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St Lawrence, in the Caligula Troper

St Lawrence, in the Caligula Troper

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1060

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Caligula A XIV

Item number: f.25r

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

Made up of fragments from a late Anglo-Saxon liturgical chant book, the Caligula Troper's illuminations introduce songs which would be inserted into the mass on special feast days and sung by a soloist, hence the book's small scale. The pictures' geometric abstraction of form and use of vibrant colours embellished with gold give an opulence that speaks of manufacture for use by an important figure. It is named for its 17th-century position in a bookcase supporting a bust of Caligula in the Cotton rare books library. Its selection of tropes (songs) and where it was in the Middle Ages suggest origins at Winchester or Worcester.

The artist exploited the page's vertical format to create a two-for-one depiction for the feast of St Lawrence. In episode one, we see Lawrence being manhandled before his demon-driven persecutor, Decius (upper left), who presses the saint to worship pagan gods. The blank scrolls crossing the scene were meant as dialogue 'balloons'. The lower scene depicts his martyrdom: being grilled over flames. The poem written around the painting describes the events.

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