- A Saving Science: Capturing the Heavens in Carolingian Manuscripts by Eric M. Ramírez-Weaver
In A Saving Science: Capturing the Heavens in Carolingian Manuscripts, Eric Ramírez-Weaver has focused his study on a deluxe copy of the Handbook of 809 produced for the ninth-century Bishop Drogo of Metz, one of Charlemagne's sons. This was one of several versions of this important text and Ramírez-Weaver offers a comparative study that also highlights the text's significance for the daily celebration of the liturgy as it provides necessary charts and information used at that time for dating.
The Handbook of 809 was a large astronomical encyclopedia that took the form of a compilation of astronomical and computistical material collected in seven books. It was derived from Charlemagne's synod of 809. This synod included several Frankish prelates who were interested in questions of computus, a subject of great interest throughout the Middle Ages, and the manuscript was prepared for the youthful prelate in about 820. It now resides in Madrid in the Biblioteca Nacional de España, MS 3307. At least four artists from Metz were involved in its illustration. It brought together an array of texts including Bede's De natura rerum that made up Book vii of the collection. As well, it presented a Carolingian interpretation of astronomy, built on such works as Isidore of Seville's Etymologies and other teachings. The compilation had been guided by prelates such as Adalhard of Corbie who used their books to advance pedagogy and encourage a robust and intellectual brand of spiritual renewal through the studying of the liberal art of astronomy. The miniatures and charts found within were crucial both to this agenda and to make meaningful the contents. They highlight the link between art, religion and science.
The use of illustrations that took the form both of diagrams and representations of particular constellations has been familiar to art historians through publications of Carolingian art and science. Equally familiar is the Aratus from Leiden (Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit, MS Voss. lat. Q79) from 816, that has close parallels in how such constellations were recorded and preserved forms from an older classical tradition. These manuscripts also demonstrate the importance of art to astronomy in this period. Ramírez-Weaver has had an ongoing interest in this question and from his earliest publications has explored this connection between science and art in his work on astronomical and philosophical texts from the Carolingian and late Gothic Bohemian manuscripts. He does this across two parts consisting of four chapters in total. In his discussions Ramírez-Weaver reveals a very thorough grasp of German historiography, in particular, which is fortunate, as discussions of medieval science and its diagrammatic representations have [End Page 249] received most substantial attention from German scholars. His work also provides some of the clearest writing on computus in English, a topic that eludes many writers, including myself, despite the presence of tables of concurrentes appearing in manuscripts throughout the Middle Ages. He provides this very useful account in the first chapter along with a discussion of the classical legacy of the writings on constellations that led to the development of this handbook. He also looks at the manuscript's subsequent history. Chapter 2 is a history of celestial iconography as it relates to Drogo's manuscript, while Chapter 3 provides evidence to support the idea of itinerant teams of artists that spread ideas and styles through different regions. The final chapter covers such matters as the Carolingian image debate, following the Iconoclasm crisis in Byzantium, and the ways the Carolingians conceived of the spiritual benefits that awaited those who grappled with such celestial compilations. Studying astronomy was seen as a pathway to salvation and, as the title suggests, astronomy was perceived as 'a saving science'.
Ramírez-Weaver has written a difficult work that occasionally gets lost in his elaborate, sometimes obscure language. At the...