Gower Bibliography

A Description of the Confession Miniatures for Gower's Confessio Amantis with Special Reference to the Illustrator's Role as Reader and Critic

Garbáty, Thomas J.. "A Description of the Confession Miniatures for Gower's Confessio Amantis with Special Reference to the Illustrator's Role as Reader and Critic." Mediaevalia 19 (1996), pp. 319-43.


Fourteen of the surviving MSS of CA contain an illustration of Amans kneeling before his Confessor. In three others, the scribes have left a blank space for the inclusion of a miniature in the same places where this illustration normally appears. In most of the illustrations, Amans is depicted as a young man; in three of them he is noticeably old. J.A. Burrow has already discussed the implications of the figure's apparent age and of the revelation in the illustration of that which is not revealed in the text until the very end. Garbáty is more concerned with the illustrators' and the readers' perception of the identity or distinctness of Amans and the historical author. Conventions of medieval painting make it impossible for us to be certain whether any of these illustrations is intended as portraiture, he observes, but the collar of SS that Amans wears in the miniature in Bodley Fairfax 3 is clearly meant to suggest an identification between the illustrated figure (who is also depicted as old) and the poet Gower. More evidence of such identification is provided, Garbáty argues, in the fact that most of the illustrations show Amans wearing a long gown or robe similar to the one worn by Gower's tomb effigy, and that in twelve of the fourteen he is attired in red or pink, matching the scarlet of the gown in a 1719 description of the tomb. The illustrators' attempts to identify Amans with Gower's appearance in effigy suggest to Garbáty that Gower's earliest readers did not make a critical differentiation between the author and his fictional persona. This argument depends to some extent upon an unusually late date for the Fairfax MS, after Gower's death (see note 13), so that it too may be considered as derivative of the tomb effigy. The only evidence Garbáty presents is the unlikelihood that Gower would have been depicted with a collar of SS while Richard II was still alive. Many, possibly including Gower, did wear such a collar during Richard's lifetime, but even if they did not, the illustration by no means excludes the normal dating of c. 1400. Both paleographers and textual scholars will have trouble with Grabáty's proposal of a later date, and if it is not correct, then there needs to be some explanation other than the tomb effigy alone for the habit of depicting Amans/Gower in red in these illustrations. Garbáty includes in his essay a black and white reproduction and a description of each of the fourteen surviving Confessor illustrations. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 16.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Biography of Gower
Confessio Amantis
Manuscripts and Textual Studies

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