Brother Rufillus’ Self-Portrait (c. 1170-1200)

Here, at left, is a self-portrait of Brother Rufillus from around the end of the twelfth century. He is painting the letter R, the initial of his name. And in a type of correspondence we continue to see in art across the centuries, the color of his hair echoes the sound of his name because rufus in Latin is red.

Many artists in the Middle Ages worked inside monasteries, many of them monks. In an age without the printing press they were required to copy out Scripture and other religious texts while illuminating them with initials and marginalia. This is a reminder that the use of writing as a visual metaphor for the act of painting would have struck a much stronger chord with artists and viewers in the Renaissance than it does with us today.

Captions for image(s) above:

Brother Rufillus, Illuminating the Initial R from The Lives of the Saints (Cod. 127, fol. 244), (c.1170-1200) Bibliotheca Bodmeriana, Geneva.

Click image to enlarge.


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