Miniature for the Martyrs

In preparation for a follow-up post on the standard pictorial sequences for the books of hours, I was leafing through the aforementioned Little Hours of John de Berry (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, ms. lat. 18014). In wandering through, attempting to decipher the artwork and seeing which prayers were present and which absent, I came across this terrific miniature that I couldn’t not share immediately:

This comes from a sequence of prayers to various saints and groups of saints. This one is to all the holy martyrs and, while several of the saints pictured are holding the implements of their demise, the center figure with the strangely full halo is holding his head as blood continues to squirt from his neck!

I’ll say more about this later but I do think that the martyrs are rather seriously neglected, particularly in our proposed calendrical revision. Consider for a moment two categories, one which feels more highly favored than the other under the new scheme: “martyr” and “prophetic witness”…

Here’s the thing: looking at the above image, is there any way that you can see martyrdom as anything other than “prophetic witness”?!


7 Replies to “Miniature for the Martyrs”

  1. I couldn’t help but smile. The miniature initiates a whole new area of liturgical debate: does a saint’s halo properly surround his/her head, or merely appear above his/her shoulders? Ah, I can envision the tomes of ponderous deliberation that will ensue…..

  2. I was totally thinking that! The answer seems pretty obvious, though to me… The halo sans head was what drew my attention to the miniature—it sets up the disembodied head so much better!

  3. (And I love the expressions… Stephen’s got a finger up saying “Aren’t you missing something…?” while Lawrence has his eyebrows up thinking, “don’t spatter blood on my clothes…” and the guy with the brains in his hands sharing a glance with Lawrence is saying, “can you believe this guy?” [not that he’s one to talk] while the bishop in the second row is wondering what’s happened to the neighborhood.)

  4. This is a little off topic, but have you looked at the de Brailes Hours? Its the oldest surviving book of hours from England, about the 13th century I think. It was produced in Oxford for a middle class woman (probably craftsman/merchant class, but certainly not nobility).

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