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The Ascension, in the Caligula Troper

The Ascension, in the Caligula Troper

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1060

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Caligula A XIV

Item number: f.18r

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 feast of the Ascension opens with a full-page picture of the Anglo-Saxon 'disappearing Christ' (his feet protruding from a cloud). Looking on from below, figures of the apostles and the Virgin (a conventional addition although unmentioned in the biblical account) intensify the ecstatic mood created by rhythmic patterns of figures, drapery, gilt-edged wings and swooping scroll across the top.

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