Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Illustrated Old English Hexateuch, Cotton Claudius B.iv: The Frontier of Seeing and Reading in Anglo-Saxon England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Illustrated Old English Hexateuch, Cotton Claudius B.iv: The Frontier of Seeing and Reading in Anglo-Saxon England

Article excerpt

Benjamin C. Withers, The Illustrated Old English Hexateuch, Cotton Claudius B.iv: The Frontier of Seeing and Reading in Anglo-Saxon England (London: The British Library; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007). xvi + 429 pp. ISBN 978-0-8020-9104-8. $90.00.

Benjamin Withers's book-length study of this well-known Anglo-Saxon manuscript draws on a range of scholarly discourses - palaeographic, bibliographic, art historical, and theoretical (especially the phenomenological). The result is an informative and stimulating monograph extending the bounds of interdisciplinary approach.

The study falls into two sections. The first four chapters focus on the production of Claudius B.iv. The illustrated manuscript has been the subject of much study, and Withers offers a reconsideration of this, bringing a careful and precise observation to the evidence of the material text. Chapter 1 looks at scribal methods, and the placement and organization of the illustrations. Chapter 2 offers a new approach to the dating of the manuscript. Withers righdy questions the basing of any date on the criterion of 'Viking taste', and while his own conclusions agree with earlier ones, his codicological method is perhaps more reliable. Chapter 3 explores the difficulties faced by the illustrators, working with an English text, but with few models to follow for an illustrated Bible extending from Genesis to Joshua; artistic templates for parts of Genesis were available, but the artists had to be inventive when imaging later books. Chapter 4 focuses on the text and its presentation, and the compiler's choice to include iElfric's Preface to Genesis. Withers argues that this is more than a simple imitation of Jerome's Vulgate Prefaces, but serves to highlight Moses' role as 'author' of the newly Englished book. The next four chapters consider the manuscript book's reception. The discussion in chapter 5 is focused on the illustration of Moses reading from an open book of the Law to a crowd of Israelites (folio ioov), and develops a persuasive argument concerning the social role of vernacular reading in late Anglo-Saxon England. …

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