Christmas Countdown: 15 More Sleeps!

Sloane 1977, folio 2 recto (the front-side of the 2nd leaf), early 14th century

As far as I know, this manuscript isn’t called anything special; it’s just called Sloane 1977, which is its shelfmark in the British Library. This book is actually three books put together, including pretty common works by Roger Frugard of Parma, Mattheus Platerius, and some other guy (name unknown). In short: while Sloane 1977 has some beautiful art, the book doesn’t seem to have as much historical significance as, say, Kells.

The image above includes the Annunciation (with a green-winged Gabriel!), the Visitation, and the Nativity. Because this whole Christmas Countdown series is focused on Nativity scenes, I’m only going to talk about that part of the picture.

Looking at this image, one can deduce pretty quickly that it’s French. How can one deduce this? Two things, right off the bat:

1. The use of red and blue. While red and blue were commonly used in manuscript illumination everywhere, the French often used it heavily, and prominently. I know I said I’d focus on the Nativity, but look at Mary in the first panel. Red dress. BLUE HALO. It really doesn’t get much more prominent than that.

2. The diaper pattern in the second panel (okay, just forget that I said I would only address the Nativity panel). According to the British Library, “a diaper pattern is a repetitive geometric pattern. Although used as early as the eleventh century, it often acted as a background in Gothic illumination. Some artists even seem to have specialized in diaper grounds.” Yes, diaper patterns were a Gothic staple, but French illustrators seemed to love them more than anyone else. Also, note that the diaper pattern in this image is blue. Coincidence? Not a chance.

So there you go. It’s a French image. Certainly there are other giveaways, but I only know so much about French manuscript illumination, and I only have so much time to research these things.

Now that I’ve touched on everything BUT the Nativity scene…

While Mary is neglecting her child (just kidding, Mary, you’re allowed to sleep after giving birth), the ox and the ass look like they’re discussing how best to get their hooves on Baby Jesus. And Joseph is just sitting there, watching it happen! Joseph, what are you doing?! Your child is about to be eaten by some blood-thirsty beasts. I’m sure you think that donkeys are all cute and fuzzy and timid, but they can be dangerous – just ask the former Mayor of Hollywood Park.

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