Drawing and the Transmission of Images and Ideas in the Middle Ages

Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (CIG)

Ludovico V. Geymonat, Ph.D.

This four-year research project (2012-2015), led by Ludovico Geymonat and funded by a Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (CIG), focuses on the role of drawing in the transmission of images and ideas in the Middle Ages, in particular during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Drawing seems to have played a crucial role in the arts of the Middle Ages and yet relatively few actual drawings are preserved and their function, meaning and context are not always easy to establish. Through the examination of a number of extant drawings, some of them well known and others unpublished, the project aims to advance our knowledge of the role of drawing to the point that even in the many instances of medieval works of art for which no drawings are preserved, we might make realistic hypotheses about the role played by drawing in the making of a particular work and the dissemination of a specific image.

Wolfenbüttel Musterbuch, fol. 89r. © Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel

Two categories are traditionally used to describe medieval drawings: model drawings and pictorial guides. However, a thorough analysis of even the best-known cases, such as the portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ms. Fr. 19093), the so-called Wolfenbüttel Musterbuch (Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, Cod. Guelf. 61.2 Aug. 8°, fol. 75-94) and, among pictorial guides, the Vercelli Roll (Vercelli, Archivio capitolare), shows that each drawing or collection of drawings presents idiosyncratic features that make categorization, even merely on a typological level, highly problematic. The variety of medieval drawings is such that it is often difficult to assess the meaning and possible function of unpublished or little-known material, such as a recently discovered palimpsest in the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel or a drawing with apocalyptic scenes in the Abbey of St. Peter in Salzburg.

This research project calls attention to the differences among various case studies as indicative of a wide and diverse use of drawing in the Middle Ages. Some results are made possible by new tools provided by digital photography that offer techniques of analysis of medieval drawings that were previously unavailable.

The project acknowledges the support of various libraries, including the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, and the collaboration with other research projects, such as that on the Magistri Cataloniae at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. The results are thus far presented as conference papers and publications devoted to specific case studies. The goal is that of a comprehensive survey with a critical catalogue.


»Carolingian Drawings in the Wolfenbüttel Centaur Palimpsest«, Retter der Antike: Marquard Gude (16351689) auf der Suche nach den Klassikern, ed. Patrizia Carmassi, Wiesbaden 2016 (Wolfenbütteler Forschungen 147), 309–347.

»Reflection: Visual Memory and a Drawing by Villard de Honnecourt«, Memory: A History, ed. Dmitri Nikulin, (Oxford Philosophical Concepts) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, 125–130.

»Un disegno preparatorio del XIII secolo per un ciclo pittorico sull’Apocalisse«, Ikon: Journal of Iconographic Studies, 6, 2013, 55–64.

»Drawing, Memory and Imagination in the Wolfenbüttel Musterbuch«, in Mechanisms of Exchange: Transmission in Medieval Art and Architecture of the Mediterranean, ca. 1000–1500, eds. H. E. Grossman & A. Walker (Medieval Encounters, 18), 2012, 518–582.

Disegno con scene apocalittiche, 395 x 585 mm, inchiostro su pergamena, c. 1250, dettaglio. © Salisburgo, Erzabtei St. Peter

Associated Project Fellow

Ludovico V. Geymonat, Ph.D.
Tel.: +39 0669 993 314


Conference Paper
»An Apocalyptic Program from Thirteenth-Century Salzburg«, Pardon our Dust: Reassessing Iconography at the Index of Christian Art: Program, 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI, USA, May 15, 2016.

Invited Lecture
»Drawing the Apocalypse in a Medieval Monastery«, Department of History of Art and Architecture, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA, April 28, 2016.

Conference Paper
»Early Medieval Drawings from a Twelfth-Century Palimpsest«, with Patrizia Carmassi, III. Forum Kunst des Mittelalters, Hildesheim, September 18, 2015.

Conference Paper
»Die Entdeckung neuer Palimpseste mit Zeichnungen in einer Handschrift der Herzog August Bibliothek«, with Patrizia Carmassi, Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, August 13, 2015.

Conference Paper
»Viaggio e Memoria in Villard de Honnecourt«, I Simposio Magistri Cataloniae: Artista anònim, artista amb signatura. Identitat, estatus i rol de l’artista a l’Edat Mitjana, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, November 6, 2014.

Conference Paper
»Two Newly-Discovered Carolingian Drawings of Ancient Centaurs«, with Patrizia Carmassi, 5th International Annual Conference ›Actual Problems of Theory and History of Art‹, St. Petersburg State University, Saint-Petersburg, October 29, 2014.

Conference Paper
»The Vercelli Roll: Iconographic Tradition and Institutional Patronage«, Romanesque Art: Patrons and Processes, Third British Archaeological Association Romanesque Conference, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, April 8, 2014.

Conference Paper
»From Pages to Walls: Designing a Painted Space in 13th-Century Salzburg«, Medieval Art History After the Interdisciplinary Turn, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, March 29, 2014.

Conference Paper
»Travel Drawings from the 13th Century«, Medieval Europe in Motion International Conference, Instituto de Estudos Medievais, Institut Français de Portugal, Lisbona, April 19, 2013.

Conference Paper
»Drawing As Form of Collecting in Villard de Honnecourt«, Infinite riches in a little room: Collecting as a Cultural Practice and Literary Theme in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Taiwan Association of Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Tunghai University, Taichung, Taiwan, October 27, 2012.

Conference Paper
»A 13th-Century Drawing for a Monumental Program on the Apocalypse«, Visions – Sixth International Conference of Iconographic Studies, University of Rijeka, Rijeka, May 31, 2012.

Conference Paper
»Copiare uno spazio: riflessioni sul Rotolo di Vercelli«, Arte Romanica in Piemonte. Studi e ricerche per Costanza Segre Montel, Scuola di dottorato, Università degli Studi di Torino, Torino, May 24, 2012.