Gower Bibliography

The Author Portraits in the Bedford Psalter-Hours: Gower, Chaucer and Hoccleve

Wright, Sylvia. "The Author Portraits in the Bedford Psalter-Hours: Gower, Chaucer and Hoccleve." British Library Journal 18.2 (1992), pp. 190-201.


The "Bedford Psalter-Hours" (British Library MS Add. 42131; after 1414) contains a program of 290 portrait illustrations in the initials marking divisions in the text. Many of these can be identified with contemporaries: there are three portraits of Chaucer (two of which Wright ascribes to the same master that did the well-known Chaucer portrait in B.L. MS Harl. 4866, Hoccleve's Regement of Princes), three of Hoccleve, and ten of Gower, more than of any other single figure, and quite unusually, the work of more than a single artist. In all ten (all of which are reproduced in this essay), Gower is portrayed as a balding, bearded, and modestly dressed old man, resembling the senex amans whose illustration appears in some MSS of CA. The "unifying motif" of the Gower illustrations is the poet's "moral authority," according to Wright, who associates the particular texts chosen for Gower's portrait with his reputation as a moralist, with his blindness, and with various aspects of his works. Wright gives greatest attention to the first portrait, which appears with the text "Voce mea domine clamavi" of Psalm 141 (142), immediately suggesting Gower's Vox Clamantis. On the opposite page, at the opening of Psalm 142 (143), appears a portrait of Richard II. Wright argues that the juxtaposition was planned: "At the most elementary level Gower represents good and Richard evil. Both are alike in despair: Gower appears at a psalm which is an appeal to a Lord who does not heed his prayers and Richard II illustrates the psalm of a soul in torment, a sinner who is facing eternal damnation." Richard is depicted as youthful in this portrait, resembling the image of the king in the Wilton Diptych. Wright uses Gower's absolving of the young king in his first version of VC to explain the anomaly, and she also suggests that VC may have influenced the portrayal of a youthful, redeemable king and the inclusion of John the Baptist as the king's sponsor in the Wilton Diptych, which she dates shortly before the Bedford psalter, c. 1413. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 12.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Backgrounds and General Studies
Biography of Gower

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