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Pembroke College : New Testament, prefaced by illustrated cycle of the Life of Christ

Pembroke College

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>This volume is a composite of elements drawn from two originally separate manuscripts, one perhaps made at Bury St Edmunds, the other given to Bury in the fourteenth century.</p><p>Part I comprises six leaves bearing a cycle of thirty-nine outline drawings of scenes from the New Testament, drawn by an artist whose style derives closely from that of the Alexis Master, the artist of the St Albans Psalter (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Hildesheim, Pfarrbibliothek, St Godehard, MS 1</a>) and other St Albans books (e.g. Cambridge, King's College, MS 19), whose work has been shown to have been of fundamental importance for the diffusion of a new style of Romanesque art in England. A Bury origin for the leaves has been suggested since the style of the Alexis Master was known at Bury: a very close follower illustrated a Life of St Edmund (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, M. 736</a>), presumably at Bury, since the text is in the hand of a Bury scribe. The underdrawings of the Life may have been the work of the Alexis Master himself. Furthermore, the first three leaves were subsequently tinted by another less competent artist, whose colouring in the borders may reflects the influence of the Bury Bible (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 2</a>), certainly produced at and for the Abbey.</p><p>The iconography corresponds in many respects to the cycle of pictures that prefaces the St Albans Psalter, and the more extensive cycle that once prefaced the Eadwine Psalter (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.17.1</a>). Some of the iconography, however, is more unusual, and displays a close relationship with Ottonian picture traditions, most especially those in eleventh-century manuscripts from Echternach, near Trier (an influence also detectable, though to a lesser extent, in the Eadwine picture cycle).</p><p>The leaves probably formed, or were intended to form, part of a larger manuscript, but it is not wholly clear what type of book this might have been, although a strong case can be made that they were intended to accompany the second element, a copy of the New Testament, from the outset. Surviving manuscripts suggest that biblical picture cycles normally accompanied Psalters, yet the proportion of the Bury leaves are much larger than those of twelfth-century Psalters (apart from the Eadwine Psalter, which is exceptional), and are more typical of the large format Romanesque Bibles, such as the Bury Bible and Dover Bible (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 3-4</a>). The absence of any Old Testament scenes is also anomalous.</p><p>The second element is a copy of the New Testament, also produced during the second quarter or mid-twelfth century by a single expert scribe who identifies himself as William in a colophon on f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(366);return false;'>182v</a>. Major divisions of the text are marked with initials in rich body-colour and gold; five are historiated and the remainder ornamented with tight foliage spirals, monsters, birds and human figures. A second level of textual division is indicated with flat-colour 'arabesque' initials. The script is unlike that of numerous surviving books produced at Bury St Edmunds during the mid-twelfth century, neither do the arabesque initials contain any of the motifs typical of Bury decoration of this date. It is especially notable for the iconography of its Evangelist portraits, in particular that of Mark, which E. Parker McLachlan believes to be unique in manuscript art of the twelfth century and earlier in depicting him as a tetramorph. His lion-symbol surmounts a seated human body with three further heads comprising the symbols of the other three Evangelists. The figure is shown turning to his left and cutting off his thumb, an act attributed to Mark in the prologue that accompanies the Gospel. Other aspects of the style and iconography of the major initials can be paralleled in English Romanesque manuscripts but without shedding light on a possible place of origin. It had been assumed that this part of the manuscript only came to Bury in the fourteenth century, as the gift of the sacrist, Reginald of Denham, however it has subsequently been observed the inscription on f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(15);return false;'>7r</a> recording his donation could also be interpreted as recording his role in redeeming the book following its possible use as a pledge. Such an interpretation, together with the physical evidence of the dimensions of the ruling of the miniature leaves and their sewing, allow for the possibility that the two parts of the manuscript were bound together, and at Bury, from the outset.</p><p>Professor Tessa Webber<br /> Professor of Palaeography, Faculty of History<br /> University of Cambridge</p></p>

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