19.11.10 Kwakkel/Thomson (eds.), The European Book in the Twelfth Century

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Scott G. Bruce

The Medieval Review 19.11.10

Kwakkel, Erik and Rodney Thomson, eds. The European Book in the Twelfth Century. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press , 2018. pp. 434. ISBN: 987-1-10713-698-4 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Scott G. Bruce
Fordham University

This collection of eighteen essays on the production and use of manuscripts in twelfth-century Europe originated with Erik Kwakkel's research project "Turning Over a New Leaf: Manuscript Innovation in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance," which he directed at Leiden University from 2010 to 2015. Influenced by new currents of monastic reform, the rise of the universities, and the influx of ancient knowledge from the Islamic world, the period under consideration (spanning the years 1075 to 1225) witnessed a meteoric rise in manuscript production accompanied by very high standards of book construction, scribal industry, and artistic decoration. During this period, monastic scribes not only created many new manuscripts, but also innovated new ways of reading them in formats often markedly different from their early medieval exemplars. Taken together, the essays in this collection provide a detailed, yet accessible overview of manuscript production, reading habits, and the kinds of books that religious communities were reading in the twelfth century.

Part I ("Book Production") comprises four essays on the way manuscripts were made and decorated. In chapter 1 ("Codicology"), the editors survey the use of parchment made from sheep, calf, and goat; calculate the average dimension of twelfth-century manuscript pages; investigate the size of margins and number of text columns on manuscript pages, which remained stable throughout this period; and comment on bookbindings (typically tawed skin stretched over wooden boards), which "reached a pinnacle of excellence [in this period] which it would arguably never reach again" (18). In chapter 2 ("Book Script"), Erik Kwakkel traces changes in quill strokes, letter forms and other traits that signal the gradual shift from Caroline miniscule to Gothic Textualis, but he acknowledges that this development "lacks cohesion, is much less innovative than traditionally assumed, and shows great regional variety" (30). As Martin Kauffmann shows in chapter 3 ("Decoration and Illustration"), most twelfth-century scribes and artists were monks, whose religious houses were the great patrons of manuscripts in this period. They perfected the art of drawing large arabesque letters, which they inhabited with fanciful renderings of humans, animals, and monsters. Bibles and psalters were the books copied most often, followed by the patristic commentaries on them. Starting in the late eleventh century, monastic houses also produced great numbers of decorated saints' lives. In chapter 4 ("Scribes and Scriptoria"), Rodney Thomson demonstrates a direct relationship between evidence of scribal activity and the presence of reformed monastic houses. While most scribes were monks, toward the end of the twelfth century we find evidence of a few lay scribes working in the university towns. The training of scribes presumably took place in the monasteries themselves under the guidance of a master. Female religious were active in the production of books for their own communities, in addition to helping adjacent male communities with their scribal needs, as the example of the double monastery at Admont shows. Some monasteries had dedicated places for scribes to do their work ("scriptoria"), the products of which may sometimes be recognized by a "house style." Thomson makes an astute observation about the longevity of monastic scriptoria, suggesting that they existed only in so far as to stock a religious house with the necessary volumes and may have only lasted one or two generations before they achieved this goal and fulfilled their practical purpose.

The four essays in Part II ("Readers and Their Books") trace the lineaments of reading culture in the twelfth century. In chapter 5 ("Scholars and Their Books"), Constant Mews investigates the personal book collections of scholars like Guido di Castello (later Pope Celestine II) and Peter Lombard. Known primarily through their bequest to institutional religious libraries, these specialized collections offer insight into the kind of books owned by private individuals, which ranged from pagan and Christian auctores valued as teaching tools to works of canon law, exegesis, and theology. In chapter 6 ("The Libraries of Religious Houses"), Teresa Webber provides further context for Mews' essay in her treatment of religious libraries. Since the holdings of these libraries comprised "a common core of the same or closely similar texts" (103), her contribution explores the much more interesting question: what constituted a library in the twelfth century? She contends that dedicated rooms for books, a feature of the ancient world, did not reappear in Europe until the thirteenth century and did not find a place in religious houses until the fifteenth century. Monks tended to keep most of their books on a dedicated shelf or recess in the cloister, while guarding their most precious volumes, presumably those decorated with gold or gems, in their treasury. Among the duties of the cantor or armarius was the responsibility for keeping track of the community's books, many of which circulated internally for private reading and externally for copying. In chapter 7 ("Modes of Reading"), Jenny Weston attempts to reconcile distinctions between "monastic" (private, contemplative, comprehensive) and "scholastic" (dialectic, argumentative, selective) reading practices in the twelfth century. She employs several case studies (John of F├ęcamp, Anselm of Canterbury, Hugh of St. Victor) to show "how aspects of monastic lectio existed with scholastic lectio" (133). In chapter 8 ("Practices of Appropriation: Writing in the Margin"), Mariken Teeuwen compares the intellectual strategies of Carolingian readers with those of twelfth-century readers through a comparison of their use of annotation in the margins and inter-linears spaces of their manuscripts. Her comparison of several manuscripts of classical and medical texts reveals a consistent concern over time for annotating with the aim of correcting, explaining, and organizing important texts, but also notes that the Carolingian habit of using Tironian notes falls out of fashion completely by the year 1100.

Part III ("Types of Books") is a collection of ten chapters about the design and content of different kinds of twelfth-century manuscripts organized by genre or by language. These include essays on Hebrew books (Judith Olszowy-Schlanger), liturgical books (Nicholas Bell), books of theology and Bible study (Lesley Smith), logic (John Marenbon and Caterina Tarlazzi), classical texts (Irene O'Daly), scientific texts (Charles Burnett), medical texts (Monica H. Green), legal texts (Charles M. Radding), vernacular manuscripts in Britain and France (Ian Short), and vernacular manuscripts in Germany (Nigel F. Palmer). On the whole, these essays tend to more descriptive than argumentative, but each provides a comprehensive introduction to the topic under discussion with insights drawn from exemplary manuscripts. Although these contributions do not speak directly to each other like the essays in the first two parts of the book, several common themes emerge about twelfth-century manuscript culture: the size and shape of books have a direct bearing on their use; paratextual additions to manuscripts, from glosses to illustration, become increasingly important as ways to organize written knowledge; manuscripts were highly mobile, so their influence could extend well beyond their place of production; and especially in the case of the sciences and medicine, the discovery of new texts prompted the editing, curating, and reorganizing of existing knowledge.

This is an excellent and strongly recommended collection of introductory articles by a range of specialists on twelfth-century book production and decoration, reading practices, and manuscript culture. I have only one small complaint. While the quality of the articles is uniformly quite high, I found the bibliography difficult to consult. The editors have opted to include a separate bibliography for each article, which they have organized further by theme. For example, the chapter on codicology requires the reader to flip to the end of the book and then sort through three separate thematic bibliographies on "dimensions and layout," "parchment," and "bindings." A general alphabetical list of works cited would have been much more efficient for this reader. One last comment: In their introduction to the volume, Kwakkel and Thomson signal that they considered including an article on the legacy of twelfth-century manuscripts, their use in the later Middle Ages, and their impact on contemporary book culture. An article of this kind would have made an especially poignant coda to the book under review and remains an important desideratum.

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