The Vernon manuscript originally included at least seventy-eight illustrations. Today, only sixteen remain. The rest were on pages that have been lost. The surviving pictures illustrate the Estorie del Evangelie (Story of the Gospel) and the Miracles of the Virgin. They are all rectangular images framed in the columns of text. As well as delighting the eye, these pictures would have helped the manuscript’s readers to identify the subject-matter of the text easily.
In one or perhaps two places illustrations are framed by large decorated initials. These ‘historiated initials’ mark the beginnings of texts. One occurs at the opening of The Prick of Conscience. The opening initial of the Estorie del Evangelie may also have included a picture; unfortunately the initial has been cut out, perhaps for a scrapbook.
An extraordinary diagram displays the Pater Noster in tabular form. The table links the petitions of the prayer with the vices and virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it was intended as an aid to learning or meditation.
The Estorie del Evangelie pictures illustrate the stories of the nativities of John the Baptist and Christ. Key events in the story are shown in a sequence of images: the first image shows the angel announcing to Mary that she is to bear a child; the last depicts the angel announcing the good news to the shepherds. The figures have long oval heads with forked beards and flaps of hair. There is little modelling of form: folds in garments are indicated sketchily.
The pictures of the Miracles of the Virgin are in a quite different style. The key events of each story are depicted within a single illustration. The illustrations have a lively energy: frequently figures or objects break the picture-frame. Faces are highly expressive. Bodies and garments are modelled skilfully, giving the appearance that they are three-dimensional.
The style of the Miracles illustrations has few parallels in the period. Illustrations of the miracles of the Virgin with several episodes in a single frame occur in a contemporary Psalter, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Auct. D.4.4. Modelling and plasticity of figures similar to that of the Vernon illustrations is found in a contemporary Missal, Oxford, Trinity College, MS 8.
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