Illuminating Ancient Art; Richard Edmonds Marvels at the Beauty of Medieval Painted Manuscripts

By Edmonds, Richard | The Birmingham Post (England), June 27, 1998 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Illuminating Ancient Art; Richard Edmonds Marvels at the Beauty of Medieval Painted Manuscripts


Edmonds, Richard, The Birmingham Post (England)


The selection of the illuminated manuscripts on sale at the NEC April Antiques Fair was something I had not expected to find.

Painted pages are rare enough at the best of times and many of the tiny NEC items were taken from 16th and 17th century pages of the Koran. This means of course they were in a flowing and very elegant Arabic script valuable for their calligraphy (and ext remely affordable at prices from pounds 14 upwards).

But two aspects of European illuminated books have come my way this week. On Tuesday, Sotheby's were busy selling The Burdett Psalter, a previously unrecorded masterpiece of 13th century book illustration which was sold to a private collector for pounds 2,751,500.

But Prestel, that most go-ahead of publishers have sent a copy of their recently published book The Painted Page, Italian Renaissance Book Illumination, which not only provides background for this column but ranges from 1450-1550 and contains excellent e ssays from various experts to provide insight into this fascinating area.

The Burdett Psalter (or book of psalms) was probably commissioned by Jean de Villiers, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller who held office around 1285-93 AD. The evidence for this assumption is the appearance of de Villiers' portrait five times throu ghout the Burdett manuscript and this week's illustration shows the Grand Master himself kneeling before John the Baptist.

The Hospitaller's were Knights of the Crusades, dedicated to freeing the Holy Land from the infidel and to the protection of Christendom in the eastern Mediterranean. While the Psalter was in preparation for de Villiers the forces of Islam were closing i n on Jerusalem. De Villiers was summoned back early to Palestine and probably took the Psalter with him, thus carrying fine art into the war zone as one did in the Middle Ages.

After leading his armies in the defence of Acre, the redoubtable de Villiers escaped to Cyprus, badly wounded, on May 18, 1291 which was the day the Holy Land finally fell into Moslem hands. The Burdett Psalter is extremely fine containing 26 exquisite p aintings by the leading Parisian illuminator of the late 13th century known as the Meliacin Master so called after an illuminated romance he created in the mid-1280's.

The history of such a rarity is lost in the mists of time. It must have come into England with its artistic virtues preceding it by 1300 after de Villiers' death, a period when the monied classes were beginning to enjoy fine houses, clothes, music, and r ich possessions such as illuminated books.

The Psalter came to Jane Burdett around 1634 and remained in a cupboard totally unknown to scholars or experts until 1990, in an old box covered with dust. "It is remarkable", as Sotheby's expert, Christopher de Hamel says, "not only that a work of art s hould have remained in private hands for 700 years, but that it should be a manuscript of such supreme quality from the greatest period of French Gothic art".

Manuscripts and fine painted books were very much part of courtly possessions in the two centuries before Gutenberg established printing (circa 1475) . Many of the men who prepared these exquisite things were treated as artisans whose work extended beyon d manuscript illumination into scenery design for theatrical events, decorating for carriages or furniture or even rafter beams.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Illuminating Ancient Art; Richard Edmonds Marvels at the Beauty of Medieval Painted Manuscripts
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?