Joanka van der Laan at the 54th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo Michigan

Our PhD student Joanka van der Laan presented her research at the 54th International Congress on Medieval Studies, organised by the Medieval Institute of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo MI, from 9 to 12 May 2019.

‘Climbing Mount Calvary: Middle-Dutch printed meditations on the life and passion of Christ’
Joanka van der Laan

In the early decades of the sixteenth century printing presses in the Low Countries produced both vernacular devotional texts already popular in manuscript form, but also many new titles. With these works, printers catered to the unwavering demand of both religious and lay audiences for these texts. Especially the number and variety of meditations on the life and passion of Christ is vast. This paper will consider a selection of these meditational texts, zooming in on the strategies they include for readers to enact a meditative, spiritual performance of pilgrimage to mount Calvary. The two examples are firstly the Devote Meditacie op die Passie ons Heren [a devout meditation on the Passion of our Lord], and secondly the Geestelicke boemgaert der vruchten daer die devote siel haer versadicht vanden vruchten der passie Christi [a spiritual orchard of fruits where the devout soul is satiated by the fruits of the Passion of Christ]. Although these booklets are very different in form and scope, they both offer their readers opportunities for intense reflection of Christ’s Passion by allowing them to virtually travel to Jerusalem and Mount Calvary. Both these booklets include specific features requiring the active participation of the reader in the reading process. Whether by explicitly inviting the reader to move and use the body while meditating or by stressing the role of bodily sensations and emotions in the performance of reading, the texts under discussion aim to stimulate the reader to actively make connections between the life and passion of Christ and his/her own experiences. The works educate their readers, not only in textual literacy, but also in religious skills, habits and responses they would then be able to use in other religious practices. Through their access to this type of literature lay readers were able to be active members of their religious communities.

Biblical Building Blocks: Traces of Use in a Fifteenth Century “Delftse Bijbel”; by Judith Bleeker

In 1477, a Middle Dutch Bible was printed for the first time in Delft (the Netherlands). The choice for the vernacular makes clear that the “Delftse Bijbel” was oriented not only towards the clergy, but also included laypeople as its intended audience. These Bibles, which could for instance be read in silence for the purposes of Bible study and meditation, or out loud by the head of the family, must have taken up an important function in the households of their lay owners. However, medieval readers also treated their Bibles as objects of use, which meant that in addition to reading from them, they also did not hesitate to annotate them, underlining important passages, or even correcting the text where the printer had made mistakes.

However, that the Bible as object of use could also fulfil a function beyond the religious, becomes clear from Deventer SAB 113 KL 11. Fol. 263v of this copy of the “Delftse Bijbel” includes a handwritten list of building materials and descriptions of journeys made to acquire them. Frequent mention is made of stone and lime, as well as tiles, while the word “schuiten” (ships) may indicate how they were transported. The list also resembles an account in that it mentions both worked hours (“een schoft gewrocht”) and an amount of money (“alf sestalfe gulden”).

Fragment from Fol. 263v:

drie reijsen om
steen ende kalck [doorgehaald]
[…] noch een achter
middach die schuiten
holpen estreeken

three journeys for
stone and lime [crossed out/illegible]
[crossed out/illegible]
[…] Another late afternoon
[I] helped [to] tile the ships.

The text has been written at the end of Kings IV, where the large amount of white space on the page made it ideal for adding text, and before the start of the book of Daniel. As it is possible that these quires were only later bound together, the position of this page at the end of a quire may have made it easily accessible for writing notes. Yet, the list was not written all at once, but in stages, suggesting that the writer deliberately returned to the note to make additions on various occasions. It is also possible that it concerns a temporary note, which the writer meant to copy elsewhere at a later time.

A possible explanation as to why the writer chose to use his Bible as notebook is that it, as an important possession, was likely kept in a central space in the house. Therefore, the Bible provided a safe and easily retrievable place to store important information, information that was probably connected to the writer’s livelihood. Additionally, keeping administration in Holy Writ may also have guaranteed its reliability and truthfulness, similar to the still current practice of swearing an oath on the Bible.

This curious secular note thus reveals the Bible as an object of use, while also pointing to the intertwinement of the practical and the devotional – the secular and the sacred – in the lives of medieval laypeople.

By Judith Bleeker

Caption for the image: Digitally enhanced picture of the “Delftse Bijbel” (Deventer SAB 113 KL 11, fols. 263v, 264r) with the handwritten list visible on the verso, underneath the second column. Source: Atheneumbibliotheek Deventer, URL:

“Moving Readers”: Call for Papers International Medieval Congress, Kalamazoo 9-12 May 2019

Moving readers: the significance of movement in devotional reading in the late Middle Ages

Recent scholarship on late medieval devotional literature has increasingly shifted emphasis towards reflection on issues that concern the role and experience of the reader in the reading process. This transition from text-oriented to performance-oriented research, where the focus is on the practices involved in the reading process, has led to some fruitful new insights. New themes that have come forward include the material properties of the book; the interaction between object and agent in the reading process; habits of use; strategies for reading, etc. Research that incorporates these issues reveals late medieval (lay) readers to be active, ambitious participants in a wider religious culture, appropriating religious knowledge through activities of assembling, copying, reading and disseminating books.

This session is organized with the aim of continuing advancement in this field by opening up a discussion on readership of late medieval devotional books, both manuscript and early printed books, especially those that can be grouped within the genre of Passion literature. The aim of this session is to initiate discussion on the significance of movement in devotional reading in the late Middle Ages. Reading always involves some kind of movement which necessarily informs and shapes the experience of reading. This movement may be as minimal as the movement that occurs when turning the pages of a book. Some works regulate physical movement (for example alternating kneeling and standing up) as a part of the devotional activity. Other texts invite metaphorical or mental movement, either through its subject matter (meditation on the stations of the Cross) or through the specific placement of text and image on the page. In addition, movement that is part of other religious activities, such as processions, drama, pilgrimage, Mass etc., may resonate in the experience of reading devotional books. This session invites papers that address these issues. The goal of the session will be to further research into religious literature and into the ways in which readers develop religious attitudes and skills during reading. The focus will be on religious literature for lay readers, both in manuscript and early printed books, but papers on other devotional media or related subjects are also welcome.

The session will be sponsored by the research project “Cities of Readers: Religious Literacies in the Long Fifteenth Century”. This project, based at the University of Groningen and funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, studies the participation of lay people in religious culture through their engagement in textual activities. This topic is approached through three main methodological lines: 1) active readership; 2) communities of interpretation; 3) space and place. The research team consists of five members: prof. dr. Sabrina Corbellini, prof. dr. Bart Ramakers, post-doc researcher dr. Margriet Hoogvliet, PhD student Johanneke Uphoff and PhD student Joanka van der Laan. Besides the individual, complementary research projects of the team members, the activities of the team include the organization of and participation in various national and international scientific activities; the organization of an exhibition on the theme ‘Cities of Readers’; and the production of a final synthesis.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 250 words, along with a completed Participant Information Form (available later in July on, to Joanka van der Laan ( Deadline for proposal is September 15, 2018.


“Cities of Readers” Sessions at the IMC Leeds 2018 (4 July 2018)

On 4 July 2018 the “Cities of Readers” project organised a lively and interesting series of no less than four sessions at the International Medieval Conference in Leeds:

Session I: Shared devotional culture

Anna Dlabačová (Leiden University): Belief in Business: The Role of Commercially Produced Religious Incunabula in a Shared Textual and Devotional Culture

Johanneke Uphoff (University of Groningen): Bequeathing Books: Book Donation and Shared Devotional Culture between Lay and Religious in the Late Medieval Low Countries

Session II: The Performance of Writing

Isabelle Bretthauer (Université de Caen Normandie): The Manuscripts of the “Coutume de Normandie”: Between Legal Uses and Religious Consciousness

Wendy Scase (University of Birmingham): Performing Scribal Identity in Medieval English Devotional Manuscripts

Sabrina Corbellini (University of Groningen): Scripto per me:The Performance of Writing in Late Medieval Italy

Session III: The performance of text

Olivia Robinson (Université de Fribourg): Deguilleville in the Convent: Pilgrimage, Poem and Play-script

Sarah Brazil (University of Geneva): Experiencing comedy in Early English biblical drama

Bart Ramakers (University of Groningen): A Miracle Staged: Performative Didactics in Cornelis Everaert’s Play of Mary’s Chaplet

Session IV: The Performance of Reading: Texts, Objects, Spaces, and Practices

Joanka van der Laan (University of Groningen): Having Christ as a Companion: The Significance of Daily Movement in Middle Dutch Devotional Texts

Sarah Joan Moran (Utrecht University): The Impact of Catholic Reform on Domestic Devotional Art in the Southern Low Countries: Case Studies and Avenues for Research

Margriet Hoogvliet (University of Groningen): Conceptualising the “vita activa” as a Space for Religious Life


Susanne de Jong receives prize for her Research Master thesis

On 5 April 2018, Susanne de Jong, a former student-assistant of the “Cities of Readers” project (in 2015-2016), has received the VNK*) prize for her Research Master thesis “Read some good devout, Dutch books”. Needless to say that we are all very proud of Susanne.

The report written by the jury underlines the quality of Susanne’s thesis and its innovative approach, especially the study of readers and consumers of books in the late Middle Ages, most notably “non professional” lay readers” of religious texts, and the demystification of the often supposed monopoly of the Modern Devout in the spreading of religious texts and knowledge among the laity in the Low Countries.

*) Vereniging voor Nederlandse Kerkgeschiedenis/Association for Dutch Church History

Reading in a Tanner’s Workshop in Amiens (1517)

Reading in a Tanner’s Workshop in Amiens (1517)

Amiens, Archives communales, FF 160/24

In 1517, after the trespassing of Nicolas Dupuis, a tanner living in Amiens in northern France, an inventory was made of the moveable goods in his home located in the Rue des Tanneurs. The possessions and debts Nicolas left behind indicate that he and his now widowed wife were of a very modest fortune. Next to clothing, furniture, some silver cups, and tanner’s tools, the inventory mentions some interesting items that are very informative about the domestic reading culture of Nicolas and his wife.

One of the two rooms upstairs was decorated with a small painting representing the Virgin. In the same room was a box containing precious belts, a Book of Hours “covered with black satin, embroidered with six pearls and with two gilded silver clasps”, and a painting on cloth representing the Trinity. The constellation of objects in this room suggest that reading and praying from the Book of Hours was performed by Nicolas and his wife in relation to the paintings of the Virgin and the Trinity.

In the “salette” downstairs was a chest (“ung buffet a deux huissetz”) containing silverware and the business administration. Among the documents on paper and parchment was also a small book on paper with the marvels of Rome, a French translation of the Mirabilia urbis Romae.

During the late Middle Ages texts were not only read from books, but information was also communicated to larger audiences by means of panels with texts. In the tanner’s workshop, also situated on the ground floor, was a panel with “the teachings of Cato” (“les enseignements Cathon”). The Latin Disticha catonis were often taught in schools during the Middle Ages and translations in most European vernaculars circulated widely. Humanist scholars were also interested in this work; for instance Erasmus of Rotterdam published a corrected edition of the Latin text in 1517.

The text on the panel in the workshop consisted most likely of several French excerpts from this work teaching the virtues of Christian Stoicism, for instance the importance of a modest, honest, and simple life: very suitable for a working space. Workshops were usually open spaces, allowing passers-by to look inside to see and check the ongoing work. As a consequence, the teachings of Cato must have been visible and readable for everyone outside.

The engagement of this tanner and his wife in religious life is once more revealed by the presence of two small chairs to sit on during sermons (“ii caielles a aller au sermon”), also found in the workshop.

The Rue des Tanneurs in Amiens as it looks nowadays (screenshot from Google Maps). It is situated in a lower part of town with several small waterways (one is visible on the right) that were very important for the tanning of leather.

The Rue basse des Tanneurs as it was in the early 20th century, before the two wars that destroyed the medieval town.

Margriet Hoogvliet

Lay Preaching in Fifteenth Century Florence

Lay Preaching in Fifteenth Century Florence

Manuscript Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale, Fondo Nuove Accessioni, 694, written in a very neat and elegant humanistic hand, was copied in Florence around 1475.

The scribe reveals his identity twice in the manuscript. After the first text, a vernacular version of the Life of St Paula (Comincia la vita di Sancta Paula composta da sancto Girolamo ad Eustochio sua figliuola), the scribe identifies himself as “Bernardo del Pachio Adimari” and affirms to have copied di mia propria mano (in his own very hand) the text on August 15th 1475. The strong affirmation of his writing performance, signaled by the use of the formula di mia propria mano, suggests that the manuscript could have been written for personal use or for circulation within a restricted circle of users, as family or professional circles.

The personal character of the manuscript is corroborated by a second colophon, placed at the end of the second text in the manuscript:

Finito el sermone di Eucharestia Recitato per me Bernardo di Pachio Adimari el giovedi sancto nella compagnia della fiamma adi xxiij di marzo 1474 quando si fe la lavanda de piedi

[The end of the sermon on the Eucharist recited by me Bernardo di Pachio Adimari on Maundy Thursday at the Compagnia della Fiamma on the 23 March 1474 (according to the Florentine style) during the washing of feet].

The colophon testifies of the personal character of the manuscript but it moreover refers to a practice common to Italian late medieval confraternities: the performance of short vernacular sermons by the lay members of the confraternity before the actual ritual of the washing. In his sermon, Bernardo reflects on the theme of the Eucharist and of the ritual connected to consecration of the host during Mass. He invites his fellow members to meditate and pray with him and to raise their heart in order to contemplate the mystery. The “special” gathering to commemorate Maundy Thursday is of course highly symbolic and essential for reinforcing the sense of community and the bond between the members.

Sabrina Corbellini

Building a Family Library in Fifteenth Century Florence

Building a Family Library in Fifteenth Century Florence

The Florentine citizen Antonio da Filicaia (1430-after 1512) was actively involved in administrative and political life of his hometown and served Florence through several functions in the town and the contado. Although the registration of his professional activities in archival sources offers a unique chance to reconstruct Florentine history in the second half of the fifteenth century, the feature that makes him particularly interesting within the framework of “Cities of Readers” is his aim to create a personal library to be shared with the family and a broader network.

He personally contributed to this enterprise by copying manuscripts and developing into one of the most prolific Florentine copisti per passione (amateur scribes). Seven autograph manuscripts by Antonio are still kept in Florentine libraries, all of them containing lengthy colophons describing his reasons for performing scribal activities in his spare time. He states that “the readers will draw essential lessons from reading these books, and these books should be cherished and passed on”. The significant manuscript corpus that still testifies of his interest in books, reading and transmitting (religious) knowledge could even have been larger: in fact, in a lengthy colophon in MS Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Fondo Nazionale II I 71, fol. 237v he declares to have copied at least 25 manuscripts (see image). In the same colophon, written on 25th August 1493, he writes also about some general rules for organising the circulation of books and preserving the family library:

“I have written 25 or even more books in my own hand (di mia mano) and pray that everyone willing to enjoy these books will keep them with great care and will not let them circulate outside the domestic space without exchanging them with books with the same or higher value. Having all the books at their disposal and reading them, they will have great profit and pleasure and they will hopefully remember to pray God for me because I took a huge effort to copy them.”

The activities of exchanging and lending books Antonio touches upon in his colophon are also testified by Antonio’s copy of the Lives of the Fathers, copied from an older copy owned by the great-grandfather Antonio d’ Andrea del Pannocchia Riccomanni. As stated in colophon (Florence, BNC II.I.338), the manuscript had “to be copied again, as it was worn after having being lent so often”.

Sabrina Corbellini


Lecture by Johanneke Uphof and Joanka van der Laan: “Leken en religieuze cultuur in de laatmiddeleeuwse Nederlanden”, Ruusbroecgenootschap, University of Antwerp

Johanneke Uphof and Joanka van der Laan:

Leken en religieuze cultuur in de laatmiddeleeuwse Nederlanden

Voorjaarslezingen Ruusbroecgenootschap, University of Antwerp, 25 May 2018

In deze duolezing worden een aantal aspecten uit het onderzoeksproject “Cities of Readers: Religious Literacies in the Long Fifteenth Century” gepresenteerd. Dit project onderstreept de actieve rol van leken in de religieuze cultuur van de laatmiddeleeuwse Nederlanden die, onder andere, uitdrukking vond in het verzamelen, ontwikkelen en verspreiden van religieuze kennis in handschriften en vroege drukken. In het eerste deel van de lezing zal Johanneke Uphoff een aantal handschriften bespreken waarin de colofons en eigendomsnotities laten zien dat religieuze kennis zich heen en weer bewoog tussen leken en religieuzen. De aandacht gaat hierbij uit naar de vele boekdonaties van leken aan kloosters en de gedeelde devotionele cultuur tussen stad en klooster. In het tweede deel van de lezing zal Joanka van der Laan de focus leggen op de leesactiviteit zelf. Een analyse van een aantal devotionele vroege drukken maakt duidelijk dat deze werken verschillende kenmerken bevatten die een actieve houding van de lezer in het leesproces veronderstellen. Deze lezing zal demonstreren dat de religieuze partici- patie van leken in deze periode bijdroeg aan een dynamische, bloeiende leescultuur.

Paper presentation by Margriet Hoogvliet at the symposium “Conceptualizing Sacred Space/s”, Giessen

Margriet Hoogvliet:

Religious Reading and Sacred Books in the Late Medieval Household: An Approach to Religious Places and Spaces, Conceptualizing Sacred Space(s): Perspectives from the Study of Culture, International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC), Justus Liebig University of Giessen, D, 23–25 May 2018

Paper presentations by Sabrina Corbellini in New Orleans, Barcelona, and Cambridge

Sabrina Corbellini:

Religious Literacies in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Challenging a Paradigm, Congress Renaissance Society of America (New Orleans, 24 March 2018)

The Power of Books. A Social History of Reading in Late Medieval Europe, keynote lecture workshop Medieval Women and the Arts: Literacy, Education, and Visual Culture (Barcelona, 3-4 April 2018)

Signing a Pact with the Reader, workshop The Medieval City: A Question of Trust (King’s College, Cambridge, 20 April 2018)



Paper presentations by Sabrina Corbellini and Margriet Hoogvliet at the International congress “Escriure i llegir a l’Edat Mitjana”/”Reading and Writing in the Middle Ages”, IRCVM, Barcelona

International congress IRCVM “Escriure i llegir a l’Edat Mitjana”/”Reading and Writing in the Middle Ages” (Barcelona, 25-27 April 2018)

Sabrina Corbellini:
A Call to Write: Writing and the Construction of Identities in Late Medieval Italy,

Margriet Hoogvliet:
Textual and Visual Cultures in the Religious Household during the Late Middle Ages in Northern France

Paper presentation by Margriet Hoogvliet at the “Rethinking the medieval Frontier” conference, Leeds

Rethinking borders and identities in northern France and the southern Low Countries
(c. 1350-c. 1550)
First Rethinking the Medieval Frontier Conference, Leeds University, UK, 10 April 2018.

The area roughly between Antwerp and Paris-Rouen is now divided by political borders: between the nation states France and Belgium, as well as the federal border in Belgium between Flanders and Wallonia. Next to this, a linguistic border between Romance (French, Picard, Walloon) languages and Dutch/Flemish/Nederlands can be detected in this area. National and Federal identities are commonly believed to be strongly linked to one, commonly shared language.

The presentation challenges claims that these modern borders can be justified with history-based arguments, because they would build further on Roman limes and Medieval borders. Firstly, political and territorial borders were continuously shifting throughout the ages and especially in the fifteenth century, often causing uncertainties and endless disputes. Secondly the linguistic situation is strongly marked by bilinguality; stretching from micro examples of code mixing to situations where both languages were commonly used alongside each other, for instance in Saint-Omer (with on top of this a strong presence of English). A final example is the Bruges printer Colard Mansion, who printed texts in both Middle Dutch and French/Picard and who used both languages for the administration of his confraternity, thus confirming the hypothesis that language and identity were much more loosely connected in the fifteenth century than we experience it nowadays.

Visiting Researcher at the Warburg Institute, London

Margriet Hoogvliet is Visiting Researcher at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London from 15 to 26 January 2018, in order to work on an article with the provisional title (that will change undoubtedly a few more times):

“Feeding the Soul at Home: Religious Images and Reading in the Urban Households of les anciens Pays-Bas (15th– early 16th c.)”

(I feel privileged!)