Thursday, November 18, 2010

Illuminated Manuscript: Updating the Classics for a Medieval Audience

The lecture that I attended tonight was "How the French Made History: Manuscripts and Images of the Pas in Medieval France" given by Anne D. Hedeman. Andy (or Anne D.), as she was called by the person who introduced her, is a professor of art history at the University of Illinois. She seemed extremely friendly and accessible, while still communicating the scholarly tone of her work. Her lecture was also extremely well-organized and easy to follow.

Her lecture focused on the phenomenon of re-imagining the modern relevance of the past as seen in French illuminated manuscripts. She asked two questions at the beginning to focus her lecture:
  1. What role do images play in updating the texts for a contemporary medieval audience?
  2. What visual language is used in order to communicate messages to the audience.
She explained that to answer these questions scholars must look at the physical objects of the books, as well as the process of creation of the book and its intended audience. The books in which these images were presented were a large-scale collaborative effort. For these highly-decorated aristocratic volumes, the patron would hire a book-maker/book-seller who would, in turn, employ scribes and artists to make the physical volume. There are three ways that the collaboration created this visual language:
  1. Inter-visual and inter-textual references that demonstrate links between texts.
  2. Structuring the visual cycle of images in the texts themselves.
  3. A unified visual rhetoric in a self-controlled and self-conscious references to past images.
The texts that she used were generally Roman histories which had been translated into French for French royalty in order to create roll-models for virtuous kingship. The images that illustrated the text updated the garments, palaces, and tombs of the Roman parallels into medieval equivalents. This brought political equivalents for kingship, reapplying the lesson to contemporary situations.
Imagining the Past in France: History in Manuscript Painting, 1250-1500
The catalog from the exhibit [1]
  1. The lecture went on with the Getty exhibit "Imagining the Past in France."

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