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19.03.06 Bamford, Cultures of the Fragment

19.03.06 Bamford, Cultures of the Fragment

In 2016, two major exhibitions under the titles of "A Portrait of Antinous, in Two Parts" (Chicago, Art Institute) and "Antinoo. Un ritratto in due Parti" (Roma, Palazzo Altemps Museum) were organized. Both of them focused on a discovery made by Egyptologist W. Raymond Johnson (University of Chicago) during a trip to Rome in 2005. Here, at the Palazzo Altemps, he saw a bust of Antinous, the Bithynian young lover of Roman emperor Hadrian, that clearly reminded him of a fragment preserved at the Art Institute in Chicago. His hypothesis was later confirmed by a team of experts from the Palazzo Altemps Museum, the University of Chicago, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Working together, they proved that both marbles had been originally one. The Chicago's fragment was actually the face of the Italian bust, which had received a replacement face in Early-Modern times. On the occasion of the exhibitions, and thanks to the use of new technologies--such as laser scanning and three-dimensional printing--the bust and the face were reunited, and a reconstruction of the original piece was created, thus showing the original appearance of Antinous's portrait.

Following Johnson's discovery, the subsequent research project (and with it, the organization of an exhibition to disseminate the results) is an excellent example of how science in recent years has enriched, and been advanced by, research in the arts. An expert eye--the one of someone working on fragments of the Luxor Temple for decades--combined, on the one hand, with the experience of an international and interdisciplinary research team and, on the other, with the use of new technologies, made it possible to bring together fragments that were separated for centuries. Knowledge was advanced not only about Roman art, culture, and history, but also on conservation and restoration processes during Early-Modern times. Poetically, the interdisciplinary study was presented to the public through an international exhibit that similarly joined the two sides of the Atlantic by simultaneously exhibiting reproductions of the reunited fragments.

Something similar happened in the field of manuscript studies in the past two decades. A growing number of scholars coming from very diverse research areas started joining scientific efforts to use and develop digital tools to better understand manuscript fragments. In this sense, initiatives and tools developed in the framework of Digital Humanities became crucial, such as IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework), Mirador, and DigiPal. But more important is that specific projects and ideas focused in manuscript fragments started to become more and more frequent. Among them stand out two European initiatives: Fragmentarium, the Swiss Digital Research Laboratory for Medieval Manuscript Fragments; and Virtual Manuscripts, which resulted from the research project "From manuscript fragments to book history. Norway and the European manuscript culture 1100-1300" (2012-2017), carried out at the University of Bergen (Norway).[1]

In North America, where large collections of medieval manuscripts are kept in libraries and institutions across the United States and Canada, this phenomenon grew in the framework of a broader avenue of investigation. One aspect of North American digital humanities is aimed at tracing the ways that manuscripts left Europe in the 19th century and how they were cut into pieces, dismembered, and dismantled in the mid-20th century by dealers and scholars, such as Otto Ege, who deployed a whole series of techniques and procedures to turn manuscripts into infinite numbers of illuminated folios, letters, or any kind of fragment that multiplied sales and, consequently, the economic benefit. Among the multiple projects that recently aimed to locate, reunite, and digitally reconstruct those manuscripts, the ongoing project on the Beauvais Missal stands out. It is coordinated by Lisa Fagin Davis, one of the scholars who has contributed most to this field and who is also the author of the blog Manuscript Road Trip. In the North American sphere of digital humanities, major exhibitions to disseminate the results of projects and discoveries were also celebrated, such as the one entitled "Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law book Bindings" at the Yale Law School Library in 2010. [2]

What seems even more important here is that the knowledge produced has, in turn, lead scholars to progressively prompt a theoretical framework that discusses the concept of fragment, the different kinds of phenomena the word might imply, and how fragments make possible--and might even be crucial to--the advancement of knowledge in the medieval and early-modern past. Experts on medieval manuscripts have developed a whole set of terms and a specific lexicon for this emerging, and newly coined, field of fragmentology: fragment, fragmentary, fragmentation, fragmentariness, and fragmentarily. Fragmentology now refers to a new field focused not only on the study of fragments but also aiming at reconstructing, reuniting, and bringing together all types of fragments, either physically or digitally. Furthermore, it is also the title of a new international, peer-reviewed journal launched in 2018, in the scope of which articles on medieval manuscript fragments will be published from now on.

The study of manuscript fragments has also experienced an increasing growth within Medieval Iberian Studies in the past two decades. From general references, such as the one published by Taurino Burón, to specific approaches, such as those on Beatus manuscripts carried out by Ana Suárez and John Williams, the study of Iberian manuscript fragments has provided new and unexpected findings and has contributed to scientific achievements. [3] Here, again, the fruitful collaboration of several disciplines has become definitive of Iberian projects in fragmentology. Such is the case, for instance, of the project recently carried out by Ana Lemos and an interdisciplinary team in Portugal. [4] Her expert eye as an art historian identified something wrong in an illumination depicting David in prayer in a Book of Hours today preserved at the National Library in Lisbon (IL 15, fol. 84r). A later in-depth study of the manuscript, which included material analysis in the laboratory, confirmed her hypothesis and proved that the illumination had actually belonged to another Book of Hours also preserved at the same institution (IL19). An impressive effort has also been carried out by Musicologists to recover and identify fragments of liturgical music, both through research projects and databases such as PEM (Portuguese Early Music Database). Furthermore, scholars have organized exhibitions to disseminate the findings and knowledge produced, such as the travelling exhibition Fragmentos medievales: vestigios del canto hispánico, first celebrated at the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid in 2017. [5]

The book Cultures of the Fragment now published by Heather Bamford thus integrates the current scientific trend of fragmentology and offers a comprehensive study on the role manuscript fragments played in medieval and early-modern Iberia. Bamford, a specialist on literature and manuscript culture, has published several papers on Iberian manuscripts of diverse kind and content, from romance kharja to chivalric and epic texts, which helped prepare her to write the present monograph. Her characteristic multicultural and multilingual approach for research, as well as her interest on a broad period of time that goes from the medieval period to the end of the sixteenth century, is clearly present in what is now her first book.

The monograph is structured in five main chapters, preceded by an introductory essay (3-20)--where the author establishes the main contents of the book--and followed by an afterword (163-171), where she summarizes the most important arguments developed throughout the text. Each chapter analyzes fragments and their use(s), taking into account four topics: their physical appearance; the concept of intention(s) behind fragments; metonymy; and audience and performance. Each chapter focuses on a different case study. They are all devoted to literary texts and collectively consider some of the most representative Iberian literary traditions: Arabic and Hebrew poetry, Latin and Castilian epic and chivalry romances, and Morisco literature.

The first chapter (21-49), "Fragment and Fragmentary in the Iberian Epic," analyses the concepts of metonymy and intention applied to Latin and Castilian medieval epic fragments, those including well-known texts such as Cantar de Mio Cid, Carmen Campidoctoris and the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris, the latter including the Poema de Almeria at the end.

The second chapter (50-82)," From Bound to Metonym: Early Modern and Modern Disuse of Chivalric Fragments," uses as an object of study two sets of physical fragments from the Amadís de Gaula and Tristán de Leonís that were used as bookbinding material in early-modern times. These pieces lead the author to discuss how the growth of print coinciding with a loss of interest in the content of such chivalric texts turned medieval manuscripts into pieces to be used for other purposes. Bamford then goes further and analyses theses fragments as examples of metonym of the originally complete manuscripts.

The third chapter (83-109), "Used to Pieces: The Muwashshahas and Their Romance Kharjas from Al-Andalus to Cairo," brings to the discussion another Iberian literary tradition: the poems written either in Arabic or Hebrew known as Muwashshahas, that might integrate verses in Andalusi Romance at their end, the so-called kharjas. Here, Bamford explores another sort of fragmentation and fragment use linked to intellectual, spiritual and practical purposes.

The fourth chapter (110-133), "Faith in Fragments," analyses several fourteenth-century fragments of manuscripts and tiles that were discovered in the rafters of the Aljaferia Palace in Saragossa and in a house in Burgos. Both of them are of religious nature but from different religious tradition. The ones from Saragossa come from the Qu'ran whereas the one from Burgos come from a Christian prayer, the Ordo commendationis animae. All of them provide data and material for Bamford to analyze the concept of spiritual fragment but also to discuss the importance of the fragments' presence within Islamic, Jewish, and Christian communities. Beyond the texts that these fragments contain, and their eventual reading and subsequent spiritual power, Bamford highlights how their mere presence and physical appearance as fragments must have played a definitive role for Medieval Iberian societies.

The fifth chapter (134-162), "The Fragment among the Moriscos: Mohanmad de Vera's Culture of Compilation," explores a later chronology and a different milieu, since it focuses on focuses on the clandestine manuscript culture of the Moriscos of the seventeenth century, defined by Bamford as a literature of fragments. As a case study, the fragments of three medieval works that were included in a seventeenth-century compilation by the Morisco Mohanmad de Vera are analyzed. They serve as a starting point to address several issues regarding the concept of intellectual fragmentation, the role played by compilers when using previous works, and the eventual importance and usefulness of intellectual fragments in a clandestine culture.

The set of case studies analyzed in this volume provide its author with enough data to dismantle some traditional ideas about manuscript fragments. First, she argues that intention is behind the existence of fragments more frequently that what it might initially seem. It is obvious that many manuscripts became fragmentary by accident, but what Bamford is able to identify is that multiple kinds of intention and purposes also drive the creation of fragments. Secondly, this book convincingly argues that the subtly implied nuance of weakness that the concept of fragment might have is, nevertheless, just an impression. This book explores the strength and power of fragments and achieves the aim of placing them at the center of scientific and scholarly attention in order to better understand Iberian society in medieval and early-modern times. For instance, fragments from Isidore of Seville's intellectual corpus found in later works are crucial for many reasons, such as: identifying authors' sources and how compilers worked; better understanding textual transmission; exploring the concepts of motion and circulation across time and space; and, ultimately, advancing knowledge in the culture and past of Iberia and Europe.

Additionally, this book is an excellent example for those wishing to learn about methodological approaches. Bamford's effort to create a multilingual and multicultural discussion framework is admirable. It is hoped that other languages and cultures will join her work space in the future, such as Portuguese or Catalan medieval and early-modern manuscript production. Iberian studies would much benefit from an increase of contributions like this one.

Finally, the interest of the author in looking beyond the scientific community and her aims at contributing to society at large with her work is noteworthy. In her afterword she discusses how UNESCO divides cultural heritage into two kinds: tangible and intangible. However, with her study on manuscript fragments she proves that an absolute division between tangible and intangible is useless and even false, especially when applied to certain kinds of heritage, such as manuscript fragments. Thus, this book is also a very useful tool that contributes to the rethinking of current cultural management and of how institutions preserve heritage.

To sum up, Heather's Bamford's Cultures of the Fragment. Uses of the Iberian Manuscript, 1100-1600 will become a long-standing and reliable reference for those interested in Medieval and Early-Modern Iberian manuscript culture. Scholars interested in fragments from another medieval region, other time periods, and in fragmentology applied to other objects, would also benefit from reading it. Additionally, it deserves a careful reading by all who have concerns about the management of Cultural Heritage.



1. Die abgelösten Fragmente der ULB Tirol und ihre digitale Erschließung:; Fragmentarium:; Fragmentology:; Virtual Manuscripts:

2. Manuscript Road Trip:; Reconstructing the Beauvais Missal:; Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings:

3. Taurino Burón Castro, Manual para la recuperación de fragmentos de manuscritos, impresos y otros documentos especiales (León: T. Burón, 2002); Ana Suárez González, Fragmentos de libros, bibliotecas de fragmentos (en torno al "Beato" del A.H.P. de Zamora) (Zamora: Instituto de Estudios Zamoranos "Florián de Ocampo," 2003); Ana Suárez González and John Williams, (Fragmentos de Beatos. Madrid: Testimonio, 2009.)

4. Ana Lemnos, et al. "Regards croisés des historiens de l'art et des chimistes sur deux livres d'heures de la Bibliothèque National du Portugal, les mss. IL 5 et IL 19," in Portuguese Studies on Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts, eds. Adelaide Miranda and Alicia Miguélez (Barcelona-Madrid: Brepols, 2014.), 145-168.

5. PEM- Portuguese Early Music Database:; Fragmentos medievales: vestigios del canto hispánico: