Sunday Book-Thought 78

The history of writing serves to remind us that language continually strives to find diverse material representations (the illuminating reflections on this theme by Armando Petrucci are extremely valuable here), and tries to give new forms to space in order to extend its expressive potentialities. Illuminated manuscripts stand to warn us how risky it is to look at pictures out of their context, enlarging them or reproducing them in various forms which can only confuse a reader as to their true nature. Is it wise to disembody or reduce to simple letters of the alphabet the illuminated capitals when these served as an interpretative thread of the text they introduced?
– Luca Toschi, ‘Hypertext and Authorship’, in The Future of the Book, ed by Geoffrey Nunberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), pp. 169-207 (p. 191).

Christmas Countdown: 17 More Sleeps!


 The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, folio 44 verso (the back-side of the 44th leaf), early 15th century

I wrote about the Très Riches Heures back in July, so I won’t bother telling you much about it here. If you want to know more, check out the other post. It probably won’t take you long to realize that this is my absolute favourite illuminated manuscript. The Limbourg Brothers can do no wrong.

When this manuscript was produced, portrayals of God as a person were still fairly few and far between. If an illustrator wanted to portray God, he would usually draw a hand coming out of a cloud or something; indeed, it wasn’t until the Renaissance that drawings of God as a person became common. So the Limbourgs were ahead of the game. Big surprise there.

I love this God. I love how he looks exactly like how we still portray him, with a bushy grey beard. I love how he’s literally holding the whole world in his hand (although it’s interesting that it’s in his left hand as opposed to his right). And I love how he’s surrounded by a bunch of angels’ faces (creepy, isn’t it?). The image of God almost distracts viewers from that one shepherd on the right side of the image.

Look at that shepherd, showing all that leg.

That is a fabulous leg.