Private epigraphy in late medieval London: metal letters on personal possessions

Croyle, Olivia (2022) Private epigraphy in late medieval London: metal letters on personal possessions. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Text in medieval London was engraved, stamped, moulded, and cast onto objects in the urban landscape for all to see. The particular focus of this thesis is epigraphy on a small, intimate scale, seeking out text that was affixed to the clothing, or secreted in the pockets of ordinary Londoners. These materials include familiar categories of objects such as jewellery, seal matrices, and pilgrim souvenirs, but also lesser-studied possessions such as spoons, purses, mirror cases, and whistles. Its aim is to take these uniquely communicative objects and explore what their sustained analysis may offer to an art history of medieval London, from the identities they express, to the relationships they perform, and the material playfulness they reveal.

The material discussed in this thesis is testament to the importance of the text in the city’s material culture, and of the desire to access it, even among those whose education was limited. Many of the types of object discussed, in particular seal matrices and pilgrim souvenirs, have enjoyed the attention of art historians in recent years. However, inscriptions on these objects rarely, if ever, take centre stage in these studies. On individual artefacts, inscriptions have been overlooked, often seen as too simplistic, repetitive, or even illegible, to be worthy of note. By analysing large numbers of small metal objects, this dissertation will uncover new sculptural epigraphic traditions of private inscription, and reveal how letters were used in medieval London beyond the manuscript page.

The thesis argues that small private inscriptions present a previously untapped opportunity to explore uses of letters that, unlike those in manuscripts, require us to redefine definitions such as the ‘literate’ and ‘illiterate’, revising our understanding of those who can and those who cannot, those with access and those who are excluded.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Nicola Veasy
Date Deposited: 28 Jun 2023 12:58
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2023 12:58


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