Nina Rowe (Dept. of Art History) awarded prestigious NEH and ACLS Fellowships

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Nina Rowe, Ph.D. Photo by Michael Dames.

Dr. Nina Rowe, Chair of Fordham’s Department of Art History and Music, has been awarded year-long fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) for her new book project, The World in a Book: Weltchroniken and Society at the End of the Middle Ages. This project, analyzing 22 of the known 56 extant illuminated Weltchroniken, or world chronicles, dating from 1330-1430, seeks to study works typically produced for lower nobility and burghers. This genre of manuscript, with text written in verse in the Middle High German vernacular and richly adorned with extensive illumination cycles, presents events from biblical and ancient history as a seamless narrative. Following in a similar fashion as her previous work on the study of mass-produced ivories intended for a popular market (see below), illuminated Weltchroniken, while by no means indicative of the artistic tastes and sensibilities of the typically silent medieval illiterate majority, do shed light on the more common and wide-spread tastes and desires of the larger segments of the rising middle classes.

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NYPL Spencer MS 038, fol. 20v: Page of text with initial and drawing from a manuscript of the Weltchronik. Bavarian, 15th c. Photo: Digital Scriptorium.

These manuscripts were composed of texts by multiple authors, the best-known of whom is Rudolf von Ems (ca. 1200-1254), but extensive pictoral cycles smooth over the pastiched quality of the text. The genre of Weltchroniken transcends changes in preferences of medium, being found on both parchment and, from 1390, more mass-marketable paper. An example of a paper Weltchronik held in the New York Public Library (Spencer MS 38) inspired Rowe to pursue this line of research. During the NYPL’s 2005 exhibition The Splendor of the Word, this piece came to Rowe’s attention. Captivated by the style of its illustrations, she had to postpone her study of this book and its genre until the completion of the project she was working on at the time. As explained by Rowe, being non-devotional in nature, Weltchroniken are examples that complicate the prevailing assumption that the pious works commissioned by the highest levels of secular and clerical society represent the majority of Germanic high and late medieval book production. Non-devotional genres are deserving of further, more in-depth study as well, and reveal more about medieval society than devotional works alone can provide. This point, understood amongst scholars of literature and history, is still fraught among art historical academic circles, where the dominant narrative is still driven, by and large, by Enlightenment principles of viewing the medieval era as a time in which piety and religiosity defined every aspect of life at every level of society.

This latest project, while a departure from the subject matter of her previous work on sculpture in monumental cathedral facades (see below), certainly does fit with Rowe’s prevailing interests in analyzing how the production, use, and presentation of art challenges our underlying assumptions about medieval social and interfaith dynamics. Neither Christianity nor its rivals and neighbors, at the organizational or devotional levels, were monumental constructs, unified by their opposition to one-another and unyielding or undifferentiated in their hierarchical structures. The farther one looks down the pyramid of medieval society, the more complex the image of that society becomes, and Weltchroniken provide the impetus to look at more than just the pyramid’s pinnacle.

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Further Reading:

“Pocket Crucifixions: Jesus, Jews and Ownership in Fourteenth-Century Ivories,” Studies in Iconography

32 (2011): 81-120

The Jew, the Cathedral, and the Medieval City: Synagoga and Ecclesia in the Thirteenth Century

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)

 

By Kevin Vogelaar

Bronx Doctor Donates Medieval Manuscript Facsimiles to Fordham

This post is cross-blogged from Fordham News.

The Très riches heures, a book of prayers commissioned for a French prince, is one of the most famous illuminated manuscripts of the 15th century. It contains dozens of images painted with rich pigments and embellished with gold. The original sits in the Musée Condé in Chantilly, France.

But thanks to a fine art facsimile of the historic tome in Fordham’s Walsh Library, students can flip through the lush pages and absorb a visual representation of medieval art and religion.

The Très riches heures facsimile is one of 300 books and objects donated to Fordham by Dr. James Leach, a New York physician who’s been curious about medieval manuscripts and liturgical books since he was young.

“When I was growing up, I had an interest in Latin and in the church,” said Leach, who heads the dermatology department at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx. “The prayer books I was familiar with were a springboard to begin looking at the older manuscripts.”

He began amassing a collection of fine art facsimiles of medieval manuscripts, which have been produced since around 1990, typically in limited-edition runs of 300 to 900 copies. He thought that Fordham, as a Catholic university with an established medieval studies program, would be the perfect repository for these works. Leach also donated a sizable collection of original Catholic prayer missals from the late-19th to early-20th centuries.

Nina Rowe, PhD, chair and associate professor of art history at Fordham, said the University is lucky to have such high-quality reproductions available for students.

“One can certainly lecture in the classroom about the technical aspects of luxury handmade books from the eighth to the 15th centuries in Europe,” Rowe said. “But with high-quality facsimiles, students can get a sense of the ways in which illuminated manuscripts were functional objects, designed to be viewed up close, leafed through, and carried.”

Rowe said the Très riches heures is one of the “greatest hits” of medieval art history. She also has a few other favorites among the collection.

“I’m delighted to be able to teach students from the facsimiles of the Lindisfarne Gospels, an English monastic manuscript made around the year 700 and renowned for its so-called Carpet Pages, full-page designs with intricate interlace, often in the form of the cross,” she said.

“Another favorite facsimile of mine reproduces a Moralized Bible (sometimes called the Saint Louis Bible) from Paris, 1226 to 1236. Every page features eight circles arranged in four pairs, each with little scenes linking a vignette from the Hebrew Bible to a Christian or contemporary commentary. The images are especially fun when they depict the perceived vices of early 13th-century Parisian life, evoking the real world of the street in a remote period.”

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Pages from the collection’s facsimile of a Moralized Bible (sometimes called the Saint Louis Bible)

Linda LoSchiavo, TMC ’72, director of the University libraries, said Leach’s contributions are an important addition to Fordham’s Special Collections.

“The facsimiles are an extraordinary example of medieval artistry,” she said. “They’re done with highly specialized devices, and the bindings are reproductions as well.”

The cover of a facsimile of the Sacramentary of Henry II, a liturgical manuscript from the late-10th to early-11th century, includes an intricate copy of the original’s ivory relief. Other facsimiles Leach has donated include theEton Choirbook and the Lorsch Gospels.

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The cover of a facsimile of the Sacramentary of Henry II, which features an intricate plastic copy of the original’s ivory relief

The recent establishment of Fordham’s Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies, and the collection of Judaica being assembled by Magda Teter, PhD, the chair’s inaugural holder, prompted LoSchiavo to ask Leach if he would consider donating a a Haggadah, a book used during Passover seders. He was happy to oblige, and earlier this year donated a facsimile of the Barcelona Haggadah. The original dates to the middle of the 14th century.

Leach hopes his gifts will help Fordham students learn that art and illuminated manuscripts flourished during the medieval period, even though the era sometimes gets a bad rap.

“Most important is that they realize that ‘medieval’ is not purely a derogatory term,” he said. “It was an age of faith and artistic productivity that contributed to Western civilization.”

 

By Nicole Larosa