European studies blog

23 December 2019

Is it better to give or to receive?

Everybody needs a patron, nobody more than the medieval or early modern author.

Erasmus dedicated one work to four successive patrons (Carlson 85; also 45). The assumption was that the patron would respond with a payment, sometimes delivered on the spot (Carlson 85). Hence the delicious title of Richard Firth Green’s Poets and Princepleasers: literature and the English court in the late Middle Ages.

Woodcut of the poet Juan de Mena doffing his cap to King John II

Title-page of Juan de Mena, Las ccc (Seville, 1499) G.11274

Here we see the poet Juan de Mena doffing his cap to King John II. (Of course, the woodcut obviously comes from some other work, but such reuse was commonplace.)

Another popular scene shows the patron, the author and the book. It’s probably the norm for an author to be shown presenting his work to his patron.

Harley MS 4431 (c. 1410-c.1414), f. 3r, for example, shows Christine de Pizan presenting her manuscript to Queen Isabeau of Bavaria:

Christine de Pizan presents her manuscript to Queen Isabeau of Bavaria

But in other cases the patron is pretty unambiguously doing the presenting.

Henry VIII hands out his Great Bible

Here Henry VIII is handing out his Great Bible (London, 1540; C.18.d.10) to the clergy and directly to the people.

Henry‘s iconography is probably the older, as it has been traced back to images of Justinian handing down the law.

Here we have Fray Antonio de Montesino kneeling before Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs. The book is his Spanish translation of pseudo-Ludolph of Saxony’s Vita Christi (Alcalá de Henares, 1502-03; C.63.i.1.). 

Woodcut of Fray Antonio de Montesino kneeling before Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs

Lyell (385, n. 150) thinks the presenter is the patron Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros, the recipients the patron’s patrons the King and Queen, and that the humble translator, Montesino, is literally sidelined.

The tug-of-love between King and Cardinal makes it hard to see who is giving and who is receiving.

So just remember that this festive season.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References

David R. Carlson, English Humanist Books (Toronto, 1993) YA.1995.b.12352

Richard Firth Green, Poets and Princepleasers: literature and the English court in the late Middle Ages (Toronto, 1980). 80/17195

James P. R. Lyell, La ilustración del libro antiguo en España (Madrid, 1997). YF.2009.a.21979. (First published in English as Early book illustration in Spain (London, 1926) 11907.g.58.)