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21.09.21 Panayotova (ed.), The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts

21.09.21 Panayotova (ed.), The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts

This long-awaited and brilliant volume continues the innovative work of the MINIARE research project at Cambridge University begun under the leadership of Stella Panayotova, former Keeper of Manuscripts and Printed Books at the Fitzwilliam Museum and now Librarian of the Royal Library, Windsor. It includes six essays by specialists and fifty-eight case studies of manuscripts produced over ten centuries, from circa 600 to 1570. As in Panayotova’s previously edited volumes also published by Harvey Miller, COLOUR: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts (2016) and Manuscripts in the Making: Art and Science, 2 vols. (2017-2018), edited with Paola Ricciardi, this volume makes a vital contribution to manuscript studies, advancing the field in truly significant ways. It will be regularly cited and consulted for many years to come, inspiring substantial new work as well as revisionist studies of well-known manuscripts. It is appropriately dedicated to the memory of Elly Miller, whose lifelong commitment to publishing attractive books has for so long decidedly promoted medieval manuscript studies.

In her introduction, “The Integrated Analyses of Illuminated Manuscripts,” the editor rightly notes that most “systematic analyses of the painting materials and techniques used by illuminators... are published in scientific journals and are rarely considered in art historical or wider cultural studies. Reversing this trend is among the main goals of this Handbook” (12). In achieving this goal, the volume provides a primer for “a relatively recent, rapidly developing field of research” (12) that encourages a cross-disciplinary approach that “involves research in material and physical sciences as well as social and economic history” and that could “offer more accurate and comprehensive knowledge about exchange, innovation and experimentation in medieval and early modern painting generally” (23). This handbook successfully and stunningly exemplifies these aspirations.

Following the introduction, five essays by art historians, manuscript conservators, and heritage scientists, many associated with the MINIARE project, comprise the first third of the collection. Their titles and authors accurately represent their substance, range, and collaborative nature: essay 2, “Pigment Recipes and Model Books: Mechanisms for Knowledge Transmission and the Training of Manuscript Illuminators,” by Nancy K. Turner (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) and Doris Oltrogge (Institut für Restaurierungs- und Konservierungswissenschaft, Cologne); essay 3, “Science of the Book: Analytical Methods for the Study of Illuminated Manuscripts,” by Paola Ricciardi (Fitzwilliam Museum) and Catherine Schmidt Patterson (Getty Conservation Institute); essay 4, “From Pelt to Painted Page: Western Medieval Manuscript Parchments,” by Edward Cheese (Fitzwilliam Museum); essay 5, “Painting Materials and Techniques in Byzantine and Slavonic Illuminated Manuscripts, c. 800-c. 1500,” by Elina Dobrynina (Grabar Art Conservation Centre, Moscow); and essay 6, “Painting Materials and Techniques in Western Illuminated Manuscripts c. 600-c. 1600,” by Panayotova. These exemplary studies are in their own right worth the cost of this reasonably priced, deluxe volume.

The essays are essential preliminary reading for a full understanding of the remaining two-thirds of the volume: the superb, detailed, insightful, often lengthy (although some are quite brief), and always beautifully illustrated case studies of manuscripts, most drawn from Cambridge collections and all written by specialists. The manuscripts range from some of the most important and famous, such as the St. Augustine Gospels (Corpus Christi College 286), Bury Bible (Corpus Christi College 2), Estoire de Seint Aedward le Rei (Cambridge University Library Ee.3.59), Trinity Apocalypse (Trinity College R.16.2), and Hours of Isabella Stuart (Fitzwilliam 62), to lesser known manuscripts deserving greater scholarly attention, such as a tenth-century lectionary at the Fitzwilliam (McClean 30), a fourteenth-century psalter at St. John’s College (K.26), an early sixteenth-century Flemish book of Hours (Fitzwilliam 1058-1975), and several late medieval and early renaissance miniatures from the Marlay cuttings held by the Fitzwilliam. Two case studies of illuminated incunabula are also included.

The Lambeth Apocalypse (Lambeth Palace Library 209, c. 1260-67) is one of only a few manuscripts studied that are not housed in Cambridge collections. Like many of the volume’s contributions, the study is jointly authored by Panayotova and Ricciardi. Since I know this manuscript and its iconographic tradition well, I will comment on their entry to give a sense of a fully developed case study. It begins with a brief overview of received knowledge, the manuscript’s place within the rich genre of illustrated Anglo-French Apocalypses, relating what is known regarding dating, style, and likely workshop and patronage, all accurate information concisely specified. It also helpfully compares Lambeth with the previously discussed Trinity Apocalypse. Particularly valuable is the codicological analysis of the manuscript’s two sections, the first containing seventy-eight half-page illustrations of Revelation combining tinted drawings and fully illuminated miniatures placed above the Latin biblical and commentary texts, the second twenty-eight full-page tinted drawings of a variety of allegorical, devotional, and hagiographic topics, including the Life of John. Although it notes one of Lambeth’s unique features—the added bas-de-page scenes of the Life of Antichrist—it unfortunately does not include these among the numerous illustrations of the manuscript, a rare missed opportunity. So far, so good: we are offered a succinct and reliable introduction for anyone initially studying the manuscript. The superb technical analyses then follow. Supported by photomicrographs detailing the application of gold, silver, and glazes as well as the treatment of draperies and flesh tones, these analyses both support previous art historical interpretations and add a new dimension to our understanding of this impressive manuscript and the complex collaboration of its several artists. Although I do not know many of the manuscripts that this volume similarly studies in detail, those I do know receive comparable expert exploration and achieve comparable insights. Perhaps more importantly, those manuscripts that are new to me are effectively and temptingly introduced. It is difficult to overstate how much I learned from the case studies.

Unlike so many recently published “handbooks” with often sparse general information and poor quality illustrations, this lengthy and spectacularly illustrated volume has a modest subtitle that thoroughly underestimates its immense value and likely influence. The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts: A Handbook is highly recommended to all interested in illustrated manuscripts, their description, analysis, production, and conservation. Many of its case studies, furthermore, could be assigned to students as models of the best research practices and as examples of how to write meticulous technical analysis with clarity and precision.

The essays and case studies are supported by an index of manuscripts (including comparanda) and two comprehensive bibliographies: of books, articles, and dissertations, and of exhibition catalogues.