Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Illustration of the Meditations on the Life of Christ: A Study of an Illuminated Fourteenth-Century Italian Manuscript at the University of Notre Dame (Snite Museum of Art, Acc. No. 85.25)
by Phillips, Dianne Tisdale, Ph.D., Yale University, 2016, 585; 10160872
Abstract (Summary)

For more than fifty years, the Meditationes Vitae Christi (MVC) and the most famous of its illustrated manuscripts (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Ms. ital. 115) have been employed by scholars to exemplify late medieval female spirituality. The mid-fourteenth century ilhuminated manuscript of the Meditationes in the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame that is the subject of this dissertation provides valuable evidence of the popularity of the famous text originally written for a woman religious and its appropriation by urban laity. As an example of the shorter text, in Italian, with 43 chapters plus prologue, its 48 large colored miniatures and the decorated initials that begin each chapter, point to a wealthy patron quite unlike the Poor Clare to whom the MVC text was initially directed. The style of the miniatures indicates that the manuscript was illuminated ca. 1350 in Bologna, site of the pre-eminent European university for the study of law.

The dissertation explores how the Meditationes Vitae Christi was adapted for an educated and prosperous husband and wife. While written in the vernacular, the Snite MVC illuminations bear a strong resemblance to the illustrations in fourteenth-century Bolognese legal manuscripts. Despite the vivid and often unconventional imagery of the text that is designed to stimulate the reader's affective response to its re-telling of the story of the life of Christ, the miniatures tend to preserve traditional iconographies. The superficially conventional Snite miniatures, which often seem indifferent to the visual specifics of the text, serve to align it with orthodox doctrine and underscore the veracity of its contents.

An analysis of the illuminations of the Snite MVC reveals a particular attentiveness by the illuminator to the representation of male exemplars that would appeal to an elite educated patron, who might have been a judge or lawyer, or law professor. The Infancy miniatures in particular depict St. Joseph in a prominent role and dressed as a late medieval professional man The dignified representation of St. Joseph is consistent with his scriptural appellation as a "just man " By attending to the themes of justice and wisdom in both the MVC text and in its scriptural sources, the Snite miniatures prove to be much richer in meaning than first glance would suggest, and their affinity with legal manuscript illumination hardly accidental.

The iconographic analysis of the Snite miniatures is complemented by the study of the social and intellectual context in which the manuscript was produced. Despite the seeming simplicity of the miniatures, the illuminator and his advisor prove to be theologically sophisticated and scripturally literate. By means of the illuminations, the MVC is made compatible with the religious and professional concerns of the elite laity, providing access for men wielding worldly authority into the life of Christ in which powerful and learned men play largely negative roles. The Snite manuscript responds to the lay patron's desire to see in the example of Christ and the events of his life confirmation of late medieval social, juridical, and political structures. In its miniatures, it provides saintly models for the educated laity desirous of reconciling their Christian commitments with the demands of an active, urban, professional life.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Nelson, Robert S.
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 78/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Medieval literature, Art history, Spirituality
Keywords: Bolognese Illumination, Franciscan Spirituality, Medieval Devotional Imagery, Medieval Lay Spirituality, Medieval Manuscript Illumination, Meditations on the Life of Christ
Publication Number: 10160872
ISBN: 978-1-369-15767-3
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