Main content

Illuminating Life: Manuscript Pages of the Middle Ages

Show full item record

Title: Illuminating Life: Manuscript Pages of the Middle Ages
Author: Payer, Brittney A.; Wall, Alex
Department: Department of History
Abstract: The manuscripts of the Middle Ages are the source of lively and enduring interest. Their popularity has persisted well into the age of print and digital media, where they continue to command a lasting imaginative appeal. To turn their pages is to make tactile contact with the past. It evokes a sense of continuity and invites comparison. In their pages we find traces of lives long gone—the wear and tear of frequent thumbing, annotations in the margins, obituaries attached to the text—and signs of their importance to their owners, for whom manuscripts were prized and often personalized possessions. In all cases, they were written (scriptum) by hand (manū), and many were illuminated, or embellished with gold and precious pigments and adorned with carefully wrought initials and illustrations. Even with the advent of print and movable type during the fifteenth century, many of these decorated elements remained, evidencing the longstanding and important connection between books and material culture. Of the manuscripts and printed books on display here, many are illuminated, some lavishly, while others are more standard and less ornate editions. Yet they all brim with signs of use and cast an illuminating light on life in the later Middle Ages and beyond. Books were far less common during this period than they are today, though they nevertheless served important educational and devotional roles for those who owned or used them. Several of those displayed here contain annotations made by students, teachers, and others who studied the text, while others were used by priests and preachers who provided religious guidance and instruction to their communities. The Psalter and the Book of Hours were objects used for individual prayer and devotion, while the Office of the Dead bears signs of its use by a religious community who turned its pages on many occasions. These manuscripts and printed books (incunables), whose contents range from literary to liturgical and legal to theological, invite us to consider historical change and continuity as we turn their pages. We contemplate the decline in the centrality of religious observance since the period of these manuscripts, while at the same time we recognize a certain continuity between then and now as we encounter the manuscripts’ myriad of marginal annotations. Nine of the books on display were loaned to the University of Guelph from Les Enluminures, a rare book and manuscript dealer with offices in Chicago, New York, and Paris. They come to us as part of Les Enluminures’ Manuscripts in the Curriculum II program, which provides institutions and their students with an unparalleled opportunity to work directly with original manuscripts (an activity usually reserved for researchers and collectors). The three remaining texts come from the University of Guelph’s own Archival and Special Collections. This exhibit, produced by four experiential learning classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels in conjunction with faculty and staff members, is designed to illuminate our understanding of the Middle Ages through the pages of its manuscripts.
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10214/21364
Date: 2020
Rights: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
Terms of Use: All items in the Atrium are protected by copyright with all rights reserved unless otherwise indicated.


Files in this item

Files Size Format View Description
IlluminatingLife_ExhibitionCatalogue2020.pdf 92.89Mb PDF View/Open Full, uncompressed version.
IlluminatingLif ... talogue2020_compressed.pdf 13.79Mb PDF View/Open A compressed version of the catalogue which can be used for in-browser viewing.

This item appears in the following Collection(s)

  • Exhibit Catalogues [2]
    Catalogues of exhibits in Special Collections edited by graduate and undergraduate students in History

Show full item record

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International