52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 52: the St Andrews Psalter

Echoes from the Vault

For the final inspiring illustration of this 52-week series, it could be argued that we have saved the best for the last. This is a book of Psalms (with a liturgical calendar of Sarum (or Salisbury) use), which was written in England, probably near London, in the mid-15th century (St Andrews msBX2033.A00). It would have been commissioned as a private devotional text, and there is some evidence which suggests that it might have been produced for a member of the Senhouse family in Northern England.  It has for long been known as the ‘St Andrews Psalter’, but for no good reason other than that we have owned it since at least the late 17th century, when it appears in a Library catalogue.

This is a very high grade manuscript, with well-written text and a consistently fine level of decoration of initials. Its stunning feature, however…

View original post 232 more words


Monsters, Marvels, and the Meaning of Morte


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When you start university there are certain questions that you can guarantee people to ask you. Everybody hates these questions, yet everyone asks them: What are you studying? Where are you living? Where are you from? But when you reach the last stretch of your final year these questions get replaced by even worse ones: What is your dissertation about? What degree grade do you think you’ll get? What are your plans for the future?

As for my plans for the future I am continuing studying at the University of Kent for a Masters degree in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and I even managed somehow to gain a scholarship to do so, but as for the rest of my life I am still uncertain, no 5 year plan for me.

My predicted degree grade is a whole other jar of pickles. I want a First, most of my coursework is at a First, but I am terrible at exams, and by terrible I mean astonishingly bad. So it is going to be a close one, probably a 2:1, which is not too shabby, but if all the stars align correctly then maybe a first. Fingers crossed.

There’s those two terrible questions handled. It is the first one however, the dissertation question, which I dread the most. This isn’t because I don’t like my dissertation, or because it’s a complicated subject, it is simply because everyone who asks it immediately wishes they hadn’t.

So what is my dissertation you wonder? Well…

The title is: Monsters, Marvels, and the meaning of Morte

Dissertation f.52v

16thC Frontispiece to the alliterative Morte Arthure
Lincoln MS 91 f.52v

That isn’t the dreaded part, most seem to be genuinely intrigued by the title, it is when I start explaining the topic that their eyes become glazed and they lose all interest

“ummm it’s about a fourteenth century alliterative poem and how it interacts with medieval culture”

I absolutely loved writing my dissertation, and personally find the subject so enthralling I could have written another 10,000 words on it. I found every chapter of it frustrating because I couldn’t find enough words, enough pages, to fit in everything I had to say. I felt like everything was an overview, too superficial to do justice to the text itself or its surrounding subjects.

The alliterative Morte Arthure is a multifaceted text and embodies within it so much of medieval culture that the 4,000 line poem seeps with suggestive symbols, images and motifs. Although there are numerous other angles from which the text could have been analysed, I focused on how the poem, through its monsters and marvels, were evocative of, or interacting in, a sphere of the supernatural which Robert Bartlett identifies during the medieval period circa 1000-1500.

I came to the conclusion that the alliterative Morte Arthure is a lengthy enhancement of the sources from which it originates, intentionally amalgamating various sources, not just those of the chronicles, but of classical texts, the bible, the bestiary, medieval dream visions, and hagiography. The text accrues meaning from all of these sources and mines them for monsters and marvels, creating an enriched, complex and meaningful text in the process, it is a startling synthesis of the supernatural themes and motifs that achieved such an extensive popularity and endurance within the medieval period, and it is thus a worthy text of historical and cultural study.

I handed in my dissertation exactly a month ago today, submitting it half an hour before the deadline (the earliest I have ever handed in an assignment), yet I couldn’t have written this post any sooner. I needed a good break from it, to remove myself from it after spending months thinking about it, reading it, and yes, even dreaming about it. I am now waiting with baited breath and crossed fingers for my grade which is released on the 18thJune, when I will also find out the answer to my degree grade. So that will be question 2 all sorted which just leaves the final question to figure out.

In the meantime, anyone that wishes to read my dissertation can do so. Simply click here and you shall have the product of my blood sweat and tears for your personal reading pleasure and judgement. I welcome any feedback or comments and I hope that somebody else, anybody else, will find this subject as enthralling as I do.

Finishing the Final Year – a state of flux


, , , , ,

I haven’t posted anything interesting on here for a long time. Well, I haven’t posted anything at all. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been off doing wonderfully interesting things, but I have in fact I have just be incredibly busy finishing my third year. I have however now completely finished. Final projects done, dissertation done, and the dreaded exams are all done. The entire time I, like every other final year student, was suffering from immense stress, but now that it’s all over I don’t really know what to do with myself.

keep-calm-and-graduate-1207This is such a strange time for all of us finishing, you are elated for having finished and being somewhat successful in life, even though you’re in god only knows how much debt (personally I calculate around £25,000), you are devastated to be leaving the life you’ve been living for the past three years, especially the friends which you’ve made who will all now be returning to their homes all over the country, and the majority of people are now facing an uncertain future, not being sure of what they want to do, or if they do know, not being able to find a break or get a job. You’ve suddenly gone from having so much to do to having nothing to do, stuck in a sort of limbo, in a state of flux.

My Friend and I enjoying a celebratory beer stick at La Trappiste

My Friend and I enjoying a celebratory beer stick at La Trappiste

I have been having fun, going out to celebrate “the end” with a Belgian beer stick and a cheese board at La Trappiste, a delicious dinner at the Olive Grove with friends, and a trip to see the new Great Gatsby film, but I am fast running out of money to continue such lavish celebrations or to go on any big adventures. I am aware of how fortunate I am to have so much spare time, but it is still frustrating.

I miss having something to do every day and as much as I like being stress free, I’m bored. I have so far watched about 6 films, caught up on all the tele I’ve been neglecting and even started reading some of the novels I’ve been putting off for the entirety of my degree. I’ve found a place to live, got a summer job to start in a month’s time and cleaned the house. So what now?

I’m so glad to be returning to university in September, at least I know that this uncertainty isn’t going to be lasting for too long, or that at least I’m putting it off for another 18 months.


This isn’t of course the only reason why I’m doing a Masters; I have loved my degree for the most part and I am excited to continue studying, I have not had enough of the medieval period nor of Canterbury, it’s a wonderful course to study and in a beautiful environment. (This is starting to sound like a personal statement isn’t it?) I was even lucky enough to receive a scholarship and so I am not in quite the same situation as many of the other thirds years I know, I am lucky in this sense, but still, I’m stuck for the time being with too much time on my hands and not enough money in my pockets.

So I thought it was time to start posting again, and I hope to be much more regular with my posts from now on, becoming a proper blogger for the summer at least. The first few may be a bit backdated, but hopefully still just as interesting.

Dissertation Difficulties


, , , , , ,

As one of hundreds of students currently writing their third year dissertation I know I am not alone in my troubles and frustration. I have managed to find a topic that I am absolutely infatuated with and have done weeks and weeks of research, to find myself hitting a road block: I can’t write.

I cannot tell you how many times I sat down at my laptop to write that first chapter, sitting motionless and wordless for minutes that turned to hours, to just end up watching another episode of Lost (my newest t.v. obsession) or even to just shut my laptop and walk away.

My biggest problem was having to break old habits. For the last three years I have written my assignments in the same haphazard way; intense research for 10 days before sitting down to write at 10pm on the night prior to the deadline, staying up all night to complete those all important 3,000 words. I need ‘the fear’, as my closest friend informs me, in order to write.

Now 3,000 words in a night is perfectly achievable, and I did achieve good grades with this method. But 10,000 words is a different story entirely. Even as the deadline loomed ever closer (7th May) I still found myself with far fewer words than I should have had by this point.

I needed to start writing, and soon.


That was my position a week ago, on Monday I finally broke through my writers block, and suddenly, 3,000 words appeared. And now I’ve begun, I can’t stop!

So to anyone having the same troubles, finding it almost impossible to put all of their thoughts and research into a coherent string of words on a solid piece of paper, keep trying, keep staring at that screen. Get frustrated but don’t lose hope. It’ll come eventually, and when it does, what you write (in my experience) will be so much more worthwhile than if you would have forced it. Writing is a creative process, whether you are writing a creative piece or not.




Monsters Visit Paris


, , , , , , , , ,

This February I was lucky enough to go on a two day trip to Paris with my dissertation group. It was purely educational of course, although a lot of fun was had in the process of our learning.

On the 20th February the students of our dissertation subject The Monster in Medieval Culture (a.k.a. ‘the Monsters’), our wonderful leader Dr. Alixe Bovey, and accompanied guest-monster Lucy Freeman Sandler, travelled on the Eurostar to go and have a look first hand at some of the most beautiful medieval artefacts housed in both the Musée de Cluny and the Louvre.

It was whilst on the train that the first lesson was learned: Alan Hansen will never again travel on the Eurostar, not after being accosted by 15 rather hysterical history students.

After arriving, our first afternoon was spent in the Musée de Cluny, famous for its tapestries of The Lady and the Unicorn (La Dame à la licorne), a gorgeous collection of six wall size tapestries allegorically depicting the five senses, with the sixth tapestry supposedly representing desire:

Lady and the Unicorn'my only desire'Late 15thC, wool and silk

Lady and the Unicorn
‘my only desire’
Late 15thC, wool and silk

The  Musée de Cluny houses some amazing medieval artefacts and is certainly well worth a visit. It is a quaint museum with bundles of character, and even though the items aren’t always clearly labelled, or labelled at all, you are left with a sense of the splendour and imagination that engendered much of the artistic output of the middle ages. 

Are evening thence consisted of several cocktails, including the strongest tequila cocktail I have ever had, followed by a disappointing ‘tourist’ dinner and lots of laughter. Not to mention my new favourite anecdote:

After eating the relatively ‘droopy’ dinner from a set menu of a standard tourist restaurant, the entire group were heading for the metro when the waiter came chasing after us. Grabbing the opportunity to swindle a group of trusting, innocent English students and their Canadian teacher, he claimed we were short on the bill. Now he may of had us reaching for our Euros if it weren’t for our incredible companion, the renowned art historian Lucy Freeman Sandler. The 80 something scholar immediately began, in true New Yorker style, shaking down this impetuous waiter, shouting a string of French numbers and aggressively gesticulating. Needless to say he left with his tail between his legs and we were left in awe. 

So lesson 2 from Paris: never mess with an Art Historian, especially if it happens to be Lucy Sandler.

The majority of our second, and sadly our last day in Paris was spent in the Louvre, where we remained mainly in the Richelieu wing, perusing the vast collection of medieval objets d’art before of course, going to the Denon wing to see the Renaissance paintings, including the Mona Lisa, because well, you have to.

The Louvre

The Louvre

It was after the third hour of looking at the beautiful objects of the medieval galleries that I learnt my third lesson. You will need a coffee and some cake to sustain you. Hence we went for nourishment and had the most overpriced but delicious patisserie:

Louvre Cafe macaroons and coffee

Louvre Cafe macaroons and coffee

My fourth lesson was unfortunately learnt as we walked through the astounding galleries of Renaissance art: People will rush past painting after painting to see the Mona Lisa, missing masterpieces like the Madonna on the Rocks and paintings by the masters Raphael and Michelangelo, all to see the Mona Lisa.

After five hours lost in the wondrous works of the Louvre’s vast collection, we walked along the Seine, where we came across the Pont des Arts; the bridge where lovers demonstrate their eternal love with padlocks locked to the bridge, a truly beautiful sight:

Pont des Arts 'Locks of Love'

Pont des Arts ‘Locks of Love’

Walking through a city is truly the only way to appreciate all of its unique quirks and so we walked to our next and our final destination, Notre Dame; one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. It was insanely busy as it was the French school holidays as well as the 850th year anniversary since the construction of the Gothic cathedral was begun. Nevertheless, it was still a joy to walk around, overwhelming in its size and splendour, most notably in the rose window and the sculpture of the western façade.

Thus concluded our whirlwind trip of Paris. We returned home with images of all the wonderful things we’d seen and memories of many hilarious happenings.

My final lesson learnt: There are too many medieval objets d’art worth seeing, and that I will probably never see them all in my lifetime, but I can certainly try.

I’m going to leave you with my two favourite objects of the trip, one from the Musée de Cluny and the other from the Louvre:

Ivory Casket, Paris c.1300

Ivory Casket, Paris c.1300

This ivory casket housed in the Musée de Cluny is both unimaginably intricate and delicate in its detail. It was typically a gift given to a bride on the event of her marriage, and depicted common scenes of courtly love, such as the storming of the castle of love. This is a rare piece purchased by the museum in 2008.

Reliquaries of Saint Louis of Toulouse, Naples (1336 - 1338)

Reliquaries of Saint Louis and Saint Luke of Toulouse, Naples (1336 – 1338)

These two arms are representative of the permeation of the cult of saints into all aspects of Medieval culture. The arms, the left one being a reliquary to contain the bone of the arm of Saint Louis, and the right the arm of Saint Luke, are rare examples of artwork produced for the Angevin court in Naples. The luxuriousness of these items coupled with the somewhat morbid display of the human body perfectly defines the culture surrounding the medieval veneration of the saints at the height of the Gothic period. (Sorry for my goofy face in the background, can’t you tell I was captivated?) For a more detailed description and much better photographs of the image, visit the catalogue entry on the Louvre museum website.

I don’t know if you can tell, but I absolutely adored my two days in Paris, the company of my classmates was, well, top class, and to be accompanied by Lucy Sandler was an experience to say the least, a truly inspiring woman whose own history is as interesting as that which she herself writes. The city of love certainly has my heart and I shall most definitely be returning to Paris, but alas I fear next time it wont be at the expense of the University of Kent School of History, so I had better start saving my pennies.

*Many of the pictures aren’t mine, but belong to my classmates, who happen to be much better photographers than I.



Guy of Warwick


, , , , , , , , ,

Guy of Warwick

guy of warwick

Deeds of Derring-do
The Renowned History (or the Life and Death) of Guy Earl of Warwick, containing his Noble Exploits and Victories
Canterbury Cathedral Library H/M-4-22

Canterbury Cathedral’s ‘Picture This’; a monthly feature which gives us a glance at some of the wonderful texts held in the Cathedral library and archives (where I shall soon start volunteering, exciting!)

William Morris and the Kelmscott Chaucer


, , , , , , ,

William Morris

William Morris

Today, is the 179th Birthday of William Morris, one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement, an artist, poet, novelist, carpenter, printer and inspiring man.

He spent a large proportion of his life at Kelmscott Manor, a beautiful farmhouse adjacent to the River Thames on the edge of the village of Kelmscott,West Oxfordshire, where he is today buried  along with his family.


Morris loved the house as a work of true craftsmanship, totally unspoilt and unaltered, and in harmony with the village and the surrounding countryside. He considered it so natural in its setting as to be almost organic, it looked to him as if it had “grown up out of the soil”

Kelmscott Manor - Woodcut of the cover for 'News from Nowhere'

Kelmscott Manor – Woodcut of the cover for ‘News from Nowhere’

The Kelmscott Press at Hammersmith was named after the Manor that Morris loved so dearly. It produced some of the finest books of the late nineteenth century, and the Kelmscott Chaucer is considered the most memorable and beautiful edition of the works of the medieval poet and one of the outstanding typographic achievements of all time.

Only 425 copies of the magnificent work were produced in 1896. The book features a Golden typeface which was especially designed for the work with a view to blending as a harmonious whole with the 87 full-page illustrations by Sir Edward Burne-Jones with the borders, decorations and initials drawn by Morris himself.

Kelmscott Manor is only a 10 minute drive from where I live in Oxfordshire so I have been to visit it several times in the course of my life. On display in the house is the Kelmscott Chaucer and on my most recent visit I spent about an hour pouring over this wonderful manuscript. My Uncle, seeing me so engrossed purchased the facsimile of this exquisite book for my 21st Birthday. Of all the books that I possess the Kelmscott Chaucer is undoubtedly my most cherished and favourite item.

So on today, the anniversary of William Morris’ birth I would like to share some of the beautiful illustrations from the work:


Picturing Pearl


, , , , , ,

I am now in my final term of my final year of my undergraduate degree, and after 3 years of researching and writing essays to a set formula, I decided to take a module that was a bit different, and a bit more of a challenge. Image Vision Dream taught by Dr. Sarah James looks at medieval dream visions and visual theory to understand medieval culture of images. For my assignments  I am having to pick up a paintbrush for the first time in 7 years and try my hand at not just talking about art, but doing art. 

For my first assignment I investigated the problems of illustrating a transcendental text, focusing on the medieval dream vision Pearl

The fourteenth century poem Pearl is one of the most evocative Middle English dream visions, distinct in its portrayal of human grief and vivid in its imagery. The poem appears in one extant manuscript, the Cotton Nero A.x. as the first text of four works by the same author, known as the Gawain-poet. The manuscript begins with four full page illustrations of Pearl that act in a way to narrate the poem.  The poem, with its ornate metrical style and imagery saturated with jewels, participates in the Gothic art culture that was prevalent in the fourteenth century. The visual landscapes of Pearl also have associations with the vibrant paradisal imagery of the secular dream visions, such as with the fertile flowers and songful birds reminiscent of Le Roman de la Rose.

Illustrations to Le Roman de la Rose as in British Library MS Harley 4425, Netherlands c.1490-1500British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts - f.12v

Illustrations to Le Roman de la Rose as in British Library MS Harley 4425, Netherlands c.1490-1500
– f.12v


Likewise, the religious elements of the poem, particularly that of the New Jerusalem, are part of a rich tradition; taking images directly from the Book of Revelation and eluding to the illuminations of the Apocalypse manuscripts which were popular expensive luxury items.

Thus it can be seen that Pearl is an active participant in traditions of literature which have a rich visual counterpart, and it is in this visual counterpart of the text where Pearl can be seen to suffer.  The illustrations are ‘crudely drawn and often careless of detail’ [J.J. Anderson]

getimage (1) getimage

The pictures most certainly lack the sumptuous quality found in the Gothic objects of art to which the visual imagery of the text has been compared; the original artist fails to convey the complex symbolism of the dream narrative , this can be seen in the inharmonious illustrations of the original manuscript, which, although attempt to depict the narrative of Pearl in an iconographical scheme, do so in a way which removes the complexity, the splendour and the poignant beauty of the poem through its visual over-simplification. Although it could be argued that the simple illustrations convey the incomprehensibility of the vision, that which is indescribable verbally is still successfully described in overwhelming detail by the poet.

My intention then was to create an enriched illustration which addressed the problems of illustrating a transcendental text by applying the conventions of visual narratives and implementing visual theory to create an illustration that better interacts with its sumptuous textual counterpart. I have tried to capture the abstract emotions of grief and longing as well as the Gothic sensibility for precious and beautiful objects. Mostly I have tried to illustrate the vivid descriptions given in the poem which give it its poignancy by creating a picture that is of an epic landscape yet simultaneously intensely involved in the personal experience of the dreamer.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 That was my first attempt at any artistic representation and it seemed to pay off, I never claimed to be an artist but I was happy with my assignment. It was fun and exciting to try something different. I am not putting down my paintbrush either, but am going to continue my hand at medieval art for my final project, where I will be making a Psalter and exploring the conventions of marginalia in fourteenth century Psalters produced in East Anglia c. 1300.

Beer and Truffles – My 21st Birthday in Brussels


, ,

I (not so) recently turned the wonderful age of 21 and decided to celebrate in the beautiful Belgian city of Brussels. I am a Christmas baby and so my birthdays are notoriously disappointing, people are always too interested in ‘family time’ or going away and I am left with no friends eating an entire cake to myself.

So I convinced my boyfriend that he loves me enough to take me on a 3 day trip to Brussels so that we could celebrate my birthday properly. I chose Brussels because it is a beautiful place, renowned for its cool bars and interesting architecture, and I would recommend it to anyone for a quick getaway.

The great thing about Brussels is how compact it is, we managed to see most of the centre in three days and stayed at a lovely fairly priced 3*hotel just outside the grand place called Hotel Queen Anne.

The time of year we went, (21st December ) makes it especially wonderful as there are huge Christmas markets and the Plaisirs D’Hiver

We spent the first day strolling around the markets, buying food from the stalls, drinking vin chaud and obscure Belgian beers out of funny shaped glasses. After the most delicious chocolate smothered waffle we then continued drinking beer and explored the bars around the Grand Place where I discovered my favourite beer.


Our second day we visited the gorgeous Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gadula, although Saint Michael is the patron saint of Brussels, Saint Gadula is the most venerated patroness, often depicted with a lantern which the Devil attempts to extinguish.


We also went for a mouth-wateringly delicious dinner at a restaurant in Place de Saint Catherine, much more affordable than the restaurants around the Grand Place, and no less beautiful.

On our third and final day we toured the museums: the Musée de la Ville with a disturbing walk in closet of the Manneken-Pis; the Musée sur l’histoire du livre et de l’ecrit at the Librarium which had some fascinating display cases of manuscripts; and the Musee des instruments de musique, a striking piece of Art Nouveau/Neo Classical architecture. The museum does get tedious after you’ve seen your 1000th violin, but the highlight is the restaurant at the top, which has an incredible panoramic view of the city and the palace.


One of my favourite places of the entire trip was the Galleries near the Grand Place with shops and cafés set within a gorgeous gallery.


As turning 21 went, I had an amazing time, one of the best birthdays I’ve had so far, and Brussels made it all the more wonderful. I still ate an outrageous amount of chocolate, but its definitely more excusable in Brussels, sat in a cafe eating truffles than to be sat at home alone eating cake.


Wayland’s Smithy


, ,

Wayland’s Smithy is an ancient Neolithic chambered long barrow, named such because it was once believed to have been the resting place of the Saxon smith-god Wayland.

The barrow seen today actually covers an earlier burial structure, and human remains found on the site indicate that 14 people were interred there between 3590-3550 BCE.  The visible barrow was constructed atop the neolithic burial site between 3,460-3,400 BCE.

This is still an eerie site a small walk along the Uffington ridge-way and not far from the Bronze Age White Horse Hill.

I was once brave enough to enter into the barrow when I was about seven years old, but have felt it too spooky since. Many ghost stories were told to me about Wayland’s Smithy as a child and it’s inexplicable abandonment has always left me feeling a little uneasy.