Title Background

The Illustrations of <i>Piers Plowman</i> in Bodleian Library MS. Douce 104.

The Illustrations of Piers Plowman in Bodleian Library MS. Douce 104.

Provides a full listing and description of the seventy-two miniatures of the only PPl manuscript -dated by its scribe 1427 -that contains a cycle of illustrations. Illustration had become a regular feature in the design of vernacular manuscripts in England in the last decade of the fourteenth century, with the London workshop-produced Auchinleck manuscript (ca. 1330) perhaps the first ME manuscript with illustrations; the Douce manuscript, on the other hand, may have been the product of a provincial location. It would appear, from his use of features of the high period of International Style, that the Douce illustrator learned his craft fifteen to twenty years before this particular project. The large number of miniatures is unusual for a fifteenth-century English manuscript. The pictures were planned for marginal position, a format that deviated from the fifteenth-century standard design; besides saving approximately eighteen folios, the figures so placed function as notational signs, indicating a speaker, but they hardly ever correspond to authorial divisions of the text. Twenty-eight of the miniatures are mainly traditional, while thirty-four are composed from information in the text and eight combine textual references and traditional iconography. Though the artist was presumably working from an exemplar, those miniatures formed on the basis of description in the poem can be said to constitute an interpretation of the poem. Two appendices offer a decorative analysis of the manuscript and a preliminary list of late fourteenth- and fifteenth-century English manuscripts with marginal illustrations.