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Reviewed by:
  • L’Univers du livre médiéval: substance, lettre, signe par Karin Ueltschi
  • Luke Sunderland
L’Univers du livre médiéval: substance, lettre, signe. Études réunies par Karin Ueltschi. (Colloques, congrès et conférences sur le Moyen Âge, 17.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2014. 384 pp., ill.

Although this volume openly targets undergraduates and other novices in the field of medieval books and libraries, it is not just an introductory survey: it combines summary chapters with particular case studies and some surprising inclusions that widen the typical generic and disciplinary array of the field. Crucially, the authors bridge the gap between history of the book, art history, and literary interpretation, that is, between the material, the visual, and the textual dimensions of medieval manuscripts. Karin Ueltschi’s opening chapter offers a potted introduction to the manufacture of parchment, ink, and codices, as well as to palimpsestic scribal practices, rewriting, and illumination. She also opens the dimension of the imaginary power of books and libraries, thinking about the book’s fragility and susceptibility to loss, about the libraries of legend, and about the medieval practice of citation of non-existent books and authors as sources and authorities. This more speculative dimension proves important to the whole collection, taking it beyond the usual positivist limitations of the field, and is followed up later by Anne Berthelot in an inventive chapter on the imaginary library that gathered around the omniscient figure of Merlin, to whom a whole series of works were attributed. The collection contains some solid and unsurprising chapters giving overviews of the role of books in the Carolingian world (Dominique Alibert); of the political importance of libraries for kings, especially in France (Catherine Daniel); of the use of heraldry in and on books (Laurent Hablot); of the problems of editing manuscripts (Denis Lorée); and of the structuring of chivalric romances around reputation, fate, and destiny (Jan Herman). Other contributions are more unusual or provide greater depth: Claude Lecouteux offers a typology of grimoires, whereas Denis Hüe studies the production and dissemination of woodcut books, a format that so often lies neglected in the cracks between manuscript and print cultures. Francis Gingras brings his great knowledge of medieval codices to bear on recueils, concluding that they were generally unified by genre, language, purpose, or format (verse or prose), and Florence Bouchet offers an insightful reflection on the senses: not just hearing and sight, but also taste, touch, and smell were involved in the reading process, and these ‘external’ senses fed information to the ‘internal’ senses, the movements of the mind, which processed them, sorting truth from falsity. Other chapters offer closely focused case studies of illustrations of the marvellous in prose romance manuscripts (Christine Ferlampin-Acher); of the illuminations of the Estoire del Saint Graal and Merlin codex Paris, BnF, MS fr. 105 (Catalina Girbea); of the linguistic transitions from Latin to Old French made in translations of the legend of St Patrick (Myriam White-Le Goff); and of [End Page 588] the hagiographical compilation known as the Livre des sœurs (Florence Bayard). All in all, the collection achieves a nice balance between introducing what is known about medieval books and libraries, and opening paths for future interdisciplinary investigation.

Luke Sunderland
Durham University
...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Pages
pp. 588-589
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-21
Open Access
No
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