- Painting the Page in the Age of Print: Central European Manuscript Illumination of the Fifteenth Century ed. by Jeffrey F. Hamburger, Robert Suckale, and Gude Suckale-Redlefsen
Manuscript Studies, Central Europe, fifteenth century, illuminations, early print
From 2015 to 2017, twelve libraries in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland mounted overlapping exhibitions of their fifteenth-and early sixteenth-century holdings of central European illuminated manuscripts and early printed books. Thirteen publications were produced for the twelve shows: two large hardcover catalogs for the exhibitions at the Bavarian State Library in Munich and the Austrian National Library in Vienna; ten smaller paperback catalogs for the shows at the other ten, smaller institutions; and a large hardcover volume of thematic essays entitled Unter Druck: Mitteleuropäische Buchmalerei im Zeitalter Gutenbergs. In 2018, three years after Unter Druck appeared, an English translation of that volume was published; this is the book under review here.
The volume comprises a preface by Jeffrey F. Hamburger followed by four chapters by four contributors. Chapter 1, by the husband-and-wife team of Robert Suckale and Gude Suckale-Redlefsen (hereafter the Suck-ales), is entitled "Manuscript Illumination in Central Europe and Its Historical Context." Religious codices are considered by Hamburger in Chapter 2 and secular manuscripts by Suckale-Redlefsen in Chapter 3 Chapter 4, by Eberhard König, examines the painted decoration in incunables, that is, books printed before 1500.
Hamburger opens his preface (p. vii) with a question: "Why, one might ask, is an overview of manuscript illumination in German-speaking lands during the age of Gutenberg—that is, during the long fifteenth century—a necessary addition to art history?" The reason, Hamburger states, is that [End Page 210] "a century of scholarship has tended, often in rather gratuitous fashion, to dismiss the majority of illuminated manuscripts produced in central Europe between around 1400 and the Reformation as mediocre manifestations of a culture in decline." By contrast, "this book … was written to challenge these prejudices and the weight of tradition which they represent."
On page 2, the Suckales provide another raison d'être for Painting the Page: "studies and exhibition catalogs providing an overview [of central European late medieval and Renaissance illumination] remain rare." Indeed, the only earlier comprehensive survey known to me is Albert Boeckler's very skeletal Deutsche Buchmalerei der Gotik, published in 1953 Painting the Page thus fills a yawning lacuna in the scholarly literature, and does so beautifully, with an elegant layout and superb color illustrations.
Given the two to three years between the publication of Unter Druck and Painting the Page, however, it is unfortunate that three obvious shortcomings of the former were not remedied in the latter. First, there is no index of names, only an index of the manuscripts and incunables discussed and illustrated in the text. This is regrettable when one considers the mind-boggling number of rulers, nobles, clerics, burghers, authors, scribes, and illuminators to whom readers are introduced here. The second is the intermittent identification in the individual essays of the codices' supports. In an era in which paper increasingly superseded parchment, it would have been helpful to have this information in the list of figures. Third and lastly, providing dimensions in the list of figures for the manuscripts, incunables, and cuttings would also have been useful.
To those shortcomings must be added the frequent mismatches between the information provided in the essays and in the figure captions. While German spellings are consistently used for Christian names in the texts, a confusing mix of German and English spellings are encountered in the captions. In addition, dates for objects in captions and essays don't always jibe. Thus, figure 1.52 is dated 1444 in the caption but 1441 in the text (68), and figure 2.46 is dated 1414 in the caption but 1411 in...