THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

14 September 2015

Martyrdom in Action

One of the newest additions to our Digitised Manuscripts website is Egerton MS 2019, a petite Parisian Book of Hours made in the mid-fifteenth century. Despite its small size (it measures less than 20 centimetres tall and only 14 centimetres wide), this book is packed with an ambitious level of detail.

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St John the Baptist is beheaded at the door of a prison while a woman (?Salome) is given a plate, from a Book of Hours, Use of Paris, 1440-1450, Egerton MS 2019, f. 208r

The majority of the illustration has been attributed to the Master of the Munich Golden Legend (fl. c. 1420-1460), who was named after his work in a manuscript now in Munich containing a French translation of the Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. gall. 3). He also collaborated with the Bedford Master on one of our most famous illuminated manuscripts, the Bedford Hours. His most intricate work in Egerton MS 2019 is found in the roundels that accompany the calendar (ff. 1r-12r) and the stamp-sized scenes that illustrate the life of Job (ff. 156v-177v).

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The martyrdom of St Lawrence, Egerton MS 2019, f. 209r

He is also responsible for the striking series of images that accompany the suffrages of saints. In many cases, the artist focuses on the moment of martyrdom. His vivid depictions often feature a Tarantino-esque degree of violence and gore, from beheadings to the brutal extraction of teeth. These scenes are not for the faint-hearted!

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The martyrdom of St Stephen, Egerton MS 2019, f. 210r

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 The martyrdom of St Sebastian, Egerton MS 2019, f. 211r

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The martyrdom of St Katherine with a wheel, Egerton MS 2019, f. 215r

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 The martyrdom of St Apollonia, Egerton MS 2019, f. 217r

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A virgin martyr being beheaded, Egerton MS 2019, f. 232r

Why not explore more of this incredible book now available on our Digitised Manuscripts website?

- Hannah Morcos

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