March 10, 2018
Illuminated Manuscripts in the Middle Ages
A ROYAL FEAST FOR KING RICHARD II (detail)
Late 15th century
British Library, London
Richard II is encircled by the Dukes of York, Gloucester and Ireland. We are in England, and goblets are included in the place settings; in France and Burgundy, glasses and goblets would be brought to guests on demand.
A pictorial technique similar to that of frescoes or miniatures, illuminations were very popular during the Middle Ages. Done by hand, illuminations decorated or illustrated texts, usually on handwritten manuscripts. Until the 12th century, manuscripts were copied out in religious settings, such as abbeys, where they were used to support prayer and meditation. From the 13th century, private artisans began to produce literature for the secular market. This was due to the greater literacy that had resulted from the growing university and administrative sectors.
Illuminations can give us a lot of information on the history and place of wine in Medieval society. Once more, painting plays a documentary role. The world of wine is portrayed in illuminations in much the same way as in frescoes and paintings.
DEBARKING FROM NOAH'S ARK AND THE DRUNKENNESS OF NOAH - detail
Bedford Hours (Book of Hours), ca. 1410-1430
British Library, London
The Bedford Hours is in fact a Book of Hours from Paris, illuminated in the same city during the first third of the fifteenth century. Most of the miniatures have been attributed to an anonymous master and members of his workshop, now known collectively as ‘the Bedford Master’. The manuscript belonged to John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford. He was the third son of the English Henry IV, and became Regent of the Kingdom of France in 1422, after the death of his brother Henry V, whose son and heir – the future Henry VI – was only nine months old. In 1423, John of Lancaster married Anne of Burgundy, daughter of the Duke of Burgundy Jean the Fearless, his ally against the Valois side in the Hundred Years War. The manuscript must have been commissioned in Paris at this time… This miniature, evokes the drunkenness of the patriarch during…
THE TEMPERATE AND THE INTEMPERATE
Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia
Bruges , ca. 1475 - The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Etiquette manuals were published and diffused from the thirteenth century. These texts included tips on respectable drinking (for women, small sips only, with elbows held to the sides of the body). A sharp distinction was made between the ill-mannered frequenters of noisy public houses and members of polite society, who knew and adhered to rules of good behaviour. This miniature contrasts the two groups by showing rough, low-born plebeians rubbing shoulders with decorous members of the social elite! During this period, Sundays were dull days of Church-imposed ‘rest’. Work was forbidden and intellectual distractions almost non-existent for the majority of the population. Cabarets offered a welcome break from the monotony, allowing patrons to socialise over cups of wine or beer. Taverns took the form of a large communal room furnished with tables and benches, sometimes with bedrooms to host the weary traveller…
THE VERY RICH HOURS OF THE DUKE OF BERRY, CALENDAR, MARCH
(LES TRÈS RICHES HEURES DU DUC DE BERRY, CALENDRIER, MARS)
Barthélémy d'Eyck, ca. 1440
Musée Condé, Chantilly
The manuscript known by the name of Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry was the culmination of a project spanning more than 80 years. It was commissioned by the Duke of Berry from the brothers Paul, Jean and Herman de Limbourg around 1410-11. Left unfinished when the three painters and their sponsor died in 1416, some of the manuscript’s calendar miniatures were probably completed in the 1440s by an anonymous painter (possibly Barthélemy d’Eyck). In 1485-89, the work was completed by the painter Jean Colombe on behalf of the Duke of Savoy. This illumination appears in the first and best-known part of the manuscript: a calendar representing the twelve months of the year. The month of March is illustrated with agricultural work traditionally undertaken at the end of winter...
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