Myth, Montage, and Visuality in Late Medieval Manuscript Culture

Christine de Pizan's Epistre Othea
Marilynn Desmond and Pamela Sheingorn
A broad multidisciplinary study that uses the Epistre Othea to examine the visual presentation of knowledge


The material properties of late medieval manuscripts testify to the power of visual images to shape both the reading experience and the reader. Early fifteenth-century Paris saw a proliferation of luxury manuscripts whose luminous illustrations situate the reader as spectator, and Christine de Pizan's Epistre Othea exemplifies the power of visual representation to shape the medieval reading experience.

In Myth, Montage, and Visuality in Late Medieval Manuscript Culture Marilynn Desmond and Pamela Sheingorn analyze the ways in which Othea manuscripts display classical myths for late medieval humanist, chivalric, and Christian readers. Desmond and Sheingorn's innovative study draws extensively on film theory and its notions of spectatorship to explore the ethical implications of viewing illustrated manuscripts for the medieval reader. Focusing particularly on the twin manuscripts of the Othea in the Duke's manuscript and the Queen's manuscript, the authors suggest that premodern and postmodern cultures share a predilection for the cinematic arrangement of knowledge in a montage format in which meaning derives from unexpected juxtapositions.

Marilynn Desmond is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Women's Studies at Binghamton University.

Pamela Sheingorn is Professor of History, Medieval Studies, and Theatre at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Visit Marilynn Desmond's website at

Praise / Awards

  • "[A] remarkable collaborative study. . . . The authors demonstrate how the illuminations in these manuscripts go beyond mere illustration of text, showing how the work consistently attempts, especially through its rich program of images, to redefine masculinity, criticize male violence, and highlight female agency."
  • ". . . an exciting new study that uses a modern analogy—Sergei Eisenstein's theory of cinematic montage—to explain the effects achieved by this complicated work [Christine de Pizan's Epistre Othea]. "
    Medieval Review
  • "Marilynn Desmond and Pamela Sheingorn successfully conduct a cross-disciplinary reading of one of Christine de Pizan's major prose works, the Epistre Othea (1400) by creating a theoretical framework, which is informed by art history as well as current performance and cinema theory. Their contribution is a fine example of how postmodern approaches to literature, culture, and the visual arts can be applied to texts of the past, in this case, the late middle ages."
    Medieval Feminist Forum

  • "Myth, Montage, and Visuality in Late Medieval Culture is in fact aptly titled, being a study of medieval retellings of classical myth, the concept of montage (a non-narrative arrangement in which meaning is derived from unexpected juxtapositions), and which gender and authority are constructed in relation to a light-filled field. These three themes may appear disparate, but have all arisen through these authors' long and careful consideration... These authors are to be commended for providing an inspiring application, both evocative and responsible, of self-consciously modern concepts to medieval material."

  • "How often does a scholar succeed in publishing a book whose aesthetic quality corresponds to that of the object of the study? Marilynn Desmond and Pamela Sheingorn, scholars of English literature and art history, respectively, achieve exactly this with their study of Christine de Pizan's Epistre Othea, which allows their readers to delight in images-but not only that."
    —Margarete Zimmerman, Technische Universitat Berlin, Speculum

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Copyright © 2003, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 7 x 10.
  • 352pp.
  • 33 photographs, 6 color photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2006
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03183-2

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  • $39.95 U.S.