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Vita Christi
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Vita Christi
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About the object

Vita Christi, an illustrated life of Christ and of the Virgin, in Latin, supplemented to become a Rosary and devotional volume, in Latin and Middle English, illuminated manuscript on vellum, 106 leaves, 170mm. by 120mm., of which 51 are late romanesque and 55 are fifteenth-century, complete (at least in the form in which it was reassembled in the fifteenth century), collation: 4 modern vellum leaves + i6 [fols.1-6, all fifteenth-century, of 8, blank i-ii cancelled at beginning], ii8 [fols.7-14, all fifteenth century], iii3 [fols.15-17, all fifteenth century, of 4, iii cancelled], iv8+2 [fols.18-22 and 24-26 all late romanesque, fifteenth-century leaves fols.23 and 27 inserted after original v and viii], v8+2 [fols.28-31 and 34-37 all late romanesque, a fifteenth-century bifolium 32-33 inserted between original iv and v], vi7+2 [fols.38-40 and 43-46 all late romanesque (of 8, lacking iii after 39 by the fifteenth century), a fifteenth-century bifolium 41-42 inserted between original iv and v], vii7+4 [fols.47-49 and 52-57 all late romanesque (of 8, lacking i before fol.47 by the fifteenth century), two fifteenth-century bifolia fols.50-51 and 55-56 inserted between original iv and v and between vii and viii], viii8+3 [fols.58, 60-65 and 68 all late romanesque, a fifteenth-century leaf fol.59 inserted after original i and a fifteenth-century bifolium inserted between original vii and viii], ix1+8 [fol.69 late romanesque, fols.70-77 all fifteenth-century singletons], x8+3 [fols.78-79, 81-82, 84-85 and 87-88 all late romanesque, a fifteenth-century bifolium fols.80+86 inserted after original ii and vi and a fifteenth-century leaf fol.83 inserted after original iv], xi4+5 [fols.89-92 all late romanesque, probably the first 4 of an 8-leaf gathering lacking v-viii by the fifteenth century, replaced with fifteenth-century singletons fols.93-97], xii8 [fols.98-105, all fifteenth century], xiii1 [fifteenth century of 2, blank ii cancelled] + 5 modern vellum leaves, fifty-one late romanesque full-page miniatures, all originally blank on one side, one with early thirteenth-century text (fol.31r, 15 lines, "Ave ihesu xpiste, verbum patris ..."), fifteenth-century text with 18-21 lines, written in brown ink in several gothic liturgical hands, many rubrics in red, small initials in blue or burnished gold with penwork in red or black, large illuminated initials in highly raised burnished gold on red and blue grounds with white tracery and marginal sprays of gold and green leaves, fifty-seven fifteenth-century large or full-page miniatures, all other pages and original blanks filled with texts in a variety of gothic hands, some fifteenth-century captions and adaptions of the romanesque pictures, sewing holes above the romanesque miniatures showing that they once had textile covers, some considerable flaking and rubbing of the earlier miniatures, some scratching (perhaps deliberate, to the face of Herod, for example), occasional fifteenth-century retouching or repair, a few stains and signs of extensive use, edges gilt and gauffered (probably sixteenth-century), blind-stamped brown morocco by W. H. Smith (Douglas Cockerell, 1870-1945), clasps and catches, for Dyson Perrins The finest English illuminated manuscript known to be in private hands, and one of the most profusely illustrated English manuscripts in existence. It comprises a series of late romanesque paintings which were disassembled three hundred years later and re-used to ornament an even more extensively illustrated manuscript.
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notes

text

The original cycle of romanesque illustrations had no text. It may have been an exceptionally ambitious series from the opening of a lost Psalter of extreme luxury, or it may always have been a separate sequence of images for devotional contemplation from the outset. An early prayer was added on fol.31r. In the late fifteenth century further pages were added and every available space was filled to form a comprehensive devotional miscellany as follows:

A list of the eight ages of the world (fol.5r); verses in hexameters of the family of Saint Anne ("Et tus Anna pater Ysachar ...") and a note of the exact dates in each month when Christ was conceived, born and baptised (fol.5r); biblical readings from Saint John, Genesis, Exodus and II Samuel (fols.5v-14v, versos only, miniatures on rectos); the lives of Joachim and Saint Anne and their daughter, the Virgin Mary (fol.15r), taken from the Golden Legend and the "Magister Historiarum" (i.e., Peter Comestor, as in Migne, Pat. Lat. CXCVIII:1540); the Rosary of the Virgin (fols.18r-25r), preceded by a long rubric telling of a Carthusian monk near Trier who left at his death in 1431 a statement that a brother of his order devoted to this text was taken up to Heaven and heard the Virgin and the angels and saints singing it, endorsed here by offers of indulgence for its use dated 10 March 1476, 30 May 1478 and 8 May 1479; the Penitential Psalms and Litany (fols.26v-54r), divided for use each day of the week, following the Use of Sarum; a suffrage to Saint Robert of Bury (fol.43v, interpolated into the Litany; see below); prayers on the elevation of the Host (fol.54r) and on the Passion of Christ; the Psalms of the Passion (fols.59r-76r), Psalms 21-30, with further verses and prayers; the Passion from Saint John (fol.76v); a hymn on the Holy Face (fol. 77r) and the Testament made by Christ on the Cross; the prayer of Bede on the Seven Words on the Cross (fol.80r); a prayer on the Trinity (fol.81v); the Verses of Saint Bernard (fol. 83r); the Lamentation of the Virgin to Christ on the Cross, and his responses (fol.83v); prayers to the Virgin, including the O intemerata (fol.91v); prayers for use before an Image of Pity (fol.95r), with a rubric in Middle English, "Upon the odir side is an ymage of the pyty of oure lorde: ho so wyl devoutely say 5 Pater noster and 5 Aves before ye seid pyty knelying is graunted 26 skore thousand yere and 26 daies of pardon" (that is 320,000 years); a prayer to Christ (fol.96v); the fifteen signs before the day of judgement, ascribed to Saint Jerome (fol.97v), with miniatures; and a hymn to "ye wounde of our lord", beginning "Ave vulnus lateris nostri redemptoris ..." (fol.105v, Chevalier, Repertorium Hymnologicum, no. 24031), with an account and picture of the precise size of the wound in Christ's side, as revealed to Saint Denis of Narbonne, who had a copy made for the monastery of Saint Benedict.

The romanesque miniatures

The oldest portion of the manuscript comprises 51 full-page miniatures illuminated in England around 1190-1200. This is one of the most extensive cycles of paintings of any kind in English romanesque art. It is not immediately clear whether the miniatures were originally part of a picture book in its own right or whether they prefixed a lost Psalter of exceptional grandeur. Comparable biblical picture books exist, although usually rather later, such as BnF ms. n.a. fr.16251 (A. Stones, Le livre d'images de Madame Marie, 1997), or Fitzwilliam Museum MS. 370 (Cambridge Illuminations, 2005, pp.183-4, no.75), both of the late thirteenth century. Probably, however, the present miniatures were once part of a Psalter, but of extreme complexity. The half dozen most profusely illustrated English Psalters of the century between about 1120 and 1220 are: 1, the St Albans Psalter (Hildesheim, St Godehard), c.1120, with 40 full-page miniatures; 2, the Winchester Psalter (B.L., Cotton MS Nero C.IV), c.1150, with 38 full-page miniatures; 3, the Hunterian Palter (Glasgow U.L., MS Hunter U.3.2), c.1180, with 13 full-page miniatures; 4, the Gough Psalter (Bodleian, MS Gough liturg. 2), c.1180, with 22 full-page miniatures; 5, the Leiden Psalter, or Psalter of Saint Louis (Leiden, Rijksuniversiteit, MS Lat.76A, see below), c.1190, with 23 full-page miniatures; and, 6, richest of all, the Munich Psalter perhaps painted in Oxford (Munich Clm 835), c.1210, with 46 full-page miniatures. If the Psalter which was the quarry for the present miniatures really had upwards of 51 full-page miniatures (and probably more, since some seem to be missing, such as Christ before Pilate), then the series was longer than any other cycle known. It must have been part of a commission of regal opulence.

The style is discussed by Professor Morgan (Early Gothic Manuscripts, no.16). He relates it to a group of manuscripts from northern or north-eastern England, all of which evolve out of the Gough Psalter, just cited. The present volume has almost exact iconographical parallels to the Gough Psalter: compare, for example, Scenes from the Life of Christ, 1951 (Bodleian Picture Book, 5), fol.30r here with pl.6, 44v with pl.8, 53r with pl.9, and 65v with pl.11. Other manuscripts in similar painterly style in architectural settings include the illustrated life of Saint Cuthbert, doubtless from Durham (Yates Thompson sale in these rooms, 23 March 1920, lot 32, now B.L. Add. MS 39943). Another, perhaps nearer still, is a Psalter in St John's College, Cambridge, MS K.30, c.1190-1200 (lacking its full-page miniatures but the difference of size precludes them being the pieces here). Its Calendar includes SS Guthlac of Lincoln and Paulinus and Wilfrid of York. The closest of all is the famous Leiden Psalter. This was illuminated for Geoffrey Plantagenet, son of Henry II, archbishop of York 1191-1212, and it later belonged to - among others - Blanche of Castile, Louis IX of France (Saint Louis), Jeanne of Navarre, and Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy. The miniatures in the Leiden Psalter share close similarities with those here, including details such as the unexpected frontal Christ blessing in the scene of the Betrayal (fol.64v), and Morgan proposed that the present series are a slightly later product of the same northern English workshop.

The group is studied further by Xénia Muratova in Bestiarium, Fac-Simile du manuscrit du Bestiaire Ashmole 1511...accompagné des commentaries, 1984, esp. pp.50-55. She emphasises the role of Geoffrey Plantagenet (d.1212), illegitimate son of Henry II, half-brother of Richard Coeur-de-Lion and King John. Geoffrey was bishop-elect of Lincoln 1173-82 and archbishop of York from 1191, exiled in 1207, and a controversial appointment to the church, since his religious qualifications were minimal and were eclipsed by his extravagant life-style and princely patronage. Both York and Lincoln are possible locations for Geoffrey's artists, and Lincoln remained in courtly favour after the more saintly appointment of Hugh of Avalon, bishop 1186-1200. The workshop, which may also have produced the Bestiary now in Oxford, MS Ashmole 1511, was doubtless responsible for the present Psalter, perhaps a royal commission from Geoffrey or his immediate household.

If Dr Bale is right in suggesting that the present volume was assembled by Robert Themilthorpe, or someone in his family, in Foulsham, in northern Norfolk, then the original volume needed to have travelled only about 45 miles from Lincoln or some 100 miles south-east from York.

The romanesque miniatures are:

1. Folio 18v, Joachim and Saint Anne before the High Priest, 132mm. by 95mm., set beneath the dome of the Temple with a hanging lamp, the priest dressed as a bishop rejecting Joachim.

2. Folio 19r, The angel appearing to Joachim, 129mm. by 93mm., four shepherds and a dog on the right, Joachim on the left wearing a Jewish hat, an angel in a cloud above with a scroll "Ego sum angelus domini missus ad te ut".

3. Folio 20r, The Meeting at the Golden Gate, 131mm. by 93mm., Joachim greeting Saint Anne as she is about to enter the Temple.

4. Folio 21r, The Birth of the Virgin, 130mm. by 93mm., Saint Anne sitting up in bed taking a bowl from a midwife on the right, with the child lying in a cradle behind, in an architectural composition.

5. Folio 22v, The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, 127mm. by 92mm., the High Priest on the right holding a book, the Virgin as a small child holding her mother's hand, set beneath a dome with a hanging lamp.

6. Folio 24r, The Virgin as a maiden in the Temple, 131mm. by 93mm., the Virgin now older and standing before the Priest with her parents, commended by her father, wearing a Jewish hat.

7. Folio 25v. The Marriage of the Virgin, 129mm. by 94mm., Joseph on the left clasping her hands, the High Priest laying a hand on her shoulder (the faces apparently retouched in the fifteenth century).

8. Folio 26r, The Annunciation, 130mm. by 92mm., beneath two arches, the Virgin standing holding a book, Gabriel advancing from the left with a scroll, "Ave gratia plena dominus tecum".

9. Folio 28r, The Visitation, 132mm. by 93mm., the Virgin and Saint Elizabeth embracing in an architectural setting.

10. Folio 29v, The Nativity, 130mm. by 94mm., the Virgin seated on a bed in a fine architectural setting with a hanging lamp, the Child in the manger on the far side, with heads of the ox and ass, and Joseph on the right.

11. Folio 30r, The Annunciation to the Shepherds, 136mm. by 97mm., three shepherds, an angel standing on a little hill with a scroll "Gloria in excelsis deo", another angel above (perhaps a fifteenth-century addition or redrawing) with a scroll "Et in terra pax hominibus bone voluntatis", with four sheep, a dog and a rabbit in the foreground.

12. Folio 31v, The Shepherds at the Stable, 132mm. by 95mm., the Virgin and Joseph seated together on the right with the Child in a cradle, the three shepherds standing on the left (faces perhaps retouched in the fifteenth century).

13. Folio 34r, The Journey of the Magi, 132mm. by 92mm., three crowned kings riding abreast, one pointing to a star in the sky (the face of Balthazar repainted darker, probably in the fifteenth century).

14. Folio 35v, The Magi approaching Herod, 134mm. by 95mm., three kings facing towards the opposite page, raising their hands in salutation (the face of Balthazar again repainted darker, probably in the fifteenth century).

15. Folio 36r, Herod enthroned, 130mm. by 92mm., seated under an arch, with a counsellor whispering over his left shoulder.

16. Folio 37v, The Adoration of the Magi, 132mm. by 96mm., the kings standing or stooping, holding vessels under cloth, approaching the opposite page.

17. Folio 38r, The Virgin and Child receiving the kings' adoration, 135mm. by 92mm., enthroned seated below a trefoil arch, the Virgin blessing, and angels swinging censers in the corners above.

18. Folio 39v, The Presentation in the Temple, 129mm. by 94mm., set below three arches, the Virgin passing the Child to Simeon, Joseph behind with a basket of doves.

19. Folio 40v, Herod giving orders to his soldiers, 126mm. by 95mm., Herod seated cross-legged in his castle addressing four soldiers in chain mail.

20. Folio 43r, The Angel appearing to Herod, 127mm. by 94mm., Herod lying on a couch under an arch with a hanging lamp, an angel addressing him with a scroll "Percussit eum angelus dei quia non respueret esse deum", with another scroll behind in which God sends an owl to predict Herod's death (the owl itself perhaps added in the fifteenth century).

21. Folio 44v, The Flight into Egypt, 128mm. by 94mm., Joseph leading the donkey to the right, with a tree behind.

22. Folio 45r, Egypt, 131mm. by 94mm., a circular temple with five tall towers and three pagan idols falling from their pedestals.

23. Folio 46v, The Massacre of the Innocents, 130mm. by 93mm., three soldiers slaying the children as their mothers weep and tear their hair, with the hand of God above.

24. Folio 47r, The Suicide of Herod, 132mm. by 95mm., the king stabbing himself in bed, a hook-nosed devil seizing his soul as it emerges from his mouth, two men and a woman (Salome) weeping and tearing their hair; a fifteenth-century quotation from the Golden Legend added below.

25. Folio 48v, The Christ Child taken to Jerusalem, 134mm. by 96mm., Joseph leading him by the hand and the Virgin laying her hand on his shoulder (the miniature on fol.60r once faced this scene).

26. Folio 49v, The Christ Child found by his Parents in the Temple, 134mm. by 99mm., Christ standing in a doorway, the Virgin with a scroll (inscribed in the fifteenth century) "Ego et pater tuus dolentes querebamus te".

27. Folio 52r, Christ blessing his Parents, 134mm. by 97mm., seated in an architectural setting between the Virgin on the left and Joseph on the right, with clouds above.

28. Folio 53r, The Baptism of Christ, 133mm. by 97mm., standing naked in a column of water, Saint John the Baptist annointing his chest, and an angel holding his tunic; the golden head of God apparently added in the fifteenth century with a scroll "Hic est filius meus dilectus".

29. Folio 54v, The First Temptation in the Wilderness, 135mm. by 95mm., Christ seated among rocks where birds are nesting, the Devil holding a stone and suggesting that the stones could be turned to bread.

30. Folio 57r, The Second Temptation, 136mm. by 108mm., Christ seated on the summit of the Temple (extending above the frame of the miniature), the Devil on the left suggesting that Christ could safely throw himself off.

31. Folio 58v, The Third Temptation, 132mm. by 98mm., Christ seated on a mountain, the Devil on the right pointing downwards to offer the kingdoms of the world.

32. Folio 60r, Christ among the Doctors, 134mm. by 95mm., Christ standing with his hands raised, seven learned men, one with a scroll added in the fifteenth century asking "Magister quod est magnum mandatum in lege?" (this miniature once faced that on fol.48v).

33. Folio 61r, The Raising of Lazarus, 128mm. by 98mm., Christ with six disciples (more than were actually present), Lazarus sitting in his tomb from which the lid has been displaced, his sisters and others behind him.

34. Folio 62v, The Entry into Jerusalem, 128mm. by 97mm., Christ on the ass with seven disciples walking behind towards a city gate, a man in a tree (perhaps Zaccheus) throwing down branches, and another man laying down a garment.

35. Folio 63r, The Last Supper, 128mm. by 97mm., Christ seated at a semicircular table, disciples on either side, reaching out to give bread to Judas (with a halo) on a bench in the foreground.

36. Folio 64v, The Betrayal, 132mm. by 99mm., Judas kissing Christ who raises a hand in benediction, seven soldiers (some with black faces) raising spears and a lantern, the disciples on the left including Saint Peter cutting off the ear of Malchus.

37. Folio 65v, The Marriage at Cana, 133mm. by 97mm., the bride and the ruler of the feast at table holding cups, Christ and the Virgin conversing beside them, six water pots in the foreground (this miniature once came between fols.58v and 61r).

38. Folio 68r, The Scourging of Christ, 137mm. by 102mm., Christ tied to a slender column as two dark men scourge him.

39. Folio 69v, Christ carrying the Cross, 132mm. by 97mm., staggering to the right with the Cross over his left shoulder, men striking and pushing him.

40. Folio 78r, The Crucifixion, 128mm. by 98mm., Christ between the lower crosses of the two thieves, Longinus in the foreground piercing Christ's side and Stephaton offering him the sponge.

41. Folio 79v, The Deposition, 130mm. by 97mm., Joseph of Arimathea supporting the body as the Virgin holds the right arm, a workman extracting a nail and Saint John in mourning.

42. Folio 81r, The Three Maries at the Sepulchre, 127mm. by 100mm., soldiers asleep, an angel with a scroll "In pace factus est locus eius"; the subject adapted when the manuscript was reassembled in the fifteenth century to show the Entombment, with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus placing the body in the tomb.

43. Folio 82v, The Harrowing of Hell, 130mm. by 102mm., Christ grasping the wrist of Adam from a Hell mouth filled with souls and lancing the Devil with the end of a long cross, in an architectural setting with an angel with a censer and two devils blowing horns.

44. Folio 84r, Noli me Tangere, 128mm. by 98mm., Christ showing the wound in his side to Saint Mary Magdalene, set between two trees.

45. Folio 85v, The Road to Emmaus, 130mm. by 97mm., Christ walking between two disciples all dressed in pilgrim clothes, with a large star in the upper right corner.

46. Folio 87r, The Supper at Emmaus, 127mm. by 98mm., Christ seated at a table breaking the bread held by the astonished disciples on either side of him.

47. Folio 88v, Christ appearing to the Apostles, 130mm. by 97mm., in an architectural setting representing an enclosed room with the apostles gathered on the right, including Saint Peter stretching out his hand.

48. Folio 89r, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, 125mm. by 96mm., the apostle placing his hand on the wound visible through a rent in Christ's tunic, the other apostles gathered round.

49. Folio 90v, The Ascension, 122mm. by 98mm., the Virgin in the centre, eight apostles on the left and five on the right, with Christ's feet disappearing upwards into a coloured cloud above.

50. Folio 91r, Pentecost, 133mm. by 94mm., The Virgin seated between two apostles, Christ above on a rainbow in a mandorla between two angels, and the Holy Dove descending with rays from between his feet.

51. Folio 92v, The Death of the Virgin, 134m. by 95mm., the Virgin lying mostly covered up in bed, twelve apostles and ten holy women gathered around, Christ seated on a rainbow above with his mother's soul crowned and robed in white, between angels with censers.

The fifteenth-century miniatures

When the manuscript was reassembled in the late fifteenth century, 57 further full-page or large miniatures were added. A further cutting with the word "Alleluya" in burnished gold, perhaps from a fourteenth-century Psalter, was pasted to fol.24v. Some of the new miniatures are of very fine execution. Others are enchanting in their domesticity and narrative vigour. Some may be derived from woodcuts. They follow a vast eschatological vision from the Creation to the end of the world. They include images of strange subjects, such as the unexplained bundles of flowers with a sun and eagle on fol.40r, and the extremely important picture of Saint Robert of Bury (see below). Because of the latter, it has often been assumed that the whole volume was put together in Bury St Edmunds, which is certainly possible. However, the style is not obviously that of fifteenth-century book production in Bury, at least as associated with the dissemination of Lydgate manuscripts from the abbey (see, for example, A. S. G. Edwards, The Life of St Edmund, King and Martyr... A Facsimile of British Library MS Harley 2278, 2004). There are three hands in the fifteenth-century illumination. In the numbering of the miniatures listed below, they divide as follows: hand 1, nos.1-9, 15-17 and 36; hand 2, nos.10-14, 18-35 and 37-41; and hand 3, nos.42-57. The fact of such collaboration suggests an urban workshop rather than a private domestic enterprise. The second hand is close to Fitzwilliam Museum MS 55, a Book of Hours which includes the Holy Rood of Bromholm, and which is the centre of a cluster of manuscripts perhaps made in Norwich (K. L. Scott, Later Gothic Manuscripts, 1390-1490, 1996 (A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, VI), II, pp.350-52, no.135). The border around the miniature of the Image of Pity on fol.95v almost exactly parallels that around the Rood in the Fitzwilliam manuscript (Scott, fig.490) and this may well be the same actual artist.

Although much art survives in East Anglian woodcarving, stained glass and architecture, manuscripts are rare from this period when London workshops dominated the book trade. This is almost certainly the most lavishly illuminated East Anglian manuscript from the second half of the fifteenth century.

The picture of Saint Robert of Bury St Edmunds

The fifteenth-century miniature here which has attracted the most interest is the unique representation of the boy martyr Robert, supposedly crucified by the Jews in Bury St Edmunds in 1181. This was the third spurious charge of Jewish ritual murder of a Christian child in English history, after William of Norwich in 1144 and Little Hugh of Lincoln in 1155, all in East Anglia. The death of Robert led directly to a massacre of Jews on Palm Sunday 1190 and their expulsion from Bury, and eventually from England altogether in 1290. The Bury St Edmunds chronicler Jocelyn of Brakelond (d. c.1202) mentions little Robert's martyrdom and burial in a shrine in the abbey church, where "many signs and wonders were performed among the people" (ed. D. Greenway and J. Sayers, 1989, p.15). Jocelyn continues, however, that he will say no more, as he has written a separate book on Robert. That text is lost. All that is actually known about this notable Jewish blood libel and the cult of Saint Robert are a few later liturgical references, including a prayer by Lydgate (uniquely recorded in Bodleian, MS Laud 683), and the present picture.

The subject here is as enigmatic as the saint's life is elusive. The first scene shows an old woman apparently hiding the boy saint's body in a well. The scroll reads "Voluit set non potuit anus abscondere lucerna[m] dei" ('The old woman wanted but was not able to conceal this lamp of God': it may be a quotation from Jocelyn's lost life). Women often figure in Jewish ritual murder narratives. She is not obviously a Jewess in the picture but might be; she might also be the boy's nurse who, as we learn from Lydgate's prayer, was supposedly co-opted by the Jews for their wicked plan. The boy is already dead. God's hands appear in the sky above, receiving the saint's soul in a swag of cloth. At the upper right an archer shoots towards a tree and apparently finds the child saint's body lying on the ground, lit by divine rays descending from the sky. This has echoes of the villagers' discovery of Saint Edmond's own body in the wilderness. At the lower left is a man, perhaps (not necessarily) the manuscript's patron, dressed in red trimmed with fur, with a scroll "Meritis sancti Roberti hic & in evum misereatur mei" ('Have mercy on me, by the merits of Saint Robert now and forever'), with his scroll reaching Robert's soul in the hands of God. In the fourth compartment is a sealed charter, with a picture of a robin, all apparently attached to some kind of textile wall hanging. This has so far defied explanation. 'Robin' is a medieval diminutive of Robert, 'little Robert'; the robin is also a symbol of murdered innocence, for its red breast resembles blood. Did the murder result in some charter or contract involving the Jews, and was this perhaps displayed in the abbey church? We do not yet know. "The inaccessibility of the manuscript has frustrated current research" (Bale, 2006, p.217, n.67). The image will also be discussed in E. Rose, The Monk, The Knight, the Bishop and the Jew, forthcoming, 2008. Until now, it has been known only in old black and white photographs.

Equally puzzling are the four animals on the facing page, evidently walking through a field towards Saint Robert. They may be purely decorative, or the child's playmates. They are a stag, a bear in a collar, a striped cat of some kind, and an ox. They might be Bestiary symbols of sanctity, parenthood (the bear) and sacrifice (the ox). Copinger Hill suggested in 1932, with what seriousness it is hard to judge, that these were a Buck, Ursus, Rasse (a civet cat) and a Yak, and that their initials spelled 'BURY'. A bear in a collar also appears in the twelfth-century Bury Bible (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 2; R. M. Thomson, The Bury Bible, 2001, pl.23), where is presence has never been explained. It may be a 'Bere', a pun on 'Bury'.

The inclusion of Saint Robert in the middle of a sequence of biblical narrative is intriguing too, suggesting a very high level of devotion to an exceedingly local martyr. It is placed between the death of Herod and the Flight into Egypt, and Robert becomes therefore one of the Holy Innocents. It also stands between Jewish prophecy and the incarnation of the Saviour. A late fifteenth-century rood screen in Holy Trinity Church, Loddon, Norfolk, similarly includes the martyrdom of William of Norwich in a cycle showing the infancy of Christ, perhaps for the same reason.

The subjects of all the fifteenth-century miniatures are:

1. Folio 6r, The Fall of the Rebel Angels, 131mm. by 88mm., God and his angels in heaven above, devils tumbling down into a giant green hellmouth below.

2. Folio 7r, The Creation, 126mm. by 90mm., God holding a quadrant and blessing the sun and moon in the sky, all animals on the earth, and the fish in the sea.

3. Folio 8r, The Garden of Eden, 120mm. by 88mm., God creating Eve from Adam's side, helped by a crowned angel with a cloth, and God addressing Adam and Eve beside the tree of knowledge, all within a garden enclosed by gothic walls, from which emerge the four rivers (named).

4. Folio 9r, The Expulsion, 122mm. by 89mm., in the upper compartment a crowned angel driving Adam and Eve out of paradise and, below, Cain killing Abel with their sacrifices on the hills on either side.

5. Folio 10r, Noah's Ark, 125mm. by 90mm., the boat in an ocean, with the dove bringing a fresh branch and the raven flying to emerging land strewn with dead plants and a skull.

6. Folio11r, The Sacrifice of Isaac, 130mm. by 85mm., God instructing Abraham to bring his son and a lamb and, below, Abraham and Isaac approaching an altar, bringing faggots on a donkey, and Abraham raising a sword to kill Isaac, stopped by an angel.

7. Folio12r, Jacob and Joseph, 119mm. by 85mm., Jacob's dream of angels climbing and descending a ladder to heaven, Jacob's sons bringing him Joseph's coat and, below, Joseph in Egypt extracting the gold cup concealed in Benjamin's sack as his distressed brothers kneel on the right.

8. Folio13r, The Burning Bush, 122mm. by 89mm., God giving the law to Moses from the burning bush, a conflation of stories which includes Moses' rod turned into a serpent.

9. Folio14r, David bringing the ark to Jerusalem, 127mm. by 94mm., David enthroned with the chosen men of Israel (cf. II Samuel 6:1) and, below, David at the city gates welcoming the ark of the covenant accompanied by musicians.

10. Folio 18r, The Virgin and Child in a white rose, 85mm. by 87mm., within a necklace of flowers (this is the opening of the rosary) surrounded by blazes of celestial light.

11. Folio 25r, The Virgin and Child in a white rose again, 128mm. by 88mm., enclosing a panels with a title in burnished gold script "Rosarium Beate marie virginis".

12. Folio 28v, The Nativity, 112mm. by 98mm., the Child lying on the ground (as in the Revelations of Saint Bridget), Joseph with a candle, God above.

13. Folio 29r, The Holy Family at home, 111mm. by 91mm., the Virgin suckling the Child, Joseph seated on a bench, decorative tiled floor and a toy cart on wheels.

14. Folio 30v, The Adoration of the Shepherds, the Virgin and Joseph outside the stable, the Child lying in a blaze of light, ox and ass in the foreground and three shepherds looking over a crenellated wall.

15. Folio 40r, Five bunches of flowers, 100mm. by 95mm., a strange visionary composition of different kinds of flower tied in bundles on a gold ground below a sunburst and an eagle.

16. Folio 44r, Veneration of Saint Robert of Bury (see above), 126mm. by 93mm., in four compartments, hiding the body in a well, finding the body in a landscape, venerating the saint, and a charter; with, on the facing page, fol.43v, a panel of four animals in procession, 30mm. by 95mm.

17. Folio 55v, The Transfiguration, 124mm. by 89mm., Christ standing in a blaze of light with his face, hands and feet in gold, Moses and Elias beside him, apostles in the foreground.

18. Folio 57v, The Marriage at Cana, 118mm. by 95mm., Christ seated at table between two women, a boy pouring water into metallic jugs in the foreground.

19. Folio 58r, Christ as a Healer, 117mm. by 93mm., Christ at the door of a house, with a woman raised from the dead in her shroud, a man walking without using his crutches, and a man carrying his bed.

20. Folio 62r, Christ in the house of the Pharisee, 114mm. by 92mm., Christ at table with two men, Saint Mary Magdalene washing his feet, and a dog with a bone.

21. Folio 63v, The Virgin and Child in a white rose again, 95mm. by 95mm., within a blaze of light and encircled by a rosary with beads and flowers.

22. Folio 64r, The Agony in the Garden, 113mm. by 92mm., Christ in prayer, an angel with the Cross, the apostles asleep, set within a garden with wicker fence and wooden gate.

23. Folio 66r, Christ before Annas, 109mm. by 92mm., Annas seated below a canopy as three men bring forward Christ with his hands bound.

24. Folio 66v, The Mocking of Christ, 108mm. by 93mm., two men pulling faces and spitting at Christ seated in a small room.

25. Folio 67r, Christ before Pilate, 110mm. by 94mm., two men leading Christ before Pilate seated in a low vaulted room.

26. Folio 67v, Christ before Herod, 108mm. by 93mm., Christ similarly led before the king enthroned and holding a gold-headed sceptre.

27. Folio 68v, Christ crowned with thorns, 118mm. by 96mm., Christ seated as three men pretend to venerate him as a king and give him a stick as a sceptre.

28. Folio 69r, Pilate washing his hands, 118mm. by 93mm., Christ led again before Pilate who holds out his hands as a young man pours water into a gold basin.

29. Folio 70v, The Virgin and Child in a white rose again, 96mm. by 93mm., within a blaze of light and encircled by a rosary with beads and flowers (as on fol.63v), with a lily in the lower margin.

30. Folio 72r, The Nailing to the Cross, 115mm. by 88mm., four men preparing the Cross on a grassy hillside and hammering in the nails.

31. Folio 72v, The Crucifixion, 105mm. by 88mm., laymen on the left, soldiers on the right, each with shields showing (doubtless fictitious) arms.

32. Folio 74r, The Death of Christ, 114mm. by 88mm., Christ closing his eyes on the Cross between the crosses of the two thieves.

33. Folio 74v, The Virgin before the Cross, 110mm. by 87mm., Saint John supporting the swooning Virgin, soldiers on the right.

34. Folio 77r, The Black Face of Christ, 86mm. by 63mm., within a blaze of light infilled with red and blue.

35. Folio 78v, The Virgin and Child in a red rose, 98mm. by 98mm., within a necklace of beads and a wreath.

36. Folio 79r, The Paradise of All Delights, 100mm. by 96mm., a garden enclosing a building with sacks and jugs in all its windows, a sunny sky, a spring bubbling down to a conduit.

37. Folio 84v, The Resurrection, 116mm. by 93mm., Christ stepping from the tomb as the soldiers sleep.

38. Folio 93r, The Last Judgement, 121mm. by 94mm., Christ on a rainbow, angels with trumpets, the Virgin and Saint John kneeling, scrolls "Sicut fulgur exit ab oriente ..." (Matthew 24:27), etc.

39. Folio 93v, God the Father and Son, 112mm. by 97mm., God enthroned holding the crucified Body of Christ, watched by the Virgin and Child.

40. Folio 94r, The Virgin and Child in a white rose, 90mm. by 95mm., within a necklace of flowers.

41. Folio 95v, Christ as the Man of Sorrows, 96mm. by 90mm., a half-length figure of Christ standing in the tomb, within a border of leaves and fruit.

42. Folio 98r, The First Sign before the Day of Judgement, 106mm. by 86mm., the sea rising up like a pillar above the land, cities lying buried, a windmill and a church behind.

43. Folio 98v, The Second Sign before the Day of Judgement, 107mm. by 86mm., the sea pouring down on the earth, a youth fishing, other young people walking beside a tree.

44. Folio 99r, The Third Sign before the Day of Judgement, 106mm. by 84mm., sea monsters rising up and roaring.

45. Folio 99v, The Fourth Sign before the Day of Judgement, 108mm. by 85mm., flames rising from the sea.

46. Folio 100r, The Fifth Sign before the Day of Judgement, 107mm. by 85mm., grass and trees exuding blood and all the birds of the world gathering in trees.

47. Folio 100v, The Sixth Sign before the Day of Judgement, 107mm. by 85mm., buildings toppling over and the rivers flowing with blood.

48. Folio 101r, The Seventh Sign before the Day of Judgement, 108mm. by 86mm., rocks colliding and splitting into four pieces each.

49. Folio 101v, The Eighth Sign before the Day of Judgement, 106mm. by 85mm., an earthquake with two large men in the sky tumbling to the ground beside an ox.

50. Folio 102r, The Ninth Sign before the Day of Judgement, 107mm. by 85mm., a giant millstone grinding the world to dust, shown as patterned clouds.

51. Folio 102v, The Tenth Sign before the Day of Judgement, 108mm. by 86mm., men emerging from caverns and wandering the world as if demented.

52. Folio 103r, The Eleventh Sign before the Day of Judgement, 108mm. by 88mm., skeletons rising up from their tombs in a landscape.

53. Folio 103v, The Twelfth Sign before the Day of Judgement, 107mm. by 84mm., the stars falling from heaven and all the animals of the world coming together.

54. Folio 104r, The Thirteenth Sign before the Day of Judgement, 108mm. by 85mm., the dead and dying coming together for imminent judgement.

55. Folio 104v, The Fourteenth Sign before the Day of Judgement, 105mm. by 82mm., the earth in flames.

56. Folio 105r, The Fifteenth and Final Sign before the Day of Judgement, 110mm. by 87mm., the Vale of Josaphat, Christ in Judgement among the emblems of the Passion, the dead rising from their graves below.

57. Folio 105v, The Wound in the side of Christ, 63mm. by 87mm., with the wound itself shown exactly life size (77mm. long), within a border.

dimensions

106 leaves, 170mm. by 120mm., of which 51 are late romanesque and 55 are fifteenth-century, complete (at least in the form in which it was reassembled in the fifteenth century), collation: 4 modern vellum leaves + i6 [fols.1-6, all fifteenth-century, of 8, blank i-ii cancelled at beginning], ii8 [fols.7-14, all fifteenth century], iii3 [fols.15-17, all fifteenth century, of 4, iii cancelled], iv8+2 [fols.18-22 and 24-26 all late romanesque, fifteenth-century leaves fols.23 and 27 inserted after original v and viii], v8+2 [fols.28-31 and 34-37 all late romanesque, a fifteenth-century bifolium 32-33 inserted between original iv and v], vi7+2 [fols.38-40 and 43-46 all late romanesque (of 8, lacking iii after 39 by the fifteenth century), a fifteenth-century bifolium 41-42 inserted between original iv and v], vii7+4 [fols.47-49 and 52-57 all late romanesque (of 8, lacking i before fol.47 by the fifteenth century), two fifteenth-century bifolia fols.50-51 and 55-56 inserted between original iv and v and between vii and viii], viii8+3 [fols.58, 60-65 and 68 all late romanesque, a fifteenth-century leaf fol.59 inserted after original i and a fifteenth-century bifolium inserted between original vii and viii], ix1+8 [fol.69 late romanesque, fols.70-77 all fifteenth-century singletons], x8+3 [fols.78-79, 81-82, 84-85 and 87-88 all late romanesque, a fifteenth-century bifolium fols.80+86 inserted after original ii and vi and a fifteenth-century leaf fol.83 inserted after original iv], xi4+5 [fols.89-92 all late romanesque, probably the first 4 of an 8-leaf gathering lacking v-viii by the fifteenth century, replaced with fifteenth-century singletons fols.93-97], xii8 [fols.98-105, all fifteenth century], xiii1 [fifteenth century of 2, blank ii cancelled] + 5 modern vellum leaves, fifty-one late romanesque full-page miniatures, all originally blank on one side, one with early thirteenth-century text (fol.31r, 15 lines, "Ave ihesu xpiste, verbum patris ..."), fifteenth-century text with 18-21 lines, written in brown ink in several gothic liturgical hands, many rubrics in red, small initials in blue or burnished gold with penwork in red or black, large illuminated initials in highly raised burnished gold on red and blue grounds with white tracery and marginal sprays of gold and green leaves, fifty-seven fifteenth-century large or full-page miniatures, all other pages and original blanks filled with texts in a variety of gothic hands, some fifteenth-century captions and adaptions of the romanesque pictures, sewing holes above the romanesque miniatures showing that they once had textile covers, some considerable flaking and rubbing of the earlier miniatures, some scratching (perhaps deliberate, to the face of Herod, for example), occasional fifteenth-century retouching or repair, a few stains and signs of extensive use, edges gilt and gauffered (probably sixteenth-century), blind-stamped brown morocco by W. H. Smith (Douglas Cockerell, 1870-1945), clasps and catches, for Dyson Perrins The finest English illuminated manuscript known to be in private hands, and one of the most profusely illustrated English manuscripts in existence. It comprises a series of late romanesque paintings which were disassembled three hundred years later and re-used to ornament an even more extensively illustrated manuscript.

literature

literature

Sir George Warner, Descriptive Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts in the Library of C. W. Dyson Perrins, 1920, pp.1-8, no.1.

M. R. James, Suffolk and Norfolk, A Perambulation of the Two Counties with Notices of their History and their Ancient Buildings, 1930, describing the present manuscript on p.19.

English Medieval Art, exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1930, no.32.

H. Copinger Hill, 'S. Robert of Bury St. Edmunds', Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, XXI, 1932, pp.98-105, describing the present MS on pp. 100-102 and folding plate.

H. Swarzenski, Die Lateinischen Illuminierten Handschriften des XIII. Jahrhunderts in den Ländern an Rhein, Main und Donau, 1936, p.65 and pl.6, fig.33.

J. Lafontaine-Desogne, Iconographie de l'Enfance de la Vierge dans l'Empire Byzantin et en Occident, II, 1965, pp.25, 64, 75, 82, 87, 106, 120 and 161.

N. Morgan, Early Gothic Manuscripts [I], 1190-1250, 1982 (A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, IV), p.63, no.16, with plates.

N. J. Rogers, 'Fitzwilliam Museum MS 3-1979: A Bury St Edmunds Book of Hours and the Origins of the Bury Style', England in the Fifteenth Century, Proceedings of the 1986 Harlaxton Symposium, ed. D. Williams, 1987, p.237 and n.38.

C. de Hamel, Cutting up Manuscripts for Pleasure and Profit, 1996, p.7.

A. P. Bale, The Jew in the Medieval Book, English Antisemitism, 1350-1500, 2006, pp.112 and 118-126, and pls.2-3.

provenance

provenance

(1) The manuscript was assembled in its present form in the late fifteenth century (not earlier than 1479) by a private owner in East Anglia, possibly a Carthusian but more probably an exceptionally devout layman (prayers are in male form), perhaps a mystic or even a recluse. A possible candidate could be Robert Leake (d.1517), hermit at Blythborough, Suffolk, whose name might explain a local veneration to Robert, martyr of Bury St Edmunds (R. M. Clay, The Hermits and Anchorites of England, 1914, p.249). Dr Bale, The Jew in the Medieval Book, proposes that the patron was the man kneeling in the miniature on fol.44r, apparently a layman, for he wears fur, and, given the sixteenth-century ownership (see below), suggests that he might be an earlier member of the same wealthy family, such as Robert Themilthorpe (d.1505), also a Robert, of Foulsham, north Norfolk, benefactor of the local guild of Holy Innocents (T. Quarles, History and Antiquities of Foulsham, in Norfolk, 1842, pp.128-9). The vellum shield with the five Wounds of Christ pasted to fol.4v is probably a souvenir from a pilgrimage to the Bridgettines of Syon, a journey made by many pious laity, including Margery Kempe from Norfolk.

(2) Sixteenth-century inscriptions on the flyleaves include the names of Susanna Flint and John Pinchbeck (fol.1r, the latter a Norfolk and Lincolnshire surname), and two signatures of Robert Themilthorpe (fols.4r and 4v, "Aetat. 42" in 1594, born therefore in 1551-52), son of George Themilthorpe, or Thimblethorpe, of Foulsham and Worstead, Norfolk, who matriculated at Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1570, and held the patronage of the rectory in Themelthorpe, near Foulsham, in 1586 (Venn and Venn, Alumni Cantabrigiensis, IV, p.219; F. Bloomfield, An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, 1808, VIII, p.278).

(3) N. Roe, 1760 (signature on fol.1r).

(4) C. W. Dyson Perrins (1864-1958), his oldest English manuscript and no.1 in his catalogue, bought from Quaritch in 1916; his sale in these rooms, 1 December 1959, lot 55, illustrated in colour, to Laurence Witten (his cat. 5, New Haven, 1962, no.11, illustrated on the cover), from whom it was bought by the father of the present owner.


*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.


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