Anne Rudloff Stanton loves romance. She loves the way it looks, the way it sounds, and the way it smells—but only when it’s found in the margins of 14th-century books. The professor of Art History and Archaeology describes one example—a small drawing of a man leaving a woman—and she leans forward as if she were talking about a mutual friend of ours. “There’s this long sequence of the story of Moses, who, as you may not know, was married before he married Zipporah,” she begins. “He first married the daughter of the king of Ethiopia.”
As publication became more prominent in the Renaissance, texts also became more trimmed down and broken into easily accessible portions. Dr. Smith addresses this shift and how it affected the medieval source material as well as publication today.
One of the stories in the margins of Queen Isabella’s book of psalms is an unknown side-tale about Moses. Before he wedded Zipporah and performed the acts for which he is now famous, Moses had married the daughter of the king of Ethiopia. The story that plays out in the tiny marginal images is both tragic and romantic. “I see these as being specifically aimed at a young, actually an adolescent female viewer to keep her turning the pages,” Stanton says.
The decorations in the first capital letter of each page, as well as those in the margins, tell a story, although this narrative is separate from the words on the page. Such images were more personal and, in Stanton’s opinion, more interesting. “I think it was the pictures that really were intended to pull Queen Isabella through those prayers,” Stanton says. In this way, these tiny images can inform historians about the relationship between vision and prayer.