A History of English Art in the Middle Ages

By O. Elfrida Saunders | Go to book overview

Chapter XIII GOTHIC ART: ILLUMINATION

DURING the Early Gothic period the scriptoria of the various monasteries were all active in producing books, and many of them developed distinctive styles of their own, so that it is easier at this time to distinguish between the work of the different centres than it had been formerly, although even now it is not always possible, and a number of manuscripts remain of uncertain origin. Peterborough, Salisbury, St. Albans, and Canterbury were prominent schools of illumination at this period, and manuscript painting was also no doubt practised at the Court School in the middle and latter part of the century. Isolated manuscripts have come down to us from Chester, Gloucester, and other centres, showing a no less accomplished style than those of the larger schools. In fact, proficiency in miniature-painting was probably more widespread during the thirteenth century than at any other period.

From about 1180 to 1220 was a transitional period, during which many decorative features of Romanesque art were retained (e.g. the scroll-work ornament in initials, the straight frame-borders, and the plain or stamped gold backgrounds), and the figure-work was trying to free itself from Romanesque conventions, but was immature and awkward. A very richly decorated psalter in the Munich Library (cod. lat. 835) is characteristic of this stage in the development of English style, and there are manuscripts analogous to it in the British Museum (Roy. I. D. x. and Arundel 157).

The new classical strain which characterized Gothic art in France was evident also in England as early as the end of the twelfth century, in the Westminster Psalter (Brit. Mus. Roy. 2 A. xxii), a fine illuminated book in which the figures are almost Greek in type and represent an attempt, not

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