Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Nativity of St John the Baptist

Today's feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist prompts me to pass on an observation from working at the Christ Church Picture gallery here in Oxford. The collection of fourteenth and fifteenth century Italian devotional paintings - I will not call them "Primatives" - include a number of depictions of St John. In addition to his usual camel- skin habit he is usually shown wearing a pinkish- purple or what today one would call mauve robe, and carries a scroll with the words Ecce agnus Dei. In the surviving English medieval depictions I have seen I am of course used to the camel-skins, and rather than a scroll a carried lamb or plaque with a lamb, but the colour coding had not struck me. I wonder if this was an Italian rather than a more general notion. I assume the colour was chosen as being one suitable for repentance. One is used to blue for Our Lady, but I wonder how widespread purple tones were for St John? Is it just that where statues survive here they have often lost their painted decoration.

The sequence for the feast by Adam of St Victor can be found on The Lion and the Cardinal for today'

Depictions of St John remind me of a friend who as an Anglican curate described the Baptist in a homily as not being the sort of young man you would want your daughter to bring home...Think about it - afternoon tea with John the Baptist...

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