Open main menu
This page needs to be proofread.
316
ILLUMINATED MSS.


branches of art; no doubt to the ultimate improvement of English draughtsmanship. Left to itself the outline drawing Normam of the Anglo-Saxons, inclining as it did to affectation, would probably have sunk into fantastic exaggeration and feebleness. Brought more directly under Norman domination it resulted in the fine, bold freehand style which is conspicuous in MSS. executed in England in the next three centuries. Then we come to the period when the art of illumination is brought into line in the countries of western Europe, in England and in France, in Flanders and in western Germany, by the splendid outburst of artistic sentiment of the rzth century. This century is the period of large folios providing ample space in their pages for the magnificent initial letters drawn on a grand scale which are to be seen in the great Bibles and psalters of the time. The leading feature is a wealth of foliage with twining and interlacing branches, among which human and animal life is freely introduced, the whole design being thrown into relief by brilliant colours and a generous use of gold. The figure drawing both in miniatures and initials is stiff, the figures elongated but bold, and with sweeping lines in the draperies; and a tendency to represent the latter clinging closely to the limbs is a legacy of the tradition of the later classical style. In England the school of Winchester appears to have maintained the same excellence after the Norman Conquest as before it. A remarkable MS. (Cotton, Nero C. iv.), a psalter of about the year 1160, with a series of fine miniatures, is a good example of its work. In France, Flanders and western Germany we find the same energy in producing boldly ornamented volumes, as in England; a certain heaviness of outline distinguishing the work of the Flemish and German artists from that of the English and French schools. Such MSS. as the Stavelot Bible (Brit. Mus., Add. MS. 28,107), of the close of the 11th century, the Bible of Floreffe (Add. MS. 17,737-r7,738), of about the year II6O, and the Worms Bible (Harl. MS. 2803-2804), of the same time, are fine specimens of Flemish and German work.

It is towards the close of the 1 2th century and in the beginning of the 13th century that the character of illum-ination settles down on more conventional lines. Hitherto gold had l3rI| . . . . . . .

cen, ,, D, been applied in a liquid state; now it is laid on in leaf and is highly burnished, a process which lends a brilliant effect to initial and miniature. A great change passes over the face of things. The large, bold style gives place to the minute. Volumes decrease in size; the texts are written in closing-packed characters; the large and simple is superseded by the small and decorated. The -period has arrived when book ornamentation becomes more settled and accurately defined within limits, and starts on the course of regulated expansion which was to run for three hundred years down to the close of the 1 5th century. In the 13th century the historiated or miniature initial, that is, the initial letter containing within its limits a miniature illustrating the subject of the immediate text, is established as a favourite detail of ornamentation, in addition to the regular independent miniature. Such initials form a prominent feature in the pretty little Bibles which were produced in hundreds at this period. But a still more interesting subject for study is the development of the border which was to have such a luxuriant growth in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. Commeneing as a pendant from the initial, with terminal in form of bud or cusp, it gradually pushes its way along the margins, unfolding foliage as it proceeds, and in course of time envelopes the entire page of text in a complete framework formulating in each country a national style.

In the miniatures of the 13th century the art of England, of France, and of the Low Countries runs very much in one channel. The Flemish art, however, may be generally distinguished from the others by the heavier outline already noticed. The French art is exquisitely exact and clean-cut, and in its best examples it is the perfection of neat-handedness. English art is perhaps less exact, but makes up for any denciency in this direction by its gracefulness. However, there is often little to choose between the productions of the three countries, and they are hard to distinguish. As an aid for such distinction, among small differences, we may notice the copper tone of French gold contrasting with the purer metal in English MSS.; and the favour shown to deep ultramarine appears to mark French work. But, besides actual illuminated miniature painting, there is also a not inconsiderable amount of freehand illustrative drawing in the MSS. In this particular the English artist maintains the excellence of work which distinguished his ancestors. Such series of delicate drawings, slightly tinted, as those to be seen in the famous Queen Mary's Psalter (Royal MS. 2 B. vii.), and in other MSS. of the 13th and 14th centuries in the British Museum, are not surpassed by any similar drawings done at the same period in any other country. In the 13th century also comes into vogue the highly decorated diaper-work, generally of lozenges or chequered patterns in brilliant colours and brightly burnished gold. These fill the backgrounds of miniatures and initials, together with other forms of decoration, such as sheets of gold stippled or surface-drawn in various designs. Diapering continued to be practised in all three countries down into the 15th century; and in particular it is applied with exquisite effect in many of the highly-finished MSS. of the artists of Paris. To return to the growth of the borders: these continue to be.generally of one style in both England and France and in Flanders during the Igthcentury; but, when with the opening of the 14th century the conventional foliage begins to expand, a divergence ensues. In France and Flanders the three-pointed leaf, or ivy leaf, appears, which soon becomes fixed and flourishes as a typical detail of ornament in French illumination of the 14th and 15th centuries. In England there is less convention, and along with formal branches and leafage, natural growths, such as daisy-buds, acorns, oak leaves, nuts, &c., are also represented.

Meanwhile German illumination, which in the large MSS. of the 12th century had given high promise, in the following centuries falls away and becomes detached from the G EFIIIJIL

western schools, and is, as a general rule, of inferior quality, although in the 13th century nne examples are still to be met with. Dark outlines and backgrounds of highly-burnished gold are in favour. At present, however, there is not sufficient published material to enable us to pass a definite judgment on the value of German illumination in the later middle ages. But the researches of scholars are beginning to localize particular styles in certain centres. For example, in Bohemia there was a school of illumination of a higher class, which seems later to have had an influence on English art, as will be noticed presently.

We must now turn to Italy, which has been left on one side during our examination of the art of the more western countries. In attempting to bridge the gap which severs the later classical style of Rome from the medieval art of Italy, much must be left to conjecture. That a debased classical style of drawing wast employed in the earlier centuries of the middle ages we cannot doubt. Such a MS. as the Ashburnham Genesis of the 7th century., which contains pictures of a somewhat rude character but based apparently upon a recollection of the classical drawing of earlier times, and which appears to be of Italian origin, serves as a link, however slight. Coming down to a later period, the primitive native art of the Frankish empire, as we have seen, extended into northern Italy under the name of Franco-Lombardic ornamentation; and we have also seen how the art of the Byzantine school reacted on the art of the southern portion of the country Hence, in the middle ages, the ornamentation of Italian MSS. appears to move"on two leading lines. The first, which we owe to the Byzantine influence, in which 'ngure-drawing is the leading idea, follows the old classical method and, showing a distinctly Greek impress, leads to the style which we recognize as Italian par excellence, and which is seen most effectively manifested in the works of Cimabue and Giotto and of allied schools. In this style the colouring is generally opaque: the flesh tints being laid over a foundation of deep olive green, which imparts a swarthy complexion to the features-a practice also common in Byzantine art. The other line is that of the Lombardic style which, like

Italian.