I caught a brilliant little treat on BBC 4 last night; The Beauty of Books, a half hour snippet on the beautiful works of art that sprung up from, without a doubt my favourite period in history; the medieval period. After studying this era intensively at University, I have still managed to maintain a passion for the fantastical legends and Hieronymus Bosch-style trippy artwork that characterised much of the period; an escape from the doom and death of everyday life I suppose.
Michelle Brown; Professor of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the University of London takes the time to take us through the Luttrell Psalter (above); an illuminated manuscript containing script of a predominantly religious nature, commissioned by a wealthy English landowner in the fourteenth century. The creatures depicted in the margins (I think) are simply exquisite and, as the kind narrator explains, most likely a reflection of not only a deeply superstitious society, but also the diet of beer and hallucinogenic rye bread the population consumed at the time.
The second work that gets a look in is The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, a collection of stories that, thanks to a chap called William Caxton, became the first major publication written in English and printed for the masses. Despite my passion for this period in literary history I have surprisingly never picked this up; despite having devoured every other epic and legend going. Fellow pupils at school bemoaning having to study this may have had a subconscious affect I don’t know but it is definitely on my shopping list. (The library I work in I believe actually has one of the original manuscripts – why I haven’t taken the opportunity to go and have a peek is beyond me really…)
I am now off to watch the first episode of this series that I originally missed …on ancient bibles …whether I will be running down to my local Christian bookshop tomorrow remains to be seen!