Art 316
Medieval Manuscript Illumination
Fall, 2010
William Diebold
Library 322 (x7339;; 503-287-8133 (home)

Art 316 on Moodle
Download syllabus
: DOC or PDF


This course examines illustrated books, primarily manuscript but also printed, made in Western Europe between the 4th and 16th centuries. The chronological end points are provided by two technological changes in the production and presentation of the written word: at the beginning, the change from the roll to the codex and, at the end, the invention of printing with movable type (these two historical moments of transition take on even greater immediacy because we are currently living during the digital revolution, which is often seen as the third great technological change). Although the course proceeds in a rough chronological order, it will not attempt to be a comprehensive survey of medieval manuscripts or medieval art; rather, it will address in detail some problems raised by the illustrated book as a medium. These include: the two technological shifts noted above; the special importance of the book in Christianity; the various ways in which texts, both narrative and poetic, were illustrated; the implications of medieval reading practices for the study of medieval books; two unusual aspects of many medieval books, the decorated letter and marginal decoration; the book as a luxury object; and the problem of illusionistic images on the flat page of a book. Reed’s recently acquired and unstudied illuminated manuscript will be a major focus of our attention.


Readings will be from books and journal articles. The following books are available for purchase in the bookstore:

M. Camille, Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art (Cambridge, 1992)
R. Clemens and T. Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca, 2007)
I. Illich, In the Vineyard of the Text (Chicago, 1993)

We will read all of Illich and significant sections of Camille and Clemens and Graham.

Copies of these books as well as of other books from which we will be reading sections are on 2-hour reserve in the Library. Most other readings are on electronic reserve. A few short readings will be handed out in class.

Reed owns a large number of facsimiles of medieval illuminated manuscripts. These are typically quite luxurious, complete photographic reproductions of medieval books. As such, they are excellent for giving the sense of the book as a whole and, in several cases, I have asked you to look at these facsimiles in advance of a particularly class or classes (we will also have access to the books in class). Because of their value, these books are mostly housed in the Library’s Special Collections. The regular hours of Special Collections are 10-12 and 1-4 M, W, Th; outside these times, it is possible to see Special Collections items between 8:00 and 4:30, M-F; to do so, email or phone Gay Walker or Mark Kuestner (x 7782, x7394). You should take these hours into account in planning your reading.


There will be three papers. The first, of about 5 pages, due September 24th, will concern problems of illustration, and especially illustrating the Bible, through a consideration of one of R. Crumb’s Genesis illustrations, currently on display at the Portland Art Museum. The second, of about the same length, due October 29th, will examine the interaction of images on a page of your choice from a small group of early 13th-century French luxury books. The third paper, of about 10 pages, due December 13, will study one aspect of an early 16th-century manuscript recently acquired by the Reed College Library; this paper will form the basis for a brief presentation you will make to a seminar on that book we will hold in the last week of classes and an exhibition label you will write on your topic.
I will hand out more detailed versions of these assignments at a later date.


August 30 (M): Introduction: asking questions of manuscripts and how to handle manuscripts

September 1 (W): The problem of illustration I: the Vatican Vergil

September 6 (M): NO CLASS—LABOR DAY

September 8 (W): The problem of illustration II: the Quedlinburg Itala

September 13 (M): From roll to codex; the problem of illustration III: the Vienna Genesis

September 15 (W): The manuscript as physical object; discussion of final paper topics

September 20 (M): The decorated letter and the theology of books and writing I

September 22 (W): The decorated letter and the theology of books and writing II

September 24 (F): PAPER I DUE

September 27 (M) and September 29 (W): NO CLASS; William at conference; work on paper

October 4 (M): The problem of illustration IV: the Utrecht Psalter

October 6 (W)-October 11 (M): The crisis of illustration I: the Bible moralisée

October 13 (W): The crisis of illustration II: the Morgan Picture Bible


October 25 (M): Medieval reading practices I

October 27 (W): Medieval reading practices II: visual implications

October 29 (F): Paper II DUE

November 1 (M): Medieval reading practices III: gender implications

November 3 (W)-November 8 (M): The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux: marginal or canonical?

November 10 (W): The manuscript as luxury object I: in the Middle Ages

November 15 (M): The manuscript as luxury object II: today

November 17 (W)-November 22 (M): What killed the manuscript? Printing, illusionism, or something else?


November 29 (M): the postmodern manuscript

December 1 (W)-December 6 (M): Seminar on manuscript in Reed College Library

December 13 (F) PAPER III DUE