Academic journal article Arthuriana

Myth, Montage, and Visuality in Late Medieval Manuscript Culture: Christine De Pizan's 'Epistre Othea.'

Academic journal article Arthuriana

Myth, Montage, and Visuality in Late Medieval Manuscript Culture: Christine De Pizan's 'Epistre Othea.'

Article excerpt

MARILYNN DESMOND and PAMELA SHEINGORN, Myth, Montage, and Visuality in Late Medieval Manuscript Culture: Christine de Pizan's 'Epistre Othea.' Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003. Pp. vii, 344. ISBN: 0-472-11313-2. $65. £40.50.

The Epistre Othea is a text purporting to have been written as a letter from the goddess Othea to the young Trojan hero Hector, actually composed by the late medieval author Christine de Pizan in 1400. The Epistre and its manuscript illustrations are not unknown in recent scholarship (see work by Sandra Hindman and others); the value of Desmond and Sheingorn's volume is that it uses the text and images of the Epistre to propose a new way of understanding late medieval manuscript culture, a way which is consonant with aspects of modern visual culture (the cinematic montage), in that both form the subject in powerful ways.

Myth, Montage, and Visuality in Late Medieval Manuscript Culture is in fact aptly titled, being a study of medieval retellings of classical myth, the concept of montage (a non-narrative arrangement in which meaning is derived from unexpected visual juxtapositions), and the visuality-common to both late medieval manuscripts and cinema-by which gender and authority are constructed in relation to a light-filled field. These three themes may appear disparate, but they have all arisen through these authors' long and careful consideration of the illuminated Epistre, particularly the manuscripts made for Jean, Duke of Berry (Bibliothèque Nationale MS fr. 606) and for Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France (British Library MS Harley 4431).

In the Introduction, Desmond and Sheingorn are concerned to delineate the visuality produced by the Queen's and Duke's manuscripts, to show how this visuality was luminous and intended to shape its subject, how it was intended to be encountered as a private interaction, and how this visuality should justly be described as cinematic. Although this reader was initially skeptical of the relevance of the modern concept of cinema to a fourteenth-century manuscript, the authors make a convincing argument that the cinema itself is heir to the representational tradition of painting (whereas much twentieth-century painting denied the value of the representational), and that, therefore, much of the theorization of the formation of the subject seated before the flickering screen is not irrelevant to the medieval subject poised in front of the shimmering surface of the painted and gilded manuscript page. …

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