A A A
OPB logo

Image, Knife, and Gluepot: Early Assemblage in Manuscript and Print
More info and resources at: https://www.openbookpublishers.com/product/806

0. Introduction:
Hybrid Books in Flux

© Kathryn M. Rudy, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0145.05

Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque are credited with having invented Synthetic Cubism when they pasted newspaper, wallpaper, and rope to the surfaces of images. They then wrote words, or parts of words, painted, and made marks on the surfaces of their multi-media objects. Marks they made united the various layers. The scraps of newspaper were of course cheaply printed and contained black-and-white texts and images, which the artists trimmed into various shapes, thereby adjusting the meanings of the scraps. To some degree, the newsprint functioned as texture or shading. Although their Synthetic Cubism is anthologised in art history books as being avant-garde and crossing borders by introducing printed paper into a high-culture form of production, in fact these features were already present in the fifteenth century, when book makers were cutting and pasting printed images into new arrangements, applying paint and ink that would connect the various pasted layers, and creating fictive frames around physical scraps. Fifteenth-century monastics inscribed text in various styles, some of which were meant to imitate printed letters. They then stitched their creations together with threads and bound them in leather. These book makers were in effect assembling new multi-media objects, whose elements crossed boundaries between high and low.1 The new medium of print had connotations of being cheap even in the fifteenth century for, after all, some of the earliest printed objects in the West were playing cards, the ultimate secular gambling objects, flimsy adult toys.2 Just like Picasso and Braque, certain book makers brought this black-and-white mass medium together with a firmly established art form that had exclusive connotations. Whereas the Cubists combined newspaper with easel painting, the people I consider here brought the cheap print into the midst of the manuscript, a medium charged with carrying the word of God, and which was traditionally commissioned by the upper social echelons.

This study is essentially about two media brought together: small images printed in the fifteenth century that were trimmed and then pasted to manuscript pages to adorn and embellish them. As Picasso and Braque would do in the twentieth century, book makers used the knife and gluepot as tools for creation. They probably thought of themselves not as avant-garde or edgy, but merely pragmatic. They used the new technology of printmaking to bring numerous images into the previously exclusive realm of manuscripts.3

These tools — knife and gluepot — cut metaphorically both ways, as much later they also became the tools of the archivist, who separated complicated objects into their component parts so that they would fit into the categories of the archive. In an inversion of history, the archivists of the nineteenth century used a knife to cut up manuscripts that had prints in them, and then pasted those prints onto archival mattes for protection and storage. In this way prints would be classified and sorted, arrayed like butterflies on a lepidopterist’s pin board.

However, the organisational aim of the nineteenth-century collection — to assemble and arrange every print by Albrecht Dürer, the Master ES, or other recognisable figures, to be complete — has little to do with what intrigues me about early printing; rather, I am pursuing the original functions of early print and charting the circuitous shift in technology from script to print.4 For these goals, I am at cross-purposes with my nineteenth-century predecessors. When they cut prints out of manuscripts, they removed the prints from their original contexts, and made my job much more difficult. To understand the early functions of prints (who used them? how?), I will have to undo (virtually) the actions of knife-wielding nineteenth-century collectors. My goal here is to reconstruct books in order to reconstruct their contexts.5 I am going to turn back the clock of the nineteenth century.

Terms such as ‘printing revolution’ make it sound as if the process of moving from script to print happened quickly and violently.6 Instead, the transition occurred over a period of seventy years or more and was not unidirectional: Einblattdrucke (single-leaf woodcuts, metalcuts, and engravings) often formed the models for painted miniatures, and incunables formed the exemplars for manuscripts.7 In fact, the process of adopting print over handwriting in the Gutenberg age had several false starts, failed experiments, and blind alleys. Moreover, printing words and printing images did not share the same history. Manuscripts endured well into the ‘printed age’, with many books, pamphlets, and ephemera being made with a hybrid of techniques, specifically print and manuscript.

As we live in a world with multiple medialities, manuscripts still persist today: notes on the backs of cocktail napkins, the best kinds of love letters, Quaker marriage certificates, signatures on paper cheques, marginalia in books, some lecture notes, most angry notes on mis-parked cars, and the vast majority of graffiti are handwritten. The West Reading Room in the Cambridge University Library still has a fountain pen station, where those with fine writing instruments can fill their bladders with blue-black ink. These examples are some of the last outposts of handwriting. While working on this book I renewed my car’s tax disc for the last time; by the time this book comes out, cars in Britain will no longer have to display physical, printed round cards indicating that their owners have paid the road tax, and this information will exist in electronic form only. Written culture is, once again, at the shoreline between dominant forms, with printed items growing dusty on shelves while new libraries are designed with large banks of computers, or simply larger cafés. As a result of this move away from the printed, the tangible, and the handwritten, people’s handwriting has been declining lately. The book you are currently reading was written on a computer, and you may be reading it on a screen; its existence as a paper object may have been brief or unnecessary.

The late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, like our own era, also entertained multiple medialities, which enjoyed shifting levels of dominance across time and in various contexts.8 The period of the handwritten codex roughly corresponds to the period of Roman Christian hegemony: the codex (as opposed to the roll) was the form of the big, bulky bible and its components. Encased as it was between two strong covers, the codex was self-protecting. Moreover, it was blatantly differentiated from the roll, which was associated with antiquity and with Judaism, although the roll persisted alongside the codex.9 The manuscript codex would prevail as the chief bearer of Christianity and its texts from the early fourth century until the mid-fifteenth. Its stepchild, the printed book, would survive another 600 years (of heterodoxy, science, and waxing atheism) before the screen would wear it down, and along with it, sustained, absorbed reading.10 This study is about early experiments in book construction, as the handwritten and illuminated book was giving way to the mechanically reproduced book, representing the beginnings of widespread reading and access to images on a personal, hand-held, and ownable scale. When the printed image met the handwritten word, the two had a brief and sultry affair on the page.

This research started with an image of St Barbara — a printed roundel pasted onto a handwritten page — which I found while I was looking for something else. Chasing down this roundel has involved a twelve-year hunt to reconnect prints with the manuscripts from which they were cut, to think about whole objects so that I can better understand their original functions. In the process, I have thought about the nature of collecting and classifying, the transformative properties of archives and the procedures of research in the humanities, the shifting meaning of value, the need to identify proper names in history. Rather than write a catalogue of manuscripts and the prints they formerly harboured, I have written a narrative about the process of discovering fragments and reuniting them with their former substrates. This is therefore a book about the institutions that collected prints in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and about the institutions that decided to keep them for posterity, and how I interacted with those institutions for a decade. The categories formed in the nineteenth century have had a great impact on how one might do research on these objects, on which institutions hold them, on how they are classified, and which institutions will fund a study to reconnect them. While fifteenth-century writing and imaging technologies form the meat of this study, it is also about how research is done in the current shifting landscape. As I go to press, a new journal called Fragmentology: A Journal for the Study of Medieval Manuscript Fragments has published its first volume. Its editors, Christoph Flüeler and William Duba (Fribourg), are ushering in a body of studies made possible by European and American digitization efforts, which have also facilitated my project, to a degree.

I have invented a methodology that is intended to cope with a particular problem: manuscripts were cut up for their contents, which were then re-catalogued in ways that made it incredibly difficult to reconstitute them; I managed to reconstruct them (virtually), because I was able to develop my own organizational systems. My work therefore mirrors some of the work of the original scribes, who were also developing organizational systems within the manuscripts themselves. For the material under consideration here, scribes and book makers invented and imposed a primary system of organisation. Museums (and along with them, dealers and markets) imposed a second organizational system on the physical material. But a third system is my own. Much as the manuscripts existed in an institutional world that shaped them — of the monastery and then the museum — I too am operating in an institutional world of the university and the library/museum and the funding system that imposes constraints as well. Our labour is shaped by institutions, and these institutions themselves impose methods. They are part of the story I want to tell.

I have written this book in the first person because it is about my process of research as much as it is about the content of what I learned. Each step of the process demanded an innovative approach and taught me something distinct. By writing it in this way, I hope to convey something of that process and not just its outcomes. The resulting book is a methodological self-portrait; it is intended to explore how I have approached solving the problem of the gap between the manuscript as it was assembled in the fifteenth century and disassembled in the nineteenth. This is also a story of organizational systems, not only of the fifteenth-century manuscript, in all their complexity, and the nineteenth-century museum, in its hierarchies, but of the art historian who would attempt to look across this sea of raw visual and physical data and form patterns. In many ways, this methodology is sui generis — as it must be, since intuition plays an enormous role. But at the same time, in describing my own labour, I hope to reveal the contemporary institutional and organizational boundaries that continue to make it difficult to reconstruct lost books, even in the age of the digital and the database. My methodological story is personal; since it is my life it is chronological, but it is not linear. I do not present it as a fait accompli, but as a set of realizations and strategies that unfolded across the experience of the manuscripts themselves, most of which were viewed in parts and all of which were points in a vast constellation of books and images that I sifted through in pursuit of connections.

This study is intended to place art historical methods in the current moment as a third assembly of the book, one that needs to be exposed to view in order to have its institutional fault lines interrogated and its challenges discussed, and in particular, to have the art historical work that is done revealed, as that of the book maker and the curator is revealed. The copyist, the collector/curator, and the art historian are all labourers who toil within their respective institutions. And, like those earlier cultural workers, I too am facing institutional constraints. In adopting this first-person voice, I am revealing the labour of the art historian. Like that of the copyist and the curator, the (art) historian’s labour is usually is presented as a polished final product, with the errors, blind alleys, and frustrations erased. The historian is usually the hero and master of the material. Although few are in a position to disclose this art historical labour, I chose to do so at some risk, as it reveals my fumbling but also exposes the ways in which our research is affected by our personal lives (and funding). As I show in this book, that labour is the method — it is the way the work is done; and moreover, the hindrances that labour faces are themselves methodological challenges. Institutional limitations are methodological ones, for me as much as for the nineteenth-century curator. This book sets out to describe that in a way that we rarely do, an omission that obscures the true limitations of our research, and that circumscribes (secretly, invisibly) the kinds of projects we can take on unless we are willing, as here, to make vast personal sacrifices.

Chapter 1 reconstructs a manuscript by beghards in Maastricht. (Beghards were men who followed St Francis, considered themselves to be Franciscans, and who lived in community in towns and cities. They did not beg but made their living through their trade and labour.11) By reconstructing this book, I can show how the beghards learned to integrate the new technology of printed images into the making of their manuscript. That book straddles the two technological moments and sees the creators adapting midstream. A short Chapter 2 discusses the significance of the unusual calendar the beghards constructed, which goes some distance to help us understand how they thought in terms of fungible categories: these innovators in the realm of print technology were also inventing new ways of organising information. They experimented with how the book could be reordered to accommodate prints. These ideas speak to a larger concern in the era, one of reducing labour by using fungibility. What is surprising is that the beghards applied this idea to several different endeavours. This chapter will appeal to those who are interested in the history of organisational and indexing systems. I have given the subject a separate chapter because it is more technical than the other material. Chapter 3 analyses a second book that the beghards made, several decades later. The snapshot it provides reveals how the beghards changed over the turbulent early sixteenth century, how much the print market had shifted in 25 years, and how the book makers increasingly absorbed and normalised the new technology of single-leaf prints. Chapter 4 departs from the beghards to consider many other manuscripts and the prints they formerly held, and assesses the extent of this practice of pasting prints in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, as the archives have destroyed most of the examples and given us a diminished sense of the importance of this development in book history.

In the nineteenth century, the collecting process split woodcuts from engravings, although they were part of the same kinds of projects in the fifteenth century. Studying them provides some insight into the degree to which fifteenth-century book makers embraced the new technology and the extent to which nineteenth-century collectors dismantled it. One quality differentiating the two main printing techniques in the fifteenth century is that copper engraving lent itself to artists’ signatures and monograms, whereas woodcuts generally did not (although Albrecht Dürer managed to sign his woodblocks). Israhel van Meckenem excelled in this realm, carving his name into hundreds of copper plates, many designs for which he co-opted from other engravers. He multiplied his name with every impression. David Landau and Peter Parshall even call Israhel an ‘entrepreneurial printmaker and pirate’.12 Whereas rulers had duplicated their images on coins for more than a millennium, Israhel was the first common person to use the mass media to grow his career, often by copying others’ designs. He was also inventing new functions for prints and doing so faster than people could consume them; they also used them in ways that had not been intended. Israhel spread his name hither and yon in the fifteenth century and became a collector’s must-have in the nineteenth: consequently, he bookends the chapters in this study.

Israhel not only visualized new ways to combine print and manuscript, but he also produced the components for scribes to realize his vision. And he not only signed his works in the fifteenth century, but he fed the market in the nineteenth century for collectors who desired objects (and complete series of objects) connected to proper names. The book-making techniques of the fifteenth century are therefore reflected in the collecting practices of the nineteenth, and in both periods, books were assembled and prints disassembled, or vice versa. Both of these activities employed sharp blades and spatulas of glue.


1 Amy Knight Powell, Depositions: Scenes from the Late Medieval Church and the Modern Museum (New York: Zone Books, 2012); and Alexander Nagel, Medieval Modern: Art out of Time (London: Thames & Hudson, 2012) further articulate other relationships between modern and medieval art/objects. The affinities between the fifteenth- and twentieth-century products do not diminish the originality of the later artists, but rather illuminate the experimentality of both eras and force us to question our periodization.

2 In the early 1990s, Sheila Edmunds invited me to her house in the Finger Lakes, where we discussed the ideas she and Anne H. van Buren had published two decades earlier in: ‘Playing Cards and Manuscripts: Some Widely Disseminated Fifteenth-Century Model Sheets’, The Art Bulletin 56:1 (1974), pp. 12–30. This ignited my interest in the topics of this study.

3 Other studies that address the marriage of print and manuscript include: Frizt Oskar Schuppisser, ‘Copper Engravings of the “Mass Production” Illustration Netherlandish Prayer Manuscripts’, in Masters and Miniatures: Proceedings of the Congress on Medieval Manuscript Illumination in the Northern Netherlands (Utrecht, 10–13 December 1989), ed. K. van der Horst and Johann-Christian Klamt, Studies and Facsimiles of Netherlandish Illuminated Manuscripts; 3 (Doornspijk: Davaco, 1991), pp. 389–400; The Woodcut in Fifteenth-Century Europe, ed. by Peter W. Parshall (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2009); Hanno Wijsman, with the collaboration of Ann Kelders and Susie Speakman Sutch, eds. Books in Transition at the Time of Philip the Fair: Manuscripts and Printed Books in the Late Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Century Low Countries. Burgundica, 15 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010); Todor Petev, ‘A Group of Hybrid Books of Hours Illustrated with Woodcuts’, in Books of Hours Reconsidered, ed. Sandra Hindman and James H. Marrow (London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2013), pp. 391–408; Evelien Hauwaerts, Evelien de Wilde, and Ludo Vandamme, Colard Mansion: Incunabula, Prints and Manuscripts in Medieval Bruges. Exh. Cat., Groeningemuseum, Brugge (Ghent: Snoeck Publishers, 2018). All these studies treat prints made north of the Alps. Roberto Cobianchi, ‘Printing a New Saint: Woodcut Production and the Canonization of Saints in Late Medieval Italy’, in The Saint between Manuscript and Print: Italy 1400–1600, ed. Alison Knowles Frazier (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2015), pp. 73–98, has begun identifying Italian prints that were pasted into manuscripts.

4 In this approach, I am inspired by Suzanne Kathleen Karr Schmidt and Kimberly Nichols, Altered and Adorned: Using Renaissance Prints in Daily Life (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago; New Haven: Distributed by Yale University Press, 2011).

5 This study joins others that have endeavoured to reconstruct manuscripts broken up in the nineteenth century. See, for example, Judith Oliver, ‘Medieval Alphabet Soup: Reconstruction of a Mosan Psalter-Hours in Philadelphia and Oxford and the Cult of St. Catherine’, Gesta 24:2 (1985), pp. 129–40; and Aden Kumler, ‘Canonizing a Catastrophe: The Curious Case of the Carmelite Missal’, lecture at the conference Canons & Contingence: Art Histories of the Book in England and America, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 2017 (unpublished). The missal Kumler discussed was clipped, disassembled, and its parts pasted into scrapbooks, now London, BL, Add. Mss 29704 & 29705.

6 The term comes from Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). See the response by Herman Pleij, ‘Printing as a Long-Term Revolution’, in Books in Transition at the Time of Philip the Fair: Manuscripts and Printed Books in the Late Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Century Low Countries, ed. by Hanno Wijsman, with the collaboration of Ann Kelders and Susie Speakman Sutch. Burgundica, 15 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010), pp. 287–307.

7 Sandra Hindman, and James Douglas Farquhar, Pen to Press: Illustrated Manuscripts and Printed Books in the First Century of Printing (College Park: Art Dept., University of Maryland, 1977); James Marrow, ‘A Book of Hours from the Circle of the Master of the Berlin Passion: Notes on the Relationship between Fifteenth-Century Manuscript Illumination and Printmaking in the Rhenish Lowlands’, The Art Bulletin 60:4 (1978), pp. 590–616; and Klara Broekhuijsen, ‘The Bezborodko Masters and the use of prints’, in Masters and Miniatures: Proceedings of the Congress on Medieval Manuscript Illumination in the Northern Netherlands (Utrecht, 10–13 December 1989), ed. Koert van der Horst and Johann-Christian Klamt (Studies and Facsimiles of Netherlandish Illuminated Manuscripts, 3: Doornspijk, 1991), pp. 403–12.

8 Those interested in pursuing further theoretical aspects of multiple modalities will benefit from Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman, eds., Comparative Textual Media. Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

9 As J. P. Gumbert writes in ‘Fifty Years of Codicology’, Archiv für Diplomatik: Schriftgeschichte, Siegel- und Wappenkunde 50 (2004), pp. 505–26, at p. 519, ‘rolls are not oddities, they are a valid and normal Medieval book type’. Rolls were ideal for certain functions, including providing supports for amulets, genealogical tables and other diagrammatic forms. Their poor survival rates reflect the fact that modern and early-modern storage systems privileged the codex.

10 Of course, the printed book and the manuscript codex and the manuscript roll all coexisted into the modern period, so these divisions were by no means absolute. The recent and vast literature addressing how reading on screens affects cognition changes constantly and is beyond the scope of this project.

11 On Franciscans in the Netherlands, see Hildo van Engen, De derde orde van Sint-Franciscus in het middeleeuwse bisdom Utrecht (Hilversum: Verloren, 2006); and three studies by Bert Roest: A History of Franciscan Education (c. 1210–1517) (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2000); Franciscan Literature of Religious Instruction before the Council of Trent (Leiden: Brill, 2004); Franciscan Learning, Preaching and Mission c. 1220–1650: Cum Scientia Sit Donum Dei, Armatura ad Defendendam Sanctam Fidem Catholicam (Leiden: Brill, 2015).

12 David Landau and Peter W. Parshall, The Renaissance Print: 1470–1550 (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 56–65.