- Roman de la Rose Digital Library
Large-scale manuscript digitization projects, though often spear-headed by literature specialists, have significant applications for art historians studying medieval illuminations. Reproductions of miniatures in scholarly publications tend to crop the image, removing it from the context of the folio and the manuscript at large; printed facsimiles are expensive to produce and are usually limited to the most well-known manuscript of a given text. New digital facsimiles make it possible to view the image alongside other elements that are integral to contemporary art historical analysis, including the script, rubrics, marginal imagery, and the mise-en-page. Though digital libraries cannot substitute for access to original manuscripts, they make reproductions of a large number of works more widely accessible and develop dynamic interfaces for researching the imagery within.
The Roman de la Rose Digital Library (RRDL), a joint venture between the Sheridan Libraries of the Johns Hopkins University and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, is a prime example of the ways that digitization projects can enable and encourage new types of research, for both the textually and pictorially inclined. To date the RRDL has made around 130 manuscripts available to the public, almost half of the extant corpus. The project has relied on funding from the Mellon Foundation as well as the admirable cooperation of a great number of [End Page 166] libraries, museums, and even a few private collectors. The result is a site that gives a sense of the many forms assumed by the Rose, from one of the earliest illuminated manuscripts produced in the thirteenth century (BnF fr. 378) to two fifteenth-century printed versions now located at the Library of Congress (Rosenwald 396 and Rosenwald 917). The site also provides a short summary of the text as well as a general introduction to the manuscripts, a welcome overview for those who are unfamiliar with the corpus.
The sheer amount of visual material available on the site has renewed interest in the Roman de la Rose within the discipline of art history, as witnessed by recent publications and new projects addressing the topic. Along with work in various fields of medieval studies by scholars such as Marie-Thérèse Gousset, Sylvia Huot, Meradith McMunn, Stephen Nichols, Mary Rouse, Richard Rouse, Lori Walters and others, the RRDL has helped show that the Rose was not a singular, unchanging work. Instead, when we speak of the Roman de la Rose, we refer to a series of material manifestations of text and image that were changed and adapted according to the audience and circumstances of production. In other words, new scholarship and new tools together have helped re-present Rose manuscripts as dynamic objects of study.
The site allows art historians to begin their work from a different vantage point. Using the multitude of digital facsimiles, it is possible to isolate points of interest based on primary evidence. The process of inquiry is more active than beginning one’s research using reproductions of single images, which are typically presented as evidence within someone else’s scholarly argument, or lists of iconography in manuscript descriptions, which may not mention some of the more interesting aspects of the miniatures. While scholars await the highly anticipated, forthcoming catalog of illuminated Rose manuscripts by Meradith McMunn, the only existing work that brings together descriptions of Rose manuscripts is that by Ernest Langlois, published in 1910. Alfred Kuhn’s “Die Illustration des Rosenromans,” published in 1912, is the only publication by an art historian that claims to be comprehensive. Kuhn necessarily limits the discussion to certain manuscripts and discusses the miniatures within a progressive model that is now considered dated. The RRDL is not all-inclusive, but its reproductions help us begin to understand the manuscripts on their own terms.
The site’s large number of manuscripts is easy to navigate. The left menu bar helps sort the mass of available manuscripts in ways that are useful for the interested novice or the seasoned Rose specialist. There are several ways to select a...