Coleman, Joyce, Mark Cruse, and Kathryn A. Smith, eds, The Social Life of Illumination: Manuscripts, Images, and Communities in the Late Middle Ages.
This attractive and illustrated, edited volume of fifteen essays offers an interdisciplinary perspective on manuscript illumination, traversing English, French, literary studies, and art history. Divided into Part I, Spiritual Community, and Part II, Social and Political Community, the book spans a range of manuscripts and texts--secular and religious, French and English--that were patronised, owned, and read during the later Middle Ages, mostly by high-status individuals.
Part I opens with three essays that approach religious imagery in the context of a physical, spiritual, and intellectual connection between manuscript contents and readers. In her consideration of Christ's blood as ink, Marlene Villalobos Hennessy suggests 'a relationship between the book and the body that is inherently social' (p. 18), while Alixe Bovey in her essay on the Smithfield Decretals argues that manuscript illustrations deepened lay readers' understanding of the Eucharist. Finally, Lucy Freeman Sandler builds upon work by Michael Camille to examine the imagery of two Old Testament cycles and their relationship with written text in the Psalters of Humphrey de Bohun.
Kathryn A. Smith and David Joseph Wrisley go on to investigate the communities and social contexts surrounding illustrations. Smith considers a book of hours and a group of English wall paintings in terms of their 'viewing communities' and the 'communication technologies' that help to forge and strengthen social bonds between individuals (p. 122), while Wrisley's study on Jean Germain's Debat du Crestien et du Sarrasin references the late medieval debate around papal authority.
Part I closes on two studies of richly illuminated playscripts. Robert L. A. Clark and Pamela Sheingorn point to the social function of the Arras Passion manuscript, despite the removal of this and other such
luxury books from any theatrical staging, while Laura Weigert considers aspects of marketing and genre suggested by the images in Anthoine Verards La vengeance de nostre seigneur.
Part II opens with two thoughtful analyses of the effects of image placement in the mise en page. Logan E. Whalen considers how page design might influence representation and reception of moral instruction in Marie de France's Isopet, and Nancy Freeman Regalado highlights an illustration in Bibliotheque nationale de France (BnF), MS fr. 146 that 'marks a crucial point of encounter' between text, music, image, and the social (p. 316).
Anne D. Hedeman and Mark Cruse both highlight the performativity of illustration, with Hedeman examining legal and historical documents in the Proces de Robert d'Artois (BnF, MS fr. 18437) and Charles V's Grandes chroniques de France (BnF, MS fr. 2813), whereas Cruse assesses the function of image in romance in the Roman d'Alexandre of Oxford, MS Bodleian 264.
The collection's next two articles explore the relationships between genre, content, and image. Joyce Coleman postulates that presentation miniatures were restricted to didactic texts, and Dhira B. Mahoney cites the power of illustration to 'make the book, fluid in itself, a constantly changing literary artefact' in three versions of Anthony Woodvilles Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers (p. 465).
The collection closes on two studies of books owned by high-status women. An opulent prayer book from James IV to his new bride Margaret Tudor provides the subject of Elizabeth Morrison's study of marriage, politics, and iconography, and Mary Erler argues that inscriptions in books are 'carriers of social meaning', citing a book of hours owned by Jane Guildford (p. 529).
In their Introduction, the volume's editors describe illustrated manuscripts as 'associative objects', creating and shaping social bonds (p. 2). This agency has certainly forged illuminating links between manuscripts, themes, and issues in this wide-ranging collection. The volume presents an alternative approach to word and image, and will provide a useful point of reference for scholars interested in manuscript contents beyond text.
REBECCA LYONS, The University of York
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2014|
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