Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Women, Manuscripts and Identity in Northern Europe, 1350-1550

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Women, Manuscripts and Identity in Northern Europe, 1350-1550

Article excerpt

Joni M. Hand, Women, Manuscripts and Identity in Northern Europe, 1350-1550 (Farnham and Burlington, Vt: Ashgate, 2013). xiv + 251 pp.; 51 black-and-white plates. ISBN 978-1-4094-5023-8. £60.00.

Joni M. Hand offers a thoroughgoing survey of female book-owners in the late Middle Ages, covering various regions of England, France, Flanders, and Spain. She begins by examining a series of high-ranking aristocratic women and detailing books that they were known to have commissioned, owned, or given as gifts. This survey begins with Bonne of Luxembourg, wife of Jean de Valois and mother of King Charles V of France, and her daughters; moves through later generations with such figures as Isabeau de Bavaria, Mary of Burgundy, Yolande of Aragon, and Margaret of York; and ends in the early sixteenth century, with such figures as Louise of Savoy, Anne of Brittany, and Claude of France. The majority of the books associated with these women are devotional: books of hours, psalters, missals, breviaries, and the like, as well as works designed for the moral and spiritual education of these women or their children. It is, of course, always difficult to know whether medieval book-owners prized their sumptuous manuscripts primarily for their edifying content, or rather as luxury objects, status symbols, or works of art that they appreciated as connoisseurs of illumination and iconographie subtleties. Hand acknowledges all of these possibilities and attempts to sort through the evidence to consider how the books might have been used, and in what ways they could have been important in the personal and political lives of late medieval aristocratic women. Subsequent chapters look more closely at the lives of individual women - marriages, political crises or triumphs, bereavements, success or failure in bearing children, and other matters - in search of clues that might help explain their interest in particular books, texts, or images. Hand considers all aspects of the books on which she focuses, including not only choice of texts but also illustrations and even the choice of artist, who might sometimes be a local illuminator, while at other times women who had married into a foreign court chose to employ artists from their home region. …

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