The origin and dissemination of the fifteenth-century manuscript illumination motif, Bianchi Girari
Kittrell, Sean Danielle
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This thesis seeks specifically to clarify the origin and dissemination of the fifteenth -century Italian manuscript illumination, a border decoration known as bianchi girari, which can be translated as "white vine meanderings". The whitevine tendril emerged in the mid -eleventh century as a motif in manuscript illumination. Cultivated in Tuscany it quickly spread throughout Italy and became a predominant motif. The motif is identified by the use of a leafy or vine-like foliage within the interstices of an initial. It can be colored in white or left with vellum or parchment showing through. The methodology employed in my research was to start from the motif itself in its fully developed form as it appeared at the end of the fifteenth century and work backwards. The scholars whose works were initially consulted did not concern themselves with where the motif had originated, making the path difficult to trace. Fortunately, I recognized a common thread in the appearance of the motif in central Italian illumination and proceeded from there. It was not until I was far into my research that I came upon a book by Knut Berg entitled Studies in Tuscan Twelfth -Century Illumination that targeted the primary precursor of the white-vine tendril motif or, as Berg calls it, the geometric initial. The white-vine tendril underwent four distinctive stages in its Tuscan development: early, transitional, middle, and late geometric initial phases. Each phase absorbed regional styles and was transformed accordingly. The origin of the Tuscan geometric initial is debatable. The most likely arguments attribute it to Ottoman, Franco-Insular, and English origins, and it is likely that all three played an important role in influencing the various stages of its development. The motif fell out of use soon after the twelfth century and did not appear again until the Humanists revived it in fifteenth -century Italy. Attributing the motif to antique Roman origins, the Humanists adopted and adapted the motif, transforming it into the complex, geometrical motif used almost exclusively in manuscript illumination initials and borders. The resultant motif is referred to as bianchi girari.