illuminating whole. Each chapter gives rise to thought-provoking connections with other topics that might not have occurred to the reader before, such as the liturgical measurement of civic processions and the intertwining of art and music. Audible, visual, and emotional time intersect in a harmonious polyphony of time.”

Bonnie J. Blackburn, Wolfson College, Oxford

“This is a wonderfully written book, presenting a highly nuanced and multi-layered analysis. Jacques Le Goff famously pointed to a move from ‘Church time’ to ‘Merchant time’ in the Middle Ages; Matthew Champion shows us many further layers of complexity beyond those binary poles. Time is here explored liturgically, civically, historiographically, musically, and visually, and we see throughout how the sacred and the secular entwine, sometimes harmoniously, sometimes pulling against each other. The fullness of time lies not only in its multiple contexts and rhythms, but in its affective reach, as something experienced emotionally, devotionally, and as a core part of how human subjects are made. A stunning work of cultural history, based upon a deep knowledge of the sources combined with considerable theoretical sophistication.”

John H. Arnold, King's College, Cambridge

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Polyphony of Civic Time in Fifteenth-Century Leuven
Chapter 2: The Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament: Making Time in Leuven’s St. Peter’s Church
Chapter 3: Music, Time, and Devotion: Emotional Narratives at the Cathedral of Cambrai
Chapter 4: The Advent of the Lamb: Unfolding History and Liturgy in Fifteenth-Century Ghent
Chapter 5: Calendars and Chronology: Temporal Devotion in Fifteenth-Century Leuven
Chapter 6: Time for the Fasciculus temporum: Time, Text, and Vision in Early Print Culture


Royal Historical Society: Gladstone History Book Prize

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