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Iconography and the Professional Reader

1998
Authors:

Kathryn Kerby-Fulton and Denise L. Despres

Iconography and the Professional Reader

Provides a new understanding of reading practices in the medieval period.

Kathryn Kerby-Fulton and Denise L. Despres examine the only extant manuscript of William Langland’s fourteenth-century work Piers Plowman that is both illustrated and annotated, for what it can tell us about the politics of late-medieval manuscript preparation and the scholarly direction of manuscript use.

This work represents an absorbing new approach to the study of text and image in the Middle Ages not by focusing on the relationship between the two but by thinking about the way a reader would experience the book, using both words and pictures simultaneously. As well as being theoretically sophisticated, it brings in a wide range of interdisciplinary models from paleogeography and art history, all the time focusing on this unique illustrated version of Langland's poem.

Michael Camille, University of Chicago

Oxford Bodleian Library Douce 104 is the only extant manuscript of William Langland’s fourteenth- century poem Piers Plowman that is both illustrated and annotated, thereby providing material evidence of interpretation by professional readers-the artists, scribes, and annotators who constructed the work’s meaning in an early fifteenth-century Anglo-Irish colonial context. Kathryn Kerby-Fulton and Denise L. Despres examine this evidence for what it can tell us about the politics of late-medieval manuscript preparation and the scholarly direction of manuscript use.

Kerby-Fulton and Despres reconstruct, in vital detail, the lineaments of the community of professional readers and the pressures that produced it. And they show us the roles played by the manuscript’s production team-scribe, illustrator, annotator, rubricator, and even an elusive commissioning patron-as all involved in the act of reading and interpreting: a picture that brings to life the ideologies and rivalries that affected bookshop practices. At the center of this picture is the Anglo-Irish scribal-illustrator of Douce 104, probably a clerk with Exchequer training working in the Dublin-Pale region of colonial Ireland. The authors reflect on the ways in which his experience with utility-grade legal, devotional, historical, and religious manuscripts, as well as the illustrated works of Giraldus Cambrensis and a fragmentary Anglo-Irish tradition, influenced his iconographic program and presentation of visionary experience.

A study of great significance for medieval scholars, Iconography and the Professional Reader forcefully argues the importance of professional readers and utility-grade manuscripts in comprehending the meditative, mnemonic, performative, and subversive nature of late-medieval reading.


Medieval Cultures Series, volume 15

Iconography and the Professional Reader

Kathryn Kerby-Fulton is professor of English at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University. Denise L. Despres is professor of English and humanities at the University of Puget Sound.

Iconography and the Professional Reader

This work represents an absorbing new approach to the study of text and image in the Middle Ages not by focusing on the relationship between the two but by thinking about the way a reader would experience the book, using both words and pictures simultaneously. As well as being theoretically sophisticated, it brings in a wide range of interdisciplinary models from paleogeography and art history, all the time focusing on this unique illustrated version of Langland's poem.

Michael Camille, University of Chicago

This is one of those books whose style reveals plainly the enjoyment that research for it gave, and the enthusiasm of the authors for its subject.

Medium Aevum

Exhaustively informative and methodologically sound. The book abounds with examples of how ‘professional’ readers meditated and altered the text to suit either their own needs or those of their perceived audience. The book is useful as a working model of how to ‘read from the margins’-how a reader-response study might work on one specific manuscript.

Comitatus

In their challenging and fruitful new approach to Piers Plowman, Kerby-Fulton and Despres present us with an exemplary work of socially engaged textual criticism.

Journal of Religion

The most stimulating exercise in reading a manuscript I have ever seen.

University of Toronto Quarterly

Iconography and the Professional Reader

Contents

Preface

Introduction Kathryn Kerby-Fulton

The Professional Reader at Work—The Douce Manuscript in Brief— Medieval Reading, Scribe-Illustrators, and the “Utility-Grade” Manuscript

Part I: Visual Politics Kathryn Kerby-Fulton

1. Visual Literacy and the Iconography of Reformist Polemics Clericist Iconography and the Civil Service Scribe—Retraining the Reader’s Eye: Reform or Dissent?
2. Visual Literacy and the Iconography of Social Dissent Legal Illustration and the Origins of Douce—History, Social Realism, and the Giraldian Visual Tradition—Authority and Visual Dissent: Piers Plowmanfor the Anglo-Irish Reader
3. The Professional Reader as Annotator The Professional Reader and the Politics of Annotation—Ethical Polemical, and Literary Responses: Types of Annotations—The Annotators of Douce 104 and Huntington 143: Two Professional Readers at Work
4. Visual Politics Informal Book Illustration and the Anglo-Irish Civil Service— Voicing the Text: Representing and Remembering Voices—The Artisans of Douce 104 and Their Division of Labor

Part II: Visual Heuristics Denise L. Despres

5. Visualizing the Text: The Heuristics of the Page Visualizing the Text—Marginal Illustration and Meditative Reading— The Physical Shape of the Poem for the Medieval Reader
6. Visual Heuristics Performative Reading—The Seven Ages of Man

Conclusion: Reading Piers Plowmanin a Manuscript Culture Denise L. Despres

Appendix 1: The Hands of Douce’s Main Scribe and Corrector-Annotator
Appendix 2: The Marginal Annotations of Douce 104: A Complete Transcription
Appendix 3: Translations

Notes

Index