Organisation of the Monastic scriptoria—Professional outsiders: lay artists—The whole sometimes the work of the same practitioner—The Winchester Abbeys of St. Swithun's and Hyde—Their vicissitudes—St. Alban's—Westminster—Royal MS. 2 A. 22—Description of style—The Tenison Psalter—Features of this period—The Arundel Psalter—Hunting and shooting scenes, and games—Characteristic pictures, grotesques, and caricatures—Queen Mary's Psalter—Rapid changes under Richard II.—Royal MS. 1 E. 9—Their cause.

In a former chapter we left our native schools of illumination at work on such MSS. as the Devonshire and Rouen Benedictionals, and with the reputation of being the best schools of the kind in Christendom. Mention also is made elsewhere in dealing with monastic art of the usages of the scriptoria. Such usages, of course, could only obtain in houses where scribes themselves were to be had. Hence we should discover, were it not otherwise known, that writing and illumination, even in the monastic age, were not confined absolutely to the cloister.

With respect to the secular scribes, who sometimes worked in the monastery, sometimes at their own homes, in those days when the monastic orders still did most of the book-production, there were three classes of specialists. These were the Librarii or ordinary copyists; the Notarii or law-scribes, whose business lay in copying deeds, charters, and such-like instruments, and taking notes in the courts; andPaginators or Illuminatores. It sometimes happened, as we have said, that in some monastery or other, no monastic was found qualified to undertake any of these duties. It then fell to the prior or abbat to seek the assistance of professional outsiders. The paging and rubrication, putting in initials in the spaces left by the common scribe, and, if needed, the addition of pictures or marginal drawings and ornaments, caricatures, heraldic illustrations, etc., were the proper work of the illuminator, but it often happened that the same man had to do the whole work from the commencement to the finish. The Chronicon Trudonense tells us: “Graduale unum propria manu formavit, purgavit, pinxit, sulcabit, scripsit, illuminavit, musiceque notavit syllabatim.” Several of our old English chronicles, of which the MSS. exist in the British Museum and elsewhere, seem to be of this description.

Reference has been made to the scriptoria at Winchester, i.e. at St. Swithun's and the New Minster. It is the latter foundation which is usually referred to in speaking of Winchester work. The Monastery of the Holy Trinity or the New Minster was founded in the first year of his reign by King Edward, son of Alfred, no doubt in obedience to his father's wish, if not absolutely in the terms of his will. Its first charter is dated 900 (for 901) and the second in 903. In the latter document the abbey is spoken of as dedicated to the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to St. Peter, and is amply endowed under the Augustinian Rule. In 965, not without trouble and resistance, it was converted into a Benedictine abbey. In 968 Ethelgar, who had been trained at Glastonbury and Abingdon, became abbat, and from this time the New Minster became famous for both discipline and the production of MSS. As we walk along the High Street of Winchester now we find the story in moss-grown stones or other memorials how, among other methods, William the Norman punished the monks for their English warlike proclivities by walling them up nearly close to their church with the walls of his royal palace. In the old time, when the two monasteries stood side by side—St. Swithun's is close behind the New Minster—“so closely packed together,” says the old chronicler,[37] “were the two communities of St. Swithun and St. Peter that between the foundation of their respective buildings there was barely room for a man to pass along. The choral service of one monastery conflicted with that of the other, so that both were spoiled, and the ringing of their bells together produced a horrid discord.” The result of this was, first the above-mentioned hemming in of the younger establishment and eventually its migration to another site in Hyde Meadow. Here while the monastic buildings suffered much through fires and other disasters, the Rule remained until 1538, when it was surrendered into the King's hands, and the abbat, prior, and nineteen monks, the last survivors of this once-famous foundation, were pensioned.

[37] Dugdale, Monasticon.

The scriptorium at St. Alban's, to which the fame of book production in the Middle Ages very largely reverted, was not founded until nearly three centuries after the foundation of that abbey. The library began with twenty-eight notable volumes, and eight Psalters, a book of collects, another of epistles, and Evangelia legenda per annum, two Gospel-books bound in gold and silver and set with gems, together with other necessary volumes for ordinary use. Almost every succeeding abbat contributed something to the library shelves. Geoffrey, the sixteenth abbat, a Norman who once had a school at Dunstable, and who was both a popular and liberal ruler, enriched the library with a Missal bound in gold, another incomparably illuminated and beautifully written, and also a Psalter richly illuminated, a Benedictional, and others. His successor, Ralph Gubiun, also gave a number of MSS. Robert de Gosham, the next abbat, gave “very many” books, which he had caused to be written and sumptuously bound for the purpose. And Abbat Simon, who followed in 1166, created the office of historiographer to the abbey, repaired and enlarged the scriptorium, and kept two or three of the cleverest writers constantly employed in transcription, and ordained that for the future every abbat should maintain at least one suitable and capable scribe. Among the many choice MSS. added by Abbat Simon was a beautiful copy of the Bible specially written with the greatest care and exactness. In addition he presented the library with all his own precious collection. Another liberal benefactor was John de Cell, a man of vast learning in grammar and poetry, and also a practitioner in medicine. Being unfit for household management, he committed the secular affairs of the abbey to his prior Reymund, by whose zeal many noble and valuable books were transcribed for the library. And so grew in magnitude and importance the great collection which supplied Roger of Wendover and Matthew Paris with materials for their famous histories. St. Alban's, indeed, was at one period perhaps the most noted of all the English centres of book production. To dilate on other centres, such as Westminster, Exeter, Worcester, Norwich, or York, would lead us too far afield for a mere handbook like the present. Enough has been said to give a good idea of what our English abbats and priors were in the habit of doing for art and letters.

A.D. 1240
Brit. Mus. Roy. MS. 2, A. xxii, fol. 14
C. 1375
Brit. Mus. Roy. MS. 20 B, vi, fol. 1

Since 980 a considerable quantity of transcription and illumination must have been produced, notwithstanding disquiet, turbulence, and war. At Westminster the traditions of illumination seem to have followed the methods of the earlier Winchester school. But in the twelfth century English work shows, on the whole, a greater likeness to the contemporary work of Germany. Of Westminster work an example occurs among the Royal MSS. (2 A. 22). The subject is the Psalter, and the text is the handsome style of penmanship known as English Gothic of the latter part of the twelfth century. It would appear from the frequent occurrence of this particular service-book that it held the place of the later Book of Hours, and so we may expect a great similarity among different copies, both in the selection of the illustrations and their mode of treatment. It was usual in all such volumes to prefix to the text a series of subjects from the Old and New Testaments and the Lives of the Saints. Here we have them from the Life of the Virgin and from the Life of David, by no means unworthy samples of the school. One represents the Virgin and Child seated on a seat of the Germano-Byzantine type beneath an arch and within a square frame-border. The border seems first to have been flatly painted in two colours, pale blue and pale red ochre, and on this a foliage scroll of recurring forms in a bold dull red outline finely relieved with white. This is more or less repeated as the form of border to the other illuminations. Outside the whole is a characteristic slender frame of bright green in two tints. The arch overhead has two bands of vermilion, with white edge-reliefs and a central band of blue, again in two tints, with pairs of black cross-bars every half-inch or so resting on the capitals of the two pillars which form the sides of the scene. These pillars have each a green abacus at the top of each capital and scarlet bead below. Each pillar is of dappled red, marble-like porphyry, with plinths of scarlet and blue. Tiers of differently coloured steps separated by bands of scarlet, green, etc., form the seat. The Virgin wears the hood, cape, and robe of the Benedictine nun, but coloured grey, chocolate, and blue respectively. An under garment of pale amber completes her dress. The infant wears an amber tunic, wrapped in a scarlet robe. A very common embroidery of the drapery consists of little stars or triads of white studs. This also is a characteristic of German and early Netherlandish illumination. There is a rich gold brocade border to the blue robe of the Virgin. Both mother and child have round nimbuses, the former in plain circular bands of russet and orange, the latter consisting of bands of pale blue surmounted by a scarlet cross. Two lumps of green glass or metal hang from the arch. The background is a plate of gold. The flesh tones are livid, being of a pale greenish ochre tint. One other of the illuminations of this exceedingly interesting MS. may be mentioned, viz. the David playing his harp. He also wears three garments—a tunic of white shaded with pale blue, then another of lavender or lilac and having rich brocaded borders, and, lastly, a pallium or robe of pale chocolate lined with ermine; orange-coloured hose. The throne, like the previous one, is of several colours—slate-blue, green, orange, and white, with a buff cushion. Here is a back to the throne of a deep blue, with a background, as before, of bright flat gold. The white moulding is shaded with pale green, with bluish slate corners. The outer border is of the pale red ochre or pink, so common in later work in contrast with deep blue. An outer frame or edging of green completes the page. The harp is not gilded, but of a drab hue, with two quatrefoil studs or orifices in the frame, relieved as usual with fine edges of white. Compare this MS. with one in the Library at Lambeth.

The English illumination of the thirteenth century is so like that of France that it is often difficult to determine its real nationality. There is occasionally some feature which we know from other sources to be English, or some circumstance in the history of the MS. which fixes its origin, as, for example, in the Additional MS. 24686, known as the Tenison Psalter. Sir E.M. Thompson also describes this MS. in theBibliographica, i. 397. But it was previously described at some length by Sir Edward Bond in the Fine Arts Quarterly Review. The Psalter, which has had a somewhat eventful history, is one of the best examples of English thirteenth-century illumination. At least, this may be said of the early portion of it, for while it is illuminated throughout, only the first gathering is in the earlier manner. The peculiar value to the student lies in the fact that although quite in the same style as contemporary French work, it is the work of an English illuminator. The colouring, however, is not confined, as in somewhat earlier examples, to blue and dull pale rose or paled red ochre and gold. It gives us scarlet, crimson-lake, green, and brown, besides the blue and pink and bright gold which suggests some German influences. The line fillings are somewhat peculiar as having silver tracery, on the blue, side by side with golden tracery on the crimson. The full ivy leaf appears in the long branch work of the borders, and some of the initials still retain the bird or dragon forms in their construction. The compound bar-frame, gold and traceried colour side by side, is however already taking the place of the mere sweeping tail or branch. But perhaps the best indication of English design is the presence of a number of grotesque animals, with birds and occasional humorous scenes disposed, not in framed miniatures, but simply among the stems and coils of the foliage. This is a form of illustration much appreciated by English illuminators at all times, though it appears also in much continental work. Among other English MSS. which display this taste we may point out Arund. 83, which among many other treatises and curious compositions, such as the “Turris Sapientiæ” and a valuable calendar, in which are notes on the Arundels of Wemme, contains a psalter with anthems, etc., and hence is known as the Arundel Psalter. Its date is probably between 1330 and 1380.

The drolleries are very funny, and the other illuminations very instructive and curious. Some of them contain really good pen-drawing—refined, expressive, and graceful, but above all typical of English draughtsmanship. In a little scene of the adoration of the Magi (folio 125) the kings are costumed like our Henry III., as we find him 'n sculpture, wall paintings, etc. Over a very expressive picture of the three living and the three dead occur the lines, each over a figure: “Ich am afert Lo wet ich se Methinketh hit beth deueles thre. Ich wes welfair Such scheltou be For godes loue be wer by me” (folio 128).[38] The three living in this illumination are three fashionable ladies—no doubt princesses, for they wear crowns. Generally they are men, as at Lutterworth in the sculptures over the door, and in the famous fresco of Gozzoli at Pisa. The subject occurs sometimes in Books of Hours.

[38] “I am afraid. Lo, what I see
Methinketh it be devils three.
I was well fair. Such shalt thou be.
For love of God beware by me.”

Many MSS. of this period and later have hunting scenes, shooting practice, and games.

In MS. 264, Misc., Bodl. Lib., Oxford, there are such scenes, one being a game at “Blind Man's Buff,” or as literally here “Hoodman Blind,” for the latter actually wear a hood drawn down over his head and shoulders, and three girls are having a fine game with him. The goldfinch or linnet looking on from the border seems to enjoy the fun. Another fine source of similar things is the Louterell Psalter in the British Museum. In this also are some richly diapered backgrounds and exquisite border bands. This MS. dates about 1340. But the gem of English fourteenth-century illumination is the Royal MS. (2 C. 7) called Queen Mary's Psalter, not as being painted for her, since it had been painted nearly two centuries before she ever saw it. But in the year (?) 1553, being about to be sent abroad, it was stopped by a customs officer and presented to Queen Mary Tudor. It is bound in what appears to be the binding put on it by the Queen—i.e. crimson velvet embroidered on each cover with a large pomegranate, and having gilt corner protections and (once upon a time) golden clasps. The clasps are gone, but the plates remain riveted on the covers, engraven with the Tudor badges. The MS. contains 320 large octavo leaves, the first fifty-six being taken up with illuminated illustrations of biblical history from the Creation to the death of Solomon. These pictures are arranged in pairs one over the other, and to each one is given a description in French, taken sometimes from the canonical text, sometimes from an apocryphal one. The drawings are really exquisite, they are so fine, so delicately yet so cleverly sketched. They are not coloured in full body-colours, but just suggestively, the draperies being washed over in thin tints, the folds well defined, but lightly shaded. Next after these subjects follows the Psalter with miniatures of New Testament scenes and figures of saints accompanied with most beautiful initials and ornaments, illuminated by a thoroughly practised hand, for the artist of this volume was by no means a novice at his work. A good example of it is given in Bibliographica, pl. 7 [23], which forms the frontispiece to vol. i., and one or two outlines in the folio catalogue of the Arundel MSS.

Arund. MS. 84 is also a good example of thirteenth-century illumination to a rather unpromising subject, being a Latin translation of Euclid from the Arabic by Athelard of Bath. It is illustrated with diagrams.

Speaking of fourteenth-century illumination brings us to notice a very striking change which takes place in the reign of Richard II. in the character of English illumination. In the British Museum (Roy. 20 B. 6) is a MS. entitled an Epistle to Richard II., written, it is said, in Paris, in which the illuminations and foliages are purely French, but which are the type of all the English work of the same date. Take, for example, the MS. already spoken of (Roy. 2 A. 22), produced in the scriptorium at Westminster Abbey. Compare with it a Bible written for the use of Salisbury, and dated 1254. Then add the Tenison Psalter, the Arundel Psalter, illuminated 1310-20. If these MSS. be compared, however, with Lansd. 451, or Roy. 1 E. 9, the least accustomed eye must notice the entire and almost startling change in the luxuriance and character of the flowers and foliages which constitute the initial and border decorations. It is not merely a development. There are additional features, but that these features are added, as usual, from France, is contradicted by reference to Roy. 20 B. 6, mentioned above. The new features are not French. The question is, where did they come from?