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  • The European Book in the Twelfth Century ed. by Erik Kwakkel and Rodney Thompson
  • Joanna Fronska

Twelfth century, book production, paleography, codicology, Manuscript Studies

Erik Kwakkel and Rodney Thompson, eds. The European Book in the Twelfth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. 434 pp. + 44 b/w illustrations, 1 table. $120 ISBN: 978-110-71-3698-4.

The European Book in the Twelfth Century is a collaborative venture. A team of manuscript scholars, mostly leading experts in their respective fields, give a comprehensive overview of the production, use, and typology of manuscripts in the long twelfth century. Their main focus is on materiality. The twelfth-century book is approached as an object, but an object with cultural, religious, and intellectual implications. A common thread of the contributions shows how the way in which the text is inscribed on the page, its articulation, paratext, format, and even a morphological relation to its predecessor within the textual tradition, reveal its intended use.

Why the twelfth century? Since the publication of Charles H. Haskins's The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Harvard University Press, 1st ed. 1927), this age of renewal, revival, and reform has continued to fascinate and inspire. Erik Kwakkel and Rodney Thomson followed the footsteps of Robert L. Benson, who in 1977, in homage to Haskins, gathered a collection of essais de synthèse on the intellectual and cultural shifts and developments during the period (Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, Oxford, 1982). While Benson envisaged a broader synthesis, these two editors have focused instead on manuscript culture alone, aiming to expand the scope of their project beyond the strictly defined "Renaissance of letters." It was not only the emergence, rediscovery, and translation of new texts, but also the [End Page 203] dramatic increase in production of books and their new codicological features that justified their choice. However, despite the more inclusive title, they largely maintained the geography of the "twelfth-century Renaissance." The manuscripts analyzed mostly represent northern France, England, and the German Empire, with an excursus toward northern Italy, limited almost exclusively to the production of law books. Yet, the twelfth century is the first period in European medieval book history that, thanks to existing artifacts and documentary sources, allows us to study manuscript production and the dissemination of texts across the entire Latin West, from Scandinavia and Poland to Spain and Portugal. The authors' choice makes it evident that studying peripheries with their scarce and often fragmentary material is by far less exciting.

The book is divided into three sections. The first one, "Book Production," encompasses all aspects of the fabrication of manuscripts, including the preparation of parchment, the choice of format and layout, and the typology of bindings (Kwakkel and Thompson). Then it tackles the evolving script of twelfth-century codices, focusing primarily on the transition between Caroline minuscule and the somewhat organic emergence of Gothic script (Kwakkel). It continues with two complementary chapters on decoration (Martin Kauffmann) and organization of the scriptoria (Thomson) in the period when the work of a scribe and an artist often mingle and nearly all pictorial elements are part of the text and its proactive layout.

The second part, "Readers and Their Books," focuses on users and their engagement with manuscripts. Constance J. Mews talks about books collected by individual scholars, stresses the importance of scholarly networks, and gives insight into the acquisition of knowledge by analyzing the contemporary "text criticism" or exegesis. Teresa Webber gives an excellent overview of the ways the books were stored, classified, and accessed in religious houses. Finally, Jenny Weston and Mariken Teeuwen present the reading and annotation practices of twelfth-century readers.

The third and longest section, "Types of Books," is centered on texts, the ways they were inscribed in codices, and the typology of manuscripts in which they were transmitted. In other words, the essays it gathers trace the [End Page 204] history of texts through a codicological lens. In his seminal work, Haskins listed among the key aspects of the so-called Renaissance of the twelfth century: "the emergence of the vernacular literatures; the revival of the Latin classics and of Latin poetry and Roman...


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