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  • Tradition and Innovation in Later Medieval English Manuscripts
  • Marlene Villalobos Hennessy
Tradition and Innovation in Later Medieval English Manuscripts. By Kathleen L. Scott. (London: The British Library. 2007. Pp. xiv, 194. $75.00. ISBN 978-0-712-34936-0.)

This volume examines five little-studied English manuscripts of the later medieval period that contain rare or enigmatic decoration and iconography.

Scott uses these examples to argue that although fifteenth-century manuscript illumination has often been derided as derivative and dull, these specific manuscripts not only contain strikingly inventive pictorial elements but also raise intriguing questions about the broader contours of English book production and the function of illustrations in late-medieval manuscripts. The first chapter concerns Bodleian Library MS Laud Misc. 156, an English model-book for a work known as the Postilla litteralis super totam Bibliam, a widely used literal exegesis of the Bible composed by Nicholas of Lyra (d. 1349). Although this manuscript does not include the full text of the commentary, which typically ran from three to five volumes, it contains illustrations intended to accompany the text, including images that depict practical information about the Bible such as diagrams, plans, and illustrations of the Temple of Solomon, the Table of Shewbread, the Brazen Sea, the Altar of the Holocaust, and so on. She posits that the Bodleian manuscript was a kind of archetypal exemplar or modelbook that provided copyists with a repertoire of imagery for use in the numerous other copies of the work produced during the period. The second chapter considers All Souls Library, Oxford, MS 10, the only surviving copy of an illustrated French Bible written in England. The origins of this manuscript are especially mysterious, as the text was written in French at a time when Wycliffite Bibles were readily available, but produced in an English illuminating shop by a prolific and well-known artist who seems to have moved in the highest circles of noble book-commissioning patrons. Although the manuscript contains many of the standard features of English book art, some of its iconography was clearly influenced by French models; moreover, it prominently features miniatures of readers and books. Scott unravels some of the potential implications of this evidence for ownership and, intriguingly, proposes that the book may have been commissioned by a French patron in forced residence in England such as Charles d'Orléans. Scott then focuses on British Library, Stowe MS 39, the only surviving English manuscript of the Abbey of the Holy Ghost, a Middle English treatise of spiritual guidance that employs architectural motifs to depict aspects of interiority. This manuscript was made for a Northern Benedictine nunnery and contains two adjoining pages of miniatures following the text that depict allegorical nun figures within architectural frames performing the diverse tasks involved in "building" the abbey. Scott shows that this "afterpiece" is innovative in both form and content, notably showing nuns in a range of social roles, while also offering an independent summary reading of the text. The fourth chapter turns to a densely illustrated codex of the fifteenth century (BL Royal MS i.B.x, [part]), which contains a genealogical chronicle by Peter of Poitiers (d. 1205), Compendium historie in genealogia Christi. The text is a summary of [End Page 787] biblical history written in the form of a diagrammatic genealogical chart, tracing Christ's descent from Adam and Eve, usually represented in scroll format. Scott focuses on the manuscript's high-quality pen-and-ink drawings, which contain elaborate scrollwork and architectural imagery as well as other unique pictorial subject matter. She connects the manuscript to John Dygon, scribe and recluse of Sheen priory, who probably commissioned the volume, which was then used as an educational tool for training clerics. The last chapter discusses BL Additional MS 21974, an early-sixteenth-century liturgical manuscript produced at two distinct artistic periods, with Gothic decoration and script and (later) Renaissance miniatures. This manuscript is an interesting example of recycling, as John Longland, bishop of Lincoln from 1521 to 1547 and onetime confessor to King Henry VIII, was responsible for the second stage of production and had two full-page miniatures and other decoration added in the continental...


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