15.01.08, Kwakkel, McKitterick, and Thomson, Turning Over a New Leaf

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Constant J. Mews

The Medieval Review 15.01.08

Kwakkel, Erik, Rosamond McKitterick, and Rodney Thomson. Turning Over a New Leaf: Change and Development in the Medieval Book. Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2012. Pp. 224. ISBN: 9789087281557 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Constant J. Mews
Monash University

Medieval manuscripts exercise a hypnotic fascination over scholars in different ways, particularly those copied prior to the explosion of book production in the thirteenth century, associated with scholasticism and the rise of the Universities. While the title of this volume might imply that it ranges over the entire medieval period, the common concern of its three core chapters is with the production of books in the period prior to 1200. All three essays in this collection are characterized by close attention to the book as a physical object, all originating as lectures delivered to honor the memory of Gerard Isaac Lieftinck (d. 1994), the great Dutch palaeographer, who held the Chair of Palaeography at Leiden University until 1972 (about whose career J. P. Gumbert offers an introductory essay). All three papers contribute in one way or another to showing what close attention to manuscripts as physical objects can reveal about broader cultural history. Palaeography and codicology are disciplines that can appear forbidding to outsiders by virtue of attention to scholarly detail. These papers show what these disciplines can offer to the history of the book, as a key artefact of medieval culture.

The study by Rosamond McKitterick, "Glossaries and Other Innovations in Carolingian Book Production" (21-76), offers a detailed and well-illustrated analysis of how information was organised in Carolingian manuscripts, particularly within a classroom context, drawing in particular on the rich collection of early medieval manuscripts preserved in Leiden University Library, mostly gathered by the great humanists of the late sixteenth century like Vossius. Inevitably with such a codicological survey of a hugely rich collection, there is a risk of the reading drowning in a welter of information without enough of a clear structural framework beyond that of "the Carolingian Renaissance." The driving issue that the essay is concerned with is the organisation of knowledge. McKitterick underlines the flexibility with which scholars in the Carolingian period (and earlier) met the challenge of organizing the manuscripts of late antiquity which they encountered. Five different copies of the Latin translation of the Eusebian Chronicle preserved at Leiden provide a fascinating illustration of how different scribes at different points of time responded to the technical demands of the text. She shows how the late eighth-century scribes of MS Scaliger 14 were inspired by a late antique exemplar to use color coding, while also developing a distinct hierarchy of scripts to organise its headings and notes. McKitterick then focuses on her major subject, the rich collection of glossaries in the Leiden collections, some monolingual (Latin explanations of Latin words), others bilingual (Latin and Old High German, Latin and English, Greek and Latin, and in one case from the late tenth century, Latin and Arabic, from northern Spain (MS Scaliger, Or. 31). The lecture is more of a presentation of issues raised by individual manuscripts, rather than a synthetic overview of the organisation of learning in the Carolingian period. One such problem is the so called Leiden Glossary (MS VLQ 69), a collection of glosses from various sources, copied at St Gall in the late eighth century. The richness of this collection is that its glosses are culled from a range of ancient authors, some of whom (like Gildas, De excidio Britanniae) were always rare in the medieval period, and not otherwise known at St Gall. While McKitterick discusses the possibility of Old English origin (perhaps Canterbury, judging by its precious account of the teaching of archbishop Hadrian of Tarsus), she also raises the possibility (difficult to prove) that they could have been compiled at St Gall, as a help to understanding books in its own collection. Her paper reveals the difficulty of interpreting any such manuscript simply from internal evidence, when it is never clear whether it is a copy of a book from another educational centre, or itself an original synthesis, compiled in situ.

The paper by Erik Kwakkel, "Biting, Kissing and the Treatment of Feet: The Transitional Script of the Long Twelfth Century" (79-125), is a meticulously documented study of the evolution of handwriting between the familiar categories of Carolingian and Gothic. Following in the footsteps of Gerard Lieftinck and Albert Derolez, Kwakkel uses as his major resource the volumes of the Catalogues des manuscrits dat├ęs from various regions of Europe to study those palaeographic markers that help indicate whether a script can be defined as displaying "Gothic" tendencies. Rather like specialists in wine tasting, palaeographers enjoy their own recondite vocabulary for describing how two letters might bite into each other or kiss each other to create greater compactness on the page, or be identified by feet, curved to the right, that effect greater visual interconnection between the letters. The broad trends of so-called Gothic script have been well documented by Derolez, above all the narrowing and fusing of letters, with many other small details in the way individual letters were written. Kwakkel's contribution is to identify different stages in this evolution during the so-called long twelfth century. He confirms, for example, that Normandy is the region where many of these tendencies can first be observed in the late eleventh century, while documenting a dramatic increase in the angularity of minims in the period 1105-1119. By contrast, the use of letters biting each other develops much more in the second half of the twelfth century. He points out that the evolution of these features is far from regular across Europe. He suggests that full Gothic script, often presumed to begin around 1200, may not be firmly established until the second quarter of the thirteenth century. Kwakkel's contribution is supported by a statistical analysis of the various scribal features that he documents across manuscripts copied in various regions of Europe. His study invites further reflection on what may be provoking these palaeographic shifts, whether the economic pressures of increasing book production or an aesthetic shift, paralleling what was happening in architecture. Kwakkel is aware that different regions of Europe developed handwriting in different ways. Still demanding explanation is why not all parts of Europe adopted the Gothic style by the thirteenth century, most famously Italy (a region not focused on in this study). The history of handwriting may well echo the politics of culture more generally in the long twelfth century.

Rodney Thomson offers a shorter contribution, buttressed by a long bibliography, "The Place of Germany in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance: Monks, Scriptoria and Libraries" (127-163). Developing an earlier contribution on this theme, Thomson urges greater awareness of the massive explosion in copying of books across the Germanic realm throughout the twelfth century. There has been a tendency to focus on northern France as the cradle of that intellectual and cultural movement known as "the twelfth-century renaissance." Thomson is perhaps most known for his meticulous catalogues of the manuscripts of English cathedral libraries, and his demonstration of the vitality of monastic culture in that period. Here Thomson applies a similar approach to medieval libraries in Germany in the twelfth century, drawing on the testimony of library catalogues that invariably hint at much larger collections than have survived into the present day. Libraries such as those at Hamersleben, Lamspringe, Wessobrun (where the female scribe Diemut was remarkably productive), Hirsau, Rheinau, Zwiefalten and Admont were richly endowed not just with the writings of the Church Fathers, but in many cases scholastic texts emerging from the schools of France. Thomson's major point is that religious reform and educational renewal went hand in hand, often on a massive scale. He highlights the usefulness of library catalogues for documenting this process. The question still remains of whether Germany always felt itself slower to develop than northern France. As Kwakkel documents through his study of scripts, there was a German reticence to develop scribal habits from northern France. Nonetheless, Thomson is correct in arguing that German communities of monks and canons, not forgetting those of nuns (perhaps more active in copying books than in France) did develop distinct cultural and religious identities in the twelfth century. His paper, like those of McKitterick and Kwakkel, affirms the value of close attention to the history of the book in the twelfth century.

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Constant J. Mews

Monash University