MICHELLE P. BROWN, ILDAR H. GARIPZANOV AND BENJAMIN C. TILGHMAN, EDS. Graphic Devices and the Early Decorated Book.
The editors of this excellent and timely volume pose the study of graphigraphy, the analysis of the "graphic architecture" of the book in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, as an intellectual approach that is as relevant today as it was in the period of its conception. The stated aim of this collection of essays is to address the problem of how to "read" not only the hypo- or hypertextual signs of the early medieval text, but how to perceive mise-en-page through the lens of medieval reading communities that shared greatly varying levels and definitions of literacy. The wide range of graphic devices and the requisite methodologies for their interpretation are the focus of this collection. Embellished capitals, frames, diagrams, monograms, and monogrammatic initials are examined in the context of their often multivalent purposes. The graphic elements of the early medieval book are linked both backwards and forwards in time from late antique calligraphic culture to contemporary post-textual digital communication. This volume, part of the Boydell Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture series, directed by Julian Luxford and Asa Simon Mittman, is beautifully produced, with copious color plates on high-quality paper. It is a pleasure to peruse.
The first section of this volume examines the use of graphic devices in the early medieval codex in the context of a range of diverse cultures. Ildar H. Garipzanov traces the origin of sacred display lettering in early medieval books to late antique acclamatory monograms. David Ganz (Monumenta Germaniae Historica) interrogates the word "character," found in both Greek and Latin, in the context of the description of script. Catherine E. Karkov examines decorated initials as places where script and abstract design intersect--and perhaps direct interpretation--while Eric Palazzo suggests that the shape of the initial "O" in contrasting liturgical contexts indicates their exegetical interpretation. Lawrence Nees examines quire marks in Latin manuscripts and end-of-verse indicators in copies of the Qur'an that appear overly embellished for their modest functions. He suggests that they may bear witness to an intersection of the graphic traditions of Eastern and Western manuscript traditions. Cynthia Hahn traces the use of the graphic symbol of the cross in early medieval Christian manuscripts through Insular and Merovingian books to the Carolingian period. She argues that the meaning of the cross as a Christian symbol is at this point symbolically loaded with Carolingian political inferences.
In the following section on Insular and Frankish manuscripts, Michelle P. Brown explicates the multivalent interpretations of the decorated incipit pages of the core survivals of the Insular world: the Lindisfarne and St. Chad Gospels and the Book of Kells, where word and image are fused. She finds cultural quotations of their forms in other manifestations of cultural practice and identity such as the physical structure of pilgrimage shrines. Tina Bawden discusses the topology of these decorated incipit pages in Insular and Carolingian examples in the context of the formality of the relationship between the letters and their frames. She suggests that medieval scribes exploited the liminal status of their art in creating initials and display letters that functioned in both visual topological and linear textual realms simultaneously. Benjamin C. Tilghman's chapter focuses on the graphic representation of the rending of Christ's garments of Mark 15:25 in the Book of Kells. Here both word and image reflect the essential process of the division of the garments themselves, and contemplation of the graphic art of script and illumination serves to encourage meditation on the interpretation of the passage in a broader Christian context.
Beatrice Kitzinger interrogates the possibility of "reading" patterned forms in contrast, and in compliment, to figural representations in ninthand tenth-century Carolingian gospel books.
Leslie Brubaker's approach to graphic signs, frames, and initials in Byzantine manuscripts is similar to Kitzinger's in that the key to navigation of the text, and to the augmentation of its interpretation, is to be found in the marginal sigla that accompany the text. Brubaker perceives an understood glyphic hierarchy on the page that simultaneously directs and enhances the perception of the textual content. Kallirroe Linardou's examination of a deluxe edition of the Praxapostolos codex demonstrates how the complex graphic organization of this volume encourages multisensory interpretation. Linardou argues that a sense of instantaneous perception could be enjoyed by the reader fluent in the language of aniconic illustration. David Ganz (Zurich) examines the transformational power of early medieval treasure bindings, as well as their relationship to the texts they contain. He argues that the enshrinement of the text within the treasure binding cued the use of specific materials and techniques. Figural images, diagrammatic schemes, and especially engraved letters enhanced the performativity of the text, and shifted its status to a more fluidly interpreted object. The final chapter in this book, by Herbert L. Kessler, demonstrates how graphic elements can alter and expand the interpretation of even the most conventional medieval figural representations.
This is a fascinating and beautifully produced book. It is most certainly a must for all research libraries that support scholarship on the late antique and early medieval book as well as the study of book history more generally. Linking early medieval graphigraphy to skills required of the twenty-first-century digital reader connects us to the reading experience of the past and to a future of shifting visual rhetoric.
Cynthia Johnston, Institute of English Studies, University of London