The Crucifixion (detail with Ecclesia and Synagoga), from the Stammheim Missal, Hildesheim, probably 1170s, artist unknown. The J. Paul Getty Museum The Crucifixion (detail with Ecclesia and Synagoga), from the Stammheim Missal, Hildesheim, probably 1170s, artist unknown. The J. Paul Getty Museum

Medieval manuscripts preserve stories of romance, faith, and knowledge, but their luxurious illuminations can reveal hidden prejudices as well. Typically created for the privileged classes, such books nevertheless provide glimpses of the marginalized and powerless, reflecting their tenuous places in society. Attitudes toward Jews and Muslims, the poor, those perceived as sexual or gender deviants, and the peoples beyond European borders can be discerned through caricature and polemical imagery, as well as through marks of erasure and censorship. For today’s viewer, the vivid images and pervasive subtexts in illuminated manuscripts can serve as stark reminders of the power of rhetoric and the danger of prejudice.


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