Seeing the Self: Rethinking Gender in the Early Book of Hours Era
This project examines constructions of gender within devotional manuscript illuminations as well as the opportunities for resistance and transgressive readings these binary constructions inadvertently provide. Owner portraits of women and men in four illuminated prayer books of ca. 1300 call into question the scholarly commonplace that books of hours were books for women. Drawing on reception aesthetics and gender theory, my project re-examines possibilities for reception within and across gender identities.
For publications relating to this project and others, visit my Humanities Commons page.
Modeling Networks in Gothic Manuscripts, 1250–1350 (with Alex Brey)
Between about 1250 and 1350, commercial production of deluxe illuminated manuscripts expanded to serve royal and aristocratic patrons across northern Europe. Our project adopts a network-based approach to contextualize trends in metropolitan and provincial European manuscript workshops. It utilizes the structured data published in two print catalogs—a catalog of manuscripts produced in Gothic France and a catalog of images in the margins of French, Flemish, and English Gothic manuscripts—and one online database. Drawing on Damon Centola’s research on the diffusion of ideas within networks, we will systematically trace various forms of contact between manuscript workshops and analyze where and how contact led to changes in the style and iconography of manuscripts. These manuscripts also offer exciting possibilities for geographic network analysis. In 2019, this project was selected to participate in the 12-month Advanced Workshop on Network Analysis and Digital Art History, sponsored by the Getty Foundation.
“The Portrait Potential: Gender, Identity, and Devotion in Manuscript Owner Portraits, 1230–1320” (Bryn Mawr College, 2015) addressed medieval portraiture through a close study of eight devotional manuscripts that emphasize portraits in their illuminations. Examining the means by which manuscript owner portraits signified to their medieval viewers revealed the inherent semantic flexibility of the images. I argue that this flexibility is inherent to the images’ function in devotion as aspirational models for the women and men who saw them.
My next project treats courtly love and dynastic concerns in an illuminated psalter made near Amiens (BnF lat. 10435). The unique illuminations in this little-known book include both a sophisticated visual gloss to the biblical text and a fanciful family history that frames social standing in terms of erotic exchanges, providing fascinating insight into the construction of familial, class, and gender identity in the late thirteenth century.
A further project carries my research into the Renaissance to address printed books of hours of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. While modern scholarship has often neglected these books in favor of their illuminated contemporaries, this study of their production and reception will shed light on their unique position within the material history of the book. In addition to a traditional publication, I also aim to produce a digital resource for the study of printed books of hours: a website that provides a catalog of books, texts, and images; maps the production and export of books within Europe; and tracks the output of specific printers and booksellers.