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An Imaginary Figure, in the Stowe Breviary

An Imaginary Figure, in the Stowe Breviary

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1325

Shelfmark: Stowe MS 12

Item number: f. 68r

Length: 29

Width: 24.6

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

Called the 'Stowe Breviary' because it was in the collection at Stowe House, this prayerbook may have belonged to a member of the clergy in the Diocese of Norwich. The exceptional quality of its handwriting and decoration suggest that the original owner was an important person. Two artists painted the pictures within letters (historiated initials) and another artist created the decoration. Their work resembles other East Anglian art, showing the superb skills of the region's 14th-century scribes and artists. Several parts, however, are lost from it, and the section at the end was added later in the 14th century. It has the prayer services used in much of England after the Norman invasion (Sarum usage).

The breviary would have been used in the prayer services or offices of the clergy (or of monks and nuns) which were held eight times each day. It gives the prayers, readings and hymns which changed with each day. Perhaps because this page has prayers for Lent, the season of fasting and penance, no beautiful decoration was planned for it. An artist has gone 'outside the margins', however, and created a beautiful drawing of an imaginary bearded face, whose fantastic cap transforms into a robed human figure.

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