A conference at the University of Edinburgh

Medieval illuminated scenes and initials today illustrate a myriad of book covers, chosen as the perfect embodiment of a historical episode, idea, or biography. From detailed scenes to sketchy drawings, illuminated manuscripts offer a sometimes overlooked illustration of medieval life. However, unlike the late centuries of the medieval millennium, the study of the Early Middle Ages is not normally backed by abundant documentation, and conjecture and speculation often prevail, particularly in art historical publications. Early medieval illuminated manuscripts were mostly tools of liturgy and prayer, but also patronage statements and transmission agents for science, music, and literature in a historical period. Only in recent decades has the study of this era begun to emerge from the lasting shadow of pejorative Gibbonian assumptions.

Accepting papers in both English and French, “Illuminating the Dark Ages” has been conceived as a conference that aims to bring together researchers of all levels, including postgraduate students, working on the wider Early Middle Ages and the decorated manuscript as a cultural medium. From a variety of perspectives, this conference intends to shed light on how and why manuscripts were decorated in the early medieval period, from lavishly illuminated religious cycles to illustrations of written works of Classical literature. Even though the geographical focus is put on the Latin West, comparative approaches to manuscript visual cultures and knowledge transmission in other cultural areas (roughly in the same chronological period), such as Byzantium or the Islamic world, are naturally welcomed.

 

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