Friday, August 23, 2013

Helmarshausen Psalter, Christ on the Cross, with Mary and St. John, Walters Manuscript W.10, fol. 41v

This small volume of psalms was created for the private use of a noble lady, probably a relative of Duke Henry the Lion (1129-1195). It was made at Helmarshausen, the same monastery that produced the sumptuous Gospels of Henry the Lion, which sold at auction in 1983 for nearly 12 million dollars, making it the most expensive art object sold to that point. This psalter is much smaller and less elaborate than the Gospels, with only three miniatures, but the quality is very high. The identity of the manuscript’s owner, the lady pictured on fol. 6v, has been the subject of much debate. Scholars have conjectured that she is Gertrud, Henry’s daughter, Clementia, his first wife, or Matilda, his second wife. Because the portrait bears no inscription, and because the facing page, which may have shown the lady’s patron saint, is missing, the question must remain open.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Homilary, Portrait of the Evangelist Matthew, Walters Manuscript W.148, fol. 3r

This richly illuminated fourteenth-century German homilary is particularly interesting for its rare bifolium of drawings bound in at the front of the book. The headgear worn by the nuns in the drawings is characteristic of Cistercensian and Premostratensian nuns in northern Germany as early as circa 1320. Evidence for dating and localization is also found in the manuscript's relationship with a second homilary in the Bodleian Library (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. Douce 185). Despite minor codicological differences--page layout, textblock dimensions, and ruling--it seems likely that the two homilaries were composed as a set in one scriptorium. The drawings at the beginning of the Walters manuscript were inspired by miniatures within the book and are very similar to the style of Master of Douce 185, recently identified as a collaborator of the Willehalm Master. Although the Walters homilary lacks internal evidence for localization, it can be attributed to the lower Rhine on the basis of general affinities between work of this region and English art. The Walters homilary is stylistically close to the small ivory book illustrated with fourteen paintings of the Passion in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. no.11-1872), which has Westphalian and north German characteristics. Palette, figural drawings, the use of checkered spandrels, large ivy-leaf terminals, and ape marginalia in the Walters homilary are also close to fragments of an antiphonary from Westphalia scattered in German collections (Düsseldorf, Universitätsbibliothek, Ms. D. 37a, b, c and Hamm, Städtisches Gustav-Lübcke-Museum, Mss 5474-5476). A second group of stylistically related manuscripts can be found in a two-volume antiphonary from the Dominican nunnery of Paradise near Soest (Düsseldorf, Universitätsbibliothek, Mss. D.7 and D.9).