Postcards on parchment: the social lives of medieval books

Research output: Book/ReportBook


This book has a twofold aim: first to name a category, the parchment painting (the medieval version of a postcard) and to demonstrate its identifying characteristics; and second, to uncover through detective work the roles that the images filled, and thereby to enrich our understanding of late medieval visual culture. Most of the images are religious and depict saints, the Wounds of Christ, and the arma Christi, and others are secular, including nine ways to style a beard, the world mapped onto the digestive tract of a cow, and the stages of execution of a medieval manuscript. Most of the 300+ examples I have found are pasted into books and have been wrongly classified as miniatures or illuminations, but this obscures their primary functions. These objects had material lives outside the book, where they fulfilled surprising roles, before they were glued, sewn, or otherwise bound into manuscripts. Their functions included serving as corporate calling cards, postcards, amulets, altar furnishings, pilgrims’ souvenirs, and death memorials.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationNew Haven
PublisherYale University Press
Number of pages359
ISBN (Print)9780300209891
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2015


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