Not every rare book scholar gets the opportunity to hold the object of her research. Professor Anne Rudloff Stanton, chair of the art history and archaeology department at University of Missouri Columbia, is one of the lucky few. Stanton, whose research focuses on manuscripts from 14th-century England, spoke about her hands on experience at Kenyon on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011.
Specifically, she explores the function of pictures, or "decorations," in prayer books from that time period, and their relationship to the prayers. In the times before page numbers and paragraph indentations, Stanton said, "Every book had some kind of decoration because that was a way of finding where you were in the text." The decorations depicted the prayers and stories in the books. Not only did they help the reader keep track of his or her place, but the decorations also made the prayer books more accessible to the common man. Stanton said that because the books were written in Latin, the language of the Church, and so few spoke Latin, "they could find their spot by the picture and they might know in general what they were supposed to be saying."
Stanton found her passion for medieval manuscripts in a graduate school class at the University of Texas at Austin. Stanton was always interested in ancient history, but studying the manuscripts inspired her anew. "What hooked me was that I could sit down and have an experience that approached the intended experience for the original user," Stanton said. One of the first books that Stanton studied was the Queen Mary Psalter manuscript. A Psalter is a book of 150 psalms, and this one was decorated with miniature pictures of the life of Christ. The Queen Mary Pslater eventually passed on to Queen Isabella of France. The Mary Pslater manuscript influenced Stanton to write her own book entitled Queen Mary Psalter: A Study of Affect and Audience, and sparked her interest in further research on Queen Isabella of France as a collector of art and manuscripts.
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