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168 posts categorized "Decoration"

21 May 2015

Something for Everyone

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Additional MS 36684 is a Book of Hours, about the size of a small paperback, made in Northern France in the area of Saint-Omer, near where our large set of Arthurian volumes (recently immortalised in cake) were made and decorated, also in the 2nd decade of the 14th century. Though this is a completely different type of book, it was probably aimed at a similar audience. Delightfully idiosyncratic and amusing images once again decorate the text, in seeming contrast to its serious purpose as a devotional aid. The medieval imagination is allowed to run riot, with every aspect of human and animal physiognomy, and everything in between, on display.

The twelve opening pages contain the calendar with activities for the months of the year. Here is the page for January. Rather than attempting it ourselves, we would like to ask you our readers to write a caption for the image in the lower margin. This will be the first in a series of ‘Invent a caption’ competitions on our blog, so over to you, dear readers!

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Calendar page, northern France (Saint-Omer or Therouanne), c. 1320, Add MS 36684, f. 1v

Go on, provide us with a caption to f. 1v, the wittier the better. You can enter via Twitter @BLMedieval or in the comments section below this post.

 

Some of the pages of this manuscript are almost unbeatable for sheer weirdness:

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Page from the Hours of the Virgin with border and margins containing hybrid creatures,  Add MS 36684, f.17r

Others are jewel-like, a perfect ensemble of colour and design to delight the eyes of the reader (is that the legs of a pair of bell-bottomed trousers emerging from a cauldron?):

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Page from the Hours of the Virgin with border and margins including butterfly, Add MS 36684, f.50v

Birds and fish are favourite subjects, but not always as we know them:

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Page from the Hours of the Virgin with border and margins decorated with birds,  Add MS 36684, f.31v

Large historiated initials have scenes from the life of Christ, including the Nativity: here the angel appears to the shepherds, one of whom is playing a bagpipe-like instrument.

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Historiated initial with the angel appearing to the shepherds and decorated border,  Add MS 36684, f.43v

This Book of Hours was owned by none other than John Ruskin in the 19th century. It was in his library at Brantwood and contains his bookplate. Unfortunately there is no record of what he must have made of some of the marginalia!

The images here are just a small selection, evey page is filled with delights. Feast your eyes on our Digitised Manuscripts site, Add MS 36684.

Chantry Westwell

01 May 2015

A Calendar Page for May 2015

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To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

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Calendar page for May, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, architectural column and roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 3v 

The Zodiac sign for May is Gemini, portrayed here unusually as conjoined twins (cephalothoracopagus twins, to be precise, who are joined at the thorax and share a single head). May is the month in which the Finding of the Holy Cross is celebrated. The event is depicted in one of the roundels, with the Pope and other figures standing as witnesses. In the scene below, the gentlewoman and her lapdog make a reappearance, boating on a river. She is playing music on a lute, while one of her companions accompanies her on an instrument resembling a recorder. In the background, two gentlemen are out hunting: they are riding on horseback, one of them bearing a hawk on his wrist. A servant follows, carrying a lance and also a hunting bird. 

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Detail of the Zodiac sign for Gemini, portrayed as conjoined twins,
Add MS 35313, f. 3v 

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Detail of a roundel depicting the Finding of the Holy Cross,
Add MS 35313, f. 3v 

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of boating and hunting,
Add MS 35313, f. 3v

- James Freeman

28 April 2015

An 'Additional' Round Table Celebration

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The illuminated manuscripts staff held a small celebration on Thursday – our unique set of three volumes of the entire Lancelot-Grail, Additional MSS 10292, 10293 and 10294 have been digitised – that’s a total of 695 folios with 742 images! We had a special cake made to mark the occasion, and here it is, with one of the gorgeous images from Additional MS 10293 (f. 199r)  of Lancelot and Guinevere reproduced in icing!

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(Cake courtesy of Cakeology, Wimbledon)

Digitisation of these manuscripts has been a long and torturous process, begun in 2013: the volumes are very large and not easy to photograph and in 1860, when they were rebound, the decision was made to separate the first folios of two of the volumes, Additional MSS 10293 and 10294, into a separate volume, now Additional MS 10294/1. Both folios have gorgeous miniatures and full borders, and they were bound separately ‘for better preservation’ (according to a note on one of the flyleaves) as, being opening folios, they have been well-used so the illumination is worn and the parchment is deteriorating at the edges.  But this has made the process of cataloguing and digitisation more complex, as the separate volume needs to be correctly labelled, recorded and entered in the cataloguing system so that users in our Reading Room and online, are able to access it easily.  

But it has all been worth it – these manuscripts are a treasure-trove of incredible images of knights, kings, battles, devils, hermits, sea voyages, dragons and everything in between. Here are some of our favourites, including the opening page of the Histoire de Merlin from the first volume. The image shows God opening the gates of hell with the devils meeting inside; one of the devils later fathers Merlin (see the following image on f. 77v).  We are not too sure what is happening in the lower margin of f. 76r – perhaps our readers have some suggestions!

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God, the gates of Hell and devils meeting¸ with full border,
 northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10292, f. 76r

Below is the first folio of Additional MS 10293, the part known as the Lancelot-propre, or Lancelot du Lac, that tells the story of Lancelot, his chivalric exploits and his love for Guinevere.  The image shows the aged King Ban, Lancelot’s father with his brother, King Bohors of Gaunes, before he was killed and dispossessed by the treacherous knight, Claudas. The text begins ‘En la marche de Gaule et de la petite bertaigne avoit ii rois’ (in the border of Gaul and little Brittany there once lived two kings….). The border is decorated with hybrid creatures, animals and human figures, one side consisting of a 3-storey chapel, each storey containing a courtly character. There are marvellous details to zoom in on, including a nun feeding a beggar on the lower right and a fire-breathing devil above the main image. 

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King Ban of Benoith and King Bohort of Gaunes, with full border,
northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10294/1, f. 1a recto

In this poignant image from the end of the Mort d’Artu, the hand emerges from the lake to take back Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword, and Arthur is shown, lying wounded in the foreground, while the young squire, Giflet or Griflet, looks on.

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The death of King Arthur: his sword is returned to the hand in the lake,
northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10294, f. 94r

Ending on a happier note, with another party, the opening folio of Queste del Saint Graal  from the third volume, shows King Arthur’s court seated at the table at Camelot on the eve of Pentecost, against a sumptuous gold backdrop. The border once again, is a plethora of knights, hybrid creatures and scenes from medieval life, including a man carrying a child in an early version of a baby backpack, but some scenes are best not described in this blog!

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Arthur’s court at Camelot, with full border,
northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10294/1, f. 1d recto

16 April 2015

Murder in the Cathedral

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One of the most notorious episodes in medieval English history took place at Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170. During evening vespers, Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury and erstwhile friend of King Henry II, was murdered by four of the king’s knights, William de Tracy, Reginald Fitzurse, Hugh de Morville and Richard Brito. They are said to have been incited to action by Henry’s exasperated words, ‘What miserable drones and traitors have I nurtured and promoted in my household who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born clerk!’

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The earliest known miniature of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket (London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius B II, f. 341r)

Becket's martyrdom was the subject of T. S. Eliot’s verse drama Murder in the Cathedral, first performed on 15 June 1935 in the Chapter House of Canterbury Cathedral before it moved to a run at the Mercury Theatre in London. Eliot’s play drew on the work of an eyewitness to the event, a clerk named Edward Grim who had attempted to defend Becket from William de Tracy’s blow. Henry had actually hoped that the appointment of his chancellor, Thomas Becket, as Archbishop of Canterbury, would help him to reassert royal authority over the Church. But the king had not anticipated that Becket would resign as chancellor shortly after he was elevated to the see of Canterbury. The conflict between Henry II and Becket centred on the perennial issue of the balance between royal and papal authority and the rights of the church in England.

Becket’s murder sent shockwaves across Western Christendom. The four knights were excommunicated by Pope Alexander III, who ordered them to serve in the Holy Land for 14 years while they sought his forgiveness. Becket himself was canonised in February 1173, less than 3 years after his death, and Canterbury Cathedral became a major site of pilgrimage – Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, from the late 14th century, are testament to the continued popularity of pilgrimage to the shrine of St Thomas. Henry II, meanwhile, undertook a public act of penance on 12 July 1174. Confessing to indirect responsibility for the murder, he entered Canterbury in sackcloth, both barefoot and mute, and made a pilgrimage to the crypt of St Thomas where he was whipped by the monks while he lay prostrate and naked by the tomb.

Our new exhibition, Magna Carta: Law Liberty, Legacy, includes three items that relate to the legacy of Becket’s martyrdom. One is a 12th-century English manuscript of the Letters of Thomas Becket, collected by Alan of Tewkesbury, which contains the earliest known manuscript miniature of Becket’s martyrdom, shown above. The second is a beautiful enamelled Champlevé reliquary from Limoges, on loan from the British Museum. On one compartment is an image of Becket being struck with a sword; above, he rises from his tomb to ascend to heaven. Reliquaries such as this would have been used to store relics of the saint.

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A reliquary depicting the martyrdom of Thomas Becket (British Museum 1854,0411.2) 

The third item relating to Becket's martyrdom is the seal of his successor, Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury (1207-28). Langton's seal shows the murder of Thomas Becket on its reverse, as a permanent reminder of the suffering endured by the Church. It should occasion no surprise, therefore, that the first clause of Magna Carta, perhaps inserted at Langton's insistence (and still valid in English law today), confirms the liberties of the church in England.

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The seal of Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, depicting Thomas Becket's martyrdom (London, British Library, Harley Charter 75 A 14)

Magna Carta: Law Liberty, Legacy is on at the British Library until 1 September 2015 (#MagnaCarta)

Katherine Har

14 April 2015

Ten Things To Know About Medieval Monsters

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In their new picture book published by the British Library, Medieval Monsters, medieval historian Damien Kempf and art historian Maria L. Gilbert explore the fantastic, grotesque and exuberant world of monsters in the Middle Ages through the images found in illuminated manuscripts, from dragons and demons to Yoda and hybrid creatures. The book has already attracted rave reviews: don't forget that you can buy it from the British Library online shop (£10, ISBN 9780712357906).

In this guest post, Damien and Maria describe ten things you should know about medieval monsters in a whimsical poem à la Edward Lear and Dr. Seuss.

With medieval manuscripts one does find

there lurks a particularly special kind

of creature, lurking in the margin,

religious instruction or pure diversion?

Frightening, charming, sometimes alarming;

monsters are Sin and Damnation,

Seduction, Temptation, Allure, Delectation.

We enter their world, they hold us in thrall

let’s take a look, the Middle Ages call.

***

1. They may be shy

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The big-eared Panotii were a monstrous race;

located on the peripheries—an imaginary place.

Their ears were so large they could serve as blankets

or wings to fly away when overcome with shyness.

* * *

2. They may create a wonderful first impression but beware!

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Bird-woman mermaid, alluring siren at sea,

sings so enchantingly there’s no time to plea.

You’re entranced, you’re drawn in. That voice! Those tail swishes!

Next you’re asleep and then: food for the fishes.

* * *

3. They may crave love and tenderness

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A horse with a long horn, most fierce and shrewd,

the all powerful unicorn easily eludes

an experienced hunter, but tame it becomes

at the touch of a virgin and completely succumbs.

* * *

4. They may be multi-headed

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An end days vision: six heads and ten horns

with multiple crowns, his head is adorned.

Mouth like a lion and feet like a bear

the Beast of the Apocalypse gives quite a scare.

* * *

5. They may be very tempting

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Living in the desert, the hermit saint Anthony

besieged by hallucinations seemingly continually.

Facing trial after trial of temptation,

this Christian ascetic retained his concentration.

* * *

6. They may bite off more than they can chew

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Margaret of Antioch, thrown into prison

by the prefect Olibrius for being a Christian.

The devil as a dragon visited her there,

swallowed her whole but having said a prayer

she burst out unharmed, a dragon slayer.

* * *

7. They may take your soul on your deathbed if you behave badly

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At death, both an angel and devil are waiting.

Will your soul go to hell or is it worth saving?

It depends on the deeds you performed in life.

whether you repented or caused bitter strife.

* * *

8. They may be quite irksome

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On Patmos, John (the Evangelist probably)

wrote revelations, an apocalyptic prophecy.

A mischievous demon tried to spoil the plot

by sneakily stealing John’s ink pot.

* * *

9. They may be flashy

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Warrior angel Michael, celestial army head

smote the devil down but didn’t strike him dead.

A spectacular battle, some would say,

as theatrical & vibrant as lucha libre.

* * *

10. They may look like Hollywood movie stars

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Sendak, Burton, Lucas, and Seuss

Their films: medieval monster reuse!

Handsome, playful, quirky, and whimsical

Nothing, it seems, is ever new in principle.

 

Damien Kempf and Maria L. Gilbert

FEATURED: Panotti (British Library Add MS 62925, f. 88v, detail); Siren (Ms. Ludwig XV 3, f. 78, detail, J. Paul Getty Museum); Unicorn (BL Stowe 17, f. 90v, detail); Beast of the Apocalypse (BL Add. 54180, f. 14v, detail); Anthony's demon (Ms. Ludwig XI 8, f. 6v, detail, Getty Museum); Margaret's dragon (Ms. 37, f. 49v, detail, Getty Museum); Soul takers (Ms. 57, f. 194, detail, Getty Museum); John's demon (Ms. Ludwig IX 6, f.13, detail, Getty Museum); Michael and the Devil (BL Add 18851, f. 464, detail); Figure in monk's robes ('Yoda') (Royal 10 E IV, f. 30, detail).

07 April 2015

A Giant from Our Collections: The Stavelot Bible

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Historiated initial 'I' ('In principio'), at the beginning of Genesis, fully painted and gilded, with roundels containing scenes relating to Genesis and Christ, from the Stavelot Bible, Netherlands, S. (Stavelot), 1094-1097, Add MS 28106, f 6r.

Readers of our blog will know that our manuscripts come in all shapes and sizes, and they vary from Books of Hours so tiny that they can fit in the palm of one’s hand, to enormous tomes that are almost impossible for one person to lift. Each of the two volumes of the Stavelot Bible exceeds the aircraft carry-on limit, with dimensions of 58 x 39cm, and weighing 40 lb, and the whole work takes four people to carry, two for each volume. Fortunately for scholars, bodybuilding is no longer a requirement to look at this manuscript as it has now been fully digitised and is available online as Add MS 28106 and Add MS 28107.

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Canon tables, from the Stavelot Bible, Add MS 28107, f 139v

The writing, decoration and binding of this monumental Bible, made for the Benedictine abbey of Stavelot, near Liège, southern Netherlands, took four years to complete, and was finished in 1097.

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Illuminated initial at the beginning of the Book of Samuel, showing the Amakelite bearing the crown of the dead Saul into David’s camp (below), then presenting Saul’s insignia to David (middle) and the executioner holding up the severed head of the Amakelite over his twisted body (above), from the Stavelot Bible, Add MS 28106, f 109r

Two monks involved in its production, Godderan and Ernesto, are identified in an inscription, although their roles are not specified: Godderan may have been the sole scribe, and Ernesto one of the artists. Its great size and legibility of script indicates that it would have been the principal Bible of the abbey, possibly used for daily services or for display on the high altar.

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‘ET’ at the beginning of the Book of Joshua, with (above) the hand of God coming down to Joshua, shown from the back, in a pose characteristic of the Stavelot artist, and (below) Joshua addressing three followers, from the Stavelot Bible, Add MS 28106, f 75v

This image, which appears before the beginning of the New Testament, is one of the great monuments of early Romanesque art. It shows Christ in Majesty, holding a book and a Greek cross, with the globe of the earth under his feet, surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists.

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Christ in Majesty, from the Stavelot Bible, Add MS 28107, f 136r

The two volumes of the Stavelot Bible contain 45 historiated initials in all.  Unfortunately in some places initials have been cut out and blank spaces remain.

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Text page with missing image from the Stavelot Bible, Add MS 28106, f 144v

Not all initials are historiated. In this masterful composition from the beginning of the Liber Generationis in Matthew’s Gospel, the shape follows the outlines of the letter ‘L’ and animal and human forms struggle to escape from the swirling vines. 

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Decorated initial ‘L’(iber) at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, from the Stavelot Bible, Add MS 28107, f 142v

 - Chantry Westwell

02 April 2015

A Calendar Page for April 2015

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To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

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Calendar page for April, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, architectural column and roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 3r 

A pastoral scene greets us on the calendar page for April, with budding leaves on the trees heralding the onset of spring. Sheep and their lambs, a goat and two oxen are being shepherded out from half-timbered barns, to graze in the fields beyond. A cockerel, hens and their hatchlings scrabble about in farmyard, while in the background a woman stands churning milk for butter. The roundels depict the two main feast days for the month – for St George (on horseback, vanquishing a dragon with his lance) and for St Mark (seated at his desk and accompanied by his emblem, a winged lion). Taurus the Bull – the Zodiac sign for April – is standing at the head of page. 

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of animals being let out to graze,
Add MS 35313, f. 3r 

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Detail of a roundel depicting St George and the dragon,
Add MS 35313, f. 3r

- James Freeman

21 March 2015

True Nobility and Plagiarism

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Being a royal librarian could be a lucrative business in the fifteenth century, as the career of Quentin Poulet illustrates. Born in Lille, he went from obscure scribe in a book-producer’s confraternity in Bruges in 1477-78, to keeper of the library of Henry VII in 1492. From the few records of his life that survive, we know that on 26th July 1497, he was paid £23 sterling for ‘a boke’ with a bonus of 10 marks on top from the royal purse. The ‘boke’ in question may well be Royal MS 19 C VIII, a copy of the Imaginacion de la vraie noblesse, which has just been photographed and uploaded to Digitised Manuscripts. 

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Miniature showing the young knight observing an archer and a carter as models for princely conduct, surrounded by a naturalistic scatter border, from the Imaginacion de la vraie noblesse, London and Bruges, c. 1496-97,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 41r 

One might imagine why Henry was so chuffed with the present. The text is a knightly ‘mirror’ text, intended to offer moral guidance and instruction in courtly behaviour to its aristocratic reader – and what better reader than the ten-year-old Arthur Tudor, prince of Wales? For the heir apparent to Henry VII, this book could plausibly have formed part of his schooling. It offers edifying exempla: from the three aspects of nobility – love of God, love of justice, and love of good reputation – personified as three women, to the virtues embodied by the archer (his skill of focusing on a target) and the carter (his determination, or drive if you’re in the mood for a pun!). It warns how poor counsellors can lead a prince astray, while illustrating the divine right of kings in ruling over their realms. 

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Detail of the colophon of Quentin Poulet,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 97v 

Poulet copied the manuscript himself, writing the text in an elegant Bâtarde script – a style of handwriting common among manuscripts produced under the patronage of the Burgundian court (as illustrated by the copy of the Mystère de la Vengeance made c. 1465 for Philip the Good, acquired last year by the British Library and now Add MS 89066/1 and Add MS 89066/2). 

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Miniature of Lady Imagination taking her leave of the young knight at the end of his pilgrimage, with the city of Halle in the background,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 90r 

The text was not widely known in England: the only other known insular copy was made for Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, in 1464 (now Geneva, Bibliothèque publique et universitaire, MS fr. 166). Its obscurity may explain why Poulet was able to pass the work off as his own. The narrative frame of a pilgrimage from Lille to Halle (which town is illustrated in the background of many of the miniatures), and its attribution to a member of a prominent Flanders family, Hugues of Lannoy, also explain the text’s appeal to Poulet. 

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Detail of an historiated initial depicting the presentation of the manuscript by Quentin Poulet to Henry VII,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 1r 

Poulet cannily repackaged the text, changing the title slightly from the Enseignement to the Imaginacion de la vraie noblesse, prefacing it with his own dedicatory introduction, and incorporating his name into the colophon at the end (which records the manuscript’s completion at the royal palace of Sheen on 30th June 1496). A historiated initial at the beginning of the preface depicts Poulet kneeling before Henry VII and offering him the book. 

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Miniature showing the young knight a man with severed arms, illustrative of his lack of honour, surrounded by a naturalistic scatter border and animal-rebus on the name of Quentin Poulet,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 32v – this image may be familiar to you from our Valentine’s Day post, An Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love 

Poulet also had his name encoded into the decoration, in the form of a chicken (‘un poulet’, in French) emerging from a shell in one of the scatter borders that surround the miniatures. These borders contain naturalistic flowers and plants (pansies, roses, carnations and strawberry sprigs), animals, birds and insects (a bear, a jay, a grouse, an owl, a fly and a butterfly), and a cheeky monkey that is aping the gestures of the young knight (for more monkey business, take a look at our earlier post, Apes Pulling Shapes). 

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Miniature showing Lady Imagination introducing the young knight to the Three Aspects of Nobility, embodied as young women, surrounded by a naturalistic scatter border,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 11r 

The manuscript contains six large illustrations, which were completed by the Bruges illuminator known to modern scholarship as the ‘Master of the Prayer Books of Around 1500’. (A note was added in pencil to f. 81v by Frederic Madden in 1845, drawing attention to the loss of the following leaf, which presumably contained a seventh miniature). His work is also found in Harley MS 4425, featured on this blog in our posts Sex and Death in the Roman de la Rose and The Height of Fashion, and Royal MS 16 F II, a compilation including poetry by Charles of Orléans.  The British Library also holds one other copy of the Enseignement – Add MS 15469 – another illustrated but much less lavish production on paper.

- James Freeman