Elizabeth Morrison, an artist from Columbus, Ohio, and daughter of H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Classics Jim Morrison, recently visited her father’s Medieval Latin course to give a lecture and workshop on illuminated manuscripts and Medieval marginalia. Students had the opportunity to create their own decorated capital letters.
Morrison’s course, split with both intermediate and advanced Latin students, covered a broad survey from Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible and St. Augustine’s Confessions from ca. 400 CE up to Erasmus’ “In Praise of Folly” from ca. 1510 CE. Students also read plays, biographies, histories and several songs. In addition, they examined art work and listened to musical versions that ranged from Medieval chant to Mozart’s Requiem and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.
“This course ranged very broadly from religion and philosophy and history to love songs, art work and drinking songs,” Morrison said. “To get a sense of the 1,000 year time span, we looked at various facets of daily life including art and music. So this was a more experiential mode of interacting and creating with material objects, such as manuscripts.”
When Morrison’s daughter spoke to the class, she discussed manuscript decoration including “historiated capitals”—first letters in a sentence—and marginalia—some of which consists of geometric patterns but also small figures of humans and animals. Her workshop included allowing each student to decorate their own capital letters using pen and ink and colored pencils and stencils.
“Elizabeth is a working artist, not a medieval scholar,” he added. “But she has worked on and studied marginalia in particular over the past five years. It was useful for the students to see how people today are still working within a much older tradition and adapting it to modern culture.”
According to Morrison, the students in his class seemed to enjoy the hands-on experience and to learn about how manuscripts were made and created as texts but also as works of art.
“The most striking part of the presentation was seeing just how intricate and meaningful these ‘doodles’ were to the overall piece of work,” said Lindsay Everett ’20. “This impressive detail was maintained in Ms. Morrison’s own renditions of such illuminations. In an age which encourages simplistic/efficient creation through technology, Ms. Morrison did not take the easy way out. She crafted her art by hand and shared her life-size creations with us. The gold was mesmerizing, with each stroke revealing the time and patience and dedication that was required to produce such a beautiful piece of art.
“It is easy for us to look at an ancient, or modern, work and appreciate it superficially,” Everett continued. “However, Ms. Morrison showed me that one must dissect a work of art and read beyond the letters or the paint to unearth the creator’s purpose in sharing the fruits of his labor.”
by Kerry Steinhofer
December 17, 2019