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Illuminate your Winter! New Manuscript Displays

A new installation of some of our finest Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and cuttings from are on display in the Upper Marlay (Gallery 6) and in the Medieval Treasury (Gallery 32).

The cuttings (pages or details from large volumes) in the Upper Marlay all originate in Italy and Spain, and derive from sumptuously decorated works produced between the early fourteenth and the late seventeenth century. We have chosen them to illustrate winter feasts: the birth and early life of Christ, as well as the Feast of St Nicholas. The illuminations originally formed part of large choir books, Antiphoners or Graduals, and marked important events in the Christian winter calendar. These choral manuscripts would have been placed on a lectern and the scenes housed within richly decorated and elaborate initials viewed by the singers gathered around the manuscript. Over the course of the year, monks, nuns, and groups of devout lay people sang hymns and chants specific to religious feasts, such as saints’ days or episodes from the life of Christ. The images helped readers navigate the large books by marking the feasts, and encouraged reflection on Christian stories. They can also provide modern audiences with insight into medieval customs and ideas.

The manuscripts on display in Gallery 32 illustrate the changing history of book production and use in Europe over 900 years. Among the important manuscripts and cuttings on display, a twelfth-century illuminator’s model book from Tuscany and an advertisement sheet by the sixteenth-century calligrapher Petruccio Ubaldini, demonstrate the practical realities of manuscript commission and production. This display also gives visitors the chance to see some of the finest treasures from our medieval collection, such as the Pabenham-Clifford Hours, a heavily illustrated and richly decorated personal prayer book produced in England for the marriage of John Pabenham and Joan Clifford in around 1315. The couple, dressed in their respective heraldic patterns, can be seen in the margins throughout the manuscript. Also on display is the Dormition of the Virgin by the Master of the Murano Gradual, a true masterpiece of Venetian manuscript illumination.

The cuttings in Gallery 6 will be changed at the end of February. In Gallery 32, new cuttings will be installed and the openings of manuscripts will be changed the week before Easter.

Friday 10th January 2020

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