• Looking Beyond the Binary: Gender and Owner Portraits in Later Medieval Devotional Manuscripts

    Maeve Doyle (see profile)
    Art, Medieval, Manuscripts, Medieval
    Item Type:
    transgender studies, portraiture, Medieval art, Medieval manuscripts, Queer and gender studies
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    Owner portraits, images of women and men in prayer in the margins or initials of their devotional manuscripts, were an increasingly common inclusion in illuminated prayer books in the era of the book of hours (from about 1250 onwards). While most books with owner portraits represent a single figure only once, a small number of lavishly illuminated books made in northern France and Flanders in the decades surrounding 1300 contain numerous devotee images representing different types of people numerous times. Singular owner portraits use oblique identifiers and recursive elements to produce an intimate relationship with their anticipated subject-viewer, functioning as what Alexa Sand has called a “reflexive” image. These portraits operate by inviting a viewer to recognize themselves in the otherwise generic images of prayerful figures.[4] In books with portrait figures of different types of people, each portrait still invites the viewer to identify with its subject, but the plurality of potential identifications in these books challenges tidy interpretations of owner portraits and their gendered meanings. Through a close study of two devotional manuscripts produced around 1300, I argue that the emphatic gendering of owner portraits creates opportunities for devotional performances that traverse, even transcend the gender binary. I use the term “transgender reception” to describe the dynamic these gendered representations of prayer produce when they interact with the gendered experiences and identities of their viewers. The multiplicity of transgender receptions available to the elite readers of these manuscripts situate personal devotional manuscripts as sites for exploring expansive concepts of gender identity in the later Middle Ages.
    Published as:
    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    2 years ago


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