TRACE AND AURA: The Recurring Lives of St. Ambrose of Milan (Other Press Hardcover; On-Sale: January 18, 2022), revered French historian Patrick Boucheron (Machiavelli) offers a humanist hagiography of the fourth-century figure, who was elected Milan’s bishop by popular acclaim. Throughout the text, Boucheron synthesizes works by critics such as Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, and Walter Benjamin, whose writing in The Arcades Project inspired the book’s title: “Trace and aura. The trace is appearance of a nearness, however far removed the thing that left it behind may be. The aura is appearance of a distance, however close the thing that calls it forth. In the trace, we gain possession of the thing; in the aura it takes possession of us.”
Presented as an “archaeology of collective memory,” TRACE AND AURA illuminates the life and times of the eponymous saint, among the most prominent ecclesiastical thinkers of his era. Investigating St. Ambrose’s enduring sway on the Lombard capital, and, more broadly, on the evolution of Christian theology, TRACE AND AURA contextualizes the bishop’s legacy—or recursion—from the fourth through 15th centuries. Delineating key moments of his civic and religious influence, Boucheron examines how he called for clemency in the aftermath of a riot incited by the Roman emperor Theodosius I; innovated the use of hymns in liturgy; and inspired St. Augustine’s writings, notably his Confessions. Boucheron also considers St. Ambrose’s impact on Milan’s architecture, from the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, the church he consecrated that was later named in his honor, to the Porta Romana bas reliefs, which date to the 12th century and were transferred to Sforzesco Castle in the late 19th century.