Monday 24 December 2018

JUMPING INTO PICTURES by Elizabeth Chadwick

Writing about the medieval period, I am always fascinated by the illustrations and depictions. I thoroughly enjoy studying them to glean the small details of daily life.  To me, it's a bit like the original Mary Poppins film where Mary and the children leap into one of Bert's chalk pictures and go and have an adventure further into the picture where there are stories within stories and all manner of colourful details to delight the eye.

If reading sources begins to tire me and I can feel my concentration slipping, then a browse through sundry manuscript illustrations is often just the ticket.  Some might call it procrastination, but I prefer to regard it as a research enhancer. I am eternally grateful to live in the digital age when so many institutions are making their collections available online.  I have become the fortunate recipient of a wide world of material that I could never have imagined being available at the outset of my writing career.

For my next project, I am moving up to the thirteenth century from the twelfth and I have been jumping into a vibrant world of discovery.

Purse attached to the braies.  Life of St Edward. Trinity College, Cambridge. Mid 12thc
I also collect pictures of hats, so the chap in the background is of interest too!
Trinity College, Cambridge, has a trove of medieval manuscripts online, including one known as the Romance of Alexander.  Written in Old French in circa 1250,  possibly at St Albans, it includes 152 illustrations of Medieval courtly life.  I was fascinated to see this one of a bishop disrobing.  He is wearing loose medieval 'underpants' generally known as braies.  They would have been made from linen.  It is so interesting to see that they are rolled over at the top and a belt threaded through to hold them up.  Not only that, but his purse is firmly attached to his underwear at the sides.  Medieval clothing in the 1250's did not have pockets and to get at the purse, the gown had to be lifted, as displayed on this 13th century Life of St. Edmund.  The next evolution was to have slits in the side of the gown in order to reach the pocket, and eventually pockets themselves begin to be attached to the outer wear rather than underclothing, but post Medieval in context.
Note the cord threaded through the braies and the purse attached to it.  Romance of
Alexander.  Mid 12thc 
The pocket scene is one minor example. I trawl illustrations and collect all manner of themes and subjects - underwear being one of them.  The above braies have entered that particular collection board.  I have another that studies cloaks and cloak fastenings and in which it has become obvious that no medieval woman ever pins her cloak high on the shoulder.  It's a masculine thing.   I have collections of bedding and pillows (watch out for those laced pillow cases and also for check-patterns).
Once you get your eye in on
chequered pillow cases, they
are all over the place! 
 I collect depictions of dogs and horses, cups and table cloths, floor coverings, beds, hats, belts, hose, shoes, cooking pots, you name it. I pluck the images from the illustrations, I study their facets, and use them both to further my knowledge and to build a world within my own chalk picture.

Trinity Colleges's collection of manuscripts.

I often browse the British Library's collection too

                                           And the Web Gallery of Art - among many others.

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