Piety in Pieces: How Medieval Readers Customized their Manuscripts

Piety in Pieces: How Medieval Readers Customized their Manuscripts Kathryn M. Rudy
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In the last three years, Kathryn M. Rudy has transformed the understanding of late medieval Netherlandish manuscript culture [...]. By understanding what changed over time and why, Rudy argues that the production of a manuscript can last for decades, even centuries. By doing so, she brings codicology into social history. [...] One of her most courageous claims is that the exorbitant cost of permission fees effectively censored the research she undertook and distorted the findings she published. This is one reason why much of this material is previously unpublished, and why much of it will remain so. Scholars of book history, medieval manuscripts, and medieval art owe Rudy an immense debt, and not just in an academic sense. [...] The scope of the research, scale of the publications, and novelty of the methodologies and even paradigms mean that Rudy’s daring contributions will influence scholarship for years. Of all of them, shouting the hushed whispers about the costs of undertaking research on visual material might be the bravest.
— Elizabeth Savage, The Library, 19.2 (June 2018): 230-31

This is a brilliant contribution to the field of the materiality of Medieval manuscripts which currently emerges as a highly important intersection of art history, codicology, cultural studies and history of devotion.
— Henrike Lähnemann, Chair of Medieval German Literature and Linguistics, University of Oxford

Piety in Pieces is a scholarly work of high quality that makes multiple original contributions to the fields of codicology, paleography, book history, media studies, reception theory, material culture, and the study of religious and devotional practices in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The book is structured around a series of close-up examples which constitute a practical guide for understanding manuscripts in all of their complex materiality. Especially impressive is Rudy’s willingness to deal with the "afterlife” or "long life” of the manuscript, that is, the notion of the book as more than just the result of one fixed moment in time but an accumulation of decisions over many years – decisions that reflect changing tastes, devotional trends, and very human fears and desires linked to memory, time, and the hope for salvation. This book is essential reading for scholars and advanced students of medieval manuscripts, since it offers essentially new understandings of their production and audience.
— David S. Areford, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Massachusetts Boston

This is a wonderful and extraordinary book on a neglected subject, the afterlife of medieval manuscripts in the late medieval period. […] Rudy’s immensely scholarly but fascinating and beautifully written book shows how the manuscripts were subsequently adapted, and often readapted, to suit specific owners. […] This fresh, engrossing study marks the beginning of a major trend in scholarship, a great achievement.
— L. Nees, University of Delaware, CHOICE

Read Kyle Brady of the University of St Andrews' post about Piety in Pieces on our

Medieval manuscripts resisted obsolescence. Made by highly specialised craftspeople (scribes, illuminators, book binders) with labour-intensive processes using exclusive and sometimes exotic materials (parchment made from dozens or hundreds of skins, inks and paints made from prized minerals, animals and plants), books were expensive and built to last. They usually outlived their owners. Rather than discard them when they were superseded, book owners found ways to update, amend and upcycle books or book parts.

These activities accelerated in the fifteenth century. Most manuscripts made before 1390 were bespoke and made for a particular client, but those made after 1390 (especially books of hours) were increasingly made for an open market, in which the producer was not in direct contact with the buyer. Increased efficiency led to more generic products, which owners were motivated to personalise. It also led to more blank parchment in the book, for example, the backs of inserted miniatures and the blanks ends of textual components. Book buyers of the late fourteenth and throughout the fifteenth century still held onto the old connotations of manuscripts—that they were custom-made luxury items—even when the production had become impersonal.

Owners consequently purchased books made for an open market and then personalised them, filling in the blank spaces, and even adding more components later. This would give them an affordable product, but one that still smacked of luxury and met their individual needs. They kept older books in circulation by amending them, attached items to generic books to make them more relevant and valuable, and added new prayers with escalating indulgences as the culture of salvation shifted.

Rudy considers ways in which book owners adjusted the contents of their books from the simplest (add a marginal note, sew in a curtain) to the most complex (take the book apart, embellish the components with painted decoration, add more quires of parchment). By making sometimes extreme adjustments, book owners kept their books fashionable and emotionally relevant. This study explores the intersection of codicology and human desire.

Rudy shows how increased modularisation of book making led to more standardisation but also to more opportunities for personalisation. She asks: What properties did parchment manuscripts have that printed books lacked? What are the interrelationships among technology, efficiency, skill loss and standardisation?

The University of St Andrews Library Open Access Fund supported this Open Access publication. The Leverhulme Trust has generously contributed towards the research for this volume.

Piety in Pieces: How Medieval Readers Customized their Manuscripts
Kathryn M. Rudy | September 2016
412 | 213 colour illustrations | 6.14" x 9.21" (234 x 156 mm)
ISBN Paperback: 9781783742332
ISBN Hardback: 9781783742349
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781783742356
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781783742363
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781783742370
ISBN Digital (XML): 9781783746224
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0094
Subject codes: BIC: DSBB (Literary studies: classical, early & medieval), HRLC (Sacred texts); BISAC: LIT011000 (LITERARY CRITICISM / Medieval)

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Notes to the reader
Abbreviations used in this book
Introduction: A new approach to codicology
    Types of augmentations

Part I: The modular method
    A. Modular and non-modular, compared
    B. The hierarchy of decoration
    C. Modules and blank space
    D. Precursors of book modules
    E. Implications of the modular method
    F. Adopters of the modular method
    G. Complicated stratigraphy

Part II: Changes that did not require rebinding
    A. Correcting the text
    B. Adding text to the blank folios and interstices
        1. Noting who owned, commissioned, and paid for items
        2. Adding family information
        3. Adding legal documents
        4. Adding a gloss
        5. Adding calendrical data
        6. Changing a text to reflect updated circumstances
        7. Adding text to make a book appropriate as a didactic tool
        8. Adding prayers
    C. Augmenting the existing decoration
    D. Drawing or painting images directly onto bound parchment
    E. Adding physical material superficially
        1. Attaching parchment sheets to blank areas of the book
        2. Adding other objects to blank parchment

Part III: Changes that required rebinding
    A. Adding leaves bearing texts
    B. Adding leaves bearing images
        1. Images for the most common offices
        2. Images for indulgences
        3. Portraits and personalizing details
        4. Images for adding value
        5. Images for missals
        6. Other single-leaf miniatures
        7. Packages of images
        8. Images removed from one manuscript and inserted into another
    C. Adding quires
        1. Adding a bifolium
        2. Adding one or more full quires

Part IV: Complicated interventions and complete overhauls
    Building a book out of disparate quires
    A. An atelier in Bruges
    B. Unica
    C. The convent of St. Ursula
        1. Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. Rawl. Liturg. E.9*
        2. The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Ms. 132 G
        3. Uppsala, Universitetsbiblioteket, Ms. C 517 k
    D. The convent of St. Agnes in Delft
    E. The Masters of the Dark Eyes
        1. Alongside the Master of Gijsbrecht van Brederode
        2. Leeds, Brotherton Ms. 7 with an added booklet

Part V: Patterns of desire
    A. Desire to personalize the book
    B. Desire to commemorate a changed family situation
    C. Desire to store small precious objects
    D. Desire for more embellishment
    E. Recycling and refurbishing
    F. Desire to make foreign-produced manuscripts locally relevant
    G. Desire to incorporate new prayers
    H. Fear of hell
    I. Desire to reflect wealth
    J. Changes, social and codicological

List of illustrations

Kathryn M. Rudy
is Professor in art history at the University of St Andrews. She has written extensively about late medieval manuscripts and is best known for her work on ‘Dirty Books’, for which she measured signs of wear in manuscript margins in order to quantify reader reception. See her TED talk on this topic! Before coming to academia in 2011, she was curator of illuminated manuscripts at the National Library of The Netherlands. She holds degrees from Cornell, Columbia, and Toronto, and she has held fellowships, inter alia, at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, the Warburg, the Bodleian Library, the Getty, the Bauhaus University Weimar, and Trinity College Dublin. Her most recent book is Postcards on Parchment: The Social Lives of Medieval Books (2015). She is currently writing a new book for OBP: Image, Knife, and Gluepot: Early Assemblage in Manuscript and Print.