Christmas Countdown: 16 More Sleeps!


The Missal of Eberhard von Greiffenklau, folio 19 verso (the back-side of the 19th leaf), mid-15th century

For those of you unfamiliar with liturgical terminology, a missal is a book that contains everything needed for Mass throughout the year. It’s not usually a personal book – it’s meant for leading church services.

Look at how tiny the illustration actually is!

Some of this Missal’s illustrations are by the Master of Zweder van Culemborg, who was made famous by a fancy Book of Hours he did shortly after this project. Some suggest that this Master wasn’t just one person, but a group of people from Utrecht working in a common style. The Missal also features illustrations by the Master of Catherine of Cleves, who was responsible for producing “the greatest Dutch illuminated manuscript in the world,” and is deemed by some to be “the finest and most original illuminator of the medieval northern Netherlands.” This Missal’s patron wasn’t fooling around – only the best were recruited to work on the book.

I won’t go much into how amazed I get when I realize how small these illustrations actually are (I’ve done this enough in other posts), but I find that bringing readers’ attention to an image’s size leads to a greater appreciation of the little details the artist(s) included. Look at the picture to the right. Appreciate.

Now, time for my commentary on the image above.

I think my favourite part of the image is Baby Jesus. Not only can he lift his own head immediately after being born, but he also has the strength to crawl out of Mary’s arms and grab at the gift with which he is being presented. Joseph, standing nearby, looks like he’s apologizing to the Wise Man for his son’s greediness. The Wise Man looks kind of fed up.

And then there are those shepherds in the background, looking angry about how they weren’t invited to the birthday party. Maybe they weren’t invited because they, unlike anyone else in this image, have freakishly squished faces.

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