ALISON R. FLETT
(Figure 21) and f. 68v (Figure 22), National Library of Australia, Canberra. In these
compositions biblical figures (albeit reduced in number) again flank the Cross
beneath the similarly depicted figure of Christ, set against a landscape background.
While the miniatures are all workshop products of limited aesthetic
significance, they share one feature of potential art historical interest. All three
include curving white banderoles, those curving scrolls so commonly found in the
compositions of Western medieval art, with texts from Gospel accounts of the
scenes portrayed. Through these scrolls the verbal penetrates the visual in a process
which fuses word and image.5 Although the miniatures have so much in common
their scrolls are markedly different. This is evident in their physical construction,
their placement, the positioning of the texts upon their surfaces and the consequent
relationship of both scroll and text to the figures in the miniatures and to the
To describe and categorise these differences and relationships is not easy, for
the significance of such composites of word and image has seldom been analysed.
Little common ground has existed between the specialist discourses of those
interested in the painted texts6 and art historians concerned with questions of
"style” who have studied only scroll forms? Therefore there is no entirely
“appropriate interpretive discourse”8 for evaluating the joint “function, construc¬
tion and reception”9 of what are here termed scroll-texts and text-scrolls. There is
not even an accepted pictorial vocabulary for describing the forms of the scrolls, let
alone an agreed set of terms for distinguishing the often multiple functions of text-
scrolls and scroll-texts, their significance in particular compositions, and those inter¬
nal processes of signification by which their meanings are communicated.
The systems developed by Miecyslaw Wallis and John Sparrow for the
classification of inscriptions do however provide sets of descriptive terms which
may usefully be applied to scroll-texts.10 Relevant terms are also found in the
5 Although a detailed study of the specific prayer-book contexts of these miniatures is outside the
parameters of this study, they could be examined for possible relationships with the prayers that fol-
lowed them. S. Hindman in “The Illustrated Book: An Addendum to the State of Research in North¬
ern European Art,” Art Bulletin 68 (1986): 536-542, summarizes current scholarship on this approach
to manuscript studies. ... т о i-
6 G. Schiller, for example, in her monumental Iconography of Christian Art, trans. J. Seligman
(London: 1972), provides the complete texts of all inscribed scrolls in the works she discusses but
makes no comments about their forms.
7 B.A. Langer, for example, in “Early Gothic Calvary Scenes of Central Europe, diss., U ot Pitts¬
burgh, 1972, 28, examines a scroll in the fourteenth century Klosterneuburg altarpiece as a balancing
compositional element, while a second scroll in the same work is seen to integrate a small figure “into
the rhythm of the composition”. .
8 W.J.T. Mitchell, “The Language of Images,” Critical Inquiry 6 (1980): 361, discusses the use of
language to describe visual images. .
* M Camille, “The Book of Signs: Writing and Visual Difference in Gothic Manuscript Illumina¬
tion,” Word and Image 1 (1985): 134. Camille argues that such broad theoretical questions are usually
ignored in art historical criticism which is largely stylistic. He contends that the value of addressing
such questions outweighs the concomitant “danger of de-historicising or denying specific contexts
when applied to individual compositions.
10 M. Wallis, “Inscriptions in Paintings,” Semiotica 9 (1973): 1-28. It should however be noted
that Wallis in this pioneering article specifically excludes ffom his analysis those paintings found in
illuminated codices, claiming that in such contexts “the word is not an adjunct to the image but the im-
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF TEXT SCROLLS
language of Peircean semiotics although that system of signs and signifiers has much
broader applications than the study of inscriptions.11
The scrolls may of course be studied without any reference at all to their texts,
using accepted art historical methodology. The curling white configuration of the
single text-scroll in the Reed 45 miniature, for example, makes a bold pictorial state¬
ment. As this miniature has been described as being “in the style of Maître
François”, 12 its scroll could, for example, be compared to counterparts in known
works by that Master and atelier,13 an “object” to be used for comparative pur¬
poses, just as other “objects” such as trees, faces, hands or items of clothing are
If the text-scroll is however regarded as “subject” rather than “object”, that
is, as an active agent in those processes of signification by which the total meaning
of the Crucifixion miniature is conveyed, its text may not be ignored, but on the
contrary, plays a vital role. The scroll-text in the Reed 45 miniature (Figure 20) is
still legible though partly worn away. Its words, “Vere filius dei erat iste”, are
taken from the Gospel of St. Matthew (27: 54) and present the cry of faith made by
the Centurion and his men after witnessing the phenomena surrounding the death of
Christ. The validity of the visual image of the Crucifixion is here reinforced14 and
extended by the presence of the authoritative “word”,15 in this case the very Word
of God, sacred Scripture, here presented in Latin, the language of the Vulgate and of
the medieval liturgy.
Word and image combine to convey the totality of Christ’s being. That Christ
was human is painfully obvious. Rivulets of blood continue to pour down the arms
from the wounded hands, blood streams from his side and the skin is stretched taut
over muscle and bone. At the same time the brief scroll-text just as clearly asserts
Christ’s divine nature, his claim to which led to his execution. Its message is
age is an adjunct to the word” (2). In contrast, J. Sparrow’s broad survey, Visible Words (Cambridge:
1969), encompasses not only inscriptions in paintings of all sorts but also those on buildings.
11 See R. Innis, Semiotics (London: 1986), for selections from The Collected Papers of Charles
Sanders Peirce, ed. C. Hartshome and P. Weiss (Cambridge, Mass.: 1931).
12 Sotheby and Co., Catalogue of Single Leaves and Miniatures from Western Illuminated
Manuscripts: 25.4.83, 218; and Manion, Vines and de Hamel 106-107.
A deeper comparative analysis of its form could also be used in the search for confirming evi¬
dence of postulated relationships between the works of Maître François and his atelier and those of oth¬
er masters such as the Bedford and Horloge de Sapience Masters. For discussion of these relationships
see E. Spencer, “L’Horloge de Sapience,” Scriptorium XVII (1963): 293-296, and “The Master of
the Duke of Bedford: The Bedford Hours," Burlington Magazine 107 (1965): 498-502, M. Manioa
The Wharncliffe Hours (Sydney: 1972) 8, and The Wharncliffe Hours (London: 1981) 7-12; and Peter
R. Monks, A Study of the Art Work of the Rolin Master in the Horloge de Sapience, Brussels,
Bibliothèque Royale, ms IV.lll and his other known surviving Works”, diss., Melbourne University,
1986. Langer provides a methodological precedent for such a close study of the representations of an
individual motif. Asserting that “the appearance of identical or similar patterns in various works of art
generally points to a relationship between them” she examines (with the aid of photographic enlarge¬
ments) the relationships between altarpieces and ateliers as evidenced by their similar treatment of the
loincloth of the crucified Christ (5-6).
14 J. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (New York: 1954) 165: “The mere presence of a
visible image of things holy sufficed to establish their truth.”
15 See M. Camille, “Seeing and Reading: Some Visual Implications of Medieval Literacy and Illi¬
teracy,” Art History 8 (1985): 33.