Friday, November 2, 2012

The one in Oxford (and a very belated Happy Halloween)

MS Douce 134, fol. 098r

I don't know how it happened and I am still fairly certain that I got a wrong e-mail but Oxford Boleian library granted me access to one of their greatest treasures (this is very subjective considering almost every manuscript they own is a treasure), that I was dying to see for quite a while –  Le Livre de La vigne nostre seigneur (MS Douce 134). Thought ridiculously famous in some circles there were no extended studies done on the images or the text. The most coherent description of the manuscript and its history was sent to me from Oxford and fits in to one paragraph:
The Livre de la vigne nostre Seigneur (the title comes from the parable of the labourers in the vineyard) in MS. Douce 134 is an illustrated treatise on the Antichrist, Last Judgement, Hell, and Heaven. Bought by Douce at a Paris auction, 1823. Apparently the only surviving copy of its anonymous text. The text is in French prose, enriched with Latin biblical and patristic quotations: there are many corrections and insertions by the original scribe. The miniatures are by several hands. The table of contents specifies that this is book 2; Grenoble, Bibliotheque municipale, MS. 337, calls itself book 1 of the same text, and has a colophon stating that it was completed on 5 March 1463 and that book 2 was made before book 1. Book 1 is a treatise on the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ. The Grenoble manuscript is not by the same scribe or artist, and its illustrations are confined to the margins; the pair (if they are really the two halves of the same set) had been separated by the 16th century. The Grenoble manuscript reached its present home from the Grande Chartreuse only a few miles away, and the double-page miniature of the heavenly court in the Douce manuscript  (fols. 144v-145r) features Carthusian saints very prominently: perhaps produced by professional artists for a lay patron with Carthusian connections?    
MS Douce. 134fol. 095v
My interest in Livre de la Vigne or how I like to call it Monster Book is simple– demons. They are almost on every single page and their variety and diversity is stunning. The most interesting aspect of these demonic depictions is that according to F. Carey (The Apocalypse and the Shape of Things to Come, p.93) ‘many of the details of the pictorial depictions follow the account in the text, which incorporates the description (in Latin ) from the book of Job 41:5-12: 
(41-5) Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth are terrible round about. (41-6) His body is like molten shields, shut close up with scales pressing upon one another. (41-7) One is joined to another, and not so much as any air can come between them: (41-8) They stick one to another and they hold one another fast, and shall not be separated. (41-9) His sneezing is like the shining of fire, and his eyes like the eyelids of the morning. (41-10) Out of his mouth go forth lamps, like torches of lighted fire. (41-11) Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, like that of a pot heated and boiling. (41-12) His breath kindleth coals, and a flame cometh forth out of his mouth (Doug Rheims Bible)’

I should also notice that elements such as seven heads (like the image on the very top) and ten horns are taken from Apocalypse 12 and 13.

Douce 134, fol. 067v

This is important because it shows that the depiction of the devil at least in this manuscript is to some extent based on scripture and not social expectations of what the devil should like and artistic imagination. Moreover, knowing that some elements were consciously taken from biblical text it is easier to see what the artist added (and then succumb to wild speculation as to why).
Most importantly now I can play the game ‘spot a biblical description’ when I get my hands on the manuscript and in the mean time everyone can enjoy the digital facsimile here.