Reading Intimately: Private Devotion in Medieval Manuscripts

Ruth Intervention2

Reading Intimately: Private Devotion in Medieval Manuscripts
A curatorial intervention by Ruth Mullett, Ph.D. candidate, Medieval Studies

This intervention comprises three manuscript fragments, all with vernacular components, dating from the thirteenth- to the fifteenth-century. Two of the manuscript fragments are written in Latin with French verse insertions. One is a woodcut image from a German printed text, Der Schatzbehalter. The manuscripts are brought together to challenge perspectives on medieval devotion: two undecorated manuscript fragments and a woodcut from a printed book are placed alongside, and equal to, the ornate objects already on display in the gallery. The viewer is asked to reassess their understanding of the ‘museum worthy’ display object.  The intervention represents a unique opportunity to view manuscript leaves that directly relate to Marian and Christological devotion alongside altarpieces and sculpture that do the same. The manuscripts introduce, however, an intimacy rarely represented in medieval galleries. The use of the vernacular for these devotions was deliberate; unlike the Latin of the main text, these lyrics were recorded in the owner’s native tongue. These pages would have been spoken aloud and meditated upon internally, and as such they represent a particularly personal form of devotion to Christ and Mary.  The intervention aims to embrace the sensory capacity of these book objects in ways that are related to their original devotional purpose. While it is not possible to handle and touch the manuscript objects, the aural component of recitation is highlighted. The visitor is encouraged to listen to, and to read along with, the contents of the manuscript leaves through audio recordings. Likewise, they are encouraged to gaze upon the woodcut, allowing the image to communicate independently from the text it was formerly contained within. The performative, sensory nature of the objects on display brings to the fore their original affective purpose and deepens our understanding of the complex interaction between the public and communal sphere in medieval Europe.

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