Circle of William de Brailes
Single Leaf from a Latin Bible:
Initial P: St. Paul Holding a Sword and a Book and Initial M: A Jew Discoursing with a King,
Ink, tempera, and gold on vellum
The Jeanne Miles Blackburn Collection [Cat. no. 4]
Few English illuminators are actually known by name. William de Brailes has been identified from documents that refer to his presence in Oxford. Moreover, his signature appears on one of seven detached psalter leaves now divided between Cambridge (Fitzwilliam Museum) and New York (Pierpont Morgan Library). It seems that several artists were working in the "de Brailes style," but it is not known whether these were organized members of his workshop or simply illuminators in the de Brailes circle.
Typical of the de Brailes workshop is the use of drolleries (playful or sometimes comic figures that inhabit marginalia or initials). One such drollery, seen here, occupies the lower portion of the initial "P" introducing St. Paul's Epistle to Philemon. Wearing a scholar's cap, the drollery is contorted in pose, as if supporting the initial itself. This initial comes from a one-volume Bible, conveniently sized for portability and study. Such books were typically the products of lay workshops in academic towns like Oxford, Paris, and Bologna.