Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Article of the Month

Indexers select an article or essay at the beginning of each month that is outstanding in its line of argument, wealth of significances, and writing style. We particularly look for pieces that will be useful as course readings.

May 2014

The Annunciation. From the Saint Albans Psalter
The Annunciation. From the Saint Albans Psalter (c.1140–46). Hildesheim, Dombibliothek, MS Sankt Godehard 1, fol. 19.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Miles, Laura Saetveit. "The Origins and Development of the Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation." Speculum 89, 3 (2014): 632-669.

Abstract: After the Crucifixion, the Annunciation may be the most frequently portrayed scene in premodern art of the West. In nearly every representation the Virgin Mary is shown with a book as she greets the angel Gabriel. No matter where the artist has situated her—on a blank background, on a throne, in a bedroom, in a living room, in a chapel, in a church, on a portico—Mary's book is nearby. It rests in her lap or on a lectern, held open by her hand or closed with the page marked by a finger; it is a solitary volume, or drawn from an impressive library in the background. The detail of the book, like so many iconographical elements we now take for granted in biblical scenes, certainly did not come from the sole Gospel account of the Annunciation, Luke 1.26–38. Luke's stark description narrates the conversation between girl and angel when she is revealed as the Mother of God. Where, then, did the motif of Mary's book originate? What is she reading? How did the "Reading Annunciate" develop over time? What did Mary's reading mean for people in the Middle Ages? [Reproduced from the journal's page on the Cambridge University Press website: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=SPC]