The Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Joanna the Mad (The London Rothschild Prayerbook)

The Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Joanna the Mad (The London Rothschild Prayerbook) f. 215v, Apostle St. James


f. 215v, Apostle St. James

The illustration is surrounded by a geometric border consisting of interwoven rhombuses, with faint shadows that highlight the metallic strips and create a trompe-l’oeil effect, with scallop shells hanging from them. In the context of this miniature, the frame serves not merely a decorative purpose but also enhances the image of St James the Great, in a manner similar to another book of hours belonging to Joanna I of Castile (London, The British Library, Add. Ms. 18852, f. 412r), but in this instance framing the text of the prayer and using pilgrims’ staffs instead of metal bands. The apostle is depicted against a landscape of woods and large rocks, with an aerial view of a city in the background, reading a book in line with the iconography of classical origin showing an author reading his own work. It must be remembered that this type of portrait is appropriate for the figure of St James because he is the author of one of the New Testament epistles and because Early Christian art added portraits to the beginning of several books of the Bible, showing the author either with a rolled-up scroll or reading an open scroll. The shift to the codex format implied, amongst other things, that the figure could be surrounded by a decorative frame. Similarly, the representation of St James to the waist reveals an influence stemming not only from the ancient world but also from the canons of composition used for icons in order to bring works closer to the spectators, thereby fulfilling the aim of the devotional image. Also worthy of mention in the series of portraits in the suffrage of the saints section is the individual nature of the faces and expressions, such as the serenity of St James the apostle, whose appearance – featuring a hat with a small scallop shell and a walking stick in his left hand which is almost hidden by a loose-fitting cloak – abides by the traditional, iconographic model of the pilgrim in existence since the 12th century. Also noteworthy is the use of certain pigments throughout the manuscript, including lapis lazuli brought from Badakshan, in what is now Afghanistan, from which the ultramarine blue seen, for example, on St James’ tunic, was obtained. The text of the antiphon refers to the veneration of St James in Hispanic kingdoms, “Light and Splendour of Spain, most holy St James, who, amongst the apostles [...]”. The first reference to St James preaching in Hispania can be traced back, albeit vaguely, to St Jerome. This reference marks the start of the tradition, as can be seen in the Breviarium apostolorum ex nomine vel locis ubi predicaverunt, an apocryphal work that spread into Hispanic territory towards the 6th century in a Latin version of the original Greek work based on other apocryphal documents, making this the first explicit reference to St James’ preaching in Hispania. The Commentaries on the Apocalypse by Beatus constitutes the first widely disseminated text known to associate St James with the Iberian Peninsula, a link that continued in the hymn O Dei Verbum, composed for the dedication of a church, and followed, a few decades later, by the invention of the apostle’s tomb in Galicia.

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