The Power of Image: How Early French Humanists Harnessed Imagery in Books


LAWRENCE – Fits around 15 artworkandilluminated manuscripts of the last century, Anne Hedeman includes 183 color illustrations in her new book. The stunning art serves to exemplify the author’s groundbreaking scholarship, which details the power these images once had in proposing a humanistic worldview – as opposed to strictly religious or royal.

Anne HedemannHedeman, Judith Harris Murphy Distinguished Professor of Art History at the University of Kansas, has just published “Visual Translation: Illuminated Manuscripts and the First French Humanists” (University of Notre Dame Press).

Hedeman’s book follows the outline of her 2013 Conway Lectures at Notre Dame, where she explored the idea of ​​visual translation in Latin and French texts. Conway Lecturers are senior scholars of international distinction who present medieval topics in a variety of disciplines. Hedeman’s academic focus has been on how art, literature, history, culture, and politics influenced the production and reception of manuscripts and books in the Middle Ages.

Her new book is the result of more than 20 years of research into manuscripts held in collections across Europe and the United States. Hedeman traveled from the Vatican to Paris and from Milan to Brussels, seeking painted and manuscript books containing texts produced by two early 15th-century Parisian humanists, Laurent de Premierfait and Jean Lebègue. When these two men decided to collaborate with booksellers (bookmakers or booksellers) to oversee the production of an elite illustrated subset of humanist manuscripts, they learned how powerful visual imagery could be in facilitating the understanding new texts.

In the days before printing, Hedeman said, the aim of humanists like Laurent and Lebègue was to strengthen their linguistic connection with the Latin rhetoricians of classical antiquity – Cicero, Terence and others – in the service of the French nobility. . Hedeman cited numerous surviving materials on the books, including instructions for making them, exchanged between the dramatis personae in his story.

“Laurent and Lebègue realized that the people they wanted to draw attention to were used to densely illuminated history books, novels and religious books,” Hedeman said. “They recognized that they needed to create a clear and understandable relationship between images and text to appeal to an audience that included men like the Duc de Berry, brother of the King, who is remembered primarily as a collector of important manuscripts illuminated.”

Additionally, Hedeman detailed how “the images not only illustrate their texts, but they also translate the past into the present via the costume. Artists do not paint Roman togas, but they use 15and-century dress. They carefully situate the images in a contemporary context. Sometimes the text is radically rewritten in translation. For example, Laurent adds a long speech on royalty to a tale from the “Decameron”. Boccaccio wrote for the merchant class of Florence, while Laurent de Premierfait translated Boccaccio for the nobility of the French court, and the illustrations, textual additions and amplifications of his translation make Boccaccio’s French manuscripts comprehensible to the nobility – and significantly longer.

While Laurent and Lebègue’s patrons could afford illuminated manuscripts, there were trade-offs when texts were reproduced without their supervision, Hedeman said. While she cited copies of some nobles of Boccaccio’s “Decameron” which contain over 100 illustrations, many later copies had only 10 illustrations – one for every 10 stories. Parisian libraries adapted books for a wider clientele, who sometimes wanted the densest visual cycles, and sometimes as little as a single image. In the last section of the book, Hedeman therefore explored a fundamental question relating to such revisions: “What is sacrificed or no longer needed? »

The answers Hedeman uncovered and analyzed in the book offer insight into aspects of humanist thought and translation that were specific to the early 15th century and other aspects that are timeless.

In his acknowledgements, Hedeman thanked entities such as the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and KU Endowment for their support of his work.

Picture: A noblewoman from Gascony returning from a pilgrimage is robbed in Cyprus; she asks the king for reparation. Excerpt from “The Hundred Stories” by Giovanni Boccace“, translated by Laurent de Premierfait. Photo: Courtesy National Library of France.


About Author

William D. Babcock

Comments are closed.