Books for the Illiterate?
Meaning in Early Medieval Art
In his letter to Serenus, Gregory justified pictures by saying they were like texts. But this simple theory of images is insufficient. Sometimes images did mimic the word, but at other times pictures did things words could not. This chapter examines the ways, verbal and visual, in which early medieval art conveyed meaning.
Pictures and texts are alike in that both can tell stories, and one of the most common types of early medieval art was narrative. Storytelling art could consist of isolated images or narrative cycles made up of several scenes. It is in these image cycles that pictures most closely approach text and most nearly become Gregory's books of the illiterate. Illustration  shows the frontispiece to the Vivian Bible, a large, richly illustrated one-volume Bible made for Charles the Bald in 845 as a gift from the monks of the monastery of St. Martin at Tours and their abbot, Count Vivian. The miniature depicts how, in the late fourth century, St. Jerome translated the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into Latin. It narrates pictorially the story of how the Word came to be.
The page is separated by tituli into three horizontal zones or registers. The top register comprises two scenes, but the division between them is not as clearly delineated as it would be in a modern pictorial