Science and Nature, Religion and Wonder in Medieval Books

The current show at the Kohler Art Library features a selection of medieval facsimiles exploring the many ways scientific notions and religious doctrine intertwined to produce a wondrous world view, circa late antiquity through the early 16th century. As medieval man observed the laws of nature through his experiences with illness and death, weather, geography, and the solar system, he rationalized the otherwise irrational as divine order. The illuminated manuscripts on display include Bibles, prayer books, and liturgical documents that offer a glimpse into a medieval science wherein the sun might stand still for a day, physical deformity exemplifies spiritual disorder (and marks the Other, non-Christian entity), and the symmetrical measurements of the human body and Gothic architecture all testify to God’s presence.

Illuminated manuscripts, or handwritten books and scrolls with painted decoration and illustration, were a prized method for illustrating important texts, typically religious in nature, from 500 AD through the Renaissance. Produced on vellum or parchment and later paper, the books were illuminated or painted by monastic scribes and eventually professional artists. As medieval cultures conquered and superseded one another, the production of monastic illuminated manuscripts was inextricably linked to both the promulgation of literacy and the spread of Christianity. Illuminated manuscript facsimiles are one of the Kohler Art Library’s important special collections.

Curated by Prof. Thomas Dale and students in Art History 415: Image and Text in Medieval Manuscripts, the show complements the Center for the Humanities Borghesi-Mellon workshop: Science, Nature, and Wonder in the Middle Ages, a series of events that seeks to “challenge modern understandings of science by investigating new approaches to the medieval conception of scientia—“knowledge”—which included not only sciences such as optics, geometry, medicine, anatomy, but also a wider range of ways of knowing, visualizing, representing and relating to the natural world, including theology and religious practice.”

Participating students include Jessica Cochran, Angli Deng, Benjamin Dickel, Aniello di Iorio, Özlem Eren, Mateusz Ferens, Mya Frieze, Abrahm Guthrie-Potter, Tanya Kolarik, Lucas Pointon, Laura Schmidt, Thomas Schwiegert, and Fernando Vazquez.

The exhibition runs from November 8, 2017 – March 11, 2018 at the Kohler Art Library.

Additional events in the Borghesi-Mellon workshop Science, Nature, and Wonder in the Middle Ages can be found here.