(Photography by Tom Tian, AB’10)
Inspiration from the edge

The legacy of a Chicago medievalist lives on in his doodles.

What do they all mean, those devious dwarves, pot-bellied heads, and handstanding figures that intrude on the margins of Michael Camille’s conference program?

An art historian who taught at Chicago from 1985 to 2002, Camille made a career exploring the marginal art of the Middle Ages. His seminal book, Image on the Edge (Reaktion Books, 1992), argued that marginal drawings in medieval manuscripts both illustrated and commented on the adjacent text and could parody or complicate its authority “while never totally undermining it.”

In 1994 Camille attended a conference on the medieval margins at the University of Oregon. Above his doodles in the conference program (above), he inscribed the words “complicity and resistance,” perhaps suggesting his dual role as speaker and observer. His figures grimace and grin maniacally; they are playful and serious; they point authoritatively at names and credentials and amble away from them.

Eight years later, Camille died of a brain tumor at age 44, but his scholarship remains influential. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Image on the Edge, Kelli Wood, AM’10, a PhD candidate in art history, curated an exhibit pairing medieval manuscripts from the Special Collections Research Center with photos of scenes from the margins of campus life. The show, On the Edge: The Medieval Margins and the Margins of Academic Life, runs through August 10 and includes items from Camille’s papers in the University archives.