Title: Perception, Ritual, and Memory in an Illustrated Manuscript of the Meditationes Vitae Christi
Written originally for a Franciscan nun in Tuscany in the early fourteenth century, the Meditationes Vitae Christi or Meditations on the Life of Christ is arguably the most somatic devotional text of the late Middle Ages. Invoking the bodily senses, the author urges the reader to imagine herself physically present at the events of Christ’s life. In this presentation, I will explore the role of sense perception in the best-known illustrated manuscript of the Meditationes: Paris Bibliothèque Nationale Ms. ital. 115, made ca. 1350 for nuns in Pisa. I will argue that the text and image program of Ms. ital. 115 trained the nuns to activate their senses as a way of participating in church liturgy and rituals while observing rules of enclosure and separation required of female members of the Franciscan order. Despite the inherent tensions between the celebration of the senses and the renunciation of the body in traditional monastic practices, in Ms. ital. 115, sensory perception serves to cultivate collective memory for the nuns, reinforcing their Franciscan identity.
Holly Flora is Professor of Art History and Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs in the School of Liberal Arts at Tulane University. Her research explores issues of gender and narrative in the devotional art of late medieval and early modern Italy. Her publications include two monographs, The Devout Belief of the Imagination: the Paris Meditationes Vitae Christi and Female Franciscan Spirituality in Trecento Italy (2009) and Cimabue and the Franciscans (2018), two co-edited volumes, and a number of articles and museum catalogue contributions. A past recipient of the Rome Prize (2010-11) and fellowship at Harvard’s Villa I Tatti (2015-16), her current projects include a forthcoming monograph on the senses and the Meditationes Vitae Christi and a study of manuscripts of Bonaventure’s Legenda maior.