Material Value and Immaterial Vision: The Role of Real and Represented Gems in the Gospels of Saint-Médard of Soissons

Sciampacone, Amanda (2011). Material Value and Immaterial Vision: The Role of Real and Represented Gems in the Gospels of Saint-Médard of Soissons. Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 42 pp. 1–35.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/cjm.2011.0016

Abstract

Produced during a period in which images were seen as inferior to words, and circulated and accessed by an educated and wealthy Carolingian elite, the Gospels of Saint-Médard of Soissons displayed an excess of matter. From the vellum pages painted with portraits of the evangelists framed by precious stones and engraved gems to the ivory or gold and jeweled covers, the physical substance of the book asserted the sacredness of Scripture and aided the viewer in comprehending the invisible, heavenly realm. However, as is argued, the juxtaposition of real and represented gems also troubled a viewer’s access to God by confronting the viewer with multiple and contradictory materialities. As a result, the Soissons Gospels revealed the insufficiency of the material to picture the spiritual, and forced the viewer to struggle through these materialities in order to transcend them and approach God through the correct path—immaterial, intellectual vision.

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