By Denise Louise Despres
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Extra resources for Iconography and the Professional Reader: The Politics of Book Production in the Douce Piers Plowman (Medieval Cultures, V. 15)
In his prologue, William of Pagula complained of being, as Leonard Boyle succinctly puts it, “appalled to find how many parish priests seemed to have no inkling where the jurisdiction that they exercised over consciences in the confessional began or ended. ”14 The treatise was directed, then, at those priests conscientiously concerned with improving their administration of penance and interested in some of the more technical issues in the related ecclesiology. 15 One sees the former concern in the opening passage (immediately beside the illustration in the Hatfield manuscript), which delivers an uncompromisingly harsh judgment on the detriment caused by those who are set in authority over others and whose ignorance can lead those in their charge to hell (“et frequenter suos subditos per suam necgligenciam ad infernum deducunt”; fol.
Iconographically startling in its simplicity, the Douce artist’s Antichrist, with seductively wavy blond hair, draws attention to the intersection of polemical antimendicantism and apocalypticism, and would have surprised the reader familiar with the more sensational, devil-ridden portraits such as one sees in British Library, Add. 25 All these manuscripts show the eclecticism, freedom of iconographic choice, and intimacy of text-image relations common to medieval books in which the scribe has played a dual and/or supervisory role in the illustration.
35 The Omne bonum, for instance, contains illustrated articles on all these topics, such as the one on clerical Ambitio or the one on Beneficia ecclesiastica (fols. VI). The latter shows a bishop leading a very secular-looking man (untonsured and suspiciously dressed in a worldly looking red jacket) into a church door. 36 Another article on appropriate dress for priests (“De habitu clericorum et . . qualis debet esse distinctio vestimentorum”; fol. VII; see figure 66)37 shows a well-tonsured priest and his companions, robed much like the impeccably correct priest of the pardon scene in Douce (figure 19), pointing to a group of priests dressed in short coats, the foremost of whom has a sword dangling obscenely between his legs, just like Douce’s proud priest (and Hatfield’s corrupt priest).