• Katharina Theil: Review Kristin Böse, Von den Rändern gedacht. Visuelle Rahmungsstrategien in Handschriften der Iberischen Halbinsel, Köln / Weimar / Wien 2019, in: sehepunkte 21 (2021), Nr. 6 [15.06.2021], URL:
  • David Ganz: Review Beatrice Kitzinger, The Cross, the Gospels, and the Work of Art in the Carolingian Age, Cambridge University Press 2019, in: The Art Bulletin, 102, 2020, 133-135
  • Thomas Rainer: Review Anna Bücheler, Ornament as Argument. Textile Pages and Textile Metaphors in Early Medieval Manuscripts, Berlin / Boston 2019, in: Cahiers de civilisation médiévale, 2021 (in print)

Lecture: David Ganz: Writing in Gold: On the Aesthetics and the Ideology of Chrysography (online, 21.04.2021, 12:15-13:45)

Lecture Series: Actualité de la recherche, University of Geneva, Département d’ histoire de l’ art et de musicologie, Unité d’ histoire de l’ art and HEAD – Genève, organized by Anthony Masure, Christelle Granite-Noble, Henri de Riedmatten and Alessia Alfieri. For more information click here

Zoom link:

The lecture is open to the public.

Lecture: Thomas Rainer: Cover and Covers. Materials and Semantics of Female Donor Inscriptions on Metals and Textiles — The Inscription on the Golden Book Covers of the Lombard Queen Theodelinda and its Textile Parallels (online, 01.04.2021, 15:30-16:00)

Study Day: Research Field B Inscribing Spaces: Inscribing Metal, Cluster of Excellence “Understanding Written Artefacts”, University of Hamburg, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, organized by Kaja Harter-Uibopuu.

Lecture: David Ganz: Schrift-Bilder. Buch und Vision in mittelalterlichen Apokalypsedarstellungen (online, 18.03.2021, 19:00)

Conference “Gesicht und Handschrift. Transzendente Begründung und Authentifikation in mittelalterlichen Visionen”. Akademie der Diözese Rottenburg – Stuttgart, 18.03. – 20.03.2021. In Zusammenarbeit mit dem DFG-Projekt “Vergänglichkeit und Ewigkeit” (Universität Kiel und Universität Köln) und dem Arbeitskreis für hagiographische Fragen. For more information about the speakers, schedule and program of the online conference click here

Workshop: Shades of Purple – Purple Ornament in Medieval Manuscripts, Zurich 25.11. – 26.11.2021

Recent advances in the technical analysis of purple colorants have spurred new interest in the aesthetics of purple ornament in medieval manuscripts. This most prestigious embellishment associated with imperial splendor underwent stunning transformations between the 6th and the 12th century. Purple dyes (mostly produced from lichens) were not only used to color the entire parchment surfaces of sacred books, but purple colorants were also used selectively to highlight specific texts, pages and miniatures corresponding to the content, topology, imagery, and script of individual manuscripts. Various techniques and methods were employed to create multi-sensory purple textures, combining shades of purple from red to dark blue and evoking different purple-colored materials such as silks and porphyry. This two-day workshop at the Chair of Medieval Art History at the University of Zurich will explore a range of questions about the materials and semantics of medieval purple manuscripts.

Registration is required by 22.11.2021:
A COVID-19-certificate is mandatory for participants attending in person.
A Zoom link will be provided for participants unable to attend in person.

Continue to the program.


The Handbook of Medieval Book Ornament aims to give a survey of up-to-date research on the materials, the techniques and the semantics of deluxe manuscripts in the Western Middle Ages. It will comprise over 150 articles written by specialists of the respective topic.


In the Middle Ages, textiles were variously used to preserve manuscripts, to increase their preciousness, to protect their bindings and their images, and to enhance the devotional experience of the reader. Along with other luxury goods like gold, ivory and precious stones, textile elements were one of the most often used; at the same time, they are one of the least researched materials today. Indeed, textiles have in general long occupied a marginal position in art historical research. In addition to obstacles like their extreme fragility, such that they are usually in poor condition or not preserved at all, the phenomenon of “fast fashion” expresses a modern relationship to textiles that could hardly be in sharper contrast to that of the Middle Ages. While textiles today are mostly cheap and short-lived mass-produced goods – and thus knowledge, awareness and appreciation of their materiality is almost completely lost – in the medieval era they were manufactured in time-intensive processes and reused over centuries. Textiles embellished sacred rooms, objects, actions, or people and, in the form of clothes, hangings, tapestries and curtains, were a highly valued representational medium of social and political elites.

Although textiles (especially tapestries and liturgical vestments) have recently become a focus of research, a systematic examination of textile elements in the context of sacred scriptures in the Western Middle Ages has so far been lacking. This project thus aims to examine textile book decoration from the 8th to the 13th century in its various material manifestations. Textiles and textile techniques were strikingly incorporated into the structure and decoration of medieval books. They served as book covers, or as parts of them together with other materials, but also as components within the book, into which they were sewn as flyleaves, pastedowns, and “curtains” (covering miniatures), or shown in painted form in so-called “textile pages”. A survey of the forms and functions of textiles in manuscripts seeks to unveil their role in the medieval reader’s experience, in the context of the importance of textiles in liturgical performance and devotional practice.

The image above shows a detail of a miniature in the Berthold Sacramentary (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M. 710, fol. 16v, Nativity and the Annunciation to the Shepherds), an illuminated manuscript produced in the first quarter of the 13th century at Weingarten Abbey. The manuscript contains an exceptional group of twenty original silk “curtains” in red and white, which are placed over the miniatures and initials. Usually, such textiles have been lost or removed, and only a close inspection reveals needle holes or remnants of thread in the margins around manuscript images, indicating the former presence of a textile. In addition to the general assumption that such “curtains” functioned as protection for the images and initials, they also served as a genuine part of the book, as material alternation to the parchment pages, as well as to conceal/reveal the images and the words to the reader

Researcher: Sabrina Schmid

Image Credit: Morgan Library and Museum, Dept. of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, Berthold Sacramentary, The Nativity and the Annunciation to the Shepherds (detail), Weingarten, Germany, 1215–1217, MS M.710, fol. 16v, silk down. Purchased by J.P. Morgan, 1926 


Although precious stones constitute one of the most important ornamental elements of sacred scripture during the Middle Ages, their close association has never been systematically analyzed. As three-dimensional material entities mounted on the outer surfaces of codices, stones contribute to a transformation of the layers of written parchment into an object with sculptural qualities. With their vivid colors and translucent effects, they substantially shape the sensual appearance of the books that is crucial to their use in ritual performance. Going beyond a mere allegorical interpretation, this project takes into consideration the very material character and valence of stones, as well as their close – material and functional – relation to the book object they adorn, and its role in liturgy. Considering their intimate relationship with books also implies examining the stones in the context of the multi-layered ornamentation outside as well as inside the codices. It is especially important to examine the meanings that result from their careful placement and in particular from their interactions with the other ornamental components within the multi-material surface texture of treasure bindings, figurative images included. Special attention will be given to the use of colored glass “imitations”, which are less rare than has long been assumed, as well as to the integration of spolia in the form of intaglios, often from antiquity, and more rarely from other cultural contexts like Islamic cultures.

To gain a more comprehensive understanding, this study will also consider the economic, social and aesthetic spheres of activity linked to the production of these variegated compositions – ranging from the collection and donation of the stones to their arrangement. As the stone ornamentations were particularly prone to later changes, attention will be paid to evidence of repair and change in codices with complex object biographies. Indeed, the precise analysis and documentation of the state of preservation and any such changes are of utmost importance. In this regard, the project has an important partner in the Swiss National Museum and its Conservation Research Laboratory. In addition to existing material-scientific analyses, and in collaboration with the responsible institutions, analyses will be carried out on select objects from the 9th to the 11th century – the time period of special focus in this study – in order to examine their state of preservation and determine types of stone and glass. 

The picture above shows the golden front cover of the Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 14000), a Gospel codex produced at the court of Charles the Bald around 870. It is distinguished by an exceptional set of regularly arranged, high-quality sapphires and emeralds. Particular attention was given to the golden settings that work to semantically charge the gemstone adornment in a multi-layered way. Ubiquitous vegetal forms give the suggestion of sprouting and vitality, corresponding to contemporaneous ideas of animate forces or “virtutes” inherent in the precious stones. Moreover, the settings surrounding the representation of Christ in the center of the cover are reminiscent of chalices, which refer to the blood of Christ and thus to his presence in the Gospel Book. Arcade-like structures supporting the stones in turn allude to the apocalyptic vision of Heavenly Jerusalem, the paradisiac city decorated with gemstones; closely related to the codex they adorn, these arcades evoke the metaphor of the book as building, the actual codex containing the four Gospels thus being presented as sacred, “life-giving” space.

Researcher: Katharina Theil

Image Credit: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 14000, front cover of the Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram