Postcards on Parchment The Social Lives of Medieval Books Kathryn M. Rudy

Publication date:
25 Jun 2015
Yale University Press
362 pages: 7112 x 5588mm
80 color + 140 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

Medieval prayer books held not only the devotions and meditations of Christianity, but also housed, slipped between pages, sundry notes, reminders, and ephemera, such as pilgrims’ badges, sworn oaths, and small painted images. Many of these last items have been classified as manuscript illumination, but Kathryn M. Rudy argues that these pictures should be called, instead, parchment paintings, similar to postcards. In a delightful study identifying this group of images for the first time, Rudy delineates how these objects functioned apart from the books in which they were kept. Whereas manuscript illuminations were designed to provide a visual narrative to accompany a book’s text, parchment paintings offered a kind of autonomous currency for exchange between individuals—people who longed for saturated color in a gray world of wood, stone, and earth. These small, colorful pictures offered a brilliant reprieve, and Rudy shows how these intriguing and previously unfamiliar images were traded and cherished, shedding light into the everyday life and relationships of those in the medieval Low Countries. 

Kathryn M. Rudy is senior lecturer in the School of Art at the University of St. Andrews. 

‘Yale has produced the first published book to identify and give us an insight into these types of images… It is a must for history lovers, but will be enjoyed by all who turn its glorious pages, with some unforgettable illustrations.’—Bill Spence, Yorkshire Gazette & Herald.


Postcards on Parchment is a cornucopia of deeply researched case studies and images”—Nicolette Zeeman, TLS

"It is not often that a scholar can say they have identified a new genre of artwork. Yet Kathryn Rudy has achieved just that in this thoughtful study of parchment paintings."—Mary Wellesley, Apollo

“[Kathryn Rudy's] study is both provocative and well documented, generously illustrated and appealingly written, with a lively awareness of the medieval practices that are likely to draw in non-specialists as well.”—Elizabeth J. Moodey, Historians of Netherlandish Art

“[An] exuberant study . . . Rudy is an agile spelunker of books, delving with brio into their recesses. The abundant details that emerge from these excavations never seem to grow ponderous, and they are always leavened by Rudy’s effervescent prose.”—Sonja Drimmer,