On October 16 and 17,  Associate Director Laura Morreale participated in the 42nd Saint Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies, held at Saint Louis University, and hosted by the Special Collections of the Pius XII Memorial Library and the Knights of Columbus Vatican Film Library.  Dr. Morreale organized a panel entitled “A Good Read: The Production of Vernacular Texts in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Italy and their Public,” which featured four scholars whose work touches on French-language writing in Italy during this period.

WEstern 24
Folio of Western 24, Courtesy of Columbia University’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library

Dr. Morreale’s paper “A Common ‘Artu’, examined the non-élite status of one French-language manuscript created in fourteenth- century Italy, now catalogued as Western 24 of Columbia University’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. This little-studied manuscript offers an example of the varying quality of French-language manuscript production and consumption in Italy, even for texts normally viewed as coming from a courtly context.

One of the highlights of the conference was the plenary lecture by Stella Panayotova, Curator of the Fitzwilliam Collection (Cambridge). The talk, entitled “Manuscript Illumination: Art and Science,” outlined procedures and early results of the Miniare project, which employs non-invasive techniques to uncover methods and materials used by craftsmen, artists, and scribes to create medieval manuscript images and text. Of particular interest to all of those on the French of Italy panel was the assertion that a select number of images from Venetian manuscripts, when analyzed, contained smalt, a type of ground glass. Since the area of Venice, and Murano especially, is known for its glass industry, the linking of the glass industry with manuscript production encouraged a new set of ideas about who might have participated in the creation and circulation of these texts.

Also of interest were two panels that examined current digital initiatives to improve scholarly access to manuscript holdings and information. A team from University of Pennsylvania’s Schoenberg Institute of Manuscript Studies outlined several new projects, including OPenn, which provides high-resolution images of manuscripts from the University of Pennsylvania and affiliated institutions; Collation, a project that both deconstructs and reconstructs manuscripts, offering scholars a new way to analyze the production process; and a new version of the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, just recently updated by the library. Representatives from Saint Louis University also offered an update on METAscripta, a major initiative to digitize and make openly accessible the over 10,000 microfilms of manuscripts from the Vatican Library now held at the Knights of Columbus Vatican Film Library.

The conference was a big success and the conference organizers are already preparing for next year. The Call for Papers for the 43rd Saint Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies has already been issued, with abstracts due on March 15, 2016.