A prized possession of the Cistercian convent of Marienbrunn in
Rulle near Osnabrück in northern Germany was its richly
illuminated gradual dating to c. 1300, which is of great
significance in the history of medieval art for several reasons.
With 52 historiated initials iconographically complex in their
literary quotations from the liturgy, the manuscript ranks as one
of the most lavishly decorated books of its type to survive.
Painted in an elegant courtly Gothic style, it is ascribed in a
prefatory inscription to the nun Gisela von Kerssenbrock, who
wrote, notated, and decorated the manuscript "with golden letters
and beautiful images." Such an encyclopedic listing of a
scribe-artist's labors is unparalleled in medieval scribal
colophons. The high quality of the miniatures ranks her among the
most gifted women artists of the Middle Ages.
Gisela is depicted in two self-portraits within the manuscript, in
one of which she is leading the nuns of Rulle in singing the
Christmas hymn, visual evidence that she was the choirmistress at
this convent. The manuscript's images reflect the intellectual
ambience of encloistered nuns who were steeped in the annual
liturgical cycle of feasts with its associated bible readings,
theological commentary, sermons, music, dramatic ritual, and
artistic decoration. As it was used in the nuns' daily celebration
of the mass, the book is an eloquent witness of the communal
religious life of medieval women rather than their private
meditations or mystical experiences.This study explores the imagery
and texts associated with major feasts of the liturgical year and
the novel ways in which music and text are woven into the artistic
program of Gisela's manuscript. In particular, her book shows the
seminal importance of the Easter celebration for convent life, as
well over half of its illustrations are clustered in the Easter
season; and the manuscript repeatedly gives artistic expression to
the nuns' hopes of heaven.
"Singing with Angels offers a wonderfully imaginative account of Gisela's gradual as a book with multiple layers of meaning conveyed through text, music and image. In the best tradition of interdisciplinary scholarship, this book is a model for manuscript studies and for medieval studies as a whole."
(Susan Boynton, in Manuscripta 54/2, 2010, p. 276-281)