Close XYL-19 Death and the Last Judgement

 [England (Syon Abbey?), c.1499]. Woodcut, with Latin typographic text.

 Schr. 608. Christ, depicted with a nimbus of rays and displaying the five wounds, his naked body partially wrapped in a cloak which falls from his left shoulder, his right hand raised in blessing, is shown seated on a rainbow, his feet resting on the orb of the world. He is flanked by two angels emerging from the clouds and blowing trumpets to which banderoles are attached, displaying instruments of the Passion, the five wounds, and a bleeding Sacred Heart. Two small figures are shown rising from the ground, resurrected from the dead. In the foreground, occupying the full width of the picture, a corpse lies wrapped and tied in a cloth on a black ground, buried without a coffin, and surrounded by worms, bones, skulls, and gravediggers’ tools. Immediately behind the corpse, at the centre of the picture, a cadaver, representing Death, runs across the black earth holding a gigantic arrow in both hands. To the left a tonsured monk kneels in prayer, his face raised to Christ. To the right a devil gestures with a black book, which we might suppose to contain a list of the dead man’s sins, evidently demanding his condemnation. The picture is surrounded by a double-lined frame. A majuscule ‘S’ (= ‘Syon’?), to the right of the devil, was printed as part of the woodcut. At the top, outside the frame, there is a typographic inscription: ‘Surgite Mortui. + Uenite ad Judicium.’, and below: ‘Arma Beate Birgitte: De Syon. +’, accompanied by a coat of arms bearing the rampant lion of Sweden (of which the lower part has been cut away). Unique copy. The typographic text, which need not be a later addition (as has sometimes been suggested), indicates that the woodcut may have been produced at, or at least printed for, the convent of Syon Abbey. Nicholson, in his unpublished handlist, states that the majuscules B and D, both very rare, point to Wynkyn de Worde or Pynson, whereas he associates the A, B, and U with Caxton’s no. 6 type. Hodnett suggests a date of c.1510 and attributes the printing to Richard Pynson (with question mark); Hind considers William Fawkes more likely.

ills. Dodgson, ‘English Devotional Woodcuts’, pl. XXXVI (a); Dodgson, English Woodcuts, fig. 15; Illustrated Bartsch (Supplement), 162.608; Duffy, Altars, fig. 100; Driver, ‘Bridgettine Woodcuts’, fig. 1; Bodleian Filmstrip Roll 245, no. 2.

refs. Schreiber, Manuel, I 170–1; Schreiber, Handbuch, I 196; Dodgson, Ashmolean, 34 (Bodl.22); Dodgson, ‘English Devotional Woodcuts’, 96 and 100 (no. 6); Hind II 738; Dodgson, English Woodcuts, 9–10; STC 14077c.18; Hodnett no. 1356a; Driver, ‘Bridgettine Woodcuts’, 239–41; Nicholson no. 119.

copy Chancery half-sheet. 225 × 180 mm (woodcut 223 × 149 mm, originally c.223 × 155 mm), imperfect at the bottom. Printed in black ink in a press on one side of the paper. Uncoloured. Chain-lines vertical. No watermark. The third of three woodcuts placed at the beginning of a set of devotional texts in Latin for the use of Birgittines. For the function and context of the woodcut and the association of MS. Rawl. D. 403 with Syon Abbey, Middlesex, see XYL-13; see also XYL-30. There is a close correspondence between the iconographical content of the image, which combines two distinct themes, namely ‘death and burial’ and the ‘Last Judgement’, and the opening chapters of the Liber mortis et vite. Chapter 1 of book 1 sets out a programme of contemplation for monks, based on imitating the Fathers in their constant thought of the Last Judgement: ‘Nam illi properantes de die in diem ad mortem cogitauerunt siue comedentes. siue bibentes. siue vigilantes. siue dormientes. siue orantes. legentes. vel meditantes. aut aliud aliquid operantes. illam tristem nouissimam turbam de celo. terribili crepitu clangentem. Surgite mortui. venite ad iudicium. atque illum tremebundum aduentum vltimum et terribilem districti iudicis Iesu Christi . . .’ (fol. 4r). A later passage, specifically addressed to monks, prescribes contemplation of one’s own death in terms that correspond to the lower portion of the woodcut: ‘Vide ergo. et discute bene. in quo ordine istorum morientium statueris. aut quomodo te disposuisti et vixisti. vt a domino inveniaris . . . dixit enim Euagrius. cum sedes in cella tua. collige te ad te. reuoca sensum tuum intra te. et memor esto diei mortis tue. et considera mortificacionem corporis tui morituri . . .’ (fol. 14r). The host manuscript came to the Bodleian with the collection of Richard Rawlinson (1690–1755). Bequeathed in 1755.

Binding: See XYL-13.

Provenance: Syon Abbey, Middlesex, Birgittines. Richard Rawlinson (1690–1755). Bequeathed in 1755. See XYL-13.

shelfmark: MS. Rawl. D. 403, fol. 3v.