Hartmut Hoffmann self-effacingly begins his study of scripts and decoration from the ninth century to the eleventh with the remark that although his book's three sections possess no overall coherence, connexions will be obvious on individual points and through his methodology (vi). This is indeed true, although the lack of an overarching theme should not take away from the great wealth of detail provided by Hoffmann. The book's three main sections, focusing respectively on the scriptorium of the Saxon monastery of Corvey, selected women's scriptoria in Saxony, and various methodological aspects of the study of book script and decoration will remain a valuable reference work for many years to come.
Hoffmann's first section studies the scriptorium of Corvey in the tenth and eleventh century, "filling in the gaps," as he puts it, left with the publication twenty-five years ago of his monumental Buchkunst und Königtum im ottonischen und frühsalischen Reich. Following a brief introduction to the history of Corvey's scriptorium (1-4), Hoffmann catalogues sixty-seven Corvey manuscripts from the tenth and eleventh centuries (4-33) plus five of uncertain connexion with Corvey (33-36). Some of these Hoffmann has already written about--the four Corvey manuscripts in Bamberg, for example--and where this is the case he points the reader to his earlier studies.  Otherwise, the individual entries are detailed and have as their primary focus the book hands encountered in the manuscripts.
The second and longest section of Hoffmann's study (37-159), devoted to manuscripts produced in women's scriptoria, is divided into three subsections. First comes a series of catalogues, identical in methodology to the Corvey catalogue, of books from four female houses in Saxony: Essen (forty-eight manuscripts), Gandersheim (twenty-five manuscripts), Nordhausen (fifteen manuscripts) and Quedlinburg (twenty-one manuscripts).
The second subsection--entitled "Texts from Women's Houses"--introduces some fascinating new material: glosses on a fragment of St Matthew's Gospel from Gandersheim; glosses in two hands on Ambrose's Expositio of Psalm 118; glosses on the so-called Seulinger Psalter-fragment dating from the beginning of the eleventh century; and a fragmentary commentary on the psalms from Essen. For each of these texts, Hoffmann provides a critical edition complete with helpful identification of the glosses' fontes formales. But his analysis of the manuscripts also highlights the importance of institutional networks for book dissemination in Saxony, as the cases of the glosses on Ambrose and the Seulinger Psalter-fragment show. The glosses on Ambrose are today extant in Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 4535, a manuscript that belonged to the south-German monastery of Benediktbeuern in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period. This manuscript was presented to Benediktbeuern in 1055 by a certain Froyprich, a lady from the familia of the church of Augsburg (106). The hands of the main text Hoffmann identifies as coming from the scriptorium of Gandersheim (a house with strong traditional connexions to the imperial family), while those of the marginal annotations he traces to the royal nunnery of Nordhausen, situated to the south of the Harz mountains (107). In the case of the Seulinger fragment, Hoffmann identifies the main text hand as being from Fulda (which though not itself in Saxony, lies close to its southern borders) and the glosses as again being the work of a Nordhausen scribe (114). Hoffmann ends his study of women's scriptoria with a welcome little section entitled "Pillars of Society" (153-159). This broadens his strictly palaeographical focus to sketch the social and intellectual context of Saxon nunneries in the Ottonian period.
The book's third section (160–215) concentrates on handwriting and book decoration. It is divided into two subsections. The first encompasses general remarks on such methodological problems as the similarity of hands, the pitfalls of relying solely on initials to determine manuscript relationships or origins, and the challenges faced in dating book decoration. The second subsection seeks to apply some of these ideas to specific cases by tackling problems Hoffmann perceives in the scholarly literature on particular centres or on manuscripts associated with them. Among the case studies are selected manuscripts from Corvey, Einsiedeln, Freising, Fulda, Cologne, Mainz, the middle Rhineland, Niederaltaich, Quedlinburg, Reichenau, St Gallen, and Tegernsee; a group of Epistolary fragments that survives today in the binding of several Tegernsee manuscripts and incunabula; as well as an excursus on a diagram portraying the different branches of learning in Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 14516. Finally, the book contains 113 black-and-white images relevant to the manuscripts Hoffmann discusses.
Schreibschulen und Buchmalerei presents a number of challenges for the reader who is not a palaeographer. While it is undoubtedly a treasure of detail, much of it is descriptive. This is a difficulty that all palaeographers encounter, since wider conclusions cannot be drawn reliably without first setting out in a thorough fashion the detail of the manuscripts. But it would also be well to remember that information itself is not analysis or argument. Hoffmann most successfully achieves that transition in his remarks on Saxon women's scriptoria, which deepens our understanding of this topic and nicely complements the important work of Alison Beach on female scribes at Admont.  Some readers may feel that the book's third section is framed primarily as a response to the secondary literature rather than the manuscripts themselves, a feeling perhaps exacerbated by Hoffmann's often cut-and-dried manner of drawing conclusions. A non-specialist, for example, might seek more context for the statement, criticizing Elisabeth Klemm's work, that "a pair of manuscripts and manuscript fragments, which are Italian, have been accorded an unjust place in the corpus of German illuminated manuscripts from the Ottonian period" (165), or might wonder what makes a particular I-initial "obviously Italian" (166). Could they not have been copied by an Italian monk at a German monastery? Or by a German monk who had spent time in Italy and been influenced by Italian examples? These are the sorts of lateral questions that many historians might want to consider but which, unfortunately, Hoffmann's ex cathedra approach does not always allow for.
There is no doubt that Hoffmann's work deserves the most careful attention from any scholar working on material that touches its contents. Palaeography is a skill possessed, alas, by fewer and fewer medieval historians, particularly in the English-speaking world. Yet it is of vital importance to our historical epistemology, for without the corrective of materiality it is all too easy for history to lose sight of the evidence it seeks to interpret. More than ever, therefore, palaeographers have a responsibility to make their work relevant so that it guides historical debates.
1. Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Msc. Bibl. 96, Msc. Bibl. 133, Msc. Hist. 2 and IX A 3; see H. Hoffmann, Bamberger Handschriften des 10. und des 11. Jahrhunderts (Schriften der Monumenta Germaniae Historica, 39; Hanover, 1995), 115, 117, 137, 167.
2. A. I. Beach, Women as Scribes: Book Production and Monastic Reform in Twelfth-Century Bavaria (Cambridge, 2004).