Pyrdum (2009 Congress)

Carl S. Pyrdum III
(Yale University)
“ ‘Are you looking at me?’:  Paranoia, Voyeurism, and Self-Awareness on the Margins of Medieval Manuscripts”

Abstract of Paper Presented at the 42nd International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, 2009)
Session on “Margins of Error: On the Self-Correcting Medieval Manuscript”
Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by Jeff Massey
2009 Congress

[Published on our first website on 17 May 2012]

It is often said that the images populating the margins of medieval manuscripts act as useful adjuncts to the texts they accompany, either by providing the reader with mnemonic and indexical aides, or by bringing to light, through clever allusion, themes and associations that lurk beneath the words on the page.  In this paper, I wish to explore the opposite phenomenon:  marginal illustrations that divert attention away from the text they accompany, thereby pulling the reader into a playful space where the images themselves are the subject and the texts the adjunct.  Indeed, the illuminators responsible for these textual interlopers often take the game of subversion one step further by imbuing their creations with a suggestion of self-awareness.

The images themselves appear to know the rules of the visual universe they inhabit and to be cognizant of their own status as created things.  To borrow a metaphor from the stage, they break the fourth wall, then invite the audience to discuss with them the dimensions of the wall that they have just broken.  My chief exhibits will be Gothic manuscripts produced primarily in France and Belgium in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and currently held in the collection of the Bodleian Library in Oxford.