Zeuxis paints a panel for which five women pose

"What a Piece of Work is a Man"
Reading the Body in Medieval Manuscripts

 

Part VI: Bodies in the Margins

The images that concern us in this section inhabit the margins of manuscript pages. While artists were constrained in what they could depict in the official illustration of a theme, they seem to have felt more freedom to experiment in the spaces outside the text. Called variously “marginalia,” “drolleries,” “babewyns,” they comprise a great variety of designs, objects, fauna and flora, human figures, and compound animals, engaged in a multitude of activities that may be comical, serious, or even obscene. These more informal motifs have generally been regarded as amusement for the reader, elements to lighten the study of long, didactic texts or the contemplation of moralizing tomes.

Occasionally marginal imagery is used to complement the primary illustration, placed within a frame painted around a miniature, or located in the lower margin below the text. It may comment satirically on a story line, or provide a wider dimension in which it can be seen. Often its interpretation depends on the creativity of the observer: images that seem initially enigmatic may actually pictorialize a folk motif or proverb, or allude to lesser-known details of a narrative. In addition, one should keep in mind that many are simply adopted from workshop stockpiles of traditional motifs and designs, utilized from manuscript to manuscript with minimal variations.

In this section:
24) The Luttrell Psalter
25) The Hours of Mary of Burgundy
26)The Farnese Hours
27) The Hours of Catherine of Cleves


Click on thumbnail for larger image.

24) The Luttrell Psalter

Click on thumbnail for larger imageProduced in England, Diocese of Lincoln, ca. 1325–35
London, British Library, Add. MS 42130, fols. 195v–196r

Bodies in the Margins
Along with characteristic religious imagery, the Luttrell Psalter is famous for the numerous scenes of everyday life and bizarre composite creatures that occupy its marginal spaces. An early scholar remarked that “The mind of a man who could deliberately set himself to ornament a book with such subjects … and hideous creatures … can hardly have been normal.”

This opening is one of many that demonstrate the creativity of the artist, who combines animal, human, and vegetable elements into brightly colored, speckled and many-patterned hybrids and grotesques. They hover in the margins and frame the text; some of them look out at the viewers as though to draw them into the book.

Facsimile: Janet Backhouse, The Luttrell Psalter, Medieval Manuscripts in the British Library (New York, New Amsterdam Books, 1989)


Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 195v.

 

Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 195v.

 

Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 196r.

 

Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 196r.

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25) Hours of Mary of Burgundy

Click on thumbnail for larger imageProduced in Ghent, Antwerp, Valenciennes, and Bruges(?), ca. 1470–75
Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 1857, fol. 31r

Bodies in the Margins
The Hours of Mary of Burgundy was produced in the great period of Flemish illumination, beginning in the 1470s. Open to the Gospel reading of Matthew, where the Evangelist sits writing, his inkpot held by an angel.

On this page the marginal imagery constitutes a theme of its own. Directly below sits the Spinning Sow, holding up a distaff and suckling her young. A monkey at center right holds a spindle in its right hand and in its left the niddy-noddy on which the thread is wound. The spinning motif alludes first of all to Adam and Eve: after expulsion from Paradise, Adam had to delve and Eve to spin (while nurturing children) to make their living; secondly, to the Virgin Mary, who is often portrayed spinning or weaving as an example of womanly activity. Additionally, in Greek mythology, the three Fates weave human destiny, spinning the thread of life and controlling its length.

Facsimile: Gebetbuch Karls des Kühnen, vel potius, Stundenbuch der Maria von Burgund : Codex Vindobonensis 1857 der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, Codices selecti phototypice impressi, 14 (Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1969)


Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 31r, depicting Saint Matthew with an angel.

 

Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 31r, depicting the Spinning Sow.

 

Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 31r, depicting a monkey winding thread.

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26) The Farnese Hours

Click on thumbnail for larger imageWritten and illuminated in Rome, 1546
New York, The Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.69, fols. 72v–73r

Bodies in the Margins
The renowned artist Giulio Clovio illuminated this Book of Hours for Alessandro Cardinal Farnese in 1546.

At this Litany of the Saints, an immense panorama of heaven and earth swirls around the margins of the golden names. As enacted in Rome, the Corpus Christi procession moves along the lower margin, making its way to the steps of Old St. Peter’s, at far left. The Castello Sant’ Angelo commemorates by firing cannons, at far right. In the upper left margin puffy clouds support the Trinity, surrounded by Apostles and Saints; at upper right heaven continues with the Holy Virgin and all the Virgin Saints. At random intervals, angels flutter and swoop from cloud to cloud.

Facsimile: The Farnese Hours (New York: George Braziller, 1976?)


Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 72v-73r, depicting a Corpus Christi procession at Old St. Peter's.

 

Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 72v, depicting the Trinity surrounded by Apostles and Saints.

 

Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 73r, depicting the Holy Virgin Mary surrounded by other Virgin Saints.

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27) The Hours of Catherine of Cleves

Click on thumbnail for larger imageWritten and illuminated in Utrecht, ca. 1440
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MSS M.917 and M.945, fols. 85r, 86v

Bodies in the Margins
Made for Catherine of Cleves, duchess of Guelders, this manuscript is lavishly illuminated.

At this opening, the marginal vignettes complement the narrative pictured in the miniatures. At left, God the Father launches the Dove of the Holy Spirit and the naked Christ child to earth, symbolizing the Incarnation—the moment the Virgin Mary conceived. The fishing nets and traps below make a further reference to the Incarnation, representing the corporeal prison of the soul.

On the right hand page, in the Throne of Grace Trinity, God the Father holds a cross bearing the crucified Christ, with the Dove of the Holy Spirit fluttering between. In the lower border a scene from the Old Testament: two spies of Moses carry a cluster of grapes between them, returning to report on the land of milk and honey. This is seen as a foreshadowing of the Crucifixion.

Facsimile: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves (New York, George Braziller, 1966)


Click on thumbnail for larger image.Image of fol. 86v.

 

Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 85r, symbolizing the Incarnation of Christ.

 

Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 85r, depicting a fisherman.

 

Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 86v, depicting the Holy Trinity.

 

Click on thumbnail for larger image.Detail of fol. 86v, depicting the spies of Moses carrying grapes.

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