CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


Meaning through Misunderstanding: Scribal Error and the León Bible of 960

Session 15 Creative Misunderstanding


The León Bible of 960 [León, Archivo Capitular, Real Colegiata de San Isidoro, MS 2] is a significant artifact of Mozarabic artistic production in tenth-century Iberia. The manuscript’s density of illustration and its connection to one of the century’s most revered scribes, Florentius of Valeránica, would seem to solidify its place within the canon of Spanish medieval art.

The manuscript begins with a scribal misunderstanding. The subject of the manuscript’s first full-page illustration, the Christ in Majesty—ubiquitous in contemporary continental Gospel illustration—appears haphazardly rendered. Idiosyncratic details within the illustration, or “mistakes,” such as an extra book in Christ’s hand and a disheveled stole draped across his chest, have ultimately led scholars to emphasize the provincial and even primitive character of the painting and the manuscript itself. Despite the manuscript’s important place within the history of Spanish Bible illustration, its “mistakes” have guided, as least in part, the trajectory of the scholarship surrounding it, which has largely considered its potential relationship to earlier traditions of Bible illustration. The León Bible’s alleged mistakes and “literal” illustrations have firmly anchored its characterization as a provincial undertaking with little importance from the perspective of artistic creativity. Upon closer evaluation, however, the misunderstanding is not that of the scribe but of the scholar. The “mistakes” are in fact important iconographic details that are fully synchronous with medieval Christian belief and situate the manuscript and its illustrations within a particular liturgical milieu. The scribe’s creative deployment of uncommon iconographic features help to create meaning in both the Christ in Majesty and the manuscript as a whole.

This paper begins with the León Bible’s Christ in Majesty and its purported “mistakes” as means to reorient scholarly discussion of the manuscript itself. By reconsidering longstanding assumptions and demonstrating how scribal “mistakes” can in fact be intentional inclusions, scholars can study the manuscript from a new and more dynamic perspective that considers the ways in which it is inflected by its own cultural matrix, in general, and the Mozarabic liturgy, in particular. The León Bible is therefore, through its so-called “mistakes,” able to emerge as a complex object entrenched in contemporary religious and artistic practice. 



2014 Ph.D., Art History
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC)
Qualifying Exams: Late Antique and Early Medieval Art, Early Islamic Art Dissertation: “Sacred History and Christian Kingship in the León Bible of 960” Director: Dorothy Verkerk

2007 M.A., Art History
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC)
Thesis: “Saints, Saracens, and the Reconquest: Re-imagining Martyrdom in the Antependium of Durro”
Director: Dorothy Verkerk

2004 B.A., Spanish Language and Literature The University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS)

Graduated with Distinction


2014-15 Research Square (Durham, NC), Research Communication Partner

2013 North Carolina State University (Raleigh, NC), History Department, Lecturer in Islamic Art History

2010-11 The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), William & Ida Friday Center, Lecturer in Art History

2005-9 The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), Art Department, Teaching Fellow



2012 “Bible Illustration in Tenth-Century Iberia: Reconsidering the Role of al-Andalus in the León Bible of 960” Ars Orientalis 42 (October 2012): 165-175.