- Tributes to Jonathan J.G. Alexander: the Making and Meaning of Illuminated Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts, Art & Architecture
Anyone who has worked on illuminated manuscripts over the last forty years is aware of the contribution that Jonathan Alexander has made to the field. One of an influential generation of European, American and Australian scholars, he has helped transform manuscript studies from an obscure, minor study into a vibrant and central area in medieval art history. His productivity has been singularly impressive and has spanned centuries and regions, including English, French and Italian, early and late medieval manuscripts within his purview. Under his general editorship Harvey Miller's Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles has become an essential tool and earned the gratitude of graduate students and scholars everywhere because of its range and groundbreaking research. It is not surprising then, that the Festschrift, edited by two of his former students, should read like a who's who of manuscript research. Included among the contributors are Walter Cahn, François Avril, Madeline H. Caviness, Ruth Mellinkoff, Mary and Richard Rouse, and the authors of several of the Harvey Miller English manuscript surveys: Lucy Freeman Sandler, C. M. Kauffmann, Nigel Morgan and Katherine L. Scott. [End Page 202]
Festschrifts are odd. As they frequently reflect the range of research a teacher's former students have embarked on since leaving the classroom, they can sometimes read like a peculiar miscellany of disparate essays. In this case the editors solicited works from the many academics and curators with whom Alexander worked, asking them to produce essays focused around the themes of 'Making' and 'Meaning'. Due to the distinguished array of 37 contributors this collection is less likely to skulk in dusty obscurity on some library shelf. At the same time, the essays produced here are generally very specific in their subject matter, more case studies than overarching or challenging reinterpretations of issues or controversies. The finished book is divided into six sections: Artists and Scribes; Methods of Work and Production; Marginalia; Text and Image; Cultural Context; and Afterlives – Receptions.
The first work discussed in the book, Lillian Armstrong's examination of a fifteenth-century Italian drawing of Hercules and Antaeus, is typical of many, in that it is one that the author had viewed with Alexander at the Bodleian Library. Similarly, William Voelke's choice of the Liberale da Verona's North Wind provides him with an opportunity to further develop Alexander's research originally done for an exhibition curated for the Pierpont Morgan Library, where Voelke is curator of manuscripts. This image was used on the cover of the published catalogue, The Painted Page (Munich, 1994). Others, such as in Kathleen Scott's discussion of illuminated letters in two fifteenth-century English manuscripts, return to fields where Alexander has written important contributions – in this case, the study of decorated letters. Laurence Nees looks at the Jonathan Gospels (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Cod. Pal. lat. 46) from the ninth century, arguing that the scribe was also the illustrator of this work. That scribes might be artists was a theme that also interested Alexander, who has written broadly on the topic in articles as well as his major study, Medieval Illuminators and their methods of work (1992).
Given the range of material covered, as well as the very different research interests represented, this is a collection that will appeal to a wide range of scholars. For me, certain approaches were more sympathetic, and particular essays drew my interest more, as those authors either engaged with issues that particularly concern me, or examined works that directly related to my own research. I am sure that this will be the case for most readers. Certainly Mary and Richard Rouse's discussion of the unusual illustration of an incident of black magic depicted in a small number of copies of the Grandes Chroniques, one of which ended up in the English Royal...