Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History of Art

First Advisor

Larry Silver

Abstract

The period from 1460 to 1515 in France was marked by a number of significant shifts—both politically as feudal systems were consolidated under a more powerful centralized monarchy, and artistically, as print and panel painting challenged the primacy of traditional medieval media. Previous scholarship has treated the enduring French preference for manuscripts among court patrons as an anachronistic medieval holdover, and likewise, the period’s illumination as an art in decline. This project revises this view by considering adherence to the manuscript form as a core component of French royal and aristocratic identity. Manuscripts, with their ability to imitate, contain, and transcend other media, provided a tactile, visual, and conceptual connection to an imagined past: a Middle Ages of knightly deeds, romances, bibliophile kings, and the courtly splendor before the rupture of the Hundred Years’ War. Closely analyzing this nostalgic turn to the past—revival and performance of chivalric values in semi-public aristocratic venues, preservation of history in terms of military and cultural traditions, and efforts to make the past not simply legible but extremely relevant and important to a late fifteenth-century audience—reveals noble-class anxieties about the future of family, identity, and ways of life.

This dissertation examines several aspects of late medieval manuscript culture at the French courts to provide an account of the material and ideological significance of the manuscript book during a time of major political and artistic restructuring. It addresses how royal and aristocratic patrons negotiated the political transitions of the age in visual and material ways. It establishes that any discussion of late medieval manuscripts must consider the other media with which they interacted, particularly exchange with print, which was mobilized for specific political and artistic purposes and only within the frameworks of courtly taste and patronage. In this complex and uncertain moment in French royal history and in the history of the book, manuscripts became implicated in the conception of the idealized stability of the medieval past, functioned as repositories for aristocratic identity, and stood as objects of collective memory—a status maintained well into the sixteenth century.

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