Medieval prayer books held not only the devotions and meditations of Christianity, but also housed, slipped between pages, sundry notes, reminders, and ephemera, such as pilgrims’ badges, sworn oaths, and small painted images. Many of these last items have been classified as manuscript illumination, but Kathryn M. Rudy argues that these pictures should be called, instead, parchment paintings, similar to postcards. In a delightful study identifying this group of images for the first time, Rudy delineates how these objects functioned apart from the books in which they were kept. Whereas manuscript illuminations were designed to provide a visual narrative to accompany a book’s text, parchment paintings offered a kind of autonomous currency for exchange between individuals—people who longed for saturated color in a gray world of wood, stone, and earth. These small, colorful pictures offered a brilliant reprieve, and Rudy shows how these intriguing and previously unfamiliar images were traded and cherished, shedding light into the everyday life and relationships of those in the medieval Low Countries.
Kathryn M. Rudy is senior lecturer in the School of Art at the University of St. Andrews.
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