Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Victoria and Albert Museum: Western Illuminated Manuscripts. A Catalogue of Works in the National Art Library from the Eleventh to the Early Twentieth Century, with a Complete Account of the George Reid Collection

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Victoria and Albert Museum: Western Illuminated Manuscripts. A Catalogue of Works in the National Art Library from the Eleventh to the Early Twentieth Century, with a Complete Account of the George Reid Collection

Article excerpt

Rowan Watson, Victoria and Albert Museum: Western Illuminated Manuscripts. A Catalogue of Works in the National Art Library from the Eleventh to the Early Twentieth Century, with a Complete Account of the George Reid Collection, 3 vols, photography by Paul Gardner (London: V&A Publishing, 2011). ISBN 9781-85177-649-8. £250.00.

What besides abject admiration can be conveyed in a short review of a massive, eleven-kilo, three-volume catalogue covering 287 items spanning the eleventh to twentieth centuries and hailing from France, the Southern and Northern Low Countries, Germany, Austria, Hungary, England, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Russia, Iran, and Ethiopia? In addition to its learned entries, the catalogue contains a checklist of the collection, a concordance of manuscript numbers to catalogue numbers, lists of Books of Hours, scriptural, liturgical, and devotional manuscripts, patents of nobility, diplomas, addresses and manuscripts relating to heraldry, and, very useful, indexes of incipits, iconography, saints, scribes and illuminators, and of manuscripts cited, as well as a general index - in short, just about everything anyone could wish for, not to mention an untold numbers of fabulous photographs, including rectos and versos of fragments and bindings and with numerous details to boot. The photography, by Paul Gardner, deserves special mention, as it manages to preserve the play of light across the pages and a truth to materials that even the most expensive facsimiles, and, alas, a good deal of mass-produced digital photography, fail to achieve. By virtue of its lavish production values and its exhaustive entries, this mammoth monument of a catalogue is a hymn to the beauty of the medieval book.

There is no shortage of highlights, of which only a handful can be listed: the eleventh-century Sion Gospels, in a stunning binding dated ¿*.1200; the Lesnes Missal, English, c. 1200-20; an early Book of Hours, Reims?, ¿vi 280-90; the great Saint-Denis Missal, c. 1350; the Camaldolese Gradual, Florence, ¿*.1380; the Plantagenet Psalter, London, ¿*.1435; the Margaret de Foix Hours, Rennes?, ¿*.1471-6; the Salting Hours, by Simon Marmion, ¿-.1470-5; a gorgeous Petrarch, written by Sanvito, illuminated in Padua, ¿-.1463-4; the Alfonso of Aragon Hours, Naples, ¿-. …

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