Exemplum: Model-Book Drawings and the Practice of Artistic Transmission in the Middle Ages (ca. 900-ca. 1470)

Exemplum: Model-Book Drawings and the Practice of Artistic Transmission in the Middle Ages (ca. 900-ca. 1470)

Exemplum: Model-Book Drawings and the Practice of Artistic Transmission in the Middle Ages (ca. 900-ca. 1470)

Exemplum: Model-Book Drawings and the Practice of Artistic Transmission in the Middle Ages (ca. 900-ca. 1470)


During the Middle Ages, artistic ideas were transmitted from one region to another and passed on from one generation to the next, in the form of drawings. This kind of handmade reproduction, 'exemplum' in Latin, was used to record the form and content of works of art. Some of those drawings have survived in 'model books'. The author presents a fascinating account of many and various aspects of these drawings with special emphasis on how they contribute to our understanding of the genesis of medieval works of art. Exemplum will be a standard work of reference for many years to come


In retrospect, I now realise that it was an overdose of youthful bravado that led me to summarise the available information on a type of drawing book that occupies a special position in medieval art. The result was published in 1963 under the title A Survey of Medieval Model Books. A rather slight volume, simply designed and published in a fairly small edition, it unexpectedly turned out to meet a need.

In the past few decades, art historians have been taking a growing interest in factors affecting the genesis of a work of art. Model books played an important part in that process in the Middle Ages, and as a result a gratifying number of monographic studies has now been published on the subject. Increasingly, too, scholars are investigating areas for which model books can supply important evidence. These considerations gradually gave rise to the idea of devoting a new study to the same material in order to review the entire area and chart the current state of research. The reason why the present book is so much more comprehensive than the Survey is not just that it contains new entries and a critical examination of new publications. The accent has now been placed more explicitly on issues for which model books may supply important evidence but which cover a broader terrain, such as the relationship between original and copy, production processes and the various forms of artistic transmission in the Middle Ages (and, for Italy, the early Renaissance). Occasional reference to classical antiquity will be found in the footnotes. The theoretical assumption underlying the Survey, which was based on Schlosser's pioneering article, no longer proved satisfactory, notwithstanding or precisely because of its simplicity. It has been abandoned in the present work in favour of an approach that does more justice to the variety of information to be deduced from the individual model books. This shift of emphasis is most noticeable in the Introduction.

The Catalogue section differs from the previous SYSTEMation in several respects. One item has been omitted: the two books of drawings by Jacopo Bellini. Not only are they in such a class of their own that they cannot be accommodated in a survey of this kind, but it would be presumptuous to try to give a survey of material that is now available in the standard work by Bernhard and Annegritt Degenhart-Schmitt. Two entries, the groups of drawings named after Gentile da Fabriano and Pisanello, have been conflated to form a "Pisanello Corpus". The Catalogue also deals with newly discovered model books that have come to my attention, with the result that Exemplum contains 36 items compared to the 31 in the Survey. At the same time I have attempted to give the entries a more homogeneous structure, opening with a physical description and a summary of the content, followed by a discussion of questions regarding dating and localisation, an examination of a number of specific problems, and concluding with an assessment of the nature and function of the work in question.

Both the Introduction and the Catalogue are based on the premise that a work of this kind does not get rewritten every few years. This accounts for the extensiveness of the notes, which are designed to meet the needs of those using the book as a work of reference. The occasional repetition seemed preferable to forcing the reader to search back through the book for the previous mention.

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