WCA Honors Dr. Patricia Danz Stirnemann ’67

March 10, 2017
Patricia will receive the Wells College Alumnae and Alumni Award for her work as an art history scholar, researcher, collaborator and supportive influence.
patricia danz stirnemann portrait

Prepared by Virginia Meeker Munkelwitz ’67, WCA Award Committee Member, for the March WellsNotes alumnae and alumni newsletter:

Dr. Patricia Danz Stirnemann, Wells College Class of 1967, will receive the Wells College Alumnae and Alumni Award for 2017. Patricia is being honored for her contributions to the study of medieval French and English illuminated manuscripts as a scholar, researcher, collaborator, and supportive influence on the work of countless art historian colleagues and students. The award honors Wells women and men of high achievement in professions and careers, in volunteer and community work, in service to their alma mater, or in some combination of these endeavors.

Patricia received her B.A. in art history from Wells, and inspired by Professor Sheila Edmunds, she went on to earn her M.A. and Ph.D. in art history from Columbia University in 1976. Patricia has lived in Paris since 1975. She worked part-time for over a decade at the Bibliothèque nationale de France cataloguing illuminated manuscripts. She continued to contribute her time and efforts there, even after earning in 1987 a lifetime appointment at the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes in Paris, which is funded by France’s national foundation for scientific research. The IRHT is devoted to primary research on medieval manuscripts and early printed books. Patricia’s work covers the entire Middle Ages, from 700 to 1600 A.D., but her expertise centers on the 12th and 13th centuries in England and France.

While working for the national library and at the IRHT, Patricia traveled throughout France studying medieval manuscripts. She has written scientific catalogues and articles, reconstructed the holdings of medieval libraries and medieval centers of manuscript production, designed public exhibitions and written their accompanying catalogues. Medieval manuscripts are a key component of world history because they have preserved all our ancient and medieval literature, chronicles, and documents before the arrival of the printed book. Patricia’s research has contributed specifically to understanding the shift from monastic to professional book production that took place in the second half of the 12th century, along with the rise of the universities. Among the more celebrated books that she has studied are the Psalters made for the royal families of Denmark and France in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Roman de la Rose by Jean de Meun, and Les Très Riches Heures de Jean duc de Berry illuminated by the Limbourg brothers in the early 15th century.

Patricia has made significant contributions to the art of localizing and dating both illuminated and modestly decorated text manuscripts. She has pioneered ways in which we can accurately identify the date and place where a manuscript was made by analyzing a wide range of aspects, including not only the illumination and penwork decoration, but also the script, layout, liturgy, philology, textual tradition, and history of the ownership. Each of these aspects changes over time and space, but each has its own rhythms and contexts. By comparing the chronological and geographical data concerning each aspect in a particular book, one can more precisely pinpoint the time and place of creation of the book. Using this methodology, works that were previously dated only to a century or half century can now be pinpointed sometimes to as little as a decade or less. Knowing when and where and for whom a manuscript was made allows us to understand why it was made, thus permitting the book to enter and nuance the weave of surrounding historical events.

From Nicole Bériou, recent Director of the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (CNRS), “Patricia Stirnemann is an internationally recognized specialist of medieval manuscripts and their illuminators, a scientific domain in which specialists are quite rare. As an art historian, particularly respected by her colleagues, she has developed a unique competence in dating and tracing the source of manuscripts with a certainty and a precision that are astonishing.”

As an important contributor to enterprises concerning the cataloguing of the medieval manuscripts at IRHT, Patricia has played a fundamental role. She directed the department of illuminated manuscripts and she has helped to document and make known the holdings of a number of prestigious manuscript collections, including that of the Academy of Science in Saint Petersburg and the Château de Chantilly. In addition to her operational contributions, Patricia has pursued a wide range of research: the discovery of the medieval library of the Counts of Champagne; the reconstruction of several medieval monastic libraries, such as those of the great Cistercian houses of Clairvaux, Pontigny, Clairmarais and Vauluisant; the dating and placing of manuscripts of a given text throughout the Middle Ages; the identification of the original owner or context of a manuscript, such as John of Salisbury’s own copy of his Policraticus, or the circle in which Jean de Meun wrote the Roman de la Rose; the transformation of iconography in the 12th and 13th century, between the monastic period and the more secular, Gothic age; the impact on iconography of every-day turns of phrase; the use of iconography for identifying the book’s recipient.

Patricia has also helped in dating and localizing manuscripts in Initiale, an online catalogue of illuminated manuscripts housed at IRHT. According to Nicole Beriou, Initiale is “the iconographic source most often consulted by students, researchers, and the public at large. Begun in 1990, this database is today the most important instrument devoted to medieval illumination in the world.… [It] provides libraries with manuscript holdings in France and abroad with a much better understanding of their collections. The web version of Initiale is revised twice a year, each time with significant enrichment. It would not have its eminent status without the patient and effective work of Patricia Stirnemann who, with her colleagues, has assured its growth.”

Patricia taught the history of medieval art in Paris and the region of Paris to Wells students in a year-abroad program (1977- 1987). She later taught the history of French illumination at the École du Louvre and the École des chartes, and the history of the manuscript at the Institut catholique in Paris, a school for librarians and archivists. During her career, she has guided and nurtured many students and colleagues. One of them is Gregory Clark, who met Patricia right after he began researching his dissertation. “Patricia showed me the bureaucratic ropes, initiated me into the mysteries of the reference collection at the Bibliothèque nationale, and thereby enabled me, with still rather limited French, to get my research done efficiently and with as little red tape as possible.… Over the course of the 32 years that I have known Pat, she has helped and encouraged me and many other students and scholars of medieval manuscripts in innumerable ways: research and housing tips, letters of introduction, home-cooked dinners, and much, much more.”

Claudia Rabel, of the IRHT, wrote about Patricia’s unique ability to communicate with illuminated manuscript specialists from all over the world, and to weave a vast network of relationships with many medievalists in all disciplines. Her contacts were mainly from English-speaking countries, but she has worked with specialists from Japan and throughout Europe, from Norway to Portugal to Russia. Because English was her native language, she connected with academic and university circles in England and the United States, and acted as a link between the French and Anglo-Saxon communities. During her participation in seminars, exhibitions, or other collective enterprises, she has often represented the French scientific community. As Claudia said, “Patricia is a high authority ’crossroads’ of the medieval illuminated manuscript.”

Claudia summarized Patricia’s contributions, “Globally recognized and sought for her expertise, Patricia Stirnemann has exercised de facto the function of director of research for countless researchers, both experienced and beginners. All appreciate her stimulating discussions and her scientific rigors, sometimes severe, but always constructive and encouraging. She is an excellent teacher who delights her audience with her humor and practical approach, while her outspokenness and her Anglo-Saxon pragmatism have furthered more than one meeting and more than one project. During her career, she has forged friendships and collaborations with medievalists around the world.”

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