Sacred Image and Illusion in Late Flemish Manuscripts

Sacred Image and Illusion in Late Flemish Manuscripts

Calkins, Robert G.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 6 (1989)


One of the most remarkable phases of manuscript illumination occurs at the end of the Middle Ages, primarily in Flanders and France, when illusionistic borders are introduced into books for private devotion. Certainly the most famous and astonishing example of this illusionism is the miniature in the Hours of Mary of Burgundy (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 1857), showing Mary of Burgundy reading by an open window with a view into a church interior beyond. Actually, this miniature encapsulates several major considerations that I want to bring together here. It invokes, first of all, certain aspects of the notion of the sacred image and of its use in devotional books at the end of the Middle Ages. It also raises questions about the reasons for various innovative sequences of miniatures and about the relevance of the remarkable illusionistic structural frames around some of the miniature and text pages in late Flemish manuscripts. These issues touch on the intrinsic nature of piety and devotion at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries.

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