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Ezekiel or Gregory Writing, in Gregory the Great's 'Homilies on Ezekiel'

Ezekiel or Gregory Writing, in Gregory the Great's 'Homilies on Ezekiel'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1110

Shelfmark: Royal MS 4 B.i

Item number: f.4v

Length: 28.6

Width: 19.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Gregory the Great was pope from 590 to 604, a period in which he had to deal with an unsympathetic emperor in Constantinople and invading barbarians who were setting up a kingdom in northern Italy. In the middle of it all, he transformed the church administration, improved monastic practices, wrote some of the most important scriptural commentaries of the middle ages--and sent a mission to convert the English. This copy of his homilies on the Book of Ezekiel belonged to the cloister of St Andrew's Cathedral, Rochester. The cathedral had historical links to Gregory. It was founded in 604 by Augustine, the missionary sent by Gregory from his own monastery of St Andrew in Rome. The book presents first an excerpt from Ezekiel, and then follows it with Gregory's homily on that passage. The first homily opens with a beautiful letter Q. Within it, a figure writes on a wax tablet with a stylus while he holds a straight-edge which could also be used to rub out the writing for corrections. The tonsured figure could have been meant to portray Ezekiel or Gregory, but it is in the tradition of author portraits, the conventional introductory illustration going back to Roman times. The shape of the letter with its long trail of plant decoration is seen in contemporary Norman manuscripts, but the drawing style looks back to 11th-century Anglo-Saxon manuscript art.

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