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.
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, Christ and David, Tree of Jesse.
Leaf from Pierpont Morgan Library, New York:
Early Life of Christ
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes": Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes facsimile edition, published by The Folio Society