Image and Inscription in the Painterly Manuscripts From Ottonian Cologne

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Image and Inscription in the Painterly Manuscripts From Ottonian Cologne

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Title: Image and Inscription in the Painterly Manuscripts From Ottonian Cologne
Author: O'Driscoll, Joshua
Citation: O'Driscoll, Joshua. 2015. Image and Inscription in the Painterly Manuscripts From Ottonian Cologne. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: Focusing on a small number of richly illuminated manuscripts produced in Cologne around the year 1000—and known to scholars since the early twentieth century as the so-called "painterly" group of manuscripts—this dissertation takes the close study of a well-defined group of objects as the starting point for an examination of issues central to broader histories of medieval art. A diptych-like pairing of miniatures with inscriptions, each of which is given a full page, constitutes a characteristic feature of these manuscripts. Because these inscriptions were written specifically to accompany the facing images, the manuscripts from Cologne afford us a rare glimpse of a discourse on art and image making in the tenth and eleventh centuries, as well as providing insights into how such miniatures were meant to be viewed.

The first chapter establishes a theoretical framework for the project, which examines both the historical and the scholarly origins of the Cologne School. Moreover, the concept of a "painterly" style is scrutinized and its use is traced back to significant developments in German art-historical writing of the late nineteenth century. The second chapter—devoted to a remarkable, yet relatively unknown tenth-century gospel book in Milan—demonstrates how the manuscript's carefully-crafted pictorial program draws upon an impressive tradition of Carolingian poetry and epigraphy in order to instill a pointed moralizing lesson on its recipient. A closely related sister-manuscript, preserved today in Paris, forms the subject of the third chapter, which demonstrates how the designer of its program employed philosophical and dialectical terms—taken from the school texts of the day—in order to devise an ambitiously complex set of miniatures and inscriptions, centered on a contemplative engagement with the paintings. The dissertation concludes with a chapter on the more famous Hitda Codex, illuminated at the behest of a powerful abbess in the early eleventh century. Through an analysis of the manuscript's narrative program, the chapter details how both image and inscription coordinate the active engagement of the viewer—prompting a consideration of the ways in which the pairings function as allegories of introspection.

Throughout the dissertation I aim to reconcile the innovative formal qualities of the miniatures with the unusual complexity of their accompanying inscriptions. As a consequence of this study, it can be demonstrated that in the painterly manuscripts from Cologne, the close intertwining of image and inscription results in sophisticated programs of illumination, which elucidate an unprecedented contemporary reflection on the nature of painting in age otherwise known for its scarcity of written sources on art.
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