Medieval and Renaissance Interiors is a brilliantly colourful book published by the British Library and is generously illustrated with many high quality manuscript images. Eva Oledzka, the author, takes us beyond what we usually see – the figures – to the room that the people are in, their surroundings, the furniture, walls, ceilings, windows, and the glimpses we sometimes get to rooms beyond.
The book is comprehensive in that it covers the context of architecture and interiors, doors, stairs and windows, floors, ceilings and walls, furniture, heating, lighting and hygiene, and displays of wealth. This calendar page for February, painted by the Limbourg brothers for Jean, Duc de Berry, shows a peasant’s cottage with a family warming themselves by the open fire. The author notes the rod attached to the wall to hang clothes and the mattress or bed in the background, probably for the whole family. This is the earliest depiction of a snowy landscape in the history of art.
One of my favourite manuscripts is the Sforza Hours, particularly the pages painted by the court painter Giovan Pietra Birago; the book was made for Bona Savoy, Duchess of Milan. In this miniature the author notes not only the paintings on the wall – spalliera – typically Italian – showing St Peter and St John looking for the house where the Passover is going to be celebrated, but also the plate on the table and the glass tumblers being filled with wine by the two boys in the foreground.
The scribe Mark is shown here with his lion very conveniently peeping over the scribe’s sloping board with a pen case and inkwell in his mouth (as lions are known to do!). However it is the washing facilities in the foreground that are noted. There is a wash stand on a beautifully carved pedestal, a jug of water above it, and tucked into this, a towel. How often when I have inky fingers would I appreciate such a convenient way of washing my hands!
And here is King Henry VIII praying in his bedroom, with a painting of a very elaborately carved four poster bed draped with ultramarine blue cloth decorated with gold – how fitting for a king! Notice too the patterned colourful tiles on the floor, and the view through the open door to a garden and buildings beyond.
This book is a treasure-trove of image and information – sumptuously illustrated with a readable and informative text. If you enjoy manuscripts and want to know how people lived, you will love this!