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  • The Social Life of Illumination: Manuscripts, Images, and Communities in the Late Middle Ages ed. by Joyce Coleman, Mark Cruse, and Kathryn A. Smith
  • Sarah Bromberg
The Social Life of Illumination: Manuscripts, Images, and Communities in the Late Middle Ages. Edited by Joyce Coleman, Mark Cruse, and Kathryn A. Smith. [Medieval Texts and Cultures in Northern Europe, Vol. 21.] (Turnhout: Brepols. 2013. Pp. xxiv, 552. €120,00. ISBN 978-2-503-53212-7.)

In The Social Life of Illumination, art and literary historians examine French and English illuminated manuscripts produced between the thirteenth and early-sixteenth centuries. The volume’s essays demonstrate that manuscript imagery expresses, instigates, and solidifies social interactions and relationships.

The volume’s first section, “Spiritual Community,” analyzes illuminations that integrate the reader-viewer into communities of people with similar devotional practices, religious beliefs, or theological agendas. Marlene Villalobos Hennessey argues that illuminations depicting Christ’s blood indicated that the book itself signified Christ’s suffering body, a medieval metaphor that spread to varied audiences through communal viewing of these images or sermons preached to the laity. Alixe Bovey asserts that illuminations depicting the Eucharistic ritual reinforce the viewer’s participation in the ceremony of the Mass. Lucy Freeman Sandler articulates that the creation and use of an Old Testament picture cycle necessitated communication between the patron’s household and the Augustinian friars who worked in their service as artists and spiritual guides. Kathryn Smith claims that the prevalence of heraldic imagery in Books of Hours allowed the patron to pray while contemplating marital and feudal alliances. David Joseph Wrisley argues that images of an imagined debate between a Christian and a Muslim express the mid-fifteenth-century Burgundian court’s shared anxiety regarding the expansion of the Islamic Ottoman empire. Robert Clark and Pamela Sheingorn suggest that the illuminations depicting scenes from a passion play enable viewers to envision themselves as audience members witnessing a performance. Laura Weigert asserts that images depicting the destruction of Jerusalem c. 70 AD motivated readers to share the ideology of late-fifteenth-century French crusaders in their desire to invade Jerusalem.

The book’s second section, “Social and Political Community,” examines images that inspire a collective awareness of worldly values and shape secular relationships. Logan Whalen examines mnemonic devices in illuminations illustrating Marie de France’s Fables that allow a reader to remember Marie’s moral commentary. Nancy Freeman Regalado discusses images that locate an allegorical triumph of Virtues over Vices in early-fourteenth-century Paris, a victory that readers likely linked to their hopes for good government under Philip V. Anne Hedeman investigates illuminations that chronicle the legal activity of French kings such as King Philip VI of France presiding over dukes, counts, and bishops at a trial; such images present semi-fictionalized versions of historical events to legitimize royal authority and political alliances. Mark Cruse posits that an illuminated copy of the Roman d’Alexandre functions as a social agent by encouraging communal reading, proper courtly conversation, communication via vernacular language, and empathetic responses to the story’s events. Joyce Coleman considers illuminations depicting the text’s author presenting the book to its patron. Such “presentation miniatures” [End Page 813] not only express the social relationship between creator and recipient but also reveal the social prestige ascribed to political texts. By examining another presentation miniature, Dhira Mahoney explores the idealized visual construction of relationships between the manuscript’s recipient (King Edward IV), his family members, the text’s translator, and the text’s initial compiler. Elizabeth Morrison argues that King James IV of Scotland presented his English bride, Margaret Tudor, with a Book of Hours as a wedding gift; images of the Holy Family emphasize Joseph’s role as Mary’s husband and, by analogy, the potential for a harmonious marriage between James and Margaret. Mary Erler examines royal inscriptions in a Book of Hours owned by an English female courtier. The inscriptions expose the emotional and obligatory bonds between a courtier and the court that she served.

Taken together, these essays thoroughly support the editors’ contention that “illuminated manuscripts . . . were constitutive of social bonds that would not have existed, or not in the same way...


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