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The Eyes Have It: Blindness and Vision in Matthew Paris’s Estoire de seint Aedward le rei

La Estoire de seint Aedward le reiThe Eyes Have It: Blindness and Vision in Matthew Paris’s Estoire de seint Aedward le rei

By Nicole Leapley

Mirator, Vol.12 (2011)

Abstract: The manuscript of La Estoire de seint Aedward le rei (The History of Saint Edward the King) has been widely studied by art historians who recognize it as one of the most skillfully and abundantly illustrated of the thirteenth century. They, however, have not examined the thematization within the text itself of vision and the bodily organs that permit it. This is what I undertake here. While considering the visual program of the manuscript, I focus on the role ordinary human vision and the eyes play in constructing both political and literary authority in the Estoire to reveal how it functions as an authorizing and foundational text for the Angevin monarchy and St. Albans monastery while augmenting the prestige and influence of its author, Matthew Paris.

Introduction: La Estoire de seint Aedward le rei (The History of Saint Edward the King) is extant in only one manuscript—and it is stunning. Containing this text alone, the manuscript offers on nearly each page three columns of text and a large, at least two-column wide, but more often three-column wide, pen and wash image, for a total of 64 images. The height of the illustrations is nearly equivalent to that of the text and a portion of the writing on each page in fact constitutes rubrics that caption the images. The physical arrangement of the manuscript thus puts the visual on par with the textual.

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