Major Tendencies in Central European Manuscript Illumination:
From the 13th to the 15th Century


funded by the FWF, Elise Richter Programme
November 2018 - April 2022

Dr. Christine Beier

How a work of art is anchored in time, place and society is a basic question, art historians are expected to answer. The search for methods to determine this, is older than the profession itself, and is still topical. For decorated medieval manuscripts art historical expertise has additional relevance, as books are not only part of the cultural heritage preserving works of art on their pages, they are also historical sources. Their placement is fundamental for any further research based on the pictures as well as on the texts. With the ongoing digitalization and online presentation of medieval manuscripts they become more accessible than ever before, for the scientific community and for the public at large. The mere number of these works is intimidating, and the need for a better understanding of the general lines in the development of their decoration - which can help to determine the context of origin for a good number of them - is apparent. The project sets out to open perspectives to facilitate the contextualization of Central European manuscripts from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, on the basis of their decoration and illustration.

Historical accounts that trace the artistic development over a prolonged period, generally start with major works and then move on to discuss precursors, particularities, and impacts. The problem with this method is that these works usually only come about as the result of specific conditions, and for the majority of the material that has come down to us one cannot simply assume that these conditions were the same. In the proposed research project, production contexts will therefore be investigated for more substantial groups of books. Guiding questions will be, how the making of decorated manuscripts was organised, who was the most important clientele supporting it, what kinds of texts were copied - and how this effected the layout of the books.