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The University of Chicago Press

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Long the subject of iconographic speculation, the miniature that currently opens the luxurious late-thirteenth-century Psalter-Hours "of Yolande of Soissons" (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, M.729) can now be securely identified as a depiction of the opening scene of the book of Ruth. The identification rests on an iconographic peculiarity shared with two roughly contemporary vernacular Bibles, a connection that in itself gives some sense of the textual and pictorial environment in which the "Yolande" manuscript was conceived. The choice of this extremely rare subject for a pictorial preface to a devotional book created for an aristocratic laywoman indicates the interpenetration of devotional concerns with ideas about marriage, lineage, and the particular role of women in both sacred and family history. Recent research into the origins of the manuscript complements the argument that in selecting a subject from Ruth, the book's creators focused on the female protagonists of the story as idealized models for the book owner's own identity. The iconographic link to vernacular works suggests further that the viewer was intended to approach the illustration from a position of literate familiarity with the text, albeit in French rather than Latin, complemented by interpretative tools drawn from the oral culture of preaching and religious instruction. As such, the miniature challenges medieval and modern categories of literacy and illiteracy and reveals the integral role of pictorial representation in both articulating and formulating varieties of religious and social experience.