Sunday Book-Thought 24

The demise of the marginal tradition might be attributed to the printing press, which used repeatable blocks to frame pages of Books of Hours and limited the newly discovered Grotesque decorations to another ‘modern’ invention, the title page. As Samuel Kinser notes, compared to the manuscript book the printed book ‘has small margins just wide enough for a word or two, an emendation, an exclamation.’ The urge to have clean edges often resulted in medieval manuscripts being cruelly cropped down, a practice typical of the increasing disrespect for everything but the text in subsequent centuries. The great religious upheaval of the Reformation also had its effect on the eradication of the medieval image-world. A great rift opens up between words and images. Language is now in a separate realm, written in discrete boxes or in fields hanging in the picture space.
Focusing all representation in the middle, the centre where man stood resplendent, Renaissance thinkers pretended that they no longer required this space of ‘otherness,’ unless it be the new edges of the World being discovered by Columbus.
Michael Camille

Christmas Countdown: 6 More Sleeps!


Book of Hours (Paris), unknown folio, late 15th century

Okay, so this Nativity scene is almost too well done – there are no weird things to point out, aside from one of the Wise Men looking like he has a loaf of bread coming out of his head. It’s a nice picture, but it’s just… uninteresting. It’s the kind of picture you would expect to see in someone’s washroom.

What really made me fall in love with the image above was the foliate board around the Nativity miniature. Sometimes the borders of a manuscript can reveal so much. An example? See Kells. There are entire books dedicated to scholarly analysis of manuscript/incunabula borders, and even people on Pinterest have shown a non-scholarly appreciation of the borders’ beauty. In some cases, as with the image above, the border actually steals the spotlight from the miniature we’re supposed to be looking at.

Just like Pippa stole Kate’s spotlight at the royal wedding a couple years back.