The Medieval Review 14.10.29


Coleman, Joyce, Mark Cruse, and Kathryn A. Smith. The Social Life of Illumination: Manuscripts, Images, and Communities in the Late Middle Ages. Medieval Texts and Cultures of Northern Europe, 21. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. Pp. xxiv, 552. $189.00 (hardback). ISBN: 9782503532127 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Amanda Luyster
College of the Holy Cross
aluyster@holycross.edu

This edited collection of essays provides a vivid and up-to-date examination of the "social life" of late medieval French and English illuminated manuscripts. The essays focus on the "life" of the images within their codices; that is, the agency such illustrated folios enact in shaping a certain sense of self or community. Along with the classic, solitary reader-viewer engaged with a manuscript's text and image, then, the volume's authors also consider an array of other social interactions enabled by illuminated manuscripts that helped to shape individual and group experience and identities. These activities and states of mind include public reading, shared viewing and discussion, loyalty to families and relations, affective piety and internal dialogue, communal celebration of the values of knighthood, courtliness, or good lordship, the use of images and books as moral and ethical guides, allusions to political or other allegiances, and social networks through which a book might be lent, inherited, or even inscribed as an album amicorum (friendship album). As the editors state in their introduction, "[a] central premise of this collection, therefore, is that illuminated manuscripts were essentially associative objects--that is, their creation and use linked manuscript makers, patrons, readers, and viewers to each other, to the figures represented in their texts and images, and to future readers of these books. Illuminated manuscripts...were constitutive of social bonds" (2).

The introduction provides a concise overview of recent trends in the social history of manuscript studies, useful for graduate students as well as scholars. It relates the "social life of illumination" to the "social history of art," a decades-old endeavor marked by a concern to place art within its larger social context, material and commercial, personal and communal (cf. Baxandall and Hauser). The editors also note their reliance upon theoretical formulations of gifts and gift-giving and the power of objects to exercise agency (cf. Wolff, Layton, Gell, Latour, Mauss, and Appadurai). Older fields of study, such as patronage studies, show their continuing relevance to contemporary scholarship, while the essays in this volume are also marked with a real willingness to engage with recent scholarship in other fields of study in the humanities and the sciences (e.g., cognitive science) (209).

The authors of the individual essays come from the fields of English, French, and art history, but it is a mark of the confluence of fields in medieval studies that disciplinary allegiances are markedly subservient to a common cause. The manuscripts examined are predominantly French and English, from the fourteenth, fifteenth, and early sixteenth centuries. The editors should be commended on their production of an unusually coherent and strong field of essays that may be relevant to scholars interested in medieval literature, art history, drama, family and political history, the history of music, religion and piety, and the role of women.

This reviewer noted that while many essays portrayed illuminated manuscripts in a didactic role, and while such a didactic role is fully supported by textual and visual evidence, it would be rewarding to further explore the non-didactic roles played by some medieval texts and images. The capability of selected manuscripts to bring readers and viewers together in the arena of pleasure-filled entertainment, to experience wonder and awe, and to enjoy humor, must also have been part of their social role and one reason (among many) for their popularity and production. Non-didactic interactions are addressed in a few locations in the volume; for instance, in Mahoney's recognition of Caxton's "joke" in his prologue to Woodville's Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers, but this reviewer would be interested to read further analyses of appropriate manuscripts along these lines. How might the entertaining, awe-filled, and humorous aspects of social interactions based on illuminated manuscripts be modeled and theorized?

Following the editors' Introduction, the essays in the body of the volume are divided into two groups, "Part I. Spiritual Community," and "Part II. Social and Political Community." The essays are accompanied by nine color plates and 135 black-and-white figures. There are two indices; one listing manuscripts, early printed books, and archival sources, and the second a general index. The remainder of this review will briefly outline the essays within each group.

Part I. Spiritual Community

This section opens with "The Social Life of a Manuscript Metaphor: Christ's Blood as Ink," by Marlene Villalobos Hennessy. The author examines the fifteenth-century manuscripts London, British Library, MSS Addit. 37049 and Egerton 1821 in the context of the use of the metaphor of Christ's blood as ink. Villalobos Hennessy describes how "books, like images, were sometimes believed to have a corporeal nature: the bleeding reveals that there was something alive beneath the surface of the page" (45). She also examines the social implications of these beliefs with respect to the Eucharist, and she proposes both private and communal viewing of the two manuscripts, possibly including touching and kissing.

In "Communion and Community: Eucharistic Narratives and their Audience in the Smithfield Decretals," by Alixe Bovey, recognition of the social role of the Eucharist continues. Bovey examines fourteenth-century miniatures in the Smithfield Decretals associated with the Eucharist, focusing on the importance of Christian community. She proposes that the Decretals might have been shown to "wealthy laypeople as a way of teaching them, impressing them, and seeking their patronage for St. Bartholomew's," making the manuscript a site for dynamic group interaction (78).

Lucy Freeman Sandler, in "Worded and Wordless Images: Biblical Narratives in the Psalters of Humphrey de Bohun," explores two cycles in fourteenth-century English psalters once owned by Humphrey de Bohun, accompanied by "scarcely a single explanatory word" (85). Freeman Sandler locates the social life of these cycles and manuscripts within the structure of the Bohun household, which incorporated both the in-house cleric-artists as well as Bohun chaplains and confessors, all of whom would have had social contact with the family, and who could have explained the cycles to the family. Repeated experience with the images and their spoken glosses would have "constructed and confirmed the Bohun readers' self-image as proud nationalists and loyal supporters of the English sovereign" (111).

The concept of community and its historiography, in "A 'Viewing Community' in Fourteenth-Century England," serves as an introductory focus for Kathryn A. Smith. Smith constructs a viewing community, a group of book-owners linked by the fact that their outlook and aspirations were given shape by the same group of artists. Examining the De Bois Hours, the recently-discovered Beauchamp-Corbet Hours, and a cycle of wall-paintings from St. Peter ad Vincula, Smith reads from these visual sources--linked by shared artists--the importance of remembering past family history, political loyalties, and religious aspirations.

A different viewing community is evoked in "Jean Germain's Debat du crestien et du sarrasin: Illumination between Multi-Confessional Debate and Anti-Conciliarism," by David Joseph Wrisley. In 1447, Jean Germain, bishop of Chalon sur Saône and chancellor of Philip the Good's Order of the Golden Fleece, oversaw the production of an illuminated copy of his treatise on the "Debate of the Christian and the Saracen." Wrisley closely analyzes the illumination program, describing the ways in which an epistolary exchange is transformed into an apparent live debate in which the images "visually hijack the whole debate" in favor of the Christian (190). The manuscript displays only a few pictorial signifiers of the East; however, the treatise carefully engages with contemporary debates in fifteenth-century Burgundy.

The last two essays in this section address manuscripts associated with dramatic productions. In "'Ces mots icy verrez juer': Performative Presence and Social Life in the Arras Passion Manuscript," Robert L.A. Clark and Pamela Sheingorn address the late fifteenth-century Arras Passion manuscript. In a stimulating argument, they introduce the idea of "conceptual blending," as drawn from cognitive theory, which models the integration of two different intellectual inputs to create a new way of thinking (242). Clark and Sheingorn suggest that we understand one input space to contain knowledge of experienced theatrical practice, while the other input space is the play in its manuscript form. When the reader-viewer runs both inputs together, a blended space is created, in which relations become available that were not available in the separate inputs. "Now the devotee can both watch embodied figures in action and pause them for meditative exploration," creating a space for affective devotion, in which the reader-viewer can operate as if present (245).

Laura Weigert's "Anthoine Vérard's Illuminated Playscript of La vengeance nostre seigneur: Marketing Plays and Creating the King's Image" similarly explores the distinct qualities of a playscript. She focuses on the emergence of the playscript as a distinct literary genre in the fifteenth century and the role of illuminations in the creation of this market and literary genre. Her playscript contains a printed text with hand-painted pictures, presumably marketed, as she suggests, to the noble and wealthy. In addition to transmitting a specific religious and political agenda, "the choice of a play to tell a story of God's vengeance was crucial to the play's efficacy in that it invoked the memory of a performance tradition and the communal involvement and enthusiasm this tradition recalled" (288).

Part II. Social and Political Community

In "Visualizing Morality in the Manuscripts of Marie de France's Isopet," Logan E. Whalen examines the mise-en-page of selected manuscripts of Marie's Isopet, that is, an Old French version of Aesopic fables in the Phaedrean tradition. Whalen focuses on the didactic function of the manuscripts of Marie's Fables, analyzing her textual additions to her sources and the illuminations, describing how these help to fix the moral of each tale in the memory of the reader-viewer.

An illustration from the expanded Roman de Fauvel in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, (henceforth BnF) MS fr. 146 inspires the analysis in "Angels on the Right Bank: The Celestial Ladder over Paris in BnF, MS fr. 146," by Nancy Freeman Regalado. This image depicts a double ladder of angels ascending and descending over the right bank of the Seine in Paris, and Regalado argues that its power "derives exactly from the eruption of the divine into the everyday social world" (321), due in part to the status of the ladder as a visual citation of Jacob's dream vision. Moreover, the adjoining text and music create a multisensory effect, while the songs allude to liturgical chant and scriptural material. Finally, the role of narrators and spectators in the real manuscript invite real-world readers into the manuscript to explore its multisensory allusions and connections between the real and depicted social worlds.

Anne D. Hedeman, in "Performing Documents and Documenting Performance in the Procès de Robert d'Artois (BnF, MS fr. 18437) and Charles V's Grandes chroniques de France (BnF, MS fr. 2813)," explores the role of illustrations in legal documents. Hedeman argues convincingly that the well-known first full-page miniature in the Procès de Robert d'Artois "reshapes history, creating a pictorial record of the King's justice as it should have been enacted, but was not," creating an idealized image of corporate justice (343). Similarly, in the expansion of Charles V's Grandes chroniques, images work alongside inserted documents "to enable readers to actively recreate an oral performance that was a plea for royal support" (365). Hedeman concludes with a statement describing the ways that illustrations can function in a manuscript, working not only with the text on the page upon which they appear but also generating active resonances with other images and texts which occur both earlier and later in the manuscript.

Dovetailing with earlier essays that also addressed performance, "Pictorial Polyphony: Image, Voice, and Social Life in the Roman d'Alexandre (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 264)," by Mark Cruse, describes MS Bodley 264, the most sumptuously-illustrated and textually-complete copy of the interpolated Old French Roman d'Alexandre, completed in Tournai in 1344. Opening with a review of the recent reconsideration of romance as aural and performative, Cruse focuses on courtly prelection (reading before an audience), courtly and non-courtly voices, and argues that the "'talking pictures' in MS Bodley 264 key the manuscript as a social object with the potential to connect its users to each other, to the noble past, and to stories and discourses outside the court" (372).

Cruse's inclusion of the depiction of prelection provides a smooth transition to "The First Presentation Miniature in an English-Language Manuscript," by Joyce Coleman. Coleman addresses the question of "why, despite its occasional appearance in English manuscripts containing Latin or French texts, presentation imagery never surfaced in manuscripts of Geoffrey Chaucer and other fourteenth-century Middle English authors" (404). Coleman provides a useful contribution to the scholarship on presentation miniatures, suggesting that their use can be connected to genre. Through surveying the available evidence, Coleman concludes that the reason why manuscripts of Chaucer, Machaut, and Froissart did not receive presentation images is that authors, patrons, and artists considered presentation images suitable only for high-prestige, Latin-derived wisdom literature, not for lighter subjects.

As Coleman addressed visual metatexts, Dhira B. Mahoney's "From Print to Script: the Luxury Metatext of Lambeth Palace Library, MS 265" is concerned with the different layers of metatext incorporated into a luxury manuscript copy of the Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers. The 1477 manuscript, Anthony Woodville's gift for his brother-in-law, King Edward IV, contained Woodville's own translation of a French text. Interestingly, the manuscript was copied after Caxton's printed version of the same text, and the manuscript contains both the original prologue to Woodville's original translation as well as Caxton's prologue to his printed version. The three versions of the text provide an opportunity for Mahoney to analyze the different effects produced by each layer of metatext and to map out the changing roles and representations of Woodville and Caxton, from author, to translator, to, in Woodville's case at least, aristocratic presenter.

The royal court also provides the setting for "To Have and to Hold: Marriage, Politics, and Iconography in the Prayer book of Margaret Tudor," by Elizabeth Morrison. This essay explores the Hours of James IV, given as a wedding gift from King James IV of the Scots to Margaret Tudor of England in the early sixteenth century. Morrison uses an iconographical analysis of the hours of the Virgin in this manuscript, alongside other objects and events from the wedding, to argue convincingly that an analogy between Margaret and James and the Virgin Mary and Joseph was intended. Such an analogy was intended to convey that James, like Joseph, would prove a caring and faithful husband (despite previous philandering), while Margaret should see herself as a virtuous woman capable of bearing sons.

The final essay in this collection, "The Book of Hours as album amicorum: Jane Guildford's Book," by Mary Erler, focuses on Jane Guildford's book of hours (London, British Library, MS Addit. 17012). This manuscript is the earliest representative of a group of books inscribed in the early sixteenth century with "a field of messages," thereby acting as an album amicorum or friendship album. Erler expands upon the meaning of this book as a token of remembrance, a means of self-aggrandization for the owner, and an artifact of both the intimacy and the uncertainty of court culture.



Copyright (c) 2014 Amanda Luyster



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