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13.04.02, Smith, The Taymouth Hours

13.04.02, Smith, The Taymouth Hours

Kathryn Smith's new book is the first long-form examination of a fourteenth-century book of hours, illuminated in England in the years around 1330, and known after a later owner as the Taymouth Hours (London, BL Yates Thompson MS 13). This little manuscript is a gem, lavishly decorated and bursting with texts and images--devotional, narrative, and instructional--that were perfectly calibrated to reflect contemporary tastes for very specific eyes. Smith's not-so- little book--also bursting with texts and images--encloses a core of traditional art-historical analysis and historical scholarship within the author's own contemporary interests in the relationships between art, devotion, and identity.

As Smith notes, Yates Thompson 13 is a carefully-designed anthology of prayers and storytelling in which the devotions are embedded in "an armature of extraordinary narrative richness, liveliness and variety" (296). This "armature" includes full-page or half-page miniatures that play a well-established role in marking the beginnings of prayers, often modeling the external and internal responses of the reader to those prayers. These prayers are accompanied by sequences of captioned visual narratives that draw the reader across multiple pages, sometimes interacting with the prayers and other images, and sometimes moving in parallel with them. It is perhaps because of this complexity that previous scholarship on the Taymouth Hours primarily has taken the form of summary catalogue entries, or studies of specific elements such as the romances presented at some length in the sequential marginal paintings.

A key factor in many of these studies has been the determination of the manuscript's original patron and/or owner, presumably the crowned woman depicted in four of the illuminations. The Taymouth Hours has long been dated on the basis of its painting style to the late 1320s or early 1330s, a period that yields a plurality of potential queen- owners: Isabella of France, queen of England until she was forcibly retired in 1330; her daughter Joan, who became queen of Scotland in 1328; and her daughter-in-law Philippa of Hainault, who married Edward III in 1328 and was crowned queen in 1330 (14-20). Documentary and circumstantial evidence suggests that Isabella, and Philippa to a lesser extent, collected and commissioned books and other luxury items for themselves and for others. As Smith notes, however, "a record of bibliophilic interests is not proof of ownership of a particular book" (18). Furthermore, these identifications have proved problematic in light of a miniature that depicts the crowned woman in prayer with an uncrowned man (fol. 18, Plate VIII). Accordingly, Smith argues for a new identification, suggesting that the intended owner of the Taymouth Hours was Isabella's eldest daughter Eleanor of Woodstock, who married Reinald II, Count of Guelders, in 1332. The identification of this owner is critical for Smith's approach, for this study--like her first monograph, which explored three books of hours that were made around the same time as the Taymouth Hours--focuses on the relationships between art, devotion, and identity. [1]

While Smith admits that the identity of the original owner of Yates Thompson 13 will never be settled beyond doubt (48), her first chapter ("City and Court") presents as solid an argument as is possible, given the lack of unequivocal evidence. Here, she discusses the history of Eleanor's betrothal and marriage, and analyzes the four depictions of crowned women, identifying three of them as Eleanor. Smith attributes the manuscript's illumination to an artist known as Richard of Oxford, and an unnamed artist she christens "the Draughtsman" (27-34). She also draws attention to a document that records a payment from Philippa to Richard of Oxford, in late 1331, for the illumination of two "little" books of hours (13). Smith accordingly suggests that Philippa commissioned the Taymouth Hours as a betrothal gift for her sister-in-law, and that one of the crowned women is Philippa as the donor, depicted kneeling with the crowned Edward III in a marginal vignette below an illumination of Christ at Gethsemane (fol. 118v; Plate IV; 27, 206-207). Eleanor is identified as the devotee who kneels with her noble, but not royal, husband in the miniature on fol. 18 (Plate VIII). Smith finds comparisons for this miniature in other images that similarly pair a crowned woman (a princess) with an uncrowned man (her non-royal spouse), although oddly these comparanda are not reproduced in this otherwise well-illustrated study (25).

Smith's identification of a plausible patronage context for the Taymouth Hours underpins her discussions about what went into the book's creation, and what the owner/reader might have gotten out of it. Once she has created a framework within which her readers can reasonably place the creation and use of the Taymouth Hours, she leads us through the manuscript itself, keying interpretations to the particulars of its royal, female, audience. The three subsequent chapters draw the reader through discrete sections of the Hours, beginning with the Anglo-Norman texts that follow the calendar in Chapter 2 ("Sacred and Secular"), and continuing with the primary hourly devotions in Chapter 3 ("Text and Image"), and the final prayers and the Office of the Dead in Chapter 4 ("Temptation, Sin, Repentance and Redemption"). Throughout her analysis, Smith connects her readings of this very individualized manuscript outward, to larger currents in late medieval devotional practice, literature, and visual culture, and also inward, to the internal spiritual ecology of Eleanor herself. Central to her methodology is the relationship, attested in medieval sources and explored in modern scholarship, between prayer, the visual arts, and the construction of an internal and external 'self', as discussed in her Introduction (2 ff.) and Afterward (293).

Smith's analysis of the ways that this horae may have constructed Eleanor's "self" incorporates welcome scrutiny of the complex organization of many of the folios. She explores the separate elements of texts, miniatures, and marginalia, but also addresses the interconnections that were presumably perceptible to the informed reader. [2] For example, the Short Office of the Cross and the Penitential Psalms are headlined by two full-page images depicting Christ at Gethsemane and his Arrest, the first footnoted with a marginal painting of Philippa of Hainaut and Edward III in prayer (fols. 118v-119; Plates IV and V; 206 ff.), and accompanied throughout by scenes of the Passion that fill the bottom third of each folio. Smith considers the narratives of the horizontal connections between the marginal scenes, and the devotional aspects of the vertical relationships between these scenes, their captions, the Latin prayers, and the miniatures, and she explores the devotional culture that would have encouraged Eleanor of Woodstock to consume these visual ensembles as dramatic first-person performance pieces (223-229). Smith then discusses the visual framework of the beginning of the Gradual Psalms on fol. 139, which includes a miniature of the devotee presented to Christ by Mary, above bas-de-page vignettes that depict, on facing pages, the Blessed welcomed into Paradise (on fol. 138v) and the Damned led away to their torments (fol. 139). She evokes the possible duet of the reader's eyes and spirit in a beautifully-written passage, envisioning Eleanor looking from the images of the Blessed and the Damned to the miniature, her gaze following "the arc of her own spiritual ascent, as visualized in the image of the crowned Mary presenting the suppliant princess to a regal, beneficent Christ" (233). The "book-as-self metaphors" discussed in the Introduction (3) are played out in such intense potential engagements. Her approach is aligned with our field's growing interest in medieval views on the significance of the very materials used to make devotional objects like prayer books. [3]

The Taymouth Hours does show some haste in copy-editing, primarily in the form of words out of order. A larger, but easily- resolved, issue is that the endnotes for Chapter Two become unsynchronized with endnote 79--which appears to offer an extra "Ibid."--while note 80 includes citations that should be referenced at note 79. The endnotes remain exactly one step out of sync for the rest of the chapter. This problem would doubtless have been caught in the final proofs if footnotes were still the standard mode of organization for academic publishing. In any event, purchasers of the book should go ahead and mark up these reference numbers, because Smith's thorough research makes reading the notes a rewarding experience.

The Taymouth Hours is well-illustrated with figures and color plates, and comes with a CD-ROM containing sharp TIFF files of every folio of Yates Thompson 13--the book is an excellent value for the digital and analogue images alone. Its appendices also provide a full description of the manuscript's codicology and contents, including transcriptions of the captions in the margins, which will be helpful for those engaging further with either the Taymouth Hours itself or any aspect of its assorted subjects. In short, this study of a single manuscript contributes a great deal, in form as well as in content, to our understanding of ways in which late medieval devotional trends could be incarnated in objects that were, in so many ways, physical embodiments of spiritual actions.


1. Kathryn A. Smith, Art, Identity and Devotion in Fourteenth- Century England: Three Women and their Books of Hours (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.)

2. Another study that addresses this aspect of the Taymouth Hours, and three other manuscripts, is Anne Rudloff Stanton, "Turning the Pages: Marginal Narratives and Devotional Practice in Gothic Prayerbooks," in Push Me, Pull You: Imaginative and Emotional Interaction in Late Medieval and Renaissance Art, Vol I, eds. Sarah Blick and Laura Gelfand (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011), 75- 122, which appeared too late to be included in Smith's bibliography.

3. For example see the special volume of Gesta 51/1 (2012), particularly the introductory essay by Aden Kumler and Christopher R. Lakey, "Res et significatio: The Material Sense of Things in the Middle Ages," pp. 1-17, with citations of recent work.