Anonymous Antiphony from Lausanne (c.1485-90)

Illuminations in early manuscripts are mostly anonymous and seemingly formulaic offering viewers used to named artists fewer ways of approaching the image. Fortunately, EPPH's methodology offers a new means to understand such art, the only drawback being that we cannot check our findings against other works by the same artist. Similar methods of composition, though, have been in use for so long that they offer intrinsic support. Thus despite uncertainty, the enjoyment of discovery remains.

The folio at left comes from a collection of antiphons dated c.1485-90. An antiphon is a liturgical chant in which the congregation responds in song to the choir.1 This is the first folio of the 116-page volume and the only illuminated one.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Antiphonarium lausannense from Catholic Parish of Saint-Laurent, Estavayer-le-Lac, v.IV, folio 1r. (c.1485-90) Parchment. Swiss National Library, Berne.

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The Resurrection scene is common: 3 Romans sleep as Christ emerges from his tomb. Yet the details are unusual. Christ hops out of his grave on one leg while the soldier on the right, oddly lame, has legs in the same position. Rotate them in space and they could be Christ's mirrored. The link suggests two parts of one whole, the lame man as the physical body with Christ as Spirit in the mirror of his mind. He is asleep (to the Spirit) while his counterpart, again with similar legs, wakes up. The third soldier, eyes just visible under his helmet, holds a sword paradoxically as the Cross. All three represent one person, the artist as archetype perhaps, in the process of waking to Christ, the spirit we share.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Antiphonarium lausannense, vol. IV, folio 1r.

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Within the staves of the musical score throughout the volume caricatures of fools, jokers and "green men" emerge from initials in the lyrics. We cannot know whether they are by the same hand as the Resurrection illumination, possibly not. Nevertheless the distorted faces, most with elongated chins and odd noses, demonstrate what we already know, that facial manipulation was part of the artistic culture.

I show this because.....

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Captions for image(s) above:

Assorted initials with caricatured faces in the Antiphonarium lausannense vol. IV from (top left, clockwise) ff. 11r, 34v, 17v, 34r, 14r, 18v.

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.....there is a similarly distorted face inside the red forms of Christ's robe (see diagram below). It looks like the face of a toothless old man with an accentuated nose, receding mouth and elongated chin. Could it be that the artist was old? This would explain the presence of the lame soldier: the artist might have been lame too.  

Artists then often hid proto-Cubist faces in the folds of fabric.2 Some are clearly self-portraits as mental images and may help explain the period's seemingly excessive interest in drapery patterns.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Detail and diagram of a potential "face" in Christ's robe in Antiphonarium lausannense, vol. IV, folio 1r.

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The artist's age also makes sense of Christ's agility3 because his alter ego as the soldier who has trouble walking has the "same" legs. In essence this metaphor is similar to the story of how Jesus made the lame man walk.4 Blind to the spirit, you cannot go far. Open your eyes and you're on your way, perhaps even hopping.

The above observations, whatever you think of them, at least offer a new way to enjoy anonymous art whoever you are. Keep looking and enjoy yourselves.


 

Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Antiphonarium lausannense, vol. IV, folio 1r.

Click image to enlarge.

Notes:

1. Strictly speaking, an antiphon is intended for two choirs which, in practice, was generally the church's and the congregation in turn.

2. See Abrahams, "Cubism Explained" and "Flat Noses on a Frontal Face".

3. Christ's pose in most images of the Resurrection is very static, quite unlike the movement implied in this scene.

4. Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 19 Jan 2015. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.