You are in Introduction. Click here to skip the navigation.
British Library
Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts
 Detail from the Roman de la Rose
About Simple search Manuscript search Advanced search  Virtual exhibitions Glossaries Contact us  Main
print Print this page
home Home
site search Search British Library website
back Back
 
 
     
 

Treasures known and unknown in the British Library

Knowns and unknowns Passio of St Margaret Kissing Images Textiles and Books Tall Narrow Books Egerton 1900 Journey of Unknowing

Textiles and Books


The Harley Froissart, BL MSS Harley 4379-4380

Harley 4380, f. 10v

Harley 4380, f. 10v


The presence of woodcuts in the manuscript Egerton 877 raises the question of mixed media, and draws attention to the narrow-sightedness of dividing the material we study into restrictive sub-disciplines (manuscripts as distinct from printed books, for example), when the argument of the material itself is for its cross-disciplinary homogeneity. A process of broad looking is supported by the images in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. The use of textiles in books is a case in point, and can be pursued in a variety of ways.

Of special interest are the representations of fabulously lavish textiles in images of and for royal or noble patrons in luxury books, especially those made in northen France and Flanders in the fifteenth century. Most such textiles show repeating heraldic or other patterns as in these pages from the well-known Harley Froissart, made in Bruges in the early 1470s.


Harley 4380, f. 148

Harley 4380, f. 148


But a special case is provided by these two miniatures in which we see battle scenes in the tapestries in the background. Both miniatures are of events in England. In the first, at Eltham Palace, Richard II banishes the Earl of Derby (Henry Bolingbroke) and the Earl Marshall. They kneel to either side of the king. In the second image at the Tower of London Richard II hands over the crown and sceptre to Henry. Is there any significance to the choice of battle tapestries in just these two miniatures? That there could be is suggested by the account by the Réligieux de Saint-Denis of the peace negotiations of 1384, when the English demanded that the Duke de Berry remove the battle tapestries he had hung in the chapel where they were to negotiate, claiming that one could not talk of peace when surrounded by images of war and destruction. 9 Could the battle tapestries be included in the Froissart images to reinforce a sense of conflict?

Harley 4380, f. 184v

Harley 4380, f. 184v



An alternative possibility is suggested by the third (and so far as I know the only other surviving) miniature in which a battle tapestry appears in the background,10 the famous image of Jean duc de Berry in the January page of the calendar of his Très Riches Heures now at Chantilly (I recommend Patricia Stirnemann’s CD facsimile of the manuscript as a superb example of affordable scholarship).11 Was it perhaps knowledge of the Très Riches Heures that suggested inclusion of the battle tapestries in the Harley Froissart, rather than some historical sense that they would be especially appropriate to the events narrated in the two images?



Textiles in a Russian Gospel Book: BL MS Egerton 3045

Egerton 3045, f. 11v-12

Egerton 3045, f. 11v-12


Entire pages painted to resemble textiles were included in, for example, some Ottonian gospel books and gospel lectionaries. 12 Actual textiles were also on occasions sewn into books to protect the painted surfaces of images, although for the most part it is only the sewing holes that have survived. 13 Russian manuscripts, however, went further. For example, the Russian Gospel Book, Egerton 3045, made in Moscow around 1480 on watermarked German paper,14 contains evangelist portraits and decorated headpieces in which Byzantine style ornament is accompanied by western style borders. The evangelist portraits do not face the incipit pages of the gospels, however, for between the two are inserted stout leaves of parchment their centres cut out to form a frame around a panel of silk. The textiles help to lessen the chance of pigment being transferred from evangelist portrait to headpiece, or vice versa. The Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts illustrates these silk sheets, and this is important, for they are indeed, as they must always have been, one of the most visually striking features of such a book. Both the evangelist portrait and the incipit page would have been contemplated in a different way when faced with a panel of silk, rather than each other. Yet when a group of illustrated Russian manuscripts of the same period were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1998 although such silk panels were conspicuous in the books on display, they were not illustrated or even mentioned in the catalogue.15

Egerton 3045, f. 11v

Egerton 3045, f. 11v


You will notice in Egerton 3045 that the silk panels do not match the evangelist portraits in size, nor even the text-block, and this is puzzling on both functional and aesthetic grounds. Here the manuscripts from the Royal Academy provide a useful control, for in them the evangelist portraits and the silk panels were on facing pages of the same paper bifolio. In Egerton 3045, however, all the pages have been remounted and heavily trimmed. It was probably at this time that the silk panels were reset in parchment frames. Perhaps the large size of the evangelist portraits relative to the sheets on which they were painted would have made the original paper pages very weak if they were cut away to provide a frame for an evangelist-portrait-sized silk panel.



BL MS Sloane 2400

Sloane 2400, f. 8

Sloane 2400, f. 8


The next book to be considered for its use of textiles employs them in a very different way. The manuscript, Sloane 2400, is a Psalter, made in northern France around the middle of the thirteenth century. It has historiated initials at the usual divisions of the Psalms: here you see Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea (The Lord is my light and my salvation) (Psalm 26), with David pointing to his eyes; and Dixi custodiam vias meas ut non delinquam in lingua mea (I said I shall guard my ways that I sin not with my tongue) (Psalm 38), with David pointing to his mouth (or at least it should be his mouth, but it looks more like his eye again). The images are in superb condition, but they now offer relatively little in the way of what might be called visual or exegetical ‘reward’, and this would seem likely to been the case also for a medieval viewer.

Sloane 2400, f. 5v

Sloane 2400, f. 5v


Sloane 2400 has a French calendar with relatively few commemorations, but within a few decades the book must have been in an English context, for many English additions were supplied. Here in June, for example, we see among other additions the translations of St Edmund (of Canterbury) bishop and confessor, St Richard (of Chichester) bishop and confessor, and St Edward king and martyr. (Note also how most of the zodiac signs and labours of the months have been crudely cut out, perhaps in the 18th or early 19th century). We also see in an informal hand on 30 June the obit of Lady Margaret Felbrygge, the mother of Anne, a Franciscan nun, identified elsewhere as the book’s owner, who died after 1450.



An Opus Anglicanum Cover

Sloane 2400, upper cover

Sloane 2400, upper cover


It was presumably as part of the campaign on the calendar, in the first quarter of the fourteenth century, that the English owner of the Psalter added the superlative opus anglicanum figured textile binding. This was for long on display in the Grenville Library in the British Museum, so it should count as well-known, but this seems not to be the case (it was not included, for example, in the ‘Age of Chivalry’ exhibition of English Gothic Art). 16 It is a unique survival, and the unusual technique by which the silver gilt threads were couched has led textile historians to conclude that the two panels were always intended to function as bookcovers. Unfortunately the textiles were partially varnished at some point, muddying their colours. Beneath the cross is a kneeling figure in prayer (doubtless the book’s owner or donor), but unfortunately the textile is too worn to be able to identify even the figure’s gender with confidence.

Sloane 2400, lower cover

Sloane 2400, lower cover


One point which seems to me to require explanation is why the Annunciation was selected to accompany the Crucifixion for the binding. In the 127 luxury bindings of pre-1200 date, catalogued by Frauke Steenbock, the Annunciation does not appear as a separate scene on a bookcover, and only appears once in combination with other images of Christ’s life. 17 A Christ in Majesty or Virgin and Child might have been expected. It is striking that the Annunciation and Crucifixion are also only rarely combined in, for example, gothic ivory diptychs, or even as an opening in prefatory cycles in manuscripts of the period (I have to admit to being surprised to find this). Perhaps the Annunciation was chosen as not merely an appropriate opening to a Life of Christ cycle, a cycle to be concluded by the Crucifixion, but specifically as an invitation to the book’s user to recite the Ave Maria (a suggestion I owe to Dr Joanna Cannon). Because the Annunciation was the front cover, it would have been the image always on view when the book was closed. Perhaps, by extension, the Crucifixion on the back cover was a prompt for the Pater noster.



Knowns and unknowns Passio of St Margaret Kissing Images Textiles and Books Tall Narrow Books Egerton 1900 Journey of Unknowing

print Print this page
home Home
site search Search British Library website
back Back
top Back