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  • Symposium

Illuminations: Manuscript, Medium, Message

11th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

This year’s symposium examines cases of intermedial exchange through manuscript illumination, while also posing broader questions about the deep connections between the craft of illumination and other arts more widely.

This event has already occurred

November 15 - 17, 2018
Kislak Center, 6th Floor Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
Open to the Public
Initial I with a saint, possibly St. John the Evangelist

In partnership with the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies (SIMS) at the University of Pennsylvania is pleased to announce the 11th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age.

Manuscript illumination has often been considered in relation to the texts it accompanies, but rarely in terms of its interplay with other artistic media. Historically, however, the technique was closely associated with other forms of artistic expression and served as a crucial point of contact and transfer for visual motifs across space and time. The goal of this year’s symposium is to examine cases of intermedial exchange through the lenses of technique, style, iconography, social context, and cultural geography, while also posing broader questions about the deep connections between the craft of illumination and other arts more widely. Of special interest will be insights gained from the technical examination of works in different media, new comparisons made possible by digital technology, and the discovery of linkages once obscured by strict historiographical divisions

The program will begin Thursday evening at 5:00 pm on November 15, 2018, at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Library, with a keynote lecture by Professor Susie Nash, Courtauld Institute of Art. The symposium will continue November 16th-17th at the Kislak Center of Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania.

Accordion List

  • Carmen Decu Teodorescu, University of Geneva
  • Sonja Drimmer, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Frédéric Elsig, University of Geneva
  • Alexandra Green, British Museum
  • Renata Holod, University of Pennsylvania
  • Bryan C. Keene, J. Paul Getty Museum
  • Stella Panayotova, The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
  • Georgi Parpulov, Independent Scholar
  • Nandita Punj, Rutgers University
  • Paola Ricciardi, The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
  • Christine Sciacca, The Walters Art Museum
  • Marianna Shreve Simpson, University of Pennsylvania
  • Benjamin C. Tilghman, Washington College
  • Nancy Turner, J. Paul Getty Museum
  • Laura Weigert, Rutgers University
  • Roger S. Wieck, The Morgan Library & Museum

Event Series


[Please note: The schedule follows Eastern Standard Time]

Loss of and in Manuscripts


Accordion Column of Lists

Laura Weigert, Rutgers University

Arras, B.M. MS 697 integrates a range of artistic techniques and practices: its 349 miniatures display stylistic similarities to contemporary panel painting and tapestries; their unusual mode of production resembles printmaking and drawing; the content of the text and miniatures parallels that of large scale performances of Passion and Vengeance plays. The manuscript attests to the flexibility with which fifteenth-century artists worked in a diversity of materials and supports of various scales. Yet it also provides evidence for a moment in which the status of pictures as either illustration or independent painting was both fluid and contested. Arras B.M. 697 serves in turn as a starting point for my discussion of the ways fifteenth-century visual culture crossed between what are traditionally considered distinct media and of the process whereby such a system of artistic classification emerged.

Sonja Drimmer, University of Massachusetts Amherst

In a catalog entry devoted to British Library Arundel MS 66—a manuscript of astrological treatises produced in 1490 for King Henry VII of England—Kathleen L. Scott characterized the work of one of its illuminators as follows:

The style and technique of illustrator B represent a typical degeneration from the competence of the third quarter of the century. Illustrator B’s figure drawing is unskilled, colours have lost their clear intensity and are either muddy or ill-applied, and shading of drapery in self-colour has been replaced by straight lines in black or by outlining in a contrasting colour. The century-long convention of placing plants on a grassy surface is disastrously altered by the use of black for the usual green or yellow flora... Illustrator B’s work is naive in the extreme and unexpected in a book of this quality.

Descriptions such as this are familiar to scholars who work on English manuscript illumination of the fifteenth century, a period that is often dismissed as the nadir in the history of its art. Yet a difficulty arises in this case because what is not mentioned in the description above—and what remains unacknowledged in any published sources on the manuscript—is that these miniatures are exact copies of woodcuts found in a printed book made only a few years earlier. What’s more, that printed book was itself produced in the cradle of “artistic excellence,” quattrocento Italy. Far from unique, Arundel 66 is one of legions of extant manuscripts with illumination copied directly from printed media. As such, it offers an important case study of intermedial exchange in premodern Europe. And it gives rise to numerous questions that bear on how manuscript scholars of the late medieval period carry out our work. Challenging aesthetic categories, technological progressivism, regional style history, and connoisseurial practice, Arundel 66 demands we reposition our very idea of “manuscript” within the media ecology and even the art history of late medieval Europe.

Frédéric Elsig and Carmen Decu Teodorescu, University of Geneva

Founded on methods of connoisseurship, the program Peindre en France à la Renaissance was initiated in 2010 at the University of Geneva. It has the ambition to reconstruct painting produced in the kingdom of France and the dynamic of artistic exchanges between cultural centers by taking into account a wide array of techniques used at the time by painters (painting on panel, drawing, stained glass, etc.). Its main goal is to rediscover unknown works and artists. Particular attention has been paid to the practice of illumination. The program has made several discoveries that profoundly challenge our perception of the French artistic context of the 15 th and 16 th centuries. To date, the research program has produced six volumes. The first two define the methodological framework (Peindre en France à la Renaissance. I. Les courants stylistiques au temps de Louis XII et de François Ier, 2011 ; Peindre en France à la Renaissance. II. Fontainbleau et son rayonnement, 2012). The following four focus on important artistic centers : Lyon (Peindre à Lyon au XVIe siècle, 2014), Troyes (Peindre à Troyes au XVIe siècle, 2015) Dijon (Peindre à Dijon au XVIe siècle, 2016), and Rouen (Peindre à Rouen au XVIe siècle, 2017). The seventh in the series, dedicated to Bourges, will be published in December, 2018. The next ones will be devoted to Avignon (2019), Toulouse (2020) and Beauvais (2021).

Focusing on manuscript illumination and its interplay with other artistic media, this paper will present some of the most spectacular results of the program. It will be divided into two parts. The first one will examine “autograph” techniques such as illumination, panel painting and mural painting, this last technique being essential for understanding artistic geography because of its immovable nature. The second part will focus on “allograph” techniques, in which the invention of the illuminator or painter is generally executed by another practitioner, specialized in stained glass, embroidery, tapestry or even sculpture. Through exemplary cases, the paper will demonstrate how the digitization of manuscripts has given a fresh impetus to the practice of connoisseurship, renewing the method, and why the recognition of the versatility of painters can be used as a practical tool to enhance it.

Alexandra Green, The Walters Art Museum

As one of the earliest Christian cultures, the artistic production of Ethiopia supported the great demand for religious imagery from the early fourth century CE until the present day. One feature particular to Ethiopian painting across media, but little studied, is the use of serial imagery–either multiple figures arranged in series, or successions of individual narrative events. Such cycles decorate diverse types of painted objects including illuminated codices, sensuls (or “chain” books), parchment liturgical fans, and multi-sided folding icons. This paper will study the somatic mechanics of viewing such cycles, as well as the implications of this image format for its users’ worship. It will also explore why these cycles may appear so frequently in Ethiopia. Because many of these objects were produced in either a monastic or a court context by a limited number of artists, other possible links between these various instances of images in series may include artistic techniques and materials shared between imagery found on parchment and wood supports.

Bryan C. Keene, The J. Paul Getty Museum

The Dizionario biografico dei miniatori italiani (ed. Milvia Bollati, 2004) provides the names of nearly four hundred named artists working from the 9th through 16th century. About one third are documented as illuminators, while another third are recorded as painters and as illuminators, separately, and the final third are assigned by art historians (based on signatures, connoisseurship, or other means). In addition, there are over two hundred and fifty anonymous maestri. This paper presents case studies in the history of Italian Renaissance painter-illuminators and argues for a reassessment of art historical methodologies of attribution. For Pacino di Bonaguida in Florence, for example, there are no less than fourteen artistic personalities associated with an individual whose career is attested by only two archival documents—in which he is referred to as a publicus artifex in arte pictorum or as a pictor—and one signed and partially dated altarpiece (the attributed works were created for religious sites throughout the Florentine contado). For Giovanni di Paolo in Siena, commission records indicate that he began his career illuminating manuscripts and that he worked in this medium for nearly five decades, while also producing works on panel and ephemera in silk. Lastly, Bartolomeo della Gatta was among Verrocchio’s pupils and he received important commissions for manuscripts, paintings, and architecture from Arezzo to Rome and beyond, yet his work on parchment has been less acknowledged. These three individuals provide prime examples of the tension between authorship and anonymity in studies of Italian painter-illuminators.

Roger S. Wieck, The Morgan Library & Museum

In his own time, and for two generations after his death, Jean Poyer (fl. 1465-c.1503) enjoyed great fame. He worked for the royal courts of Queen Charlotte of Savoy and of Queen Anne de Bretagne and her husbands, Charles VIII and Louis XII, painting panels, illuminating manuscripts, executing drawings, designing stained glass and stage sets. Contemporary authors compared him to Fouquet, van Eyck, Dürer, and even Michelangelo! By the end of the sixteenth century, however, he was forgotten. His comeback in recent years, which began in the 1980s, has restored to him his work (often previously attributed to his contemporary Jean Bourdichon) and his name (from the “Master of the Tilliot Hours”). He has had star turns in a number of exhibitions. This paper reviews Poyer’s rise, fall, and resurrection, and offers ideas for areas of his art that could benefit from further exploration.

Nancy Turner, The J. Paul Getty Museum

Our understanding of late-medieval “workshop” organization has been challenged by a number of scholars working in a wide range of archival contexts. Yet, in cases where written documentation is lacking, instances of cross-media fluidity might be identified in particular craft practices, such as a marker material, technique or scale of work within paintings and illuminations. Goldsmiths and embroiderers, who were more adept at working small, may have readily transferred their skills and materials to the finely-detailed work of manuscript painting, or vice versa. While some painters easily translated their painting skills from one scale and medium to another, others regarded the task of illumination or "painting small" with outright displeasure and aversion.

By looking closely at a selection of fifteenth century Italian illuminations and panel paintings, this paper will highlight issues of scale as well as particular pigments, paint medium, painting technique in order to explore the technical relationships and interplay between manuscript illuminators and panel painters. For instance, at the courts of Ferrara and Urbino, Italian artists directly experienced the ‘nuovo stile’ of Flemish painting. What was the impact of northern oil painting technique upon Italian manuscript illumination? Does the panel painter’s method reveal itself unwittingly in painted illuminations? And can we identify when an illuminator’s technique was adapted to panel painting?

This paper will bring technical specificity into the discussion of the painter-illuminator, in order to explore how such cross-media dialogue might have been facilitated. Relevant ideas from the social sciences on apprenticeship training and so-called "communities of practice" (Wenger, Lave) will furnish an added methodological framework for this discussion. As craft guilds periodically prohibited artisans from working in different media, their role as civic and protectionist organizations occasionally required official responses to the proliferation of such "multimedia fluidity." While many craftsmen retained guild affiliations, others traveled between urban centers and noble courts. These ever-shifting communities of practice would have operated outside the reach of guild regulations, thus defying formal craft boundaries and encouraging interaction and exchange between painters, illuminators, and other artisans.

Accordion Column of Lists

Nandita Punj, Rutgers University

The princely state of Bikaner in Rajasthan has been well known for its school of painting and art historical scholarship has primarily focused on the courtly art produced in the region. This paper will highlight a strong parallel local tradition that developed alongside the courtly tradition in Bikaner in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, seeking recognition and catering primarily, but not limited to the Jain community. I will examine how the adoption of the art of manuscript illustration by the scribal Mathen community settled in Bikaner served a twofold purpose- as a tool for upward social mobility on the one hand and a means of fortification of Mathen identity on the other. At the same time, the Mathens contributed to the visual canvas of Bikaner, giving form and recognition to local practices and culture while incorporating traditional Jain as well as courtly motifs in their art lending legitimization. For example, in addition to manuscript illustration, Mathen scribes turned artists were active in painting wall murals in Hindu and Jain temples as well as letters of invitation to Jain monks in other towns requesting them to visit Bikaner. Mathens also served the community’s needs by composing astrological charts, banners for wedding ceremonies and decorations for local rituals, while maintaining stylistic integrity. Participating in these varied visual art practices, the Mathens were able make a strong contribution to the visual culture of Bikaner. This case study of Mathen artists and their contribution to the local visual culture will highlight the larger implications of the art and technique of manuscript illustration. In addition to the ability to adapt from scribal work to painting varied subjects on different media, the Mathen artists continued to forge an identity for themselves by marking their work with their names, carving out a path for social mobility. The entire discussion will be framed within the larger issue of courtly- vernacular dichotomy problematizing the relationship between these categories and their meaning in early modern Bikaner.

Stella Panayotova and Paola Ricciardi, The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

The workshop will present evidence for the engagement of illuminators with materials and techniques employed in other artistic media, including panel painting, metalwork, glass, ceramics and textiles. The evidence will be drawn from the research undertaken by the Cambridge Illuminations and MINIARE projects at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, UK. The workshop will share insights gained and new questions raised by the close integration of art- historical (style, iconography) and socio-cultural (patronage, documentary evidence about artists) studies with non-invasive technical analyses (identification of colorants, binders and painting techniques).

Renata Holod, University of Pennsylvania

The double-page finispiece of this manuscript proclaims that Maḥmud ibn al-Husayn, the secretary or scribe (al- kātib), the Kirmani, wrote and gilded it in Jumada I, 559 H (April 1164 CE). Yet, a close analysis of the paleography of the manuscript has revealed that there were several hands involved the actual copying. Furthermore, the immediately subsequent history of the use of this manuscript reveals several attempts to update its appearance, from the framing of its text to the correction for the recession of the copy. Studies of various aspects of its materiality and its codicology were conducted first as a seminar in the study of Islamic manuscripts. Then, further detailed technical investigation have allowed us to understand the use and changes in this codex through time, from the moment of its layout to time of its deposition as a pious foundation [waqf] in the 19th century CE.

Benjamin C. Tilghman, Washington College

A series of three full-page drawings in the Sherborne Pontifical (BnF, lat. 943) have long perplexed art historians. Featuring three representations of striding, Christ-like figures, these images have been interpreted as a kind of unique trinity and as an evocation of the various natures of Christ as king, priest, and man. Building on this latter interpretation, this essay will consider how the artist of the Pontifical made use of the particular affordances of the medium of parchment manuscript to enrich the images’ Christological content. By staging the images over a series of successive pages, modulating the amorphous space of the page, and even exploiting the translucency of parchment, the setting of the images in the manuscript inflects their theological program in subtle ways. In addition, the selective deployment of ornament in the last of the images, and in an image of the Crucifixion that immediately precedes the sequence, further enriches the program by introducing themes of tactility and presence by likening some of the drawings to contemporary ivory carving. As a whole, the manuscript emerges as a meditation on the mediated encounter with Christ through word, image, and object.

Marianna Shreve Simpson, University of Pennsylvania

The study of Islamic manuscripts has long concerned illuminated volumes of the Qur'an dating from the earliest Islamic period through medieval and into early modern periods. Only recently, however, has attention focused on Qur'ans from eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This paper introduces a large and lavishly-decorated Qur'an belonging to the Free Library of Philadelphia. The manuscript presents various challenges, including its date and place of production, for the moment attributable to late-eighteenth century India. In addition to a stunning frontispiece, the volume includes approximately 1,000 colorful marginal medallions. Here we will consider the placement and purpose of these devices, as well as their dazzling designs. These discussions in turn lead to tentative consideration of the workshop practices required to produce such a richly-decorated manuscript. 

Georgi Parpulov, Independent Scholar

"Flower-petal" is a type of plant ornament that first appeared in Greek manuscripts of the mid-tenth century and subsequently spread to other branches of Byzantine decorative art. It has traditionally been seen as a revival of Greco-Roman architectural decoration within a medieval Byzantine context. However, the markedly non-naturalistic character of Byzantine "flower-petal" motifs finds no precedent in Classical antiquity, while very close parallels for these same motifs occur in Chinese art of the Tang period (618-907). Imported Chinese textiles or metalwork evidently served as prototypes for tenth-century Byzantine artists, providing inspiration for a new and ultimately very successful decorative vocabulary. Such reception of Far Eastern artistic models represents an unfamiliar aspect of middle-Byzantine visual culture.

Organized by Nicholas Herman, Curator of Manuscripts, and Lynn Ransom, Curator of Programs, Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, University of Pennsylvania.

The symposium organizers wish to acknowledge the generous support of the Charles Williams, II Art and Archaeology Fund of the Department of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania, and of the Wolf Humanities Center's "Humanities at Large" program.