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Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art (Reaktion Books - Essays in Art and Culture) Paperback – August 1, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0948462283 ISBN-10: 0948462280

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Product Details

  • Series: Reaktion Books - Essays in Art and Culture
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books (August 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0948462280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0948462283
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #275,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


In vigorous prose and 86 astonishing illustrations, Camille demonstrates how 'Gothic marginal art flourished from the late twelfth to the late fourteenth century by virtue of the absolute hegemony of the system it sought to subvert'--for 'premodern societies used ritualized disruption to reinstate social norms rather than resist them'...In this fine book how exhilarating it is to see our ancestors giggling and roaring in vulgar delight in the comforting shadows of their sacred texts and sanctuaries. (Richard Locke Wall Street Journal)

A witty and original account of a fascinating subject. Medieval manuscripts, buildings and sculpture abound with subversive, erotic or scatological marginalia. Why are they there? Do they undermine dogma or just provide light relief? Camille gives some closely-observed and convincing answers. (Chris Savage King New Statesman and Society)

[A] sprightly and suggestive study. (Richard Eder Los Angeles Times Book Review)

Michael Camille offers us a book that distracts and instructs us simultaneously, in part because images are given as much play as texts. Camille's pages teem with ideas that, like medieval hybrids, are protean in their inventiveness. Rather than condemning the margins of medieval art, Camille celebrates them in animated, even exuberant prose, arguing in the process that their often overlooked representations pose as many problems as the center that more often has riveted our attention. (Jeffrey F. Hamburger Art Bulletin) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Michael Camille was Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Philipp W. Rosemann on December 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
For readers unfamiliar with the culture of the Middle Ages, it is surprising, and perhaps even disconcerting, to learn that a medieval manuscript of a prayer-book could contain marginal images of human excrement, or that medieval churches were frequently adorned with gargoyles depicting diabolic and uncanny figures. This book by Michael Camille, professor of art history at the University of Chicago, is devoted to explaining these strange "margins" of medieval culture. Camille essentially argues that, while such marginal images could on the face of it be interpreted as subverting the conventions of the dominating center of culture, they ultimately served to reinforce it. As the author puts it on page 127, "the edges of discourse...always return us to the rules of the center." In other words, medieval artists toyed with the margins of culture, with "otherness" and difference, yet ultimately sided with the "good" and the "normal." Interestingly enough, the marginal images which were so typical of the high Middle Ages disappeared at the beginning of the modern age. Camille suggests that the margins lost their function of hinting at the ugly reverse of mainstream culture in an age where the mainstream both asserted itself more strongly, rigorously demarcating "low" from "high" culture, and at the same time dissolved difference in the medium of bourgeois taste. Peasants and drunkards, for example, became the explicit object of a genre called the "grotesque." At the end of this fine book, Camille writes: "art collapsed inwards, to create a more literal and myopic dead-center [devoid of the medieval playfulness], taking with it edges and all" (p. 160).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By DRK on November 11, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
some authors select each word carefully, as a master mason building a wall to last the ages from common stones of the field. others bunch the gilded efflorescences springing forth from their well nourished mental strata into monstrous (sic) bouquets. this tome would be an instance of the latter. also, you buy a book like this to look at the pictures. I took a chance on buying the kindle edition and failed miserably. you can't enlarge the pictures enough to see any meaningful detail.
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Format: Paperback
The other five star reviews here have described the complex meaning of the marginalia that often appears in the hand written pages of Medieval text. Camille points out that "Once the manuscript page becomes a matrix of visual signs and is no longer one of flowing linear speech, the stage is set not only for supplementation and annotation but also for disagreement and juxtaposition --- what the scholastics called disputatio."

This review gives the reader a flavor of two general types of marginalia. The first, and most interesting to me personally, are those that make the scribe come alive as a human being:

"I am very cold"

"The parchment is hairy"

"The ink is thin"

"That's a hard page, and a weary work to read it"

"Let the reader's voice honor the writer's pen"

"Thank God it will soon be dark"

"Oh, my hand"

"Now I've written the whole thing: for Christ's sake give me a drink."

The second category are very risque drawings (and comments thereon) of sexual relations between men and women, among various animals, and scatological subjects, enough to make even the young Mozart blush perhaps (he was addicted to jokes on that subject).

Camille argues that those images do not violate the sacred text, odd as that seems to this reader, because the monks's world was so rigidly structured that "resisting, ridiculing, overturning and inventing was not only possible, it was limitless.... We should not see medieval culture exclusively in terms of binary oppositions -- sacred/profane, for example, or spiritual/worldly. Travesty, profanation, and sacrilege are essential to the continuity of the sacred in society."

Fascinating insights into a world that seems so remote to me -- but comes alive in two very special ways.

Robert C. Ross
March 2012
Revised January 2015
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jan Dierckx on November 2, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
With 86 illustrations, 13 in full color.

What do they all mean - the apes, the dragons, pot-bellied heads, and somersaulting jongleurs to be find protruding from the edges of medieval buildings and in the margins of illuminated manuscripts? Michael Camille explores that riotous realm of marginal art so often explained away as mere decorations or amusing doodles. He shows that the true nexus of innovation in the art of the time is not to be found where so many have sought it - within the heavily conventionalized centre - but on the edge, where resistance to medieval social constraints flourished.

Medieval image-makers focused attention on the underside of society, the excluded and the ejected. These peasants, servants, prostitutes and beggars all found there place, along with knights and clerics, engaged in impudent antics in the margins of prayer-books or, as gargoyles, on the outside of churches. Camille brings us to an understanding of how marginality functioned in medieval culture and shows us just how scandalous, subversive and amazing the art of the time could be.
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