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The Five Senses, in 'The Desert of Religion'

The Five Senses, in 'The Desert of Religion'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1425

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Faustina B VI, vol. II

Item number: f.14r

Length: 25.3

Width: 20

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 physical senses were considered pathways of temptation and sin. Its trunk inscribed 'Tree of leaves fyne', this tree diagram represents the senses and has five large leaves, labelled 'Of ye mouth', Of ye eyene', etc. Pairs of labels on each remind the reader that sin can result from 'unlefull' ('unlawful') 'tastinge, seyuge, herynge, smellinge, touchyng.'

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