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Ink and tempera on a vellum roll of four membranes
Part 1: 135 x 22.5 cm (53 1/8 x 8 7/8 in.)
Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1973.5
This manuscript roll, composed of four membranes formerly stitched together in a continuous roll about nine feet long, has been divided in the middle for easier visibility and study. The text is an abridgment of biblical history focused on the descent of Christ from Adam. It was written by Peter of Poitiers (about 1130–1205), who taught theology and history in Paris and was widely copied. The present roll is an English copy of Peter's text made shortly after his death. Although manuscript rolls were hung on the walls of a classroom as instructional aids to students, some of them have value beyond their textual and historical interest because of the fine quality of their drawings, as seen here. A comparison with Canterbury manuscripts and stained glass of around 1220 is the basis for the attribution to Canterbury. Peter of Poitiers's aim in this project was to assist students prevented from mastering biblical history because of its length and because they were too poor to own books. His text on roll is the briefest possible summary of biblical history. It is arranged in six historical stages, denoting the six ages of the world, as decreed by theological tradition. The first five ages were inaugurated by Old Testament individuals: Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, and Sedecias. The birth of Christ heralded the sixth stage. Beginning at the top of the first membrane, the text consists of brief biographical entries on the ancestors of Christ (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David) and other biblical personalities. These extend to the birth of Christ on the fourth membrane, ending with accounts of Hebrew and Roman kings and the Apostles. Each compendium shows the names of the ancestors inscribed within circles, those of direct descent placed vertically in a central column, others scattered in clusters to the right and left. The decoration of the roll consists of a series of medallions of diverse geometrical frames filled with either a figural drawing or a diagram. The style of these pen-and-ink drawings, some illuminated in tempera or tinted with wash, stems from English manuscript and glass painting attributed to the school of Canterbury Cathedral. The style of the museum's illustrations is so close to the stained glass panels made for Trinity Chapel at Canterbury (about 1220) to suggest that an artist active as a glazier in the Cathedral workshop may also have executed the manuscript. In the least, the painter of the roll manuscript was familiar with the style of the painted glass, and on this basis, a date of about 1220 seems appropriate. Additional evidence is supplied by a psalter illuminated at Canterbury shortly before 1220. The figurative scenes in this psalter were apparently illustrated by the same hand that executed the line and wash drawings in the museum's roll.
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