Medieval manuscripts blog

595 posts categorized "Illuminated manuscripts"

18 October 2017

Highway to Hell

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Today we're living easy, living free because we're on the highway to Hell! We have a season ticket on a one-way ride to explore the Hell-mouth, a popular depiction of Hell in illuminated manuscripts.


Raising a little Hell: full-page miniature depicting Archangel Michael locking the entrance to the Hell-mouth, from the Winchester Psalter, Cotton MS Nero C IV, f. 39r

Imagery of the Hell-mouth has been used from the early medieval period, as the gaping mouth of a beast or serpent filled with the tortured souls of the damned. This image may have originated in Anglo-Saxon literature, with a number of surviving works describing Hell as the mouth of a beast or the Devil himself. One late 10th-century collection of religious texts now known as the Vercelli Book, currently housed at the Biblioteca e Archivio Capitolare di Vercelli, northern Italy, contains a quotation in Old English comparing the Devil to a dragon swallowing human souls:

necumaþ þa næfre ofþæra wyrma seaðe . ofþæs dracan ceolan þe issatan nemned.

'came they never out of the pit of snakes and of the throat of the dragon which is called Satan' (Homily 4:46-8: transcription from The Digital Vercelli Book; translation from D. G. Scragg, ed., The Vercelli Homilies and Related Texts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992)).

This type of imagery inspired illustrations in contemporary manuscripts like the New Minster Liber Vitae (now Stowe MS 944). Produced in Winchester, this manuscript features 11th-century prefatory drawings including dramatic scenes of the Last Judgement that stretch across two folios. The top illustration shows angels leading souls to St Peter, who holds open a door to the Heavenly Jerusalem. In the middle scene, two saints watch on as St Peter and a demon fight over a human soul. In the final scene below, Archangel Michael locks the door to Hell as a demon drops struggling souls into the open mouth of a beast, the Hell-mouth.


An almighty scene: a depiction of the Last Judgement with the Hell-mouth in the bottom illustration, from the New Minster Liber Vitae, Stowe MS 944, ff. 6v–7r

Hell-mouths continued to appear in manuscript illuminations throughout the Middle Ages, becoming more imaginative and wonderfully gruesome in their decoration. The Winchester Psalter (now Cotton MS Nero C IV), produced in the 12th century, contains an elaborate miniature cycle of the Last Judgement, featuring the toothy Hell-mouth of a beast filled with grinning demons tormenting human bodies, including one demon spearing an upside-down king with a pitchfork. Ghastly images like this miniature reminded medieval Christians that judgement awaited them also after death: if they passed, they could join the angels in heavenly paradise; if they failed, they faced eternity in the jaws of Hell.


Give 'em Hell: miniature portraying a three-headed Hell-mouth devouring creatures, from an Apocalypse, Add MS 17333, f. 43r

Illustrated Hell-mouths were particularly popular in Apocalypse manuscripts, works that contain copies of the Book of Revelation. This text is the final book of the Bible, featuring lurid visions of the struggles between good and evil before the Last Judgement. In a 14th-century French Apocalypse composed in both Latin and French (now Add MS 17333), images are used to depict the text, like a three-headed Hell-mouth illustrating the following passage from Revelation 20:10 (f. 43r): 'And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.' Three creatures likely representing the devil, beast and false prophet of the text are consumed by fire and brimstone within the wide jaws of the Hell-mouth. A demon can even be seen prodding a six-headed beast with a poker.

A 15th-century Book of Hours known as the Bedford Hours (now Add MS 18850) similarly contains scenes from the Last Judgement at the opening of the Office of the Dead, a prayer cycle commonly read for deceased loved ones in order to help their souls reach Paradise. The accompanying miniature acts as a visual reminder to readers of what awaited them after death: elaborate detail and decoration to glorify Paradise and gore-ify Hell. Christ appears enthroned in judgement over human souls, flanked by saints and angels. Souls that have passed judgement are greeted by angels as they reach Heaven. The damned souls below are forced into a fiery Hell-mouth, and roundels feature demons grinning as they beat human figures with mallets and turn a torture wheel.


Glorification of Heaven, Gore-ification of Hell: Hell-mouth in a full-page miniature depicting the Last Judgement, from the Bedford Hours, Add MS 18850, f. 157r

However, according to AC/DC, there is a bright side to ending up as a snack to a Hell-mouth:

Going down, party time

My friends are gonna be there too!

Image 5_harley_ms_3999_f021r
Like a bat into Hell: Detail of a marginal drawing with a bat-like Hell-mouth devouring souls, from Harley MS 3999, f. 21r


Alison Ray

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13 October 2017

Job vacancy to work with digital images

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The British Library is recruiting for a Project Officer to work on The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200. This is a full-time, fixed term position, for nine months, in the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section of the Western Heritage Department.


The opening page for the Gospel of St Matthew from 9th-century Northern France: Harley MS 2797, f. 15r.

The Project Officer will assist the curators with all aspects of preparation for and delivery of the digitisation project and other smaller digitisation projects, including the South-East Asian manuscripts project. This will include arranging for delivery to the studio, checking images and uploading manuscripts to the Library’s online catalogue, contributing to the development of learning materials, preparing blog posts, answering enquiries and a range of other curatorial duties. This is a 9-month post post beginning in January 2018, dependent on the necessary security clearances being obtained.

Full details of the post and how to apply are available on the Library’s website. The position is only open to applicants with the right to work in the UK.

To apply, please visit

Closing Date: 5 November 2017

Interviews will be held on 16 November 2017. The selection process may include questions about the date and origin of a particular manuscript to be shown at the interview.

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09 October 2017

Either a borrower or a lender be

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You may have noticed the recent trend to commemorate things with their own day or week. Perhaps you missed International Bagpipe Day (10 March — put a note in your diaries for 2018) but some people may have remembered to celebrate National Badger Day last Friday. Certain of these dates have less resonance with us at the British Library, but one that has caught our eye, and is definitely the occasion to blow our own trumpet, is Libraries Week, starting on 9 October. To celebrate, we are looking at evidence for lending and borrowing in medieval libraries.

‘Not to lend books is a type of homicide’, according to Stephen Langton's commentary on Deuteronomy. (One of Langton's principal claims to fame is that he was archbishop of Canterbury at the time that Magna Carta was issued in 1215.) There is a popular perception that medieval libraries comprised rows of chained books, which were never allowed out of sight. Such chained libraries did exist (an example is that at Hereford, and many British Library manuscripts were clearly once chained), but people have always exchanged, borrowed and shared their books. Here are some of our favourite examples drawn from the British Library’s collections.

Richard de Bury, bishop of Durham and noted book-borrower, with a stack of three books, St Albans, c. 1380, Cotton MS Nero D VII, f. 87r

Borrowing books was crucial for the formation of medieval libraries. Scribes often borrowed manuscripts to make copies. For example, the letters of Lupus, abbot of Ferrières (fl. c. 805–862), are full of requests to borrow books, which he copied to augment his own libraries.

Harley 2736   f. 4
Lupus of Ferrières’s manuscript of Cicero’s De oratore, copied from a book he borrowed from the library at Fulda in 836, Harley MS 2736, f. 1r

After the monastery of Peterborough burnt down in 1116, its library was restocked in part by borrowing and copying texts from other houses. Some of the diagrams in one computistical handbook may have been left unfinished when the scribes had to return their exemplar.

Possibly unfinished pages from Byrhtferth of Ramsey’s computus, England (Peterborough), 2nd quarter of the 12th century, Harley MS 3667, ff. 5v–6r

Outside of monasteries, professional scribes and illuminators also borrowed books. A note in a 14th-century copy of the Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César records that one of its quires was lent to the Parisian illuminator, Perrin Remiet (fl. 1368, or c. 1396–1420), to copy.

Royal 20 D I f. 33v
Detail of a bas de page illustration of Jason's adventures, Naples, c. 1330–1340, Royal MS 20 D I, f. 33v

Medieval authors also needed to borrow books. The huge number of sources cited by Bede (d. 735) suggests that he may have borrowed books from other libraries. 

On occasion we have clear evidence that surviving books had been loaned. For example, one 13th-century theological compilation from Reading Abbey has an inscription indicating it was exchanged with Cirencester Abbey for another book.

Flyleaf with drawings, book curse and note of an exchange, Harley MS 979, f. 1v

Individual monks also borrowed books from their monastic library. The ‘Constitutions’ of Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, stated that Benedictine monks should borrow a book every year, starting on the first Monday of Lent. They also needed to beg forgiveness if they hadn’t managed to read last year’s book.

Passage on lending books, from Lanfranc's Constitutions, England (Christ Church, Canterbury), 2nd quarter of the 12th century, Cotton MS Claudius C VI, f.  178r

Borrowing and lending books was not limited to the clergy. In the mid-15th century, John Paston, a member of the gentry from Norfolk, wrote to his brother to ask that he contact a mutual friend in London who ‘has a book of my sister Ann, of the Siege of Thebes. When he is done with it, he promised to deliver it to you.’ One medieval bestiary may also have been lent to laypeople. The last page includes an oath that its borrowers would have to return the manuscript or die. The oath is signed by an 'abstetrix heifmoeder' (midwife) in a 14th- or 15th-century hand.

Add MS 11390  f. 94v
Detail of an oath, from Der Nature Bloeme, Western Netherlands, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Add MS 11390, f. 94v

Not everyone was happy about lending books or trusted their borrowers. ‘Overdue’ or stolen books were a major concern. Some books include curses threatening supernatural punishments on anyone who stole them. Other lenders utilised contracts or letters to ensure that their books were returned. An indenture dated 1 June 1390 (Cotton MS Faustina C V, f. 50r) records that William Bottlesham, bishop of Rochester, agreed to lend John Mory/Amory, rector of Southfleet, 13 books and some vestments for one month. If they were not returned, the borrower would have to pay 100 marks sterling.

Royal 4 E V   f. 4
One of the books borrowed by John Mory/Amory, Antony of Padua's Concordantia maior and Concordantiae morales bibliorum, England, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal MS 4 E V, f. 4r

Letters written in an effort to recover books provide further evidence of borrowing. In the 970s or 980s, a monk from Fleury wrote to Archbishop Dunstan of Canterbury (d. 988) and mentioned that Abbot Osgar of Abingdon (d. 984)  and the monks of Winchester had still not returned his books.

Copy of a letter from ‘L’ (Lantfred) of Fleury to Archbishop Dunstan, Canterbury, 1st quarter of the 11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius A XV, f. 168v

This is only a very partial survey of the medieval evidence for lending and borrowing books. We hope it shows at the very least that medieval libraries should not be stereotyped as containing rows of chained tomes, jealously guarded by ferocious librarians. Next time you borrow a book from your local library, remember you are participating in an ancient tradition.

Alison Hudson

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05 October 2017

Illumination study day at the British Library

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There are still a few places remaining for a study day (23 October 2017) at the Knowledge Centre for members of the University of the Third Age, on illuminated manuscripts in the British Library. The Library holds one of the most extensive collections of illuminated manuscripts in the world. This programme will focus on manuscripts made in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, with in-depth talks given by curators and art historians.


King David at the beginning of Psalm 1, in the Luttrell Psalter, Lincolnshire, 1325-40: Add MS 42130, f. 13r

The programme will include talks on The World in Illuminated Manuscripts by Dr Alixe Bovey of the Courtauld Institute; English Biblical Illuminated Manuscripts by Dr Kathleen Doyle of the British Library; French Illuminated Manuscripts by Dr Mara Hofmann of Sotheby’s; Flemish Illuminated Manuscripts by Dr Scot McKendrick of the British Library; and Materiality of Illuminated Manuscripts by the scribe and illuminator Patricia Lovett MBE. The full programme can be found here:  Download U3A study day programme.

For information on how to book, see


1,000 Years of Illumination (Illumination Study Day)

The British Library

23 October



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03 October 2017

Reuniting a Middle Dutch prayerbook

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We are pleased to be able to update this blogpost with the kind assistance of Professor Kathryn M. Rudy (St Andrews), whose work on this prayerbook will be published next year.

In the decades after Gutenberg built the first printing press, bookmakers experimented with pasting printed images into hand-written books. That is, they combined the old technology of manuscript with the new medium of print. In the 19th century, collectors removed many of these prints from the manuscripts that had preserved them. Hundreds of woodcuts and engravings that once embellished manuscripts have ended up in the British Museum, while the manuscripts from which they were removed are in the British Library. Professor Rudy, a book historian at the University of St Andrews, has built a database to match the prints with the manuscripts in which they were formerly pasted. Digitally reconstructing them shows how innovative bookmakers were in absorbing the new technology.

Image 1 - Binding
binding of the Middle Dutch prayerbook, probably from Maastricht, c. 1500: Add MS 24332

This Middle Dutch prayerbook (British Library Add MS 24332) once contained a series of engravings, which had been chosen by the original makers as companions for its handwritten prayers. However, the engravings became separated from the manuscript in the 19th century. Only in recent years has the manuscript been matched with more than 50 illustrations held in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. Photo-editing allows us to reveal a series of beautifully coloured engravings — several of which have been associated with Israhel van Meckenem (d. 1503), a German printmaker and goldsmith — alongside the texts for which they had originally been selected.

  St Lucy

A modern leaf replaces the gap left by a missing illustration of St Lucy (Add Ms 24332, ff. 422v–423r): see the reconstruction below

Until recently, the only images still found in this manuscript were a snippet from an engraving of the Annunciation and a marginal image of St John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary, which probably remains only because it could not be removed without destroying it.

Image 2 - The AnnunciationImage 3 - The Virgin Mary
A snippet of the Annunciation, Add MS 24332, f. 283v; engraving of St John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary,  f. 307v

We know where the British Museum prints go, because they follow the original medieval page numbering system.

    St Lucy
A prayer to and engraving of St Lucy digitally reunited using British Museum image (copyright Trustees of the British Museum) and Add Ms 24332, ff. 422v–423r

St Cecilia

A prayer to and engraving of St Cecilia digitally reunited using British Museum image (copyright Trustees of the British Museum) and Add MS 24332, ff. 416v–417r

St Anne

A prayer to and engraving of St Anne (with the Virgin Mary and Christ Child) digitally reunited using British Museum image (copyright Trustees of the British Museum) and Add MS 24332, ff. 354v–355r

St Michael match

A prayer to and engraving of St Michael the Archangel digitally reunited using British Museum image (copyright Trustees of the British Museum) and Add MS 24332, ff. 383v–384r 

But what does this teach us? These leaves give an insight into how the engravings were adapted for the needs of the book. For example, the manuscript’s miniature of St Lucy is a reworked version of St Catherine of Alexandria. St Lucy is usually depicted holding a pair of eyes in one hand, to indicate that, before she was killed by her Roman persecutors, her eyes had been gouged out. However, this engraving lacks St Lucy’s usual attribute: while the artist who reworked the print was able to cover St Catherine’s torture wheel, it was impossible to add a pair of eyes to her hands, as one already held a sword and the other a book. The artist therefore appears to have given St Lucy a black eye.

AN00059989_001_l Eyes

St Catherine of Alexandria, disguised as St Lucy with an artful(ish) make-over (copyright Trustees of the British Museum, object reg: 1861,1109.639)

The engravings hold further evidence for the manuscript’s origin at the community of Franciscan tertiaries in Maastricht. The manuscript contains prayers to St Francis and St Clare of Assisi, the founders of the male and female branches of the Franciscan Order; one of these refers to St Francis as ‘our dear father and worthy patron’ (f. 379r: ‘soete vader ende werde patroen’), and so the manuscript has been attributed to a Franciscan community. One of the illustrated leaves supports this attribution, since it contains an unusual prayer to and engraving of Saint Elzéar of Sabran, a Franciscan tertiary. Another engraving is dedicated to Holy Name, a devotion closely associated with the Franciscan friar St Bernardino of Siena, who is also mentioned in the manuscript.

  Image 8 - Holy Name
The Holy Name of Jesus (copyright Trustees of the British Museum, 1861,1109.645)

We still know little about this Middle Dutch prayerbook, but a full reconstruction could provide further insights into the textual and visual culture of the religious community that produced the manuscript. 

Professor Rudy’s book, The Image, the Knife, and the Gluepot: Early Experiments in Combining Manuscript and Print, will appear in early 2018, with support from the British Academy.

 Clarck Drieshen and Amy Jeffs

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01 October 2017

A calendar page for October 2017

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Hard to believe it, but it is now October. Let’s see what one of our favourite artists, the ever-creative talent behind Add MS 36684, has given us for this, the tenth month. If you’d like to know more about Additional MS 36684, check out January’s post, and for more on medieval calendars, please see our calendar post from 2011. 

Add_ms_36684_f011r Add_ms_36684_f011r
Calendar pages for October, from a Book of Hours, St Omer or Théouranne, c. 1320, Add MS 36684, ff. 10v–11r

The labour of the month for October, found at the bottom of the first page of October’s calendar, is somewhat ambiguous. The labourer stands in the usual gilded niche, and appears to be outdoors, given the greenery around his feet. He wears a sling made of cloth around his neck, to hold whatever he has been gathering or is planting. October’s labour is usually either planters sowing fields (as in the Hours of Joanna of Castile) or gathering grapes to make wine (as in the London Rothschild Hours). Another possibility is that the labourer is shown gathering acorns for animal feed.  

Labour of the Month for October, Add MS 36684, f. 10v

On the second page, we have our next misplaced zodiac figure (as we pointed out in in August’s post): a centaur armed with a bow, the traditional figure for Sagittarius, which is the star sign spanning the second half of November and first part of December. The centaur has a particularly majestic tail, which extends out beyond the niche and into the margin. Sagittarius’s index and middle fingers on his right hand are raised in what might look to modern viewers as the ‘peace’ sign, but are in fact the two fingers used to grasp a bow string. We would wish him happy hunting, but he appears to have forgot something important — his arrows! 

Sagittarius, Add MS 36684, f. 11r

A reminder that you can browse the whole of Additional MS 36684 in high definition on our Digitised Manuscripts site. The leaves are changing and the days are about to get much shorter — make sure you’ve gathered enough acorns and made enough wine to survive the coming winter.

Taylor McCall 
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27 September 2017

Fifty shades of grisaille

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The medieval period had a fascinating relationship with colour, producing beautifully illuminated manuscripts, vibrant stained glass and other richly decorated artworks. It is surprising then, that during the later Middle Ages a new highly prized art form developed almost entirely in shades of grey. From the French word gris (‘grey’), the technique of grisaille was only used in luxury manuscripts and signified the wealth and social status of their owners.

Image 1_royal_ms_14_d_i_f337v

Miniature of Philosophy holding the planetary spheres, in a French translation of Augustine’s De civitate Dei, last quarter of the 15th century, from Royal MS 14 D I, f. 337v

The use of grisaille possibly originated in the 12th century, following an attempted ban on the use of colour in stained-glass painting made by the Cistercian Order. During the 12th and 13th centuries, windows decorated in grisaille rose in popularity and were installed in medieval churches alongside coloured glass portraits of figures. The Italian artist Giotto (c. 1267–1337) is credited with the first use of grisaille in wall painting in the early 14th-century allegorical fresco of the Seven Virtues and Vices. Featuring on the north and south walls of the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, the monochrome figures of the Virtues and Vices are painted to resemble stone and marble sculpture.

  Image 2_Seven Virtues and Vices fresco
Details of Charity and Envy, from the Seven Virtues and Vices fresco cycle, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy, c. 1303–1306

Manuscript illuminations began to feature grisaille painting from the first half of the 14th century onwards, and the art technique was used to indicate the manuscript’s status as a luxury product. The British Library houses several examples of the grisaille style of illumination, including a French Bible historiale in two volumes produced for Charles V of France in 1357 before his coronation as king in 1364. Both volumes (now Royal MS 17 E VII vol 1 and vol 2) open with large miniatures partially in grisaille. The second volume opens with scenes from the life of Solomon with a playful bas-de-page scene underneath of a lion, Charles V’s symbol.

Image 3_royal_ms_17_e_vii_vol_2_f001r

Opening page of Guyart des Moulins, Bible historiale with miniature of scenes from the life of Solomon and bas-de-page below of lion and monkeys, France, 1357, from Royal MS 17 E VII vol 2, f. 1r

Grisaille continued to be used in manuscript illuminations into the 15th and 16th centuries, as seen in a French translation of Augustine’s De civitate Dei (now Royal MS 14 D I) made for an unknown noble patron and featuring 11 miniatures in grisaille at the beginning of each book,  and containing a depiction of Philosophy holding the planetary spheres. Similar illuminations appear in a later copy of Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War (now Harley MS 6205) produced for Francis I in 1519. The manuscript’s decoration was completed by a Flemish artist, Godefroy le Batave, including a dramatic night scene illustration of Caesar in battle.

Image 4_harley_ms_6205_f021v

Miniature of Caesar in battle, in Commentaires de la Guerre Gallique, France, 1519, from Harley MS 6205, f. 21v

Monochrome painting techniques soon developed beyond the colour grey. A 16th-century luxury Book of Hours features beautiful examples of camaïeu decoration, that is, single-colour painting in any colour other than grey. This Book of Hours (now Add MS 35313) was possibly produced for Joanna ‘The Mad’ I, Queen of Castille and Aragon, and illustrated by two Ghent master artists known as the Master of James IV of Scotland and the Maximilian Master. The calendar pages at the beginning of the manuscript are accompanied by illustrations of the labours of the months and zodiac signs completed in colour, as well as medallions in camaïeu of imitation gold. These medallions illustrate the lives of saints that have feast days listed in the calendar. The November page medallions depict All Saints; the soul in purgatory; St Martin of Tours; St Clement; St Catherine; and St Andrew. They are ordered by appearance in the calendar page from earliest (top) to latest (bottom), and the feast days are written in red ink to highlight them. The medallions also appear to imitate wood panel and the careful highlighting and shadow provides a 3-D relief effect, much like Giotto’s earlier fresco panels. These medallions are best seen close up: you can zoom in on their fascinating detail on our Digitised Manuscripts site here.

Image 5_add_ms_35313_f006v

Calendar page for November bordered by medallions in camaïeu depicting saints’ lives, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Add MS 35313, f. 6v


Alison Ray

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25 September 2017

Drop dead gorgeous

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At the beginning of the Office for the Dead in a 15th-century Book of Hours at the British Library, an initial was decorated with an image of a richly-attired skeleton admiring herself in a mirror.  This image may already be familiar to readers of this blog. What we haven't previously mentioned, however, is this manuscript's connection to a powerful duchess, the Renaissance artist Titian and a real skeleton. 

Yates Thompson 7   f. 174
Detail of an initial in the Office for the Dead, from the Hours of Dionora of Urbino, Central Italy, c. 1480–1520, Yates Thompson MS 7, f. 174r 

The stylish skeleton appears in a Book of Hours owned by Eleanora (also called Dionora) Gonzaga della Rovere, duchess of Urbino. She was an important patron of the arts and a political figure. We know that this book was owned by Eleanora because it is inscribed with her name and because her family's arms and her husband's arms appear throughout the decoration. The scribe, who signed his work, was Matteo Contugi de Volterra, who worked around the year 1480. The illumination, completed later, may be the work of one of the most notable illuminators from Renaissance Italy, Matteo da Milano. 

Yates Thompson 7   f. 14
Detail of a border with the inscription 'Diva Dio(nora) Duci(ssa) Ur(bini)' and with the arms of Della Rova impaling Gonzaga, Yates Thompson MS 7, f. 14r

Eleanora was a great patron of other artists, too. She supported writers such as Baldassare Castiglioni and the poet, Torquato Tasso. Today, she is particularly associated with Titian, who painted her portrait and that of her husband. Some people have even argued that Titian used Eleanora's face as a model for other paintings, namely La Bella, Girl in a Fur Cloak and the Venus of Urbino, although this is now disputed. That is probably just as well: the Venus of Urbino was bought by Eleanora's son Guidobaldo, possibly as a gift for his wife, so it might have been a bit odd if Titian had used the eventual recipient's mother-in-law as one of the models!

Yates Thompson 7   f. 174    Eleanora gonzaga titian


Spot the difference! Yates Thompson MS 7, Titian's portrait of Eleanora (now in the Uffizi Gallery) and the Venus of Urbino (now also in the Uffizi Gallery)

Eleanora Gonzaga della Rovere died in 1570 and she was buried in the church of Santa Chiara in Urbino. All that now remains of Eleanora , former owner of the British Library's Book of Hours, is a skeleton. Indeed, the skeleton believed to be hers was exhumed and analysed in 2005, with the study using craniofacial superimposition to compare its skull with Titian's portrait of Eleonora. The analysis concluded that 'the face of Eleonora [in the painting] matches the skull fairly closely except for the length of the nose'. Titian may have portrayed her with a smaller nose to exaggerate her beauty. If that was the case, it is an interesting coda to the story of the duchess who owned this Book of Hours, with its famous image of a skeleton warning against vanity!

Yates Thompson 7   f. 42v
Detail of a border and an initial 'D' inscribed with the words 'Dionara Gonzaga Duc(issa) Urbini et cet[era]' , Yates Thompson MS 7, f. 42v


Alison Hudson

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