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Thompson Shana. Visualizing Exegesis in an Image of Hugh of Saint-Victor

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Thompson Shana. Visualizing Exegesis in an Image of Hugh of Saint-Victor
University of North Texas, 2013. — 20 p.
Hugh of Saint-Victor (c. 1096-1141) was a highly influential, monk, scholar, and teacher at the famous abbey school of Saint-Victor in Paris, whose life and works have been the subject of numerous studies. A copy of his texts, De Archa Noe and Libellus de formatione archae, created at St. Albans Monastery in the second half of the twelfth century, contains an image of him teaching (Figure 1). It is possibly the only surviving depiction of the scholar created within a generation of his lifetime. According to Rodney Thomson, this manuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud. Misc. 409) is a copy of Laud. Misc. 370, also made at St. Albans, which contains most of the same texts but lacks representational decoration. While many modern scholars have written about Hugh’s life and works, and a few art historians have examined the visual topos of teaching, this image has received little direct treatment. It has been published in a number of different texts, but has not been the focus of serious research. When examining this portrait within the manuscript, two key questions arise, which will be the focus of this paper: for what purpose did the designer of the manuscript place this image within the text, and how did its inclusion contribute to the audience’s understanding of Hugh’s work? I propose that an examination of this image through the lens of Hugh’s writings and in light of twelfth-century notions of the teacher-student relationship will illuminate its pedagogic function. The iconography and composition of this image have been constructed in such a way as to facilitate multiple readings, such that it arguably serves as a visual aid to instruct students in the four levels of biblical exegesis—the literal, the allegorical, the tropological (or moral), and the anagogical level of pure, intangible divinity.
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