Friday, December 23, 2011

Landscape in the Trésor des Histoires

Landscape in the Trésor des Histoires, Bruges, c. 1475-80

The British Library's Royal Manuscripts exhibition includes books made from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries but begins with the extraordinary collection of Edward IV, including this copy of a French historical chronicle lying open at 'one of the earliest known European paintings in which landscape is the principal subject.'  I've just found that this image also appears in a list of mill images at the Medieval and Renaissance Material Culture site - a good source for other glimpses of landscape in the Middle Ages.  What I like about this sort of list is the way it ignores the subject of the picture in favour of an unobtrusive detail - yes, there's an interesting windmill in the illustration below, but you have to drag your eyes away from the gruesome murder to see it (the windmill here nicely balances the clump of trees in a V-shaped composition pointing to the heart of the Roman Emperor).  In other images on the site, mills are quietly grinding corn in the background whilst Narcissus looks down at his reflection, King David kneels before God, Elisha raises a woman's son from the dead, Arthurian knights go head to head in a tournament, Priam inspects the reconstruction of Troy, the Romans colonise Latium and ships navigate the coastal waters of Britain. 

The assassination of Vitellius in De casibus, first quarter of the 15th century
BNF Fr. 226, fol. 201v, source: larsdatter