March 23, 2013
Gregory Pass

Vatican Film Library Hosts Medieval Manuscripts Exhibit

The collection, titled "Recollected Forms," displays the nature of reuse and deconstruction of medieval manuscript books.

A new exhibit of medieval manuscripts, titled "Recollected Forms," is now on display in the Vatican Film Library of the Saint Louis University Libraries Special Collections. Curated by Ashley Nolan, a doctoral candidate in the Department of English and Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies graduate student research assistant in the Vatican Film Library, this exhibit focuses on a variety of manuscript forms and histories that recollect, she observes, "the dual nature of manuscript collection and preservation - to gather up again or reassemble and to recall or remember."

"Recollected Forms" is on display, free and open to the public, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, until Thursday, Aug. 1, in the Vatican Film Library, located in room 105 in Pius XII Memorial Library. A curator's talk will be given by Ashley Nolan at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 10. For more information, contact Susan L'Engle, Ph.D., assistant director of the Vatican Film Library, at 314-977-3084.

Nolan takes her inspiration from a passage in Ovid's "Tristia" (I.i.107-8) in which, she points out, the author "speaks to his finished manuscript, telling it to go and find refuge in the bookcases with its brothers, ‘all of whom the same craftsmanship produced with sleepless toil' (quos studium cuntos evigilavit idem). This instruction for the manuscript to seek refuge suggests the complex, often turbulent, history of textual transmission.

"Like Ovid's manuscripts, so too have the objects in this exhibition — indenture, roll, leaf and printed book — been passed on, copied, lost and recovered over the centuries, bearing traces of their long journeys; every smudge, stain, tear and nibble by insect or rodent reveals something about their reception, transmission, deconstruction and reappropriation."

Several items in the exhibit illustrate the reuse (reappropriation) of medieval manuscript books by breaking them up (deconstruction) for new purposes once they were deemed no longer useful in the years following the introduction of printing. The durable parchment of which they were made was often recycled as binding material for printed books and can be found as spine liners, flyleaves or even whole covers. Many fragments of medieval manuscripts are recovered in this way.

From the Rare Book collections, Figure 1 in the slideshow shows a 12th-century manuscript reused as a pastedown for a book printed in 1499, and figure 2 shows another as the entire cover for a book printed in 1553. The discovery of these once-discarded, then-recycled, now-re-collected manuscripts gives them renewed purpose as part of SLU Libraries' teaching and research collections.

The act of recollection or remembering is vividly embodied in a single-sheet legal document, seen in figure 3. Edward III, king of England (1327-77), bestows upon George Feldbrigg property once belonging to a priory, consisting of "silver spoons, price 6s. 8d. In the cellar, one cup with a foot and cover of silver, price 13s. 4d." The form of this document is an indenture — a sheet of parchment on which the agreement was written in duplicate and then cut through the middle in a wavy or indented line so the two parts could be matched up with one another to prove the validity of the transaction.

About University Libraries Special Collections
The Saint Louis University Libraries Special Collections — Archives and Manuscripts, Rare Books and the Vatican Film Library — houses the archival, audio-visual, manuscript and rare book collections of the University Libraries. Its purpose is to collect, preserve and provide access to these materials for students, faculty, staff and the wider research community, creating a laboratory for learning and research that enables students, faculty and visiting scholars to engage directly with unique, rare and original sources. Visit Special Collections online or follow department news and activities through its blog, "Special Collections Currents." 

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