The 10th century in Spain was a hectic time to create an illuminated manuscript. In the south, the Umayyad Caliphate ruled from Cordoba, while in the north, a series of kings attempted to define themselves and their struggling kingdoms.
Art History PhD candidate Krysta Black, who recently sat down with me to talk about her research, feels that this climate of social upheaval helps to explain some of the odd quirks about her manuscript of choice: the Leon Bible of 960.
“… one of the things that I noticed that I hadn’t really gotten from any of the literature on the manuscript, was the way in which certain books of the Bible were far more heavily illustrated than others. Because it’s something that is really striking when you’re actually leafing through the book. You’re like ‘Okay, I’m going through Genesis, there are a couple of little illustrations, that’s cool, that’s cool…’ I get to Exodus and the book just explodes!”
Since then she has been exploring, among other issues, the connection between the heavy illustration of the Book of Exodus–a book entirely focused on the escape from slavery–and the political climate at the time.
Krysta emphasized not only that she could not have made this discovery without the facsimile, but also just how much the facsimile helped to dictate her future course of study. In choosing a manuscript to work with, she gravitated toward those works the UNC libraries had available in facsimile form.
“So, Rare Books had recently acquired a facsimile of the Leon Bible of 960, the most densely illustrated bible before the year 1000. After looking at what books the UNC collection had, I saw that and said ‘Okay, that’s what I’m going to work on.’ I would say that the collection here directed me to what I studied rather than the other way around.”
Much like Professor Chatterjee noted in my previous interview, Krysta has discovered that manuscript facsimiles provide a way to connect with the experience of the book as it was originally intended, and to learn from that experience:
“I think working with facsimiles really facilitates being able to study those experiential aspects of manuscript illustration. Whereas, if you’re just dealing with excised images, you’ve completely lost the entire context of what the book is about. ”
Finally, there is the issue of access. To Krysta, facsimiles are important not only for the ways in which they open up new avenues of thought about the manuscripts, but also the ways in which they bring the user one step closer to actually accessing the original–which can be very difficult.
“I studied in Spain to do just that, and even when you gain access to these things you have maybe a couple of hours with them. So, [working with the facsimile in the library] helps you to prepare for actually getting to see the real thing. But also if you can’t make it to see the real thing the facsimile is, of course, the next best thing. ”
Krysta, along with Professor Dorothy Verkerk, gave us a great introduction to “the next best thing” when they gave a facsimile talk in the Art Library on November 9th. With the generous assistance of the Rare Books Collection they were able to present the Leon Bible facsimile in the Art Library in all its glory. Keep following us here to learn of more such events in the future as well as for further interviews!
– Eva Sclippa