Reviewed by:
  • The Douce Apocalypse. Picturing the end of the world in the Middle Ages, and: St Margaret's Gospel Book: The favourite book of an eleventh-century Queen of Scots
Morgan, Nigel . 2007. The Douce Apocalypse. Picturing the end of the world in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Bodleian Library. ISBN 13 978-1851243600. Pp. 115. £ 25.00; $ 45.00.
Rushforth, Rebecca . 2007. St Margaret's Gospel Book: The favourite book of an eleventh-century Queen of Scots. Oxford: Bodleian Library. ISBN 13 978-1851243709. Pp. 114. £ 25.00; $ 45.00.

The Bodleian Library, Oxford, has launched a new series of short monographs on illuminated manuscripts selected from the rich holdings of the library, comparable to the British Library's long-standing series of paperback monographs on individual illuminated manuscripts or to the Harvey Miller series of manuscript facsimiles at a reduced scale. The two volumes reviewed here are the first to appear in the Bodleian series, one on the late thirteenth-century Douce Apocalypse prepared by the distinguished scholar Nigel Morgan, the other an eleventh-century Pericope Book assumed to have been the favorite book of sainted Queen Margaret of Scotland (1046-1093) edited by Cambridge graduate research associate Rebecca Rushforth. In both volumes the reproductions of the codices' illustrations are of a high quality, making these books not only attractive but also useful for scholarly examination.

The books differ in treatment as they do in illustrative content. Both have received considerable scholarly attention: the Douce Apocalypse, one of the glories of English thirteenth-century painting and one of the greatest treasures of the Bodleian Library, has been the subject of a facsimile with commentary by Peter Klein; and Richard Gameson and Louise Huneycutt have both published essential studies on Queen Margaret's Gospels. Both [End Page 79] manuscripts have received catalog entries in Jonathan J. G. Alexander's Surveys of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles. These studies leave the present authors free to take different approaches to their tasks, determined in part by the differences in the illustrative levels of the two books. Nevertheless both include a (repetitive) section on the making of manuscripts and pigments, hardly necessary given the availability of Paul Binski's handy British Library paperback on painters, not to mention other easily accessible publications, such as those by Mary Merrifield and D. V. Thompson, the exemplary edition of Theophilus by C. R. Dodwell, and the study of medieval illuminators by Jonathan Alexander. Neither codicological nor paleographical analysis has been included for either manuscript, although the incomplete state of the Douce Apocalypse does call for a minimum of comment (compare the recent analysis of the two blues in the Metz Pontifical in Cambridge, another incomplete manuscript, by Spike Bucklow in The Cambridge Illuminations, The Conference Papers). More useful would have been a glossary, particularly for Rushforth's volume (there is no definition of what the Hours are nor how and when they are "done" [79]; and there is no discussion of codicological and technical terms such as "cabochon" [51], "catchword" [47], and "pericope" [47]).

The four Evangelist portraits and the decorated openings of Queen Margaret's book are contextualized by Rushforth with ample related material. Unfortunately too much of this comparative material is cursory in its scope and sometimes less than precise in its references and dates, especially in light of the range of the examples, from the sixth-century Gospels of St Augustine (see Rushforth's figure 35) to codices of the fifteenth century (for example in Rushforth's figures 12 and 61). Similarly, there is too often a paucity of historical orientations to key characters: for instance, Margaret's mother Agatha is "a woman called Agatha" (17). The captions too are occasionally victim of sketchy historical details: figure 42 describes Constantine's triumph at "an important battle". Despite a biography written by her chaplain Turgot, very little is known about the life of Queen Margaret, and the only evidence of her ownership of this book, made for an unknown recipient, is the mention of "hunc librum" in Turgot's poem about the river miracle. Much of what is reconstructed here is speculation (peppered with much probability) based on the better-documented life of Margaret's daughter, Edith (Mathilda), future wife of Henry I, who spent her childhood at the convent of Wilton, and from analogies with many other sources. The story that is here recounted is not helped by a sometimes confusing organization and repetition.

Morgan's approach is commendably straightforward. As is generally agreed, the French section, containing the historiated initial with portraits [End Page 80] of Eleanor and Edward uncrowned, can probably be dated to before Edward's accession in 1274 and perhaps even before his departure on crusade in 1270. The Latin Apocalypse is more problematic and the solution proposed is less than adequate: its "French style" is unlikely before 1265, as Morgan claims. He thinks the work was left unfinished at Edward's departure in 1270. One might ask why it was not finished when he returned? If, on the other hand, Eleanor had commissioned it for Edward, then her death in 1290 would be one reason why the manuscript was never finished; however, it would also raise questions about how long the production campaign lasted and what its relation was to the Westminster ceiling panels whose splayed-ear angel reappears in the Latin Apocalypse.

The beautifully restored Retable is another matter, certainly not the work of the "splayed-ear artist" and, to my mind, much more Italianate than the markedly French Latin Apocalypse, for which the undated, French-derived Apocalypse that is now owned by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 10474, is a parallel codex but not a solution to the dating problem. Six comparative plates from codex lat. 10474 are reproduced adjacent to the respective miniatures in Douce along with another five illuminations from the Getty's Apocalypse (Ludwig III.1). In the section entitled "Brief Description of the Manuscript" (33-40), it would have been helpful to list these reproductions. Commentaries accompany the plates for a selection of fifty of the ninety-seven illustrations. But the criteria for selecting only some of the illustrations for commentary remain unclear. A golden opportunity to present the public with complete illustrations of this wonderful book has been missed.

Unfortunately the intrinsic interest of these relatively inexpensive, attractive picture books is marred by poor organization, less cautious writing, and rather haphazard editing and proofreading. Both books are full of repetitions and infelicitous turns of phrase. Rushforth's use of parentheses (on almost every page) is extensive, and the inset panels containing footnote material are of questionable utility. Morgan's and Rushforth's language sometimes suffers from repetition. The St. Margaret window in Edinburgh (fig. 2) lacks reference to the artist, while bibliography is generally presented in random order, and the footnotes are inconsistently referenced. Elementary proofreading should have caught obvious errors (including Rushforth's "Ascension Sunday" for Ascension Day (always a Thursday), "opus anglicana" for opus anglicanum; and the confusing misnumbering of what should be figure 29, not 28, on p. 44. [End Page 81]

Alison Stones
University of Pittsburgh

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.