Whimsical fools

This 15th century illumination of the Pietà is by the Master of the Lee Hours, an anonymous Flemish artist who contributed to a book of hours for Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (r. 1467-77) and his wife Isabelle of Bourbon.

The J. Paul Getty Museum, its current home, gives a detailed description of the Pietà illumination, enclosed in the initial ‘o’ of the text.  But for our purposes, the page also includes an ample and colourfully decorated margin, which features two fools, springing forth from the foliage.  Each has an ass-eared cap and one is playing a recorder.  The Museum’s comment made me smile:

The jesters in the border bear no relationship to the page’s text. They are a part of the whimsical visual vocabulary of late medieval illuminators.

Which may amount to a bored or frustrated artist arriving at his desk in a dank scriptorium on a cold winter morning, and deciding he just had to liven things up.

For interest, I quote the description of the Pietà itself:

Within a letter O, the stiff and emaciated body of the dead Christ extends across the lap of the Virgin Mary, who is seated at the foot of the cross. Mary Magdalene and Saint John the Evangelist join the Virgin in mourning Jesus. The scene introduces one of the most popular medieval prayers addressed to the Virgin Mary, the Obsecro te, which begins: “I beseech you, Mary, holy lady, mother of God, most full of piety, most glorious mother, the way for those who stray, the salvation for those who hope in you, virgin before, during, and after birth, come and hasten to my aid and counsel.”

Credit: Initial O: The Pietà, Master of the Lee Hours (c. 1450–1455), Flemish; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 2 (84.ML.67), fol. 244, public domain

Image - Initial O: The Pietà, Master of the Lee Hours (c. 1450–1455), Flemish; The J. Paul Getty Museum

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