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Birth of the Virgin, in The Carmelite Missal

Birth of the Virgin, in The Carmelite Missal

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1395

Shelfmark: Additional MS 44892

Item number: f.138v

Length: 71.4

Width: 51.4

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

An order of monks and nuns who followed a strict ideal of abstinence, the Carmelites or 'White Friars' became prominent in England in the 13th and 14th centuries. They were well-connected with powerful supporters in the royal court. The Carmelite Missal was probably made for use at Whitefriars in London. Its beautiful decoration can be seen as an expression of both the White Friars' religious intensity and their highly placed patronage. At least three artists, one a foreigner, decorated it and introduced new ways of depicting the human figure and creating illusions of space. Their work brought English manuscript art into a new phase of the 'International Style' of western European painting. The missal's early 19th-century owner allowed his children to cut it up and paste scraps of its decoration into 'collages'. In the 1930s Margaret Rickert reconstructed the missal from its scraps. This reconstructed page comes from the Sanctorale or section of prayers for saints' feasts. A scene of the Birth of the Virgin looks like a pop-up picture, unfolding three-dimensional space out of a large letter. Such inventive plays on illusions of space are a hallmark of the innovative style.

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