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Henry Suso’s Horologium Sapientiae in fifteenth-century France: images of reading and writing in Brussels Royal Library MS IV 111

Henry Suso’s Horologium Sapientiae in fifteenth-century France: images of reading and writing in Brussels Royal Library MS IV 111

Rozenski Jr., Steven

Word & Image, Volume 26, Issue 4, December (2010)

Abstract

Henry Suso, despite the frustrated epigraph above, loved his books. The Swabian Dominican (ca. 1295-1366) was constantly immersed in textuality: reading contemplative and devotional texts, writing edifying vernacular and Latin treatises, and commissioning murals of scenes and sayings from the Vitae Patrum (a popular collection of the lives of the early Egyptian desert fathers) to decorate the walls of his cell. Visual input — both pictorial and textual — was similarly central to his spiritual life; sharing stories, pictures, and texts was the lifeblood of the pastoral role he played in his community. It is no wonder, then, that Brussels Royal Library MS IV 111, the illuminated mid-fifteenth-century manuscript containing a French translation of Suso’s wildly popular devotional treatise, the Horologium Sapientiae, contains numerous representations of reading and writing, equating these activities as part and parcel of Suso’s well-noted imagistic and visionary devotional strategies. 2 A close examination of the use of books and texts in the iconographic program of the manuscript reveals the illuminator’s sophisticated understanding of Suso’s concern with authority and textuality; the images of banderoles and scrolls represent a nuanced portrayal of the interaction between speech and writing in the practice of devotional reading.

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