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'I prepare myself to die', in the Desert of Religion

'I prepare myself to die', in the Desert of Religion

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1425

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Faustina B VI, vol. II

Item number: f.1v

Length: 25.4

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.

The book opens with a double-page picture which illustrates verses from a 13th-century poem, 'Vado mori' ('I prepare myself to die'). On the left page, figures of a knight, king, archbishop--the idea being that even the most powerful men are mortal--stand with banners inscribed with rhymed verses in northern dialect. Faces and figures are finely modelled in a tinted drawing technique which is especially effective against the unpainted background.

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