British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow,
University of Cambridge

Veiled Reading, Reading Veils: Textile Curtains and the Experiences of Medieval French Manuscripts (1200–1325)

Abstract

Building on groundbreaking studies by Christine Sciacca and Morgan Simms Adams, this article addresses an understudied phenomenon of medieval French manuscript culture: the sewing of “textile curtains”—fabric pieces made of silk, linen, or cotton gauze—above or beside illuminations to protect and veil them. Presenting a corpus of forty-five manuscripts of medieval French texts that once contained curtains, this article demonstrates how this practice extended beyond the realm of Latin and devotional books to some of the most popular vernacular illuminated book traditions of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Through a series of examples, the different performative potentialities of the veil—its “affordances”—are shown to far exceed its presumed protective function. Indeed, it is suggested that the textile curtain, operating at the intersection of touch and sight, should be considered an important part of how certain French books were experienced in the Middle Ages.

(My article on this topic will be published by Digital Philology. But please do contact me if you come across any traces of textile curtains in vernacular books!)

I spoke in 2020 about my early research on textile curtains in medieval manuscripts for the Dark Archives conference hosted by the University of Oxford. You can watch the YouTube video below:

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