Presenting a “new” history of medieval French literature based largely upon the impact of historical and social phenomena, scientific advancements, and linguistic and cultural singularities, Les Enluminures’ comprehensive project (exhibition, catalogue, and colloquium) centers on a group of manuscripts written in the French language between c. 1300 and c. 1550. While the earliest written records date from the ninth century, French was not widely used until the 13th- century. Many factors influenced the shift from Latin to the “mother tongue.” The change from an agrarian- to a commercial–based economy throughout towns and cities imposed a need for the middle class to understand each other both in written and spoken forms. The centralization of French government and the rise of a nation state under King Philip Augustus (reigned 1180-1223) dictated a need for a language through which the court and the nobles could wield power far and wide. Not surprisingly, women played a pivotal role in the rise and evolution of medieval French, as they began to forge a place for themselves within a literary canon. Male writers increasingly chose to feature women, which constituted a devoted audience for their works of literature and theology. As a result of these efforts, French was well established as the language of literature, historical record, and personal expression by the 15th- century.
The exhibition explores these instrumental developments thematically, culminating with a section on manuscripts in the age of print culture, as technological proved to be decisive factor in the rapid advancement, adoption, and standardization of the “mother tongue.” Whereas, in 1501, only 10% of books published in Paris were in French, by 1575, 55% of all books published in Paris were in French. The triumph of the French language over Latin was thus virtually complete by the end of the 16th-century.
Rather than grouping works by genres or periods, the exhibition is organized in sections as follows:
I. Literature and Science: the Rise and Affirmation of the Vernacular; II. Philosophy, Theology, and Mirror of Princes: Translations and Adaptions of the Classics; III. History and Genealogy: the Nation and the Individual; IV. Women Writers and Women Bibliophiles: Memory and Self-Assertion; V. From Manuscript to Print: the Circulation of Texts and the Triumph of the French Vernacular.
The title of the exhibition is taken from a quote from Jean de Meun, one of authors presented in the exhibition, who with Guillaume de Lorris wrote the celebrated Roman de la Rose. In c. 1325, Jean described writing in French as “speaking as I learned from my mother,” or “speaking in my mother tongue.”
Mostly illuminated, the manuscripts on view encompass a wide variety of subjects ranging from literature and science, to philosophy and theology, and history and government. So rare are illuminated manuscripts in the French language of this period that this project would not be possible without the purchase of a substantial group of previously unpublished manuscripts from the Collection of Joost R. Ritman, founder of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica.
Published in full color, the accompanying scholarly catalogue will include detailed descriptions on the works presented within the exhibition, along with comparative material, a preface, an introduction, and an extensive bibliography. In conjunction with the accompanying exhibitions and the colloquium, the catalogue contributes to the ongoing re-evaluation of medieval literary and art history by examining the complex relationships between text and image in manuscripts as reflections of communal and individual identity and as testaments to the dynamic intersection of literature and art. Catalogue sections will shed new light on many of the exhibition’s themes; and also serve as session titles for the Paris colloquium.
A study day or colloquium is planned for Saturday, May 17, 2014 at the Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art (INHA) with talks encompassing themes explored within the exhibition along with new research related to the rise and affirmation of the French language in the production of literary manuscripts from c. 1200 to 1550.
Press Contact : Cecilia Bonn, e. email@example.com, t. 212 -734-9754
GALERIE LES ENLUMINURES