William de Brailes was at the forefront of a great artistic flourishing in 13th-century England. One of the very few illuminators to sign his work, his name appears in several records between c.1230 and 1260, making him the best-documented artist of the period. Little is known of his personal life other than that he lived and worked in Oxford and that he had a wife – a fact somewhat at odds with two portraits of himself in a tonsure, which would suggest he had taken monastical vows. De Brailes’s consummate skill as an artist and craftsman is evidenced in seven leaves that survive from a Psalter completed around 1240. Regarded as the finest examples of his work, six of the leaves belong to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the seventh to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.
The Folio Society is proud to announce the publication of a limited facsimile edition of all seven Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes. These are no ordinary reproductions – the leaves are restored to their original glory and printed on vellum using a revolutionary and now patented printing process.
Only 480 numbered sets will be produced, making this an exceptional opportunity for collectors.
High-quality printing in colour on real vellum has, to date, been considered unviable – the properties of animal skin and the unevenness of its surface making accurate printing through modern presses impracticable. However, specialist Italian printer Grafiche Damiani has been working for several years to find a way of making this possible. When they approached The Folio Society, we immediately identified de Brailes's illuminations as the perfect subject on which to use their newly patented printing process. For all concerned in the complex series of experiments and trials, their reward has come in a truly gorgeous reproduction of de Brailes’s deep, subtly shaded colours and fine lines, as well as gleaming gold.
The printing process consists of five separate stages. First a base layer is printed, similar to the ground applied by medieval artists. This is followed by the colours. The third stage is the application of the gold, slightly raised from the surface of the parchment to emulate the originals. Next, a further printing over the gold reproduces the patina of age. Fortunately, despite the absence of some of the gold, the marks are still visible on the originals, so that, in the final stage, the sheets can be blocked with an exact replica of the tooling. The result is a facsimile that has surpassed all expectations. When we presented the final proofs, Dr Stella Panayotova, Keeper of Manuscripts and Printed Books at the Fitzwilliam Museum, and Professor Nigel J. Morgan, author of the commentary volume, were astounded by both the quality and the fidelity of the finished result.
These seven leaves show the distinctive quality of William de Brailes’s work. His images are characterised by originality of design and precision of execution. Some of the tiny scrolls of lettering must have been painted using a single-hair brush, while his technique of layering colour produces depth and light. But de Brailes was much more than a craftsman – his scenes also reveal a profound knowledge of biblical iconography.
Leaves from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge:
Fall of the Rebel Angels, Scenes from Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel, Last Judgement, Wheel of Fortune,
Leaf from Pierpont Morgan Library, New York:
Early Life of Christ
Two leaves in detail:
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Delivery of limited editions may take longer than standard editions. Please contact us for more information.
|Restoring a masterpiece to its
Reproducing the depth of colour and the richness of gold in William de Brailes’s work was made all the more challenging because some of the gold had been scraped from the surface of the leaves centuries ago, probably for recycling into another manuscript. Months of preparation and painstaking application went into this restoration alone.
Professor Nigel J. Morgan has been fascinated with William de Brailes's illuminations for many years. When The Folio Society approached him to commission a commentary volume for this project, he relished the opportunity to study them more extensively. Alongside a detailed analysis of each image, he compares de Brailes's treatment of biblical subjects with that of his contemporaries. He also provides insight into the importance of medieval Oxford as a centre of manuscript production. How de Brailes’s Psalter came to be lost is not known, with the surviving leaves only emerging from obscurity in the 19th century. Professor Morgan traces their history from that point: they were bought and sold by various collectors, but ultimately came to prominence because of the interest of Sydney Cockerell. In 1932, Cockerell managed to acquire six leaves for the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge where he was Director. Later scholarship has identified another leaf – now held by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York – as belonging to the same original manuscript. Professor Morgan’s book provides a comprehensive and valuable contribution to the published work on medieval manuscripts in general and to the de Brailes leaves in particular.