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Reviewed by:
  • Images et imaginaire dans l''Ovide moralisé' by Françoise Clier-Colombani
  • Miranda Griffin
Images et imaginaire dans l''Ovide moralisé'. Par Françoise Clier-Colombani. (Essais sur le Moyen Âge, 63.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2017. 327 pp., ill.

An extraordinary medieval undertaking, the early fourteenth-century Ovide moralisé is the first full-length rendering of Ovid's Metamorphoses into French; it also gives a series of historical and moralizing interpretations of these tales of scandal and transformation. It swiftly became a vital resource for authors writing in French, and was recorded throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in sumptuously produced, often richly illustrated manuscripts, produced for French and English aristocrats. Françoise Clier-Colombani's informative study highlights the crucial place of the image in both the composition of the Ovide moralisé and its manuscript tradition. The Ovide moralisé constantly engages in reflection about its practice of interpretation of a pre-Christian text from a medieval Christian perspective; Clier-Colombani deftly analyses the differing approaches taken by illuminators, to reveal their manuscripts as participating in this reflection on translatio. The manuscripts are revealed as dynamic spaces of collaborative and competitive interpretation: most intriguingly, Clier-Colombani discusses the ways in which illustrations in manuscripts whose text does not transmit the Christian allegory of the Ovide moralisé nevertheless refer to that allegory in their illustrations. The book's first section describes and situates the surviving illustrated manuscripts of the Ovide moralisé, from those with extensive illustrative programmes, to those which contain only one image. In the next two sections, Clier-Colombani traces the ways in which individual manuscripts and manuscript groups propose their own codes and readings through the images they deploy; she sensibly concludes that these readings are not definitive, but open up more possibilities of visualization and interpretation. The last three sections are insightful analyses of the ways in which many manuscript images attempt to visualize the unimaginable: the process of metamorphosis from human into non-human; the passions that provoke them and that they arouse; and the supernatural spaces in which these transformations take place. While scholarship on metamorphosis in medieval literature tends to lament the lack of detailed descriptions of metamorphosis of the kind that Ovid provides with such skill and glee in his poem, Clier-Colombani's study shows the imagination of medieval visual artists rising to this challenge. Manuscripts Kongelige Bibliotek, Copenhagen, Thott 399 and Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal 5069 both represent Ovidian characters mid-metamorphosis, freezing the process into an instant of hybridization, but also inviting the spectator's contemplation of a transformation that takes place through [End Page 431] time, and the implications this has for embodiment. Some of these images are reproduced in the colour plates in the centre of the book, giving an indication of the diversity of the styles and approaches represented in the manuscript tradition; Clier-Colombani helpfully directs readers wishing to see more of these entrancing illustrations to the digitized versions of the manuscripts. While the excellent Gallica website of the BnF will satisfy the demands of those who wish to inspect manuscripts held in Paris, other manuscripts are, unfortunately, less accessible. Clier-Colombani's book is, then, a welcome contribution to scholarship on this monumental late medieval work, and an invitation to other scholars to bring the manuscripts that transmit it to the wider audience it deserves.

Miranda Griffin
St Catharine's College, Cambridge


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pp. 431-432
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