“Fishing for Meaning: Immersive Reading and the Codex Manesse Frontispieces” in Courtly Pastimes

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Chapter in a Book

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The Codex Manesse is a massive manuscript compendium of Middle High German songs by 112 different poets. Sections are introduced by elegant, full-page illuminations containing symbolic portraits of Minnesingers. D. Lyle Dechant analyzes the highly unusual image of Herr Pfeffel. This minor poet stands on a river bank, pulling in a fish as a courtly lady seated beside him expresses surprise. After summarizing past critical analyses of this codex, Dechant finds a fruitful paradigm in the art historical approach used to study imagery in contemporary psalters. These devotional miniatures provide sites of contemplation that stimulate the reader's imaginative participation in the story, turning the act of reading into a rich, interactive experience. When read in this manner, the fisherman takes on Christological dimensions, while the conceits of hook and cord recall Andreas Capellanus and the ars amandi. The roles of lover and beloved are reversed: the lady is the angler, and Herr Pfeffel the fish.