Smaragdus (d. after 825), a Benedictine monk and later abbot of St Mihiel sur Meuse, near Verdun, wrote a commentary on the Rule of St Benedict, as did the English archbishop of Canterbury, St Dunstan (d. 988). Abbot Smaragdus helped administer Carolingian monastic reforms, and his commentary was an influential interpretation of the Rule. A century later St Dunstan, while archbishop of Canterbury, oversaw the reforms of King Edgar (r. 957/59–75).
This author portrait of St Dunstan was painted in Canterbury and originally opened a commentary (now Royal MS 10 A XIII), drawing on a long tradition from antiquity onwards of opening a text with an image of its author in the act of writing. He holds a quill pen and knife for corrections and is placed against a background of gold leaf.
However, the commentary that followed the book is not St Dunstan’s, but Smaragdus’s. Despite the confusion over its subject, the image is one of the largest and most striking author portraits in 12th-century art.
This manuscript was digitised with the support of The Polonsky Foundation.
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The manuscript collections of the British Library are rich resources for understanding the literary and historical culture of the Middle Ages. Kathleen Doyle highlights the works digitised through The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project.