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10 - Book decoration in England, c. 871 – c. 1100

from PART I - THE MAKING OF BOOKS

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2012

Richard Gameson
Affiliation:
University of Durham
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Summary

The book decoration that was practised in England during the two centuries between the reigns of Alfred the Great and William Rufus ranges from isolated decorated initials in modestly conceived volumes to elaborate full-page miniatures in luxurious ones. The present chapter will outline the main chronological development of this artform, and will then consider aspects of its patronage, production and purpose.

The manuscripts associated with the literary programme of Alfred the Great (reigned 871–99) seem to have been qualitatively very modest – something which in itself lends support to the king’s pessimistic view of ninth-century Southumbrian literary skills. The decline that he so eloquently lamented necessitated a new start, and although there are unquestionably links with work done earlier in the century, the manuscript art that rose from the ashes – quite literally in the case of centres that had been ravaged by the Vikings – followed new paths. Royal support notwithstanding, the revival was slow. The young Alfred may have admired fine initials (as his biographer, Asser, claimed), but such were beyond the scribes whom he had at his disposal in the 890s: those in the contemporary manuscripts of his Old English translation of Gregory the Great’s Regula pastoralis are very humble indeed – crude pen-drawn letters elaborated with small and ungainly beast heads, human faces and interlace twists.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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