Judgment on parchment: Illuminating theater in Besançon MS 579

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The fourteenth-century northern French manuscript Besançon MS 579 contains an extensively illuminated copy of the Middle French Antichrist and Last Days play known as the Jour du Jugement. Its illumination and mise en page shape the Jour in MS 579 as a book-based experience that capitalizes on the theatrical genre. The visual program works toward the creation of a spiritually profitable book, defined through the marriage of text, illuminations, and the theatrical form. I describe the strategies by which the manuscript is designed to engage a readerviewer with its eschatological theme, including considerations of iconography, image placement, and the relationship between visual and sonic elements in the play. The essay then addresses the role of theater qua theater in the design of this play-withina-book. I account for the clarity of genre in Besançon 579 as a component of its argument, considering how the subject of Antichrist and the form of an illuminated play combine to make reading an exercise in discernment and to comment on the role of art in preparingfor Judgment. The combination of an Antichrist play, the manuscript medium, and the explicitly theatrical terms of the text's presentation renders the manuscript a durable production of the Jour designed to offer a means of preparation for the Judgment described in the drama. The theatrical genre itself becomes a subject of reflection in conjunction with the themes of the play and its stated project of spiritual aid for the spectator, here recast as reader-viewer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-78
Number of pages30
JournalGESTA-International Center of Medieval Art
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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