Sacred Images in a Secular Text: the Case of the Cent nouvelles nouvelles

Sacred Images in a Secular Text: the Case of the Cent nouvelles nouvelles

By Edgar de Blieck

Histoire, Images, Imaginaire, edited by Pascal Dupuy (University of Pisa, 2002)

Abstract: This paper argues a general case about the uses of images in texts based on the detailed examination of a particular text: on the whole, images in medieval manuscripts have a greater thematic resonance than the woodcuts and other illustrations which accompany texts from the period of the invention of printing to the present day. The basis for this contention is that, since the advent of mass produced books, the major factors in the inclusion of images in books have been monetary (i.e. they relate either to production costs, or to a crude desire to appeal for the purposes of making a sale) rather than artistic or thematic.

The particular text with reference to which the case is argued is a celebrated collection of risqué short stories, called the Cent nouvelles nouvelles, which were originally made by and for the duke of Burgundy’s court in the middle of the 15th century. Inter alia, the painted and printed images which accompany the nineteenth nouvelle – the story of the Snow Child – are examined in detail to demonstrate the degeneration of thematic links in the transition from manuscript to printed text. Because the Cent nouvelles nouvelles was one of the first full length collections of stories to be published, and republished, and because it has enjoyed an obvious success through the centuries, it has been possible to trace the ways in which the images which accompany the text have become less immediately bound up in the thematic issues of the tales which they accompany. The case is made that in the most modern editions of the Cent nouvelles nouvelles, ulterior motives, ranging from titillation to the need to secure academic credibility are to the fore in the choice of images which illustrate the collection.

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