Monday, 26 November 2012

The Smithfield Decretals

In my random googlings today, I came across a manuscript with the weirdest marginalia.  It's the Decretals of Gregory IX with glossa ordinaria, specifically The Smithfield Decretals.  This work was a collection of medieval canon law, designed to replace all the previous collections.  Originally compiled in 1230, this specific manuscript was actually finished around 1300 in Southern France.  Well, the written part was. 

 Top:  The last page of the Smithfield Decretals, including illustrations.  Oh, the folio is half a metre tall, by the way.
Bottom:  Close up of the last line of the manuscript.  Translated, it reads "The whole thing is finished; give the guy who wrote it a drink."  Good man!

Nearly all the illuminations, however, were added 40 years later.  Whoever owned it at that point lived in England and commissioned a group of artists to illuminate every page of the folio.  Some of the pages have pretty illustrations of birds or people hunting boar and are fairly "normal".  Other pages show battles and sieges, with some interesting details:

In this case, the interesting detail is that the castle is being defended by a sword-wielding woman.  Judging by the hairstyles, everyone in the castle is female, barring the face at the window, which could be that of a child.  Still, looks like the guy on the ladder is having a really bad hair day...

There are also some illustrations of Reyard the Fox, who was a trickster character in European folklore.  He is shown preaching to geese, chickens and even a heron.  But of course, geese are tasty...

Nom, nom, nom, geese.  I wonder what this picture could *possibly* be an allegory of... that's almost brave for the time!

Of course, once Reynard is caught, he must face  justice for his crime.  Hanging is a fitting medieval punishment for theft and murder:

The geese and ducks require retribution!  Though how on Earth that goose intends to fire that bow is beyond me...

Given that Reynard was a wily type, he probably managed to talk them out of it at the last, mind.  The manuscript has many story pictures of this type, including the revenge of the bunny rabbits, a knight jousting against a snail, and a dragon attacking a windmill.  If any of these descriptions take your fancy, a catalogue of images is available here:  http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/record.asp?MSID=6549&CollID=16&NStart=100504

I swear, there is even one captioned "Man attacking a butterfly."  I'd love to know the context for that one...


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