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The origin and development of the Anglo-Saxon Psychomachia illustrations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 September 2008

Gernot R. Wieland
University of British Columbia


The reception in Anglo-Saxon England of Prudentius's Psychomachia has been well studied. In an earlier article I concentrated on the textual tradition and touched only briefly on the important aspect of Psychomachia illustrations in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts; in the present article I treat the illustrations more fully. Psychomachia illustrations have been studied previously, most thoroughly by Stettiner and Woodruff, and they are also referred to by Katzenellenbogen and Norman. None of these examinations is completely satisfactory as far as the Anglo-Saxon illustrations are concerned. Both Stettiner and Woodruff examine all, that is both continental and Anglo-Saxon, illustrated Psychomachia manuscripts, and their primary aim is to establish stemmata and to determine generic relationships between the various manuscripts. Of necessity this procedure leads away from a scrupulous examination of individual manuscripts and their illustrations. In other words, by being concerned more with the generic similarities of the illustrations, Stettiner and Woodruff pay less attention to the differences (though they do not ignore them altogether). Moreover, they concentrate on the illustrated manuscripts and neglected the evidence which non-illustrated manuscripts can provide. Katzenellenbogen and Norman, in turn, are interested in the Psychomachia and its illustrations exerted on the sculpture and painting of later centuries, and only briefly refer to the Anglo-Saxon Psychomachia Illustrations thus still remains a necessity.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1997

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1 The Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts of Prudentius's Psychomachia', ASE 16 (1987), 213–31.Google Scholar

2 Ibid. pp. 221–5.

3 Stettiner, R., Die illustrierten Prudentiushandschriften, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1895–1905)Google Scholar [hereafter Stettiner]; Woodruff, H., The Illustrated Manuscripts of Prudentius', Art Stud.: Med., Renaissance and Mod. 7 (1929), 3379Google Scholar [hereafter Woodruff]. Stettiner's Tafelband provides a full pictorial record of the Psychomachia illustrations. Budny, M. O., Insular, Anglo-Saxon, and Early Anglo-Norman Manuscript Art An Illustrated Catalogue (Kalamazoo, MIGoogle Scholar, forthcoming) presents photographs of every illustration in CCCC 23, and Ohlgren, T. H., Anglo-Saxon Textual Illustration: Photographs of Sixteen Manuscripts with Descriptions and Index (Kalamazoo, MI, 1992Google Scholar) of every illustration in Cotton Cleopatra C. viii.

4 Katzenellenbogen, A., Allegories of the Virtues and Vices in Medieval Art From Early Christian Times to the Thirteenth Century, Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching 24 (Toronto, 1989; originally publ. 1939), 17Google Scholar; Norman, J. S., Metamorphoses of an Allegory: The Iconography of the Psychomachia in Medieval Art, Amer. Univ. Stud., Ser. 9 [History] 29 (New York, 1988), 1125.Google Scholar

5 Stettiner, , p. 18Google Scholar, for instance, argues that the scribe of CCCC 23 had ‘nicht eine mit Bildern versehene Hs.’ as exemplar. References such as these, however, are only incidental.

6 The sigil ‘HG’ plus number refers to Gneuss, H., ‘A Preliminary List of Manuscripts Written or Owned in Anglo-Saxon England up to 1100’, ASE 9 (1981), 160.Google Scholar I have preferred Gneuss's dating of the manuscripts to those of Woodruff and Stettiner.

7 Grierson, P., ‘Grimbald of St. Berlin's’, EHR 55 (1940), 529–61, at 553CrossRefGoogle Scholar, argues that Grimbald may have brought Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 223 from Saint-Bertin to England.

8 Stettiner, , pp. 167–72Google Scholar; Woodruff, , pp. 3640 and 50.Google Scholar

9 Woodruff, , p. 51.Google Scholar

10 Woodruff, , p. 36.Google Scholar

11 Bischoff, Bernhard, ‘Die Überlieferung der technischen Literatur’, Mittelalterliche Studien: Ausgeivählte Aufsätze zur Schrijtkunde and Literaturgeschichte, 3 vols. (Stuttgart, 19661981) III, 277–97, at 293.Google Scholar

12 Woodruff, , p. 37.Google Scholar

13 Woodruff, , p. 38Google Scholar, has edited the text as follows: ‘Hie est liber sanctissimi domini nostri Marcialis Lemouicensis ex libris bone memorie Ademari grammatici. Nam postquam multos annos peregit in Domini servitio ac simul in monachico ordine in eiusdem patris cenobio, profecturus Hierosolimam ad sepulchrum Domini, nee inde reversurus, multos libros, in quibus sudaverat, eidem suo pastori ac nutritori reliquit, ex quibus hie est unus.’ The Ademarus in question has been identified by Holder-Egger, O., ‘Notizen von S. Eparch in Angoulême und S. Martial in Limoges’, Neues Archiv der Gesellschaftfir ältere deulsche Geschichtskunde 7 (1882), 630–7, at 630–1 as Ademar of Chabannes (9881034).Google Scholar The manuscript has been described in Meyier, K. A. de, Codices Vossiani Latini: Pars III. Codices in Octavo (Leiden, 1977), pp. 3142; p. 35Google Scholar deals with the ‘Imagines Prudentii Psychomachiam illustrantes atramento ductae ab ADEMARO ipso.’

14 See MGH, Epistolae KaroliniAevi ii, ed. Dümmler, E. (Berlin, 1895), pp. 638–9Google Scholar, where the recipients of Alcuin's letters are listed, among them Æthelbald, abbot of Wearmouth and Jarrow; Æthelred, king of the Northumbrians; Eanbald I and Eanbald II, both archbishops of York; Eardulf, king of the Northumbrians; Higbald, bishop of Undisfarne; etc.

15 Epistolae Karolini Aevi ii, ed. Dümmler, , p. 316Google Scholar (no. 189) is addressed to Cuniberctus, bishop of Winchester. Dümmler (n. 4) speculates that Alcuin had met Cyneberht ‘sine dubio a 786. in synodo Corabrigensi’ and refers to Letter no. 3, where the signature of one Chunibrectus appears (p. 29).Google Scholar There is little doubt, however, that Cyneberht and the other bishops signed that letter not at Corbridge but at an unspecified place in the south of England at the court of Offa (see also Cubitt, C., Anglo-Saxon Church Councils c. 650–c.850 (London, 1995), pp. 153–90, esp. 158).Google Scholar This would suggest that Alcuin had never visited Cyneberht at Winchester. Alcuin's letter also speaks of a longa absentia, of the fact that with the bearer of the letter he intends to renovare their pacta caritatis, but since there are no additional letters to Cyneberht, it would seem that he did not renew their ‘pact of love’ beyond that one occasion. The relationship between Alcuin and Cyneberht does not seem to be such that Alcuin would convey a lavish gift, as an illustrated Psychomacbia manuscript would be, to Cyneberht.

16 Woodruff, , p. 50.Google Scholar Woodruff is careful to say ‘in the style of Winchester’, rather than at Winchester itself. However, by suggesting (ibid. p. 51) that Alcuin may have sent a copy to ‘York or Winchester’, she seems to be thinking of a Winchester prototype.

17 No definitive work has yet been written on manuscripts imported from France into Rella, England. F. A., ‘Continental Manuscripts Acquired for English Centers in the Tenth and Early Eleventh Centuries: a Preliminary Checklist’, Anglia 98 (1980), 107–16Google Scholar, identifies nos. 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 13, 14, 16, 18, 21, 25, 26 and 34 as coming from France. This list, however, is neither complete nor always correct, as a quick check of Gneuss, H., ‘A Preliminary List’Google Scholar, shows; Rella does not mention Gneuss's manuscripts nos. 77, 81, 105, 112, 119, 128, 133, 136, 137, 140, 263, 295, 311, 354, etc. Veronica Ortenberg, in the chapter ‘Cultural Exchanges between England and France’ in her book The English Church and the Continent in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries: Cultural, Spiritual, and Artistic Exchanges (Oxford, 1992), esp. pp. 240–4Google Scholar, relies heavily on Rella and therefore misses many of the manuscripts identified as French by Gneuss. On manuscripts coming specifically from northern France to England, see Grierson, P., ‘The Relations between England and Flanders before the Norman Conquest’, TRHS 4th ser. 23 (1941), 71112, at 108.Google Scholar On manuscripts coming from the Continent to England during the ninth century, see Keynes, S. and Lapidge, M., Alfred the Great: Assert Life of King Alfred and other Contemporary Sources (Harmondsworth, 1983), p. 214Google Scholar, n. 26, and Gneuss, H., ‘King Alfred and the History of Anglo-Saxon Libraries’, Modes of Interpretation in Old English Literature: Essays in Honour of Stanley B. Greenfield, ed. Brown, P. R., Crampton, G. R. and Robinson, F. C. (Toronto, 1986), pp. 2949, at 37.Google Scholar Since the illustrations seem to have first been executed in (south-)western France, and since Fleury, which lies in that region, had very strong connections with England during the period of Benedictine Reform, it is tempting to assume that the illustrations came to England via Fleury. On the connections between Fleury and England, see Wulfstan of Winchester: The Life of StÆthelwold, ed. Lapidge, M. and Winterbottom, M. (Oxford, 1991), p. 27, n. 4Google Scholar; Bishop Ætheliwold: His Career and Influence, ed. Yorke, B. (Woodbridge, 1988), pp. 5, 7, 30, 54, 55, 58 and 98–9Google Scholar; St Oswald of Worcester: Life and Influence, ed. Brooks, N. and Cubitt, C. (London, 1996), passimGoogle Scholar, and especially Gameson, R., ‘Book Production and Decoration at Worcester in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries’Google Scholar, ibid. pp. 194–243, at 196–7: ‘Yet, while an important potential source of texts and script models, Fleury was not a leading centre of manuscript illumination.’ Since, however, the first extant non-illustrated Anglo-Saxon Psychomachia manuscripts come from northern France, the possibility exists that the illustrations came to England via northern France as well. At present, we can be certain that the illustrations came from France to England, but it is impossible to decide whether they came from northern or southern France.

18 The relationship of the non-illustrated to the illustrated manuscripts suggests that the text of the Psychomachia was imported first, probably during Alfred's reign, and that the illustrations followed during the Benedictine Reform.

19 Wieland, , ‘The Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts’, pp. 218–21.Google Scholar

20 Page, R. I., ‘On the Feasibility of a Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Glosses: The View from the Library’, Anglo-Saxon Glossography: Papers read at the International Conference Held in the Koninklijke Academic voor Wetenschappen, Leteren en Schone Kunsten van België, ed. Derolez, R. (Brussels, 1992), pp. 7795, at 91.Google Scholar

21 For an explanation of why this illustration is missing, see below, p. 182. Woodruff, , pp. 34–5, n. 3Google Scholar provides numbers and short descriptive titles for the Psychomachia illustrations. I shall adopt her numbers, but instead of her descriptive titles I shall use the Latin captions of the manuscripts.

22 In eleven scenes beginning with no. 61 (Avaritia se ornat ut facilius virtutes fallot) the pictures were originally complete, but the ink has now faded.

23 Stettiner, , pp. 170–2Google Scholar; Woodruff, , p. 50.Google Scholar

24 For an illustration of this scene in Add. 24199, see Stettiner, Tafelband, pl. 37; in CCCC 23, ibid. pl. 49–50 (2); and in Cotton Cleopatra C. viii, Ohlgren, Anglo-Saxon Textural Illustration, pl. 15.2.

25 For the illustration in Add. 24199, see Stettiner, Tafelband, pl. 49–50(8); in CCCC 23, ibid. pl. 49–50(1); and in Cotton Cleopatra C. viii, Ohlgren, Anglo-Saxon Textual Illustration, pl. 15.1.

26 The first ten illustrations of Cotton Cleopatra C. viii were drawn by an artist different from the one responsible for the remaining pictures. No doubt the differences between the first ten illustrations of Cotton Cleopatra C. viii and of the group-a manuscripts can be explained by the idiosyncrasies of that illustrator. Differences, however, also occur between other illustrations, e.g. the Cotton Patientia of scene no. 23 has no helmet while those of the other two manuscripts do; no fallen horse is present in the Cotton scene no. 38, while the group-a manuscripts show a horse; the Cotton Humilitas of scene no. 39 is winged, the Humilitas of the group-a manuscripts is not; the Cotton Luxuria of scene no. 40 is seated at a small table, and there is no side table – group-a manuscripts show a larger table as well as a side table; in scene no. 43 the Cotton Luxuria wears a crown, but is not crowned in the group-a manuscripts; the Cotton Avaritia of scene no. 60 pushes men into a fire, while the group-a Avaritiae push them into a cauldron situated above a fire, etc.

27 For an illustration of this scene in Add. 24199, see Stettiner, Tafelband, pl. 53–4(9), and in CCCC 23, ibid. pl. 53–4(3).

28 Aurelii Prudentii dementis Carmina, ed. Cunningham, M., CCSL 126 (Turnhout, 1966), 156, lines 151–2:Google Scholar

Missile de multis quae frustra sparserat unum puluere de campi peruersos sumit in usus.

The missile could also be an arrow, though Ira is not shown with a bow.

29 The fact that the illustration and the caption do not agree with each other shows that the scribe (of the captions) and the illustrator did not refer to each other's work, but that they closely adhered to the exemplars before them. Nothing in CCCC 23 indicates whether the scribe of the captions or the illustrator worked first.

30 Woodruff's stemma is as follows (Woodruff, , p. 50):Google Scholar

31 Woodruff, , p. 78.Google Scholar

32 For an illustration of this scene in Add. 24199, see Stettiner, Tafclband, pl. 35; in CCCC 23, ibid. pl. 31–2; and in Cotton Cleopatra C. viii, Ohlgren, Anglo-Saxon Textual Illustration, pl. 15.15.

33 I use the following abbreviations: F = French; AS = Anglo-Saxon; a = group-a illustrations; b = group-b illustrations; sag = sagitta variant; Ian = lancea variant; glad = gladius variant. Roman numerals indicate the century in which the copies are conjectured to have been made; […] indicates possible, but not necessary intermediaries.

34 See Woodruff, , pl. 7Google Scholar, for the Abraham and Isaac scene in Paris, BN lat. 8318. Abraham and Isaac are not separated by the altar as they are in the Cotton manuscript. Woodruff, , pl. 41Google Scholar, shows both Abraham and Isaac and the capture of Loth in Leiden, Voss. lat. O. 15. Again, Abraham and Isaac are not separated by the altar. Loth is led away captive between two groups of horsemen and not, as in Cotton Cleopatra C. viii, in front of them.

35 Woodruff, , p. 50.Google Scholar

36 See Woodruff, , pls. 82, 93 and 104 for the Leiden, and pls. 121 and 122Google Scholar for the Paris manuscript.

37 Additional spaces appear before lines 30 and 875, but these are not large enough to accommodate an illustration.

38 The chapter-heading Cultura deorum appears before line 28, Libido before line 42, Humilitas before line 197, Superbia iterum before line 203, Humilitas iterum before line 267, Ratio before line 502 and De gemmis before line 851.

39 An illustration appears in CCCC 23 before line 36, but CCCC 223 does not have a caption or a larger capital at this line; nor is there a caption or a larger capital before line 30 of CCCC 223, but CCCC 23 begins that line with a larger capital and has left some space, though not sufficient for an illustration, before it.

40 Cf. for instance the anathema in CCCC 23: Hunc quicumque librum Aedhelmo depresseris almo Damnatus semper maneas cum sorte malorum. Sit pietate dei sine, qui uel portet ab isto Coenobio librum Aedhelmi hunc uel uendere temptet.

Alfred, when sending out copies of the translation of the Regula pastoralis, likewise pleaded ‘Ic bebiode on Godes naman ðæt nan mon … ne do … ða boc from ðæm mynstre’, though he allows for removal ‘ððe hio hwær to Iæne sie, oððe hwa oðre bi write‘; see, KingAlfred's West Saxon Version of Gregory's Pastoral Care, ed. Sweet, H., 2 vols., EETS 45 and 50 (London, 1871) I, 9.Google Scholar

41 Woodruff, , p. 37.Google Scholar

42 See Scheller, R. W., A Survey of Medieval Model Books (Haarlem, 1963), in which he discusses the Leiden manuscript on pp. 45 and 5363.Google Scholar Schellet addresses the paucity of such model books by suggesting that medieval illustrators probably had a memory more capacious than ours and that many sketches may have existed on wax tablets, to be erased when the illustrations had been completed (p. 2). 43 Gneuss, , ‘Preliminary List’, p. 4.Google Scholar

44 Dumvile, D., English Caroline Script and Monastic History: Studies in Benedictinism, A.D. 950–1030 (Woodbridge, 1993), pp. 3548Google Scholar, suggests that Bury St Edmunds may have had a scriptorium about fifty to sixty years earlier than the time now usually considered, i.e. c. 970 rather than 1020, and that therefore ‘manuscripts of pre-Conquest date but post-Conquest Bury provenance’ (p. 78) and of no known place of origin may actually have been written there. Dumville includes Add. 24199 among those that could have been written at Bury St Edmunds.

45 The close iconographic connection between Clm. 29336/1 and Cotton Cleopatra C. viii makes it possible that the Munich manuscript, like Cleopatra C. viii, is also connected with Christ Church, Canterbury.

46 Wieland, G. R., ‘The Glossed Manuscript: Classbook or Library Book?’, ASE 14 (1985), 153–73, at 171.Google Scholar

47 Page, R. I., ‘On the Feasibility’, p. 91.Google Scholar See also Kiff-Hooper, J. A., ‘Class Books or Works of Art?: Some Observations on the Tenth-Century Manuscripts of Aldhelm's De Laude Virginitatis’, Church and Chronicle in the Middle Ages: Essays presented to John Taylor, ed. Wood, I. and Loud, G. A. (London, 1991), pp. 1526Google Scholar, who suggests that manuscripts with elaborate initials, with a drawing of the audior, and with absence of contemporary glosses, do not seem to have been produced for classrooms. Psychomachia manuscripts combine elaborate illustrations with contemporary glosses, so that Kiff-Hooper's criteria cannot be applied to them.

48 Page, R. I., ‘On the Feasibility’, pp. 90–1.Google ScholarLapidge, M., ‘Artistic and Literary Patronage in Anglo-Saxon England’, Committenti e produzione artistico-letteraria nell'alto medioevo occidentale, SettSpol 39) (1992), 137–98, at 146–7Google Scholar also suggests that CCCC 23 might have been an ‘Anglo-Saxon “coffee-table book”’ which ‘may have been produced as a private commission and only later came into the possession of the monastery (Malmesbury)’. On de luxe manuscripts, see also Heslop, T. A., ‘The Production of de luxe Manuscripts and the Patronage of King Cnut and Queen Emma’, ASE 19 (1990), 151–95Google Scholar, who argues that it is wrong to assume production of de luxe manuscripts solely within ‘a monastic context’ (p. 179); rather, several were produced as a result of the royal patronage of Cnut and Emma. These, however, were usually donated to monasteries or cathedrals, so that even if the production of de luxe manuscripts did not take place within ecclesiastical walls, perusal of them did.

49 On lay readership, see Gneuss, H., ‘Bücher und Leser in England im zehnten Jahrhundert’, Medialität und mittelalterliche insulare Literatur, ed. Tristram, H. L. C. (Tübingen, 1992), pp. 104–30, at 110–12.Google Scholar

50 King Alfred's West-Saxon Version, ed. Sweet, I, 7 (my translation).Google Scholar

51 For an identification of these types of glosses, see Wieland, , ‘The Glossed Manuscript’, pp. 163–70.Google Scholar

52 Hermann, J. P., Allegories of War: Language and Violence in Old English Poetry (Ann Arbor, MI, 1989), p. 14Google Scholar: ‘Even (or especially) when spiritualized, this violence is troubling; as literal description, it is sadistic. Hence the problem for the modern reader, who cannot become a fourth-century Christian, in trying to think through a violence that, finally, can only be applauded with moral difficulty.’

53 Both quotations appear in Epist. xix, addressed to the monks of Wearmouth, and Jarrow, , Epistolae Karolini Aevi ii, ed. Düimmler, , pp. 54 and 55.Google Scholar

54 I should like to thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for its generous support, which allowed me to travel to the British libraries and to gather material for this article.

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