A History of Art in England (3): Illuminated Manuscripts (ii)

In An Introduction to English Painting, John Rothenstein tells us that from the year 669, when it was ruled that Roman rather than the Irish Celtic authority ruled the Church, the ecclesiastical (and therefore artistic) centre of England moved from Northumbria south to Canterbury.

Whilst it was Winchester that from the 10th to 12th century “held the primacy in English illumination” and where “we find the nearest approach to a national art.”

His prime example from Winchester is the Benedictional of St Aethelwold in which “the survival of Byzantine influence, especially in the drapery conventions and the architectural details, is apparent; but [there is now] the nervous vitality of the line and the sense of drama and of movement.”

Rambling 12

Again, it’s an adventure in itself to explore the British Library’s digital edition.

The Benedictional has a “telling the story” element to it, the characters are in action, in relationships with each other.

Meanwhile in the Eadui Psalter, made in Canterbury in the late 11th century, we have a self-portrait.

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The monk Eadui Basan seen here kneeling at the feet of St Benedict, is probably the scriptor and pictor, offering up this, his own illuminated book, see British Library.

Janet Backhouse tells us that this is one of the best surviving examples of the deliberate marriage of line drawing (which had become common in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts) and fully-coloured painting. She suggests this stresses the varied importance of the figures: the ‘fully-formed’ Saint himself in contrast to the loyal, humble monks and nuns*. It’s interesting then to consider that the scriptor-pictor Eadui is himself ‘fully-formed’ in colour – perhaps reflecting the importance of the artist.

Mind, Benedict is using him as a foot-stool!

(Very interesting to see the nuns here; a number of monasteries were ‘double monasteries’ with communities of both men and women, and sometimes run by abbesses, such as the remarkable St Hild of Whitby).

So there are differences and developments in these English illuminated pictures through the centuries as trans-European ideas settle into local monastic communities.

And, what is particularly exciting, is that Backhouse agrees with Rothenstein’s suggestion that:
“Such manuscripts as these provide some indication of the probable character of contemporary wall painting.”

About TheCommonViewer

Independent Researcher: gently exploring the art and artists of early 20th century Britain (with forays elsewhere, in particular Russian Art History); the Art, Books & History Group meets monthly in Southend-on-Sea Twitter: @TheCommonViewer

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