Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 July 2018
In her 1983 article ‘Genealogy: Form and Function in Medieval Historiography’, Gabrielle Spiegel characterized genealogy as a ‘perceptual grid’, which rose in importance in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and led to a transformation of historical narrative from a simple chronological or annalistic organization of the past towards a dynastic one. ‘As a formal structure, genealogy deploys history as a series of biographies linked by the principle of hereditary succession, which succession stands as much for the passing of time as for a legal notion of transference’. Moreover, the genealogical lines provide a permanent connection, and a powerful link between the past and the present. It is worth noting that the terms – ‘lines’ and ‘lineage’ – indicate a visual model behind this concept of succession. One of the first scholars to explore this rise of graphic models in historical writing was Gert Melville, whose foundational article on ‘Geschichte in graphischer Gestalt’ came out in 1987. Other historians such as Olivier de Laborderie, Marigold Anne Norbye and Joan A. Holladay followed, devoting their attention predominantly to the often vernacular, and in many cases lavishly illuminated genealogies of the English and French monarchs, which became popular from the late thirteenth century onwards.
This article is devoted to a little known early thirteenth-century manuscript copy of a work that was of preeminent importance in the development of visual models, Peter of Poitiers’ Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi. Conceived in the last quarter of the twelfth century, the Compendium historiae originally functioned as a linear survey of biblical history, yet it did not take long before its lines were extended, and the work was thus transformed into a universal chronicle. The first copy of the Compendium historiae in which such an expansion can be observed was written and illuminated around the second decade of the thirteenth century in England (London, British Library, Cotton MS Faustina B VII).