Conference: Book Ornament and Luxury Critique, Zurich 16.09. – 17.09.2022

The research group “Textures of Sacred Scripture. Materials and Semantics of Sacred Book Ornament” is organizing a two-day international conference on “Book Ornament and Luxury Critique”. The conference, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, will take place at the Institute of Art History at the University of Zurich from 16 to 17 September 2022. Registration is required by 12.09.2022: A Zoom link will be provided for participants who cannot attend in person.

When, how, and under what circumstances might book ornament be understood as offensive, and which strategies were employed to avoid such critique or to create books that are ostentatiously ascetic? Since antiquity, philological correctness was opposed to ornament in the rhetorical discourse, which associated an overtly rich language with overblown luxury and female adornment. Already in Roman literature, this gendered discourse was projected onto the material artifacts of writing, a tradition that influenced the varied discussions about the materiality of sacred books and their status in Christian, Islamic and Jewish book cultures from Late Antiquity until the end of the Middle Ages and beyond. In all three religious traditions, this critical discourse about scriptures, script and ornament established connections “between ornamenting bodies, buildings and language, in which fancy forms are rejected in favor of plain, and embellishment opposed to simplicity in a dialect of truth and falsity” (F. B. Flood, in: Clothing Sacred Scriptures, ed. D. Ganz/B. Schellewald, Berlin/Boston 2019, 52). The conference will explore the entire range of such critique of book ornament in Christian, Islamic and Jewish book cultures, and analyzes their specific contexts and semantics, as well as the spaces of negotiation, in which artists, commissioners and users could react to critical allegations without simply obeying them.

Continue to the program.


  • 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, 258 (2022), 182-185.
  • Thomas Rainer: Review Elina Gertsman, The Absent Image: Lacunae in Medieval Books University Park: Penn State University Press, 2021 in:
  • David Ganz: Review Richard K. Emmerson, Apocalypse Illuminated: The Visual Exegesis of Revelation in Medieval Illustrated Manuscripts, University Park (Pennsylvania), Pennsylvania State University Press, 2018, in: Cahiers de civilisation médiévale, 256 (2021), 393-394.
  • David Ganz: Review Das Gerresheimer Evangeliar. Eine spätottonische Prachthandschrift als Geschichtsquelle (Forschungen zu Kunst, Geschichte und Literatur des Mittelalters, 1), hg. von Klaus Gereon Beuckers und Beate Johlen Budnik, Köln 2016 – Das Sakramentar aus Tyniec. Eine Prachthandschrift des 11. Jahrhunderts und die Beziehungen zwischen Köln und Polen in der Zeit Kasimir des Erneuerers (Forschungen zu Kunst, Geschichte und Literatur des Mittelalters, 3), hg. von Klaus Gereon Beuckers und Andreas Bihrer unter Mitarbeit von Ursula Prinz, Köln 2018 – Das Jüngere Evangeliar aus St. Georg in Köln. Untersuchungen zum Lyskirchen-Evangeliar (Forschungen zu Kunst, Geschichte und Literatur des Mittelalters, 5), hg. von Klaus Gereon Beuckers und Anna Pawlik, Köln 2019, in: Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch, 56 (2021), 146-156.
  • Thomas Rainer: Review Petr Voit, Kostbare Bucheinbände der Stiftsbibliothek Strahov in Prag. Von der Gotik an die Schwelle des Barocks, in: Umení/ Art, 69 (2021), 222-224.
  • 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 Karl-Georg Pfändtner (Hrsg.): Gold und Bücher lieb ich sehr …. 480 Jahre Staats- und Stadtbibliothek Augsburg. Die Cimelien (Katalog zur Cimelien-Ausstellung vom 19.10.–15.12.2017), Luzern: Quarternio Verlag 2017, in: Rottenburger Jahrbuch für Kirchengeschichte, 39 (2020), 509-511.
  • 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.

Lecture: Katharina Theil: Die Präsenz des in Stein geprägten Logos – Schriftsiegel als Schmuck von Evangeliaren (online, 22.01.2022, 14:00-15:00)

Conference: Sakrale Schriftbilder. Zur ikonischen Präsenz des Geschriebenen im mittelalterlichen Kirchenraum, organized by Sonderforschungsbereich 933 “Materiale Textkulturen”, Universität Heidelberg, 21.-22.01.2022. For more

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 ca. 200 articles written by specialists of the respective topic.

Medieval book ornament is a rapidly developing field of research. In the last decade, the various materials and techniques used to decorate medieval books, their different spaces and textures, their sensory qualities and semantics, and their significance in ritual or other performative contexts have reignited the interest of all disciplines concerned with the medieval book as a material object. Nevertheless, a comprehensive overview of the entire field is lacking. With the Handbook of Medieval Book Ornament, we aim to create a reference work, for both students and specialists, discussing the most important terms, topics, and currently discussed concepts related to ornament (in the broadest Middle Latin sense of “ornatus”) in medieval book cultures. The focus is on book cultures in the Latin- speaking world of Europe from 700 to 1500, including perspectives on Jewish, Islamic, Byzantine and vernacular book cultures and transcultural phenomena. 


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