In the Footsteps of Our Fathers: Morgan Library’s Vitae Patrum, (NY, P. Morgan Library, MS. M.626)
Jackson, Denva Edelle
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CitationJackson, Denva Edelle. 2018. In the Footsteps of Our Fathers: Morgan Library’s Vitae Patrum, (NY, P. Morgan Library, MS. M.626). Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractBeginning in the late thirteenth century and continuing well into the fourteenth, mendicant orders in Italy saturated the Christian devotional landscape with stories of the hermit saints known as the Desert Fathers. Their emphasis on these ascetics as models of an ideal piety inspired the unprecedented appearance of images based on narratives from the Lives of the Desert Fathers, known in Latin as the Vitae Patrum. Art historians have traditionally explored the significance of the Desert Fathers during this period by examining wall and panel paintings, largely neglecting richly illustrated copies of the tradition’s fundamental text.
This dissertation addresses the heretofore lack of scholarship on illuminated manuscripts by examining the most extensively illustrated codex of the Vitae Patrum to emerge during the Trecento: New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS. M.626.
The study begins in chapter 1 with an overview of the history of the Vitae Patrum, from its origins as a corpus in the fifth century to its vernacularization in the fourteenth century by the Dominican friar Domenico Cavalca. Within this context, the Morgan manuscript is revealed to be a singular witness. It has no direct iconographic models nor does it share much in the way of iconography with either illuminated manuscripts or painted cycles narrating the Lives in Tuscany. A fine work of Neapolitan manuscript illumination, the Morgan manuscript demonstrates that far from being a resurgence isolated to central Italy, the rise of the Desert Fathers was far more diffuse and connected with specific orders. Chapter 2 establishes an audience for the Morgan manuscript, advancing the argument that the manuscript was made for a readership of Augustinian Hermits. Having thus established an audience, chapter 3 turns to the manuscript’s didactic function. Chapter 4 examines issues of patronage, looking further into the circumstances surrounding the manuscript’s production.
The Morgan manuscript deepens current understandings of the revival of the Desert Fathers and the rise of the eremitic ideal by shedding light on a comparatively understudied group critical to the proliferation of images: the Augustinian Hermits. As this study demonstrates, more than simply bringing a renewed focus to long-held spiritual beliefs, the brief and sudden appearance of imagery from the Vitae Patrum is deeply connected to the larger propagandistic campaign of the Order. The manuscript’s images afford us a rare glimpse into the process of identity construction in the Middle Ages and the critical role images played in developing the identity of the Augustinian Hermits.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41129202
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