Matthew Paris (ca. 1200–1259)
The Virgin and Christ Child; Christ Crucified; Christ in Majesty
From Chronica Majora, vol. 1
Saint Albans, England, ca. 1240–53
Corpus Christi College Library, Cambridge, MS 26
Over the course of twenty-five years, Matthew Paris, a monk at Saint Albans Abbey near London, wrote some dozen manuscripts—primarily histories and saints’ lives—that he illustrated profusely with line drawings. His most ambitious work is the Chronica Majora, a history that begins with the Creation and continues with entries of significant events noted year by year until his death in 1259. Its margins contain an array of drawings related to those events, ranging from doodled annotations to full-blown compositions that spread across the lower margins (see Saladin’s Capture of the True Cross).
This extraordinary drawing at the end of the book is unique within Matthew’s oeuvre both in terms of its format and its high degree of finish. It perhaps belonged to a portfolio of drawings that Matthew kept and only later bound into the volume. It may well depict details of works of art that Matthew saw in and around Saint Albans, suggesting that he found drawing as useful a tool for documenting the world around him as for depicting the events of history.