Following John Wesley’s Advice to Avoid a Sour Religion
This Sunday afternoon eighteen of us from Saint Paul’s visited the Karen Gould Collection of medieval manuscripts (leaves, bifolia, quires and manuscripts) at the Spencer Art Reference Library in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Our group included current members and alumni of EfM(University of the South continuing education at Saint Paul’s), Fathers Stan Runnels and JonathanCallison, Marie Thompson (primary EfM Mentor), Gene (my husband), and this writer. Amelia Nelson, the Librarian, was a gracious host. To avoid overwhelming the group with too many of the 52 items in the Collection we spent the hour concentrating on 8 items:
A recent addition to the collection, the richly illuminated French fourteenth-century leaf (Pucellian style)from the Bible formerly at St Alban’s Abbey in England was the main focus of fascination. That leaf, with text from Chronicles (Paralipomenon in the Vulgate) following St Jerome’s preface, is both beautiful and entertaining. The historiated initial on the recto is a fine example of standing figures representing descendants of Adam in splendidly modeled clothes. Less typical are the figures outside the decorated frame. At the bottom, perched on trailing ivy leaves is a hybrid animal. We see his orange tail and legs extending from behind a blue cloth that wraps around him but reveals his puppy-like face. This imagemay represent an apprentice artist having fun while learning how to paint draping cloth.
At the top of the recto leaf, standing on the middle vertical frame is a youth dressed in blue holding his right hand to his ear and in his left a tall club-like object. Brother Thomas Sullivan OSB, of Conception Abbey, points out that Jerome’s Prologue in the left column preceding the beginning of the chapter itself refers to “hearing but not hearing”. This reference explains both the gesture holding the ear and perhaps that the chap holds an ear horn in the other hand.
At first glance, the verso of the leaf, although similarly heavily ornamented, appears not to contain any figural representation, although the ascenders on “F” (for filii) in the top-line words of both columns have ornate gold penwork flourishing. Art historians who have studied this leaf point out that in the goldflourishing there are profiles of human heads verging on the grotesque.
Medieval users of this text may have enjoyed the subtle jollity of the artists, as do modern readers.