The Medieval Review 17.12.01

Miranda, Maria Adelaide and Alicia Miguélez Cavero, eds. Portuguese Studies on Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts. Textes et Etudes du Moyen Âge, 76. Turnhout: Brepols, 2016. pp. xv, 195. ISBN: 978-2-503-55473-0 (paperback).

Reviewed by:

Kyle C Lincoln
       Kalamazoo College

This 2014 collection of studies about Portuguese manuscripts is a volume composed of four French and four English essays collected to cover a series of manuscripts from Portuguese archives by Portuguese researchers. The research initiative that backs this collection of essays also resulted in a number of projects related to this volume, including a recent special edition of the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies (8.2) and the Imago database (, as well as the use of advanced scientific techniques to unlock some of the secrets about the materials employed in the creation of the manuscripts in question. In this respect, the volume is successful because its presentation of the methods and their examination of the components of the manuscripts demonstrates the broad connections to the larger European world that are demonstrated by the illuminated manuscripts. The essays in the volume are varied in their contents, but united in their common approach that deploys scientific and historical techniques to unpack the complex legacies of the illuminated manuscripts contained in Portuguese archives.

Because the volume contains no internal divisions and progresses between the subjects cleanly, each essay presents its own self-contained conclusions. In some respects, this is one of the volume’s strengths--it presents many interesting angles that future research might pursue--but the continuity of certain themes suffers from the shifts between essays which do not build directly on one another. It is, in this respect, quite possible that a few additional essays might have allowed for a greater degree of sub-organization to foster continuity between the volume's chapters, but such a possibility may be plausible from hindsight alone. Organizing volumes of this scope and specificity based on a collaborative and grant-funded research project has limited the pool from which scholars and essays could be drawn.

The first essay in the volume analyzes the use of pigments in the manuscripts in Alcobaça and Coimbra, which details in particular the importance of the choices of blues, greens, and reds in three twelfth and thirteenth manuscripts. The texts from Alcobaça, Lorvâo, and Coimbra showed that the use of color in manuscripts followed established models but also allowed the authors to connect these trends to the manuscripts in question. Of particular interest is the use of "color cartography" to map the coverage of the manuscripts' surface and show the prevalence of different colors in the studied manuscripts. Although the coloration of the manuscripts did not permit any new or groundbreaking conclusions, the "color cartography" methodology may contribute substantially to scholarly understanding of the ways colors are used in manuscripts.

Colors are similarly under examination in the second of the eight essays, which examined the stemma of the pigmentation of birds in the twelfth century De avibus by Hugh of Fouilloy. The early Portuguese copies of the text--some of the earliest extant exempla of the text--show a consistent focus on preserving the illuminations of specific types of birds in identical fashion to the oldest copies. The symbolic importance (significatio) of the colors of the birds were used by Hugh of Fouilloy as a mnemonic and didactic tool in the text, and their preservation in subsequent Portuguese copies demonstrates that the colors of the text contained an additional layer of meaning that needs to be unpacked to better understand the importance of color to the text and the importance of the text for understanding the weight that color leant to texts.

The third essay in the volume addresses the history of one copy of a mappamundi from the manuscript tradition of Beatus of Liebana. This particular Beatus illumination had an unfortunate and haphazard preservation, which the author of the study uses to problematize scholarly assumptions about the way important texts were handled over generations. The most important conclusion of the essay is that the twelfth century mappamundi under study is one early example of the ways in which the maps could be used to supplement iconographically the textual program in the Beatus Commentary tradition.

The Torre do Tombo Liber Extra, originally a Toulouse university manuscript, is the subject of the fourth essay. Given the larger focus of the volume of essays on iconographic elements, it is not surprising that the program of images in the codex is the subject of the fourth essay. In particular, the author shows, through a patient codicological comparison, that the links between Southern France and Portuguese studia. These connections, while a bit local in their impact, demonstrate that the diffusion of texts and the circulation of copies was as ambitious as the compilers of the Liber Extra.

In the fifth contribution to the volume of studies, a more internally-focused essay suggests that the developments in the scriptorium of Alcobaça. In particular, the essay considers the ways in which the codex argues for the circulation of texts between Alcobaça and Clairvaux. Although the fourteenth century context of these texts is hardly surprising, but there are a number of elements that suggest independent developments within the scriptorium and among Portuguese illuminations and illuminators themselves. These examinations show that, while the connections to Clairvaux remained strong, they were not themselves links that overpowered the internal forces that influenced the program of illuminations of the codex in question.

As the fifth essay moved into the fourteenth century, the sixth examines a fifteenth-century text works through the iconographic association of trades with astrological signs. The essay examines, after outlining the signs and their particular venues, the ways in which the Children of Mercury, as those controlled by the sign were called, demonstrate a shift in the cultural evaluation of certain trades. In doing so, the essay shows that, while there were considerable medieval and classical antecedents to these early renaissance ideas about trades and their connections to astrological signs, the changes of the fifteenth century nevertheless present considerable novelties in the way those associations are framed and depicted.

The volume presents a number of novel conclusions, but the connections between physical sciences and historical sciences are presented most emphatically in the seventh essay. Two codices were examined, using both chemical and codicological analyses, and showed that an illumination from one text--a depiction of David--belonged instead to the other. While this is not, in any grand fashion, a huge revelation, it is an important one for demonstrating that the chemical analysis can confirm the codicological examinations. This small study shows that the kind of interdisciplinary work that medievalists have often touted as possible is, in fact, achievable. (A larger extension of this idea in the special edition of the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, mentioned above.) Although the transposition of a depiction of King David is hardly an impossible riddle to solve, the fact that the solution was derived in a relatively novel way deserves congratulations, and, one hopes, emulation.

The final essay in the volume examines the connections between Hebrew-language manuscripts produced in Portugal and those produced in other parts of the Mediterranean world in order to situate the Portuguese texts in a wider context. In particular, a series of sectional case studies showed strong links to Hebrew-language codices produced in the Italian peninsula and to Andalusian--i.e. late medieval Castilian--Hebrew-language texts, occupying a via media between these two traditions. The iconographic program, by the authors' examination, of the texts contained more illumination than their Andalusian counterparts, but less than those of Italian manufacture. This middle ground suggests that the impact of a shared, lived reality in the Iberian peninsula and the symbiotic benefit of intellectual cross-currents along trade routes is best contextualized through a comparative analysis across multiple regional and temporal settings.

In the preface and introduction to the volume as a whole, the editors express the desire to make substantial progress toward studying the many illuminated manuscripts catalogued by scholars inventorying collections in the middle of the twentieth century. While the volume is far from being comprehensive, its focus on the collections that appear to have been held in the monastery of Alcobaça before that collection's re-localization to Lisbon. These studies, in effect, present one small "ice core" of data within the larger record of monastic centers in medieval Portugal. Overall, this is a valuable contribution to the study of illuminated manuscripts and provides points of comparison for high and late medieval codicological scholarship generally. The scholars whose work is presented in the volume deserve double-congratulations: first, because they wrote in English or French, rather than their native Portuguese; second, because they provide thoughtful, if specific, commentaries on a variety of important textual subjects.

However, while the scholars deserve commendation, the press deserves some criticism. The scholars made the considerable effort to compose their work in languages other than Portuguese--ostensibly to make it accessible to scholars who cannot or would not make the effort to read scholarship produced in Portugal--and the press should have provided or subsidized a pair of copy-editors for the English and French contents. Native speakers would have picked up some of the small, distractingly frequent errors--prepositions transposed, for example--that make the scholarship appear less than what it is. The volume has too much to recommend it without the press having hamstrung it from being accepted. Hopefully, this is a mistake that the press will not commit a second time. Scholars who have worked this well and given such a substantial contribution to scholarly investigation and collaboration, as the authors of this volume have, deserve to have their work given more editorial support from presses that have the ambition of expanding their audience. This is a collection of studies that scholars working on illuminated manuscripts from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries should consult for Portuguese comparisons, forgiving the authors for editorial failures in the copy-editing and enjoying their thoughtful contributions and use of the tools of the hard sciences to enhance those same studies.

Copyright (c) 2017 Kyle C. Lincoln

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