Ruth Hibbard

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What to wear when you don’t have a halo

278:3, cutting from a choir book, initial D with a miniature of St. Agnes. Germany, 15th century. © V&A Museum.

Sometimes, when looking through medieval manuscripts, it seems that everyone is wearing a halo – page after page of holy families, saints and virgin martyrs! This beautiful image of Saint Agnes (with her lamb) has beautiful flowing hair, a shimmering halo, and a heavenly crown. But a mere mortal woman could not copy this look. […]

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Here be Dragons

244:3, Leaf from choir-book with initial S in red pen-work on green and blue ground depicting a dragon. Netherland. late 12th century, © V&A Museum.

When we think of the Middle Ages we often imagine a world full of knights, castles and, of course, dragons. Sightings of dragons appear periodically in medieval chronicles such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of AD.793 which mentions ‘dreadful fore-warnings…whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament”. This 15th century illustrated version of Pliny’s ‘Natural History’ […]

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Searching for Don Quixote in the NAL

Frontispiece to 1620 version of 'Don Quixote' NAL: Dyce 2000. ©V&A Museum.

In Spain, there are efforts afoot to discover the exact location of the grave of one of the country’s greatest writers, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Despite the instant popularity of his masterpiece ‘Don Quixote’, he died in poverty and was buried somewhere in the Convent of Trinitarians in Madrid, but the exact location is unknown.  […]

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Sharing Stories for Mother’s Day

Mother’s day is this weekend; a time for family gatherings, and maybe for sharing old favourite stories that have been passed down between generations. It brings to mind a book of old spooky stories we have in the National Art library that was put together by a mother and her son. ‘Legendes Rustique’ was written […]

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Pearls: Piety, Poetry and Pre-Raphaelites – Part Three

In my previous posts I looked at how the medieval poem ‘Pearl’ was understood by the medieval mind and also how it was rediscovered and represented in the 19th century. In the early 20th century it showed itself again to be an enduring image of loss and consolation. Pearl was published again in 1918 in […]

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Pearls: Piety, Poetry and Pre-Raphaelites – Part Two

In my first blog I looked at what a contemporaneous audience would understand in the medieval poem Pearl. Despite its beauty and intricacy the poem did not enjoy the fame of those written by contemporaries such as Chaucer. The poem was not published or widely available until in 1864 when it was the first work […]

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Pearls: Piety, Poetry and Pre-Raphaelites – Part One

When I heard that the V&A was putting on an exhibition about pearls, I could not help but think of the beautiful 14th century poem known as Pearl. In the poem a man pines for a lost pearl. He falls asleep and has a dream vision, a common occurrence in medieval poetry. He sees a […]

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