William de Brailes (active c. 1230 — c. 1260) was an English Early Gothic
manuscript illuminator, presumably born in Brailes, Warwickshire.
William de Brailes (active c. 1230 — c. 1260) was an English Early
Gothic manuscript illuminator, presumably born in Brailes, Warwickshire. He
signed two manuscripts, and apparently worked in Oxford, where he is documented
from 1238 to 1252, owning property in Catte Street near the University Church of
St Mary the Virgin, roughly on the site now occupied by the chapel of All Souls
College, where various members of the book-trade lived. He was married, to
Celena, but evidently also held minor orders, as at least three self-portraits
show him with a clerical tonsure.This was not unusual: by this date, and with
the exception of the St. Albans workshop of Matthew Paris, the only other
English illuminators of the period about whom we have significant personal
information, most English illumination seems to have been done in commercial
workshops run by laymen.
Typical page from a small Brailes bible
William de Brailes illuminated Bibles, Psalters, a book of hours and secular
texts, and may also have been a scribe. He is associated with a distinctive
style, but other artists also worked in this manner, and distinguishing his hand
from theirs is difficult. The style is characterised by energetic gesticulating
figures, though with a limited range of facial expression, and a concern for
narrative. Ornamental bars stretch out from historiated initials to the top or
sides of the text, a feature in transition from the Romanesque style to the
mature Gothic style, where decorative borders run round the whole page.
Larger miniatures often contain different scenes in separate roundels. Most of
his manuscripts have a page size similar to that of a standard modern
paperback, and reflect the trend towards the personal ownership of books by
well off but not extravagant members of both clergy and laity.
A signed self-portrait by "W de Brailes who painted me" (left
The principal works attributed to Brailes and his workshop include:
The "De Brailes Hours" in the British Library (MS Add. 49999) is the
earliest surviving separate English book of hours (it has incorrectly been
claimed to be the earliest anywhere, and the prototype of the form), the type
of book that was to become the leading vehicle for illumination in the late
Middle Ages. It was probably created for an unknown laywoman whose generic
"portrait" is shown four times. It has been suggested she was from North
Hinksey near Oxford, and possibly called Suzanna.[Signed twice by "W. de
Brail", adding once "q[ui]. me depeint" ("who painted me"). Despite its small
size of 150 x 123 mm, it contains a large number of historiated initials and
full page miniatures introducing sections.
A series of small leaves (135 x 98 mm) illuminated on one or both sides
with full-page miniatures, probably from a psalter (perhaps a psalter now in
Stockholm which has a major historiated initial by de Brailes), with
twenty-four now in the Walters Art Museum, Philadelphia, and seven in the
Wildenstein Collection, Musée Marmottan Paris.
"The New College Psalter", at 350 x 250 mm, the "largest and most
elaborate extant work from the de Brailes workshop", and relatively late in
date, this work belongs to the category of luxury psalters, with an
illuminated calendar and abundant decoration throughout, although there is no
cycle of full-page miniatures.
Miniatures from a Psalter, consisting of six leaves in the Fitzwilliam
Museum and one in the Morgan Library extant, from a series of full-page
illuminations on the Old and New Testaments (215 x 143 mm).
Bible with some Masses (British Library, Harley MS. 2813) - recently
attributed, for a Franciscan patron, 183 x 133 mm, with two remaining
Bible with some Masses, in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. A small (167 x
116 mm) Bible, probably made for a Dominican patron.
Bible in Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge - the workshop's "most
elaborate surviving example of Bible illustration", with 79 illuminated,
mostly historiated, initials from which the decoration typically extends down
the page. 245 x 175 mm.
Bible, Free Library of Philadelphia, 182 x 113 mm, with many historiated
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