Lightning during Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic delayed but couldn’t entirely stop our “Image of the Book” sessions! Six panelists had been scheduled to present papers in Philadelphia at the Renaissance Society of America 2020 meeting. When travel suspensions and quarantines made physical assembly impossible, we instead hosted a “work-in-progress” gathering on the Zoom platform on May 5, 2020. Each panelist gave a “lightning” version of their paper, using screen share to present a visual banquet of handsome images and sketches of their intriguing research approaches.

GEORGIOS BOUDALIS, in “The Representation of Byzantine Codices between East and West,” described binding techniques specific to the Byzantine book tradition and used paintings to portray extraordinarily specific details of contemporary books; these images often employed near-photographic technique. Western artists, especially of the sixteenth century, portrayed books bound in “à la Grecque” style, an homage to the Renaissance revival of Greek literature and classical culture. The shift from the divine in Byzantine art, to manifestations of the secular in Renaissance art was clearly on view.
[Georgios Boudalis is Head of book and paper conservation at the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, Greece.]

ROMINA EBENHÖECH in “Between Actual and Iconic Book: The Book-Shape in 15th- and 16th-Century Miniaturized Pendants,” explored the traits of these jewelry items, often attached to a rosary, both as fashion item, and as apotropaic vessel for holy words and images. Ebenhöch’s images presented a startling variety of pendants, both the objects themselves and their images in paintings. While exploring the common traits of revealing and concealing, opening and closing, she demonstrated pendants’ position between ornament and iconic representations of the book.
[Romina Ebenhöech, is a member of the research staff of the Universität Bern.]

JESSICA SAVAGE in “Cradling Books: Codex as Iconographic Device in Late Medieval Visitation Scenes” used images of Visitation scenes between Mary and Elizabeth to explore conflated examples of women as personified virtues; their gestures, salutations, and conveyance of books present them as “charged vessels” and bearers of virtuous meaning. Books which are cradled by and passed among these figures bind the personifications together so that the book itself becomes a meta-image.
[Jessica Savage is Art History Specialist at The Index of Medieval Art, Princeton University]

ELIZABTH SANDOVAL in “Transformative and Transforming Books in Fifteenth-Century Netherlandish Annunciations” explored the transformative and transforming agency of books in paintings and illuminations of the Annunciation. Mary is shown not only as reader, but at times as herself embodied as a book, a container of Holy Word. Sandoval’s choice of images displayed the contemporaneous concept of the book as a metaphor for the heart, soul, and self – carrying the power to save, to damn, and to transfigure.
[Elizabeth Sandoval is Curatorial Assistant, Williams College Museum of Art]

In RENZO BALDASSO’s “Mathematical Humanism’s Painted Books” the images titled Portrait of Luca Pacioli and Disciple (1495) bridges the study of mathematics to its presentation in print, and connects patronage with book as prestige item. Baldasso identifies the two books portrayed in this painting as the first edition of Euclid’s Elements (Venice: E.Ratdolt, 1482) and Pacioli’s Summa (Venice: P.Paganini, 1494). Comparing other printed editions of Euclid’s Elements provides insight on printing innovations of the day.
[A resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Renzo Baldasso is working on a book entitled A New Aesthetics for Print: The Visuality of the Printed Page from Gutenberg to Ratdolt.]

JOHN McQUILLEN, in “Book-Portraits in the Work of Hans Holbein, discussed Holbein as a book-artist across a span of work ranging from marginal sketches to his illustrations for noted printer Johann Froben to personal portraits. A common thread was exquisite attention paid to the details of books portrayed— often specific contemporary editions. The cultural weight of books may have been evolving in these decades following the advent of typographic printing, but clearly their potency endures.
[John McQuillen is Associate Curator of Printed Books & Bindings, Morgan Library & Museum.]

Panel organizers Nicholas Herman and B. Williams Ellertson applaud & thank each presenter and look forward to continuing this lively interchange; we hope to hear their full papers next year in Dublin at RSA 2021..


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