“In the talk that my mother learned from me”: flowering of medieval French literature
New York Exhibition: April 2 to 26, 2014
Paris Exhibition: May 13 to 20, 2014
INHA conference in Paris: May 17, 2014
Presenting a “new” history of medieval French literature based in large part on the impact of historical and social phenomena, scientific advances and linguistic and cultural singularities, the global Illuminations project (exhibition, catalog and conference) is organized around a set of 15 manuscripts. written in French between c. 1300 and c. 1550.
While the earliest writings date from the 9th century, French was not widely used until the 13th century. Many factors influenced the transition from Latin to the “mother tongue”. The shift from an agrarian economy to a commercial economy in all cities imposed on members of the middle class the need to understand each other in both written and oral form. The centralization of French government and the rise of a nation-state under King Philippe Auguste (who reigned from 1180 to 1223) dictated the need for a language through which the court and nobles could exercise power everywhere. Unsurprisingly, women played a central role in the rise and evolution of medieval French, as they began to carve out a place for themselves within a literary canon. Male writers are also increasingly choosing to portray women, who constitute a devoted audience for their literary and theological works. As a result of these efforts, French was well established as the language of literature, historical records, and personal expression in the 15th century.
The exhibition explores these instrumental developments thematically, culminating with a section on manuscripts in the era of print culture, as technology has proven to be a decisive factor in the rapid advancement, the adoption and standardization of the “mother tongue”. While in 1501 only 10% of books published in Paris were in French, in 1575 55% of all books published in Paris were in French. The triumph of the French language over Latin was therefore practically completed at the end of the 16th century.
Rather than grouping the works by genre or period, the exhibition is organized into sections as follows:
I. Literature and science: the rise and affirmation of the vernacular; II. Philosophy, theology and mirror of the princes: translations and adaptations of the classics; III. History and genealogy: the nation and the individual; IV. Women writers and women bibliophiles: memory and self-affirmation; V. From manuscript to print: the circulation of texts and the triumph of vernacular French.
The title of the exhibition is taken from a quote from Jean de Meun, one of the authors whose work is presented in the exhibition and who, with Guillaume de Lorris, wrote the famous Roman de la Rose. In C. 1325, John described writing in French as “speaking as I learned from my mother” or “speaking in my mother tongue”.
Mostly illuminated, the manuscripts on display cover a wide variety of subjects ranging from literature and science, philosophy and theology, to history and government. Illuminated manuscripts in French from this period are so rare that this project would not be possible without the purchase of a large group of unpublished manuscripts from the Collection of Joost R. Ritman, founder of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica.
Prefaced with an introductory essay by Sandra Hindman, the accompanying color scholarly catalog, published by Paul Holberton Publishing, will include detailed descriptions of each work presented in the exhibition as well as comparative material. Together with the accompanying exhibition and the colloquium, the catalog contributes to the ongoing reassessment of the history of medieval literature and art by examining the complex relationships between text and image in manuscripts in as reflections of community and individual identity, and as evidence of the dynamic intersection of literature and art. The sections of the catalog will shed new light on many of the exhibition’s themes; and also serve as session titles for the Paris colloquium. http://www.paul-holberton.net.
A study day or conference is planned for Saturday, May 17, 2014 at the National Institute of Art History (INHA) with conferences around the themes addressed in the exhibition as well as new research related to the development and the affirmation of the French language in the production of literary manuscripts of c. 1200 to 1550.
About the Illuminations
Les Enluminures was founded in Paris in 1991 by Dr Sandra Hindman in association with the Chicago-based company, and opened its gallery in New York in May 2012. Specializing in manuscripts and miniatures from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the gallery also deals with rings. and jewelry from the same periods. It organizes four to five exhibitions per year, some traveling and in collaboration with other dealers, often accompanied by catalogs.
Les Enluminures exhibits in many prestigious art and antiques fairs, including: The European Fine Arts Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht; the Winter Antiques Show in New York; Masterpiece in London and San Francisco Fall Antiques Show. Among the gallery’s international clients: the Louvre Museum in Paris; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC; the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, as well as many other institutional and private clients around the world. www.lesenluminures.com.
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