42nd Saint Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies

By Gregory A. Pass, PhD, MALS – Assistant Dean for Special Collections; Director, Vatican Film Library

Dr. Stella Panayotova
Dr. Stella Panayotova, Keeper of
Manuscripts and Printed Books,
Fitzwilliam Museum, University of

This past October, as every year since 1974, the Vatican Film Library held its annual Saint Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies, a two-day international gathering of medieval and Renaissance manuscript specialists and students who come to talk about new research and their current work. The conference is open to the public and was attended by participants from across the United States and abroad, including England, France, Italy, and Spain.

This year’s guest speaker was Dr. Stella Panayotova, Keeper of Manuscripts and Printed Books in the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge, who spoke about how she and other art historians, conservators, and scientists are collaborating in the use of new, non-invasive advanced imaging techniques to investigate how medieval manuscripts were illuminated. Was that blue produced using azurite (commonly available in Western Europe) or lapis lazuli (mined only in Afghanistan and very costly)? The difference could tell us about the artist or artists who worked on the manuscript, the status of the patron who commissioned it, where and how it was made, etc. Dr. Panayotova’s paper, entitled “Manuscript Illumination: Art and Science,” was illustrated with examples of research undertaken as part of the MINIARE project (Manuscript Illumination: Non-Invasive Analysis, Research and Expertise), an international effort based at the University of Cambridge.

The program included twenty-three papers on a broad range of topics. A breathtaking overview of Spanish manuscript illumination from the tenth century up to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was given by three scholars from the University of Lleida, the University of País Vasco, and the Prado Museum. Digital humanities was the focus of two sessions that described a variety of projects being undertaken by the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at UPenn, the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, and the Vatican Film Library here at Saint Louis University. The newly expanded Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts will be a boon to researchers studying the provenance of manuscripts, and the digitization projects of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (DigitaVaticana) and the Vatican Film Library’s own METAscripta project will greatly increase access to manuscripts of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. Other papers addressed various alternative uses of calendars commonly found in liturgical and devotional manuscripts, including astronomical and astrological and medical information, or the appearance of a calendrical text known as the Devisions des foires de Champagne, which describes the dates and merchandise sold at the fairs of Champagne in northern France during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Other topics included depictions of the Colossus of Nebuchadnezzar, the earliest manuscript of Marco Polo’s travels, and the re-uses of manuscripts by new owners and for new purposes.

Complementing the annual manuscripts conference was an exhibition of manuscript facsimiles drawn from the VFL’s collections entitled Medieval Connections: Linking Body and Mind, curated by Susan L’Engle, Assistant Director of the Vatican Film Library. This exhibition was held in the Library’s new exhibition space on the second floor, which allows greater flexibility and scope to show our collections.

The 43rd annual Saint Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies will be held 14–15 October 2016 and will feature Professor Madeline H. Caviness (Mary Richardson Professor Emeritus, Tufts University) who will speak on “Medieval German Law and the Jews: The Sachsenspiegel Picture-Books.” We look forward to seeing you there!

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