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Moses, in 'The Desert of Religion'

Moses, in 'The Desert of Religion'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1425

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Faustina B VI, vol. II

Item number: f.13v

Length: 25.1

Width: 19.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Allegory, or extensive use of symbolism in a moralising story, has a long tradition in Christian literature. 'The Desert of Religion', a poem in a northern English dialect, uses the symbol of a forest to expound the daily spiritual battle of virtue and vice. This copy has tinted half-page drawings of devotional figures with verses inscribed around them. Facing them, diagrams in the shape of trees bear the names of virtues and vices on their trunks and leaves, giving visual form to the poem's allegory. The book was made for a religious community, the location of which is now unknown. Verses of 'The Desert of Religion' are arranged on the left side, while on the right, a picture shows Moses in the 'desert' holding the tablets of the ten commandments, rod and serpent. Painted with delicate tints, the drawing makes tangible the visionary details of the figure, such as the cross sprouting green leaves and the strange, flame-like horns (a traditional feature of medieval depictions of him) which arise from his head. The figure's mass and weight are felt, too, because of the highly accomplished shading of drapery, face, and limbs. The picture illustrates the surrounding inscription, beginning, 'Ye folk of israel sounde I lede.'

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