18.05.02, Schleif and Schier, eds., Manuscripts Changing Hands

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Stephen Mossman

The Medieval Review 18.05.02

Schleif, Corine and Volker Schier, eds. Manuscripts Changing Hands. Wolfenbütteler Mittelalter-Studien. WWiesbaden: Harrossowitz Verlag, 2016. pp. 370. ISBN: 978-3-447-10391-6 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Dr Stephen Mossman
University of Manchester

In this volume are assembled essays that deal in some way with manuscripts being exchanged, or worked upon by multiple individuals, or featuring or otherwise involving hands. These are quite disparate concerns. The first article, by Corine Schleif, and entitled "Haptic Communities," is a broad disquisition on hands: the representations of hands in art, of artists' hands painting, of hands copying manuscripts or otherwise involved in their production, and of hands in manuscript illuminations. Extended case-studies are offered of two fascinating images: the famous depiction of the different stages of book production in a twelfth-century manuscript from the Benedictine abbey of Michelsberg (Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Msc. Patr. 5, fol. 1v), and a portrait of the Cistercian monk Sifridus Vitulus as an ox copying a manuscript at the abbey of Ebrach in the early fourteenth century (Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 1.3.1 Aug. 2o, fol. 317r). The argument of greatest import is perhaps the study of presentation images (66-71), in which scribe or donor and (heavenly) patron hold the object being donated in an immortalized moment of giving, the acts of gift and counter-gift fixed in perpetuity and rendered unceasing.

A number of articles consider the material re-use of manuscript components. Volker Schier's essay on a late medieval missal (Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 38 Helmst.) takes its point of departure from an image not dissimilar to those examined by Schleif, in which an individual who labels himself "Johannes scriptor," and is actually a later corrector of the text, depicts himself in the margin of fol. 127v laying hands on the initial M of the word "Memento" at the opening of a prayer to commemorate the Lord's faithful servants. What follows is in fact a study of the Brethren of the Common Life at the Lüchtenhof in Hildesheim and their role in the second-hand book market, repairing and restoring books for sale, and modifying liturgical works (like the manuscript emended by "Johannes scriptor") for use in new institutional contexts to those for which they were created. This is work of the greatest interest, for the second-hand book market and its institutional contexts in the later Middle Ages is a subject about which next to nothing has hitherto been known. Barbara Haggh-Huglo contributes an enlightening study of liturgical books from Cambrai, in which she explains exactly where in the church different liturgica were kept or chained up, how they circulated between institutions, and how they might be revised in that process of institutional transfer. Alison Stones examines the practice of extracting images of the crucifixion and of Christ enthroned from missals and incorporating them into new books, with particular focus on the inclusion of such images, and portraits of the evangelists, into manuscripts on which civic officials laid their hands, sometimes directly on the images themselves, to take oaths. Stones suggests that it was the spiritual power retained by these images, which in their original manuscripts had formerly been used on the altar during the celebration of the Mass, that gave them such significance in their new lives as oath-taking equipment.

The transmission and circulation of texts is the subject of further articles. Arguably the most significant contribution to the volume is Matthias Eifler's study of the agency open to late medieval librarians in the processes of book transfer and knowledge management, exemplified through a case-study of the massive libraries of the Carthusians and the Benedictines of the Bursfelde Congregation in Erfurt. Eifler's study makes visible just how thoroughly and intensively manuscript contents were read by the librarians of these Erfurt monasteries in the late fifteenth century, in order to assess and document their contents and make that content accessible to be located by interested readers. The rich mine of data that is available in Erfurt to understand processes of external acquisition, internal production, institutional exchange, and deaccessioning of books in late medieval libraries is augmented by the particular and interesting case of the ways in which the Benedictine librarians re-integrated (or alternatively dismembered and recycled) their twelfth-century manuscripts into a newly-ordered collection after their abbey joined the Bursfelde Congregation in 1451. Gabriela Signori examines the circulation of one text, the Carolingian monk Grimlaic's Regula solitariorum, in late medieval German translation, amongst the hermitages in the mountains around St. Gallen, expanding our knowledge of the transmission of the Latin text and of the contexts in which the German translations were read.

The final essay in the volume is something of an outlier, but no less engaging for that. Madeline H. Caviness and Hiram Kümper present a study of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century attempts to produce facsimile editions of the illuminated Sachsenspiegel manuscripts, at the interface of technological innovations that made such enterprises possible, and the emergent interests in legal history, in the history of art (which would ultimately end interest in the manuscript illuminations with the formation of an exclusive artistic canon), and in what were taken to be "authentic" representations of the practice of law and of medieval life. Yet all of these early attempts to realize facsimile editions gave priority to the text. Even in the most ambitious (and ultimately unrealized) projects, the illuminations were separated out and accorded second place to the primacy of text, with no real recognition of the complex interplay between image and text that the original concepteurs of the manuscripts had achieved.

In broad terms, one would have wanted to encourage some of the authors to build arguments on the basis of their careful observations, or at least to address open questions directly. Judith Oliver offers a thorough art-historical examination of a fourteenth-century homiliary from north-western Germany (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 185). Oliver establishes the different artistic "campaigns" involved in its initial production, and observes the way in which the nuns (possibly Cistercians?) for whose convent the homiliary was made themselves made additions to and otherwise adapted its artwork at the end of the fourteenth century, some decades after the artwork proper was completed. What one misses is an interpretative framework to help explain these observations. In other words, what model of the production of this manuscript should one envisage given the division of labour amongst multiple prominent artists, and why would a manuscript have been made in this way? This is a particular case of a general phenomenon in the essays of this volume, namely that specific observations are not routinely contextualized in the framework of existing scholarly understandings of manuscript production and circulation in the pertinent regions and periods.

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