Parallel Narratives examines several richly illustrated manuscripts as reflections of a transitional moment in the history of the book in medieval Germany. In the thirteenth century the nobility and their emulators had aspirations to own and to read books privately as an alternative to the traditional social experience of listening to recitation or to a reading in a group, large or small. But comfortable reading skills were not yet widespread. One solution was to `read' privately an illustrated book in which the images could carry the storyline without recourse to the written text. The focus of this study is a mid-thirteenth-century illustrated manuscript of Gottfried's Tristan. A close analysis of the visual narrative and its relation to the text demonstrates that the pictorial narrative presents a parallel independent telling of the Tristan story. A foil to the unusual Tristan is provided by a slightly later illuminated manuscript of the Willehalm von Orlens of Rudolph von Ems, in which the written text takes communicative precedence over sumptuous illuminations. In the course of developing its argument this book provides an introduction to the whole subject of the early manuscript illumination of vernacular German secular narratives.
Julia C. Walworth is Research Fellow and Librarian at Merton College Oxford.