“LABYRINTHS IN MANUSCRIPTS - PORTUGUESE VISUAL TEXTS”
Dr. Bruno C. Duarte, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Fulbright Visiting Scholar, Johns Hopkins University
The Department of Romance Languages and Literatures
In the course of her work as a scholar, a writer and a visual artist, Ana Hatherly (Porto 1929 – Lisboa 2015) consistently focused her attention on the iconographic and hieroglyphic nature of writing. She often referred to the visual poem as a “text-image”, and insisted on the fact that the common genealogy and reciprocity between those two realms is not to be seen as self-evident, but rather as a point of departure for various kinds of explorations. Her incessant attempts to rethink the question of the text’s degree of legibility and the manifold aspects of its perception led Hatherly to consider in more detail the historical implications of that same intersection of the textual and the pictorial. In 1983 she published Experiência do Prodígio – The Experience of Prodigy (in the sense of wonderment or fascination) –, with the subtitle Theoretical Foundations and Anthology of Portuguese Visual Texts of the 17th and 18th centuries. This book introduces and reproduces a series of manuscripts found in different libraries and archives across Portugal, mainly from the Baroque and Mannerist period, while attempting to retrace their origin to earlier stages of history that expound a similar understanding of the visuality of a text. As part of the process of classification and exegesis of the numerous visual texts made available in this work, a special relevance was given to the different expressions of the Labyrinth, namely by means of a comparative analysis of its significance during the Middle Ages in relation to the changes this particular form of poetic composition went through in ulterior periods. This approach inherently suggests a more broadening view of the field of medieval studies as regards the study of manuscripts as such. Indeed, in many respects, Hatherly’s work both as an author and as a historian of visual poetry brings to light the problematic issue of the separation between early and late manuscript culture, often seen as irreversible or absolute due to the emergence of radical positions regarding the advent of the printing press and its repercussions in the perception of writing and reading. Significantly, whenever it is made unaware of such antagonisms and perceived as a compact convergence running through an expanded timeline, the notion of the text-image dislocates the historical and disciplinary complexity of the problem itself, and provides a new insight into the many analogies that, paradoxically or not, bring together the study of ancient and modern manuscripts.