Visualizing Mary : innovation and exegesis in Ottonian manuscript illumination

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Collins, Kristen M.

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This study explores several of the key factors that led to the visual amplification of Mary in western Europe during the early Middle Ages, with the art of the Ottonian Empire as its focus. Although the twelfth century has long been recognized as a high point for Marian imagery, the brief but rich period of artistic production during the Ottonian Empire (919-1024) yielded a range of images crucial for understanding the growing role of the Virgin in art and devotion. The approach for this work is necessarily thematic; the seeming randomness of Ottonian images of the Virgin has resulted in their exclusion from broad surveys organized by iconographic type or medium. While images of the Virgin in the Ottonian Empire do not form large groups of visually cohesive images, Ottonian manuscript illumination offers an intriguing view into the process by which Marian devotion coalesced in the west. The period has been thought to represent a lacuna for Marian exegesis -- between the Carolingian period and the twelfth century there were no new theological texts written on the Virgin in this region. There was, however, an intensification of interest in Mary in the liturgy, and as I demonstrate, an attempt to formulate exegesis through images. In studying the odd occurrences -- the lone tenth-century image of a Virgin in a Pentecost scene, or the earliest crowned Virgin outside of Italy -- this study locates these works within their liturgical and political environment through considerations of patronage and use.