Open main menu
This page needs to be proofread.

England and France by the later developments of Italy and Flanders. We left English illumination at the close of the 14th century strengthened by a fresh infusion of apparently a foreign, perhaps Bohemian, source. The style thus evolved marks a brilliant but short-lived epoch in English art. It is not confined to MSS., but appears also in the paintings of the time, as, for example, in the portrait of Richard II. in Westminster Abbey and in that in the Wilton triptych belonging to the earl of Pembroke. Delicate but brilliant colouring, gold worked in stippled patterns and a careful modelling of the human features are its characteristics. In MSS. also the decorative borders, of the new pattern already described, are of exceptional richness. Brilliant examples of the style, probably executed for Richard himself, may be seen in a magnificent Bible (Royal MS. I, E. ix.), and in a series of cuttings from a missal (Add. MS. 29,704-20,705) in the British Museum. But the promise of this new school was not to be fulfilled. The same style of border decoration was carried into the 1 5th century, and good examples are found down to the middle of it, but a general deterioration soon sets in. Two MSS. must, however, be specially mentioned as surviving instances of the fine type of work which could still be turned out early in the century; and, curiously, they are both the productions of one and the same illuminator, the Dominican, John Siferwas. The first is a fragmentary Lectionary (Brit. Mus., Harl. MS., 7026) executed for John, Lord Lovel of Tichmersh, who died in 1408; the other is the famous Sherborne Missal, the property of the duke of Northumberland, a large volume completed about the same time for the Benedictine abbey of Sherborne in Dorsetshire. Certainly other MSS. of equal excellence must have existed; but they have now perished. After the middle of the 15th century English illumination may oe said to have ceased, for the native style disappears before Joreign imported art. This failure is sufficiently accounted for oy the political state of the country and the distractions of the Var of the Roses.,

In France the I5tl'1 century opened more auspiciously for the art of illumination. Brilliant colouring and the diapered background glittering with gold, the legacy of the previous century, still continue in favour for some time; the border, too, of ivyleaf tracery still holds'its own. But in actual drawing there are signs, as time advances, of growing carelessness, and the artist appears to think more of the effect of colour than of draughtsmanship. This was only natural at a time when the real landscape began to replace the background of diaper and conventional rocks and trees. In the first quarter of the century the school of Paris comes prominently to the front with such magnificent volumes as the Book of Hours of the regent, John Plantagenet, duke of Bedford, now in the British Museum; and the companion MS. known as the Sobieski Hours, at Windsor. In these examples, as is always the case with masterpieces, we see a great advance upon earlier methods. The miniatures are generally exquisitely painted in brilliant colours and the drawing is of a high standard; and in the borders now appear natural flowers intermingled with the conventional tracery-a new idea which was to be rarried further as the century advanced. The Psalter executed at Paris for the boy-king Henry VI.(Cotton MS. Domitian A. xviii.) is another example of this school, rather of earlier type than the Bedford MS., but beautifully painted. In all three MSS. the borders show no lack of finish; they are of a high standard and are worthy of the miniatures. But perhaps the very nnest miniature-work to be found in any MS. of French origin oi this period is the breviary (Harl. MS. 2897) illuminated for Iohu the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, who was assassinated in r4r9. It could hardly be surpassed in rennement and minuteness of detail.

Development towards the modern methods of painting moves on rapidly with the century. First, the border in the middle period grows rlorid; the simpler ivy-spray design, which had held its position so long, is gradually pushed away by a growth of flowering scrolls, with flowers, birds and animal and insect life introduced in more or less profusion. But henceforward deterioration increases, and the border becomes subsidiary. In the case of miniatures following the old patterns of the devotional and liturgical books, a certain restraint still prevails; but with those in other works, histories and romances and general literature, where the paintings are devised by the fancy of the artist, the advance is rapid. The recognition of the natural landscape, the perception of atmospheric effects now guide the artist's brush, and the modern French School of the second half of the 15th century is fairly established. The most celebrated leaders of this school were lean Foucquet of Tours and his sons, many of whose works still bear witness to their skill. In the MSS. of this school the influence of the Flemish contemporary art is very obvious; and before the advance of that art French illumination receded. A certain hardness of surface and want of depth characterize the French work of this time, as well as the practice of employing gilt hatching to obtain the high lights. This practice is carried to excess in the latest examples of French illumination in the early part of the 16th century, when the art became mechanical and overloaded with ornament, and thus expired.

It has been seen that the Flemish school of illumination in the 13th and 14th centuries followed the French model. In the 15th century, while the old tradition continued in force for a. while, the art developed on an independent line; and in the second half of the century it exercised a widespread influence on the neighbouring countries, on France, on Holland and on Germany. This development was one of the results of the industrial and artistic activity of the Low Countries at this period, when the school of the Van Eycks and their followers, and of other artists of the great and wealthy cities, such as Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent, were so prolific. The Flemish miniatures naturally followed on the lines of painting. The new style was essentially modern, freeing itself from the traditions of medieval illumination and copying nature. Under the hand of the Flemish artist the landscape attained to great perfection, softness and depth of colouring, the leading attribute of the school, lending a particular charm and sense of reality to his out-door scenes. His closer observation of nature is testified also in the purely decorative part of his work. Flowers, insects, birds and other natural objects now frequent the border, the origin of which is finally forgotten. It ceases to be a connected growth wandering round the page; it becomes a flat frame of dull gold or colour, over which isolated objects, flowers, fruits, insects, butterflies, are strewn, painted with naturalistic accuracy and often made, by means of strong shadows, to stand out in relief against the background. This practice was soon carried to florid excess, and all kinds of objects, including jewels and personal ornaments, were pressed into the service of the border, in addition to the details copied from nature. The soft beauty of the later Flemish style proved very attractive to the taste of the day, with the result that it maintained a high standard well on into the 16th century, the only rivals being the MSS. of Italian art. The names of celebrated miniaturists, such as Memlinc, Simon Bening of Ghent, Gerard of Bruges, are associated with its productions; and many famous extant examples bear witness to the excellence to which it attained. The Grimani Breviary at Venice is one of the best known MSS. of the school; but almost every national library has specimens to boast of. Among those in the British Museum may be mentioned the breviary of Queen Isabella of Spain (Add. MS. r8,85r); the Book ofHours of]uanaof Castille (Add. MS. 18,852); a very beautiful Book of Hours executed at Bruges (Egerton MS. 2125); another exquisite but fragmentary MS. of the sametype (Add. MS. 24,098) and cuttings from a calendar of the nnest execution (Add. MS. 18,8 5 5) ascribed to Bening of Ghent; a. series of large sheets of genealogies of the royal houses of Portugal and Spain (Add. MS. 12, 53 1) by the same master and others; and late additions to the Sforza Book of Hours (Add. MS- 34ยป294)-,

But, besides the brilliantly coloured style of Flemish illumination

which has been described, there was another which was practised with great effect in the 15th century. This was the simpler style of drawing in white delicately shaded to indicate