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The Pierpont Morgan life and miracles of St. Edmund: some observations on the content and style of its illuminated miniatures Fraser, Pamela Maria


This paper is concerned with a twelfth-century English manuscript, "The Life and Miracles of St. Edmund" (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library MS 736), and in particular with the thirty-two illuminated miniatures which decorate its opening pages. The manuscript is one of the two earliest surviving examples of an illustrated saint's Life made in England. It is also among the first English manuscripts to contain pictures painted in the Romanesque style. For these reasons, among others, the Morgan Life is a fascinating book to study. The first main section briefly discusses the physical details of the manuscript-- its content, organization, provenance, dating, authorship and function. The next section deals with the story of the saint and the development of his abbey in order to place the manuscript in its proper historical framework. Woven in with this is a discussion of the subject matter of the miniatures which attempts to answer the following questions: how do the illuminations relate to the text? does the choice of topics for illustration reflect the concerns and aspirations of Edmund's abbey? can the ideas and ideals exemplified by the pictorial narrative be connected with the thoughts and beliefs of Western society in the twelfth century? The final part of the paper undertakes an examination of the Morgan miniatures from a stylistic point of view. There is a continuing controversy among art historians concerning the authorship of the St. Edmund miniatures: some scholars suggest that the artist of the Morgan Life was the same man responsible for the paintings in the St. Albans Psalter-- the famous manuscript which introduced the Romanesque style to English illumination; other scholars hold different theories of authorship. This section consists of a comparison between the introductory miniatures of the Psalter and those of the St. Edmund "libellus" in order to determine whether or not these paintings should be attributed to the hand of one master.

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