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Van der Weyden, Descent from the Cross
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New York, Pierpont Morgan Library MS M. 648

Described by: Ryan Perry from microfilm analysis; the description of the cycle of illustrations is by David Falls, who examined the MS in New York..
Revision Date: June 1st, 2010


Nicholas Love, Mirror of the Blessed Life followed by a Lollard tract in defence of Biblical translation and a passage from St Bridget of Sweden's Revelationes, c. mid-C15.

Condition of the MS

The front of the book in particular has suffered extensive water damage; interestingly, the material at the rear of the book (items 2 and 3) have suffered a pattern of water damage that maps precisely onto the leaves near the beginning of the book. It is thus clear that the items were originally bound in as a prelude to Love's Mirror.

Number of Items


Title(s) of Pseudo-Bonaventuran Text(s)

The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ..



  • Heading at the beginning of the table of Contents:Here begynneth the table of þe boke þt is cleped þe mirrour of þe blessid lif of Ihu crist . pars prima pro die lune . capitulum prima (fol. 1r).
  • Heading at the beginning of the Proheme: Here begynneth the proheme of the boke that is cleped the mirrour of the blessid lof of Ihesu . Crist.
  • Item 2, Text begins: "A yenst hem that seyn that holy writt shulde not or may not be drawen yn to englyshe" (142r)



Secundo Folio

"hour capitulum xliiii".


"Explicit . Speculum Vite xpi . complet

Ihesu lorde thi blessid lif helpe
/ and conforte our wrecchid lif } Amen"; the explicit is followed by the Memorandum.

Languages of the MS

Items 1 and 2 are English, item 3 is Latin.

Detailed Description of Contents

  • Item 1: Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, a mixed text that may have been drawn from several exemplars; the text is complimented by 16 miniatures, usually between a third and a half-page in size, fols 1-141v.
  • Item 2: 'First seith Bois', a Lollard tract defending biblical translation (an English adaptation of the Latin defense of a translated Bible by Richard Ullerston), fols 142r-143v.
  • Item 3: Revelationes of St. Birgitta of Sweden, book iv, chapter 7, an extract containing 51 lines of text (144r). The text corresponds to the following passage, drawn from the online edition edited by Hans Aili et al.:
      53 Supra vero tenebras istas est pena maxima purgatorii, quam anime possunt sustinere; et ultra locum istum est locus alius, ubi minor est pena, que non est alia nisi defectus virium in fortitudine et pulchritudine et consimilibus, 54 sicut per simile dico, quasi si aliquis esset infirmus et cessante infirmitate vel pena nichil haberet de viribus, donec paulatim recuperaret. 55 Tercius vero locus superior est, ubi nulla alia pena est nisi desiderium perueniendi ad Deum. Et ut melius in consciencia tua intelligas, dico tibi per similitudinem, 56 quasi si es misceretur et arderet cum auro in igne ardentissimo, et tam diu deberet depurgari, donec es consumeretur et aurum remaneret purum. 57 Quanto vero es forcius et spissius esset, tanto ardenciori igne indigeret, donec aurum esset quasi aqua currens et totum ardens. 58 Deinde magister eius profert aurum in locum alium, ubi obtineat veram formam in visu et tactu; postea mittit in tercium locum, ubi custodiatur et presentetur possessori. 59 Sic est eciam spiritualiter. In primo loco supra tenebras est maxima pena purgatorii, ubi vidisti illam supradictam animam purgari. Ibi est demonum tactus; ibi per similitudinem apparent venenosi vermes et similitudo animalium ferocium; 60 ibi calor est et frigus; ibi tenebre et confusio, que procedunt de pena que est in inferno; ibi quedam anime habent minorem penam, quedam maiorem, iuxta quod peccata emendata erant vel non eo tempore, quo anima cum corpore mansit. 61 Deinde magister, id est iusticia Dei, profert aurum, id est animas, in alia loca, ubi non est nisi defectus virium, in quibus anime tam diu morabuntur, 62 donec refrigerium habebunt vel de specialibus amicis suis vel de sancte ecclesie continuis operibus: nam anima, quo maius auxilium habebit de amicis, eo cicius conualescit et liberabitur de illo loco. 63 Post hec autem anima fertur in locum tercium, ubi non est pena nisi desiderium perueniendi ad Dei presenciam et eius visionem beatam. 64 In hoc loco morantur multi et nimis diu, preter illos qui, in mundo dum vixerunt, perfectum desiderium habuerunt perueniendi ad Dei presenciam et eius visionem. 65 Scito eciam, quod multi moriuntur in mundo ita iusti et innocentes, quod statim perueniunt ad presenciam et visionem Dei, 66 quidam vero peccatis suis cum bonis operibus sic emendatis, quod anime eorum nullam sencient penam; sed pauci sunt qui non veniunt in locum ubi est desiderium perueniendi ad Deum. 67 Ideo omnes anime in istis locis tribus morantes participantur sancte ecclesie precibus et bonis operibus que fiunt in mundo: precipue que fecerunt dum vixerunt et [eorum] que fiunt ab amicis eorum post mortem. 68 Scito eciam, quod sicut peccata sunt multiformia et diuersa, sic eciam pene sunt multiplices et diuerse. Ideo, sicut esuriens gaudet de pasticulo venienti ad os eius, 69 siciens de potu, tristis letatur de gaudio, nudus de veste, infirmus in veniendo ad lectum, sic anime gaudent et participantur hiis bonis, que fiunt pro eis in mundo." 70 Deinde subiunxit angelus: "Benedictus sit ille qui in mundo iuuat animas oracionibus et bonis operibus laboreque corporis sui"; 'Amen' is added at the close of the excerpt.

      It is worth noting that this passage, in its discussion of the necessity of good works and prayers to extricate the afflicted soul from purgatory, articulates a theological position at odds with Wycliffite thought.

Estimated Date of Production

Mid-C15; argued by Scott in respect of the decoration to date C. 1445-1455.

Writing Support



i + 144 fols + i (flyleaves are not original but have been with the book for long enough for the decorated initial on fol. 1 to become imprinted on the verso of the front flyleaf).

Dimensions of Page and Writing Space

  • Leaf size: 285 x 195 mm (approx.); the leaves containing items 2-3 are of approximately the same height, but are only about 180 mm wide.
  • Writing Space: 200 x 130 mm (approx.); items 2 and 3 are penned in columns of precisely the same dimensions as Love's text.


i(?) + 110, 2-178, 183 (the final quire containing the Mirror); 193 (these leaves were originally located at the front of the book).


  • 2 columns, 35 lines; frames and lines drawn, evidence of pricking.
  • Item 2: 2 columns, 53 lines; frames are clearly drawn but it is difficult to see if there were originally lines, certainly, there are no signs of pricking.
  • Item 3: is written in 1 of two columns available- the text is penned even more tightly than the Lollard tract, so that there are 51 lines of text, and almost a thrid of the column remains unfilled.

Rubrication/ Ordinatio



The manuscript has 16 miniatures, each with a full bar border, the text also opens with a full border decoration. Scott has argued that the border decoration may be by the limner responsible for the decoration in National Library of Scotland MS. 18.1.7. The miniatures are described below:
  • Bonaventure
    (Bottom 2/3’s of page following the ‘Attende Note which is written in red and preceding the ‘Proheme’ which begins at the top of the next leaf. P. 9)
    Enclosed within three walls of a cloister Bonaventure, centre, in brown robe sits on a pink bench and writes in a book set upon a high desk. Also present a red Cardinal’s hat.
  • Trinity
    (Middle 1/3 of the page separating the ‘Proheme’ and the ‘Council of Heaven’ P. 15)
    God suspends Christ crucified within mandorla, behind them an audience of kings and patriarchs. Mandorla supported by four angels in pink robes, on the left both angels have pink and green wings, on the right the upper has only pink wings, the lower pink and red.
  • Annunciation
    (Middle 1/3 of page separating the ‘Manner of Living of Mary’ and the section on the ‘Incarnation of Christ’. P. 22)
    Upper left, God in pink robe with forked beard and halo appears in red heavenly fire in corner. Centre, Gabriel in pink robe with red and pink wings announces to Mary from centre, via white dove, banner of text reads ‘Ave Maria, gratia plena, dominus tenum (Luke 1:28). Right, Mary kneeling over book in blue and pink robe with halo turns back to face angel.
  • Nativity
    (Middle 1/3 of the page, preceding the ‘Nativity of oure Lord’. P. 37)
    Left Joseph haloed with long white hair and forked beard flanked by two angels. Upper centre Christ haloed and wrapped in pink and red hatched blanket in small crib. In foreground right to centre, Mary in blue and pink and haloed reclines on a bed facing Christ and Joseph. Far right, angel gazes over Mary adoring the holy family.
  • Presentation
    (Middle 1/3 page separating the ‘Epiphany’ section and the Purification of Mary’ P. 47)
    Left to centre, three haloed figures. One male, bearded and haloed, second female and haloed carries woven basket, third figure Mary in blue robe. Left Mary holds small Christ over bowl placed on altar, also present on altar a chalice. Far left white robed and haloed figure receives Christ.
  • Flight into Egypt
    (Top ½ of the page at the beginning of the ‘Tuesday’ section separating ‘Purification of Mary and the ‘Flight into Egypt’. P. 51)
    Left mountainous background, three peaks divided into two levels and distinct peak, Mary haloed and in blue sits upon donkey, carrying the infant Christ. Centre Joseph, haloed, leads the Donkey under the observance of red winged, pink robed and haloed angel with arms spread. Far right foreground small two-leveled mount, again with distinct peak. Far right background, turreted city.
  • Temptation
    (1/4 page in the lower half of folio separating ‘Baptism’ and beginning of ‘Wednesday’ section starting with the ‘Temptation’. Only a few lines of the ‘Temptation’ section are on the same page as the illustration. P.69)
    Far left Satan begins as brown stands upon the ground with Christ haloed in pink robe, rocks scattered on the ground. Centre Satan is pink as he is impaled under the jaw by the steeple of a church upon which Christ sits. Far right Satan is red with arms outstretched as he stands on a two-leveled hill, Christ stands above. Behind Christ sits a walled city.
  • Sermon on the Mount
    (Top of page just under ½ of page. Separating ‘Water into Wine’ and Sermon’, 1/3 of space on previous page is left blank and illustration lines up with the text. P.82)
    Centre, Christ haloed in pink robe stands on a three-leveled hill facing directly forward to the reader arms crossed and pointing to ranks of haloed figures on either side of Mount. Twelve haloed figures on the left, thirteen on the right, all bearded men.
  • Plucking the Corn
    (Small illustration from bottom of full page of text to bottom of leaf. p. 96 ln. 31-32)
    Left field of corn, twelve figures stand, two picking corn, three figure in the crowd face Christ in the centre. Christ, centre, pointing with one hand, other hand open addresses five robed figures, one of whom kneels with open arms hands outstretched.
  • Loaves and Fishes
    (Top of page a little over 1/3 of page. Beginning of ‘Thursday’ section. P.101)
    Left foreground nine woven baskets, left background two white tables arranged as a v with twenty-four men seated. Centre, haloed figure with forked beard holds two fishes and white loaves. Left, Christ, haloed in pink robe gestures past figure to the crowd, behind Christ eleven figures.
  • Agony
    (Top of Page little under ½ page. Beginning of ‘Friday’ section. P.159).
    Left three haloed sleeping figures; central figure holds a book on lap. Right Christ kneels in prayer upon a tripartite hill, before him is a chalice with wafer above. Upper right corner God appears stretching out hands to Christ. Background, artists familiar tripartite mountains, central and far left mount adorned with trees.
  • Crucifixion
    (Top ½ of page at the beginning of the section ‘Of the crucifyinge of oure Lorde atte the sixte houre’. P.174)
    Christ upon the cross, centre, head lowered to right, eyes closed, nude, feet crossed and fixed with single nail, blood spurt from wound on right side, INRI inscription on plaque above Christ. On right side (damaged) Mary in blue robe head bowed. On left John giving sign of the benediction. Below the Cross white skull and five white bones. Background left and right tripartite mountains.
  • Resurrection
    ( Top ½ of page. Beginning of ‘Sunday’ section. Again space left on previous page to align the illustration with texts P. 193)
    Christ in pink robe rises from sarcophagus tomb, centre, holds banner of the resurrection with small cross atop blood red staff while four armored knights sleep at each corner. Three wounds visible on Christ’s right hand, right foot and right torso.
  • Ascension
    (Top ½ of page preceding the section on the ‘Ascension’. p. 210)
    Again background featuring three tripartite mountains, left and right mounts adorned with trees. Christ ascends from central mount into a red cloud, legs from knee down covered in pink robe can be seen ending in pierced and bloody feet. Bloody footprints remain on the central hill. Six male figures watch with hands clasped in prayer on the left. Mary watches from below left of center, beside Mary five more kneeling and praying.
  • Pentecost
    (Top ½ of Page separating a few lines of text of the ‘Ascension’ section and the beginning ‘comyng of the holy goste’ section. P. 218)
    Two hands, not wounded, descend from red cloud, top centre, and release a white dove above Mary, centre, in blue robe with halo, crown and hands crossed on her heart. Red rays connect dove to the heads of twelve male figures, six either side of Mary.
  • Corpus Christi
    (top ½ of page. Separating the last line of the Mirror ‘to confusion of alle fals lollardes & heritykes Amen’ and the ‘Treatise on the Sacrament’. P. 221)
    Centre, priest carrying the Host follows child with censer walking upon green and black diapered cloth. Above the figures is a red canopy supported by pink robed haloed angels, one at each corner.

Number of Scribal Hands

  • A: fols 1-141v
  • B: fols 142r-144r

Style of Hands

  • A: A good professional book hand of the C15 century with notable features including a horned 'g' and the tendency to mix a variety of 'w' forms arbitrarily. The hand thus has some features that are very reminiscent of the scribe who penned the Advocates and Waseda MSS (2 books made in London in approximately the same period and by the same atelier as Morgan M. 648), but is distinct enough to suggest that this is a different scribe. The correspondences may suggest contemporaneousness, and possibly even parallel training in scribal practice.
  • B: An almost impossibly minute hand, that is yet neat and legible. The scribe although not writing in a professional bookhand, is clearly comfortable penning Latin using the typical sorts of contractions. The fact that hand B appears to have had access to the Mirror suggests that the scribe either owned the book, or was perhaps a cleric living in the house were the book resided.

Estimated Date of Hands

  • A: Mid-C15
  • B: This hand is more difficult to date, but would appear to be have penned in the C15, some time after the writing of the Mirror and perhaps to a date not far removed from the making of the primary text in the MS.

Scribal Annotation

There are only 117 scribal side notes in the book, and these do not occur evenly throughout the transcription.
There are a great many corrections in the manuscript where skipped text is supplied in the margins. This is often in the hand of the scribe Sargent identifies as Pm2* (see annotation for further discussion), but there are also a large number of corrections in other hands, some that may have been supplied by a corrector in the production team, but in other cases perhaps by readers of the book with access to another copy of the Mirror. There is a good chance that the original copy was made from several damaged exemplars, a possibility that gains credence from the partial and haphazard run of scribal sidenotes in the book.

Notable Dialect Features

The dialect needs to be checked against the productions of the Petworth Chaucer scribe.

Localisable on Google Earth
(click markers to view sample dialect forms)


Annotation and Marginalia

  • Sargent has recorded 315 corrections to the text by a hand he identifies as Pm2*. (Sargent, 'Textual Affiliations', 189 ff.) The corrector, often supplying omissions, writes in a contemporary hand, and amends the text from a β version of the Mirror.
  • There is some further annotation in a minute script, and possibly by the hand who added items 2 and 3, but the MS will have to be examined in person to decipher these writings.



Names recorded, signatures, ex libris marks

There are a number of inscriptions relating to owners on fol. 144v. The first of these is in an C18-C19 hand, and apparently refers to a name on the original binding: "This name was writ on the cover which was much decayd and consisted of two very thick oak boards covered with vellum." It would appear that the rather unlikely name in question is written beside this inscription, “Episcop. Thom Arundell Anno Domni 1390”. We can safely deduce that if the name did occur, it was applied to the book to give it an interesting provenance, with the name suggested in both the Memorandum and also the Lollard tract (where Arundel’s sermon at the funeral of Queen Anne is employed as the final exemplum).
The following information is taken from the Pierpont Morgan Library online description: "Given in the 17th century by Henry Williams to Hugo Hibbard (inscription on fol. 144v); given ca. 1750 by William Saunders M.D. of Wedham College, Oxford, to Edward Walmsley (inscription on fol. 144v); his sale (London? Mar. 1795 (perhaps Sotheby’s, Mar. 16, 1795, lot 343: Life of Christ) to Captain Perrott Noel of the Worcestershire Militia (inscription on fol. 144v, bookplate on front pastedown with armorial and motto: jus suum cuique); inherited in 1916 by General Sir Neville Lyttelton (inscription on fol. 144v); purchased by J.P. Morgan (1867-1943) from Agnew in 1920."


  • Of the many interesting features in this manuscript, most fascinating of all is the fact that a tract adapted by Lollards in defence of Biblical translation occurs alongside the Mirror, a book understood by many as an orthodox surrogate for a translated Bible. The text was originally edited by Deanesly, who did not know it was drawn from Ullerston’s Latin defence of translation in Oxford 1401, and instead ascribed the tract to Purvey. For discussion of the circumstances surrounding the composition of the original Latin see Hudson, "The Debate on Bible Translation, Oxford 1401”.
    The same scribe adds a section from Birgitta's Revelationes on fol. 144r, taking a new leaf despite having most of an empty side on 143v to fill. Tantalisingly, the scribe also writes 'Amen' below Arundel's Memorandum on fol. 141v, immediately to the right of the original scribe's 'Amen'. The scribe's penning of the word is suggestive of an endorsement of Arundel's approbation.
  • The manuscript shares important links with National Library of Scotland MS. 18.1.7, not only in that both unusually contain a series of miniatures (by different artists and according to different models), but because the books appear to have been decorated by the same metropolitan atelier. The book is also linked to Waseda MS NE 3891; Sargent suggests the Waseda MS might even have been used directly as an exemplar for the Morgan MS ('Textual Affiliations', 190). There are also some similarities between the hand that pens the Mirror in this manuscript and the prolific C15 scribe responsible for in the Advocates' Library book and the Waseda MS, the so-called Petworth Chaucer scribe. These similarities may be indicative of a scribal school, or of scribal trends among metropolitan book producers.

References and Other Resources

Ann Hudson, "The Debate on Bible Translation, Oxford 1401”, English Historical Review 90 (1975) : 1-18.

"Agens hym that seyn that hooli wrigt schulde not or may not be drawun in to Engliche." Deanesly, Lollard Bible, Appendix 2.3, 437-45 (From Trinity College, Cambridge MS 333, 26-30v).

Curt Buhler, ed., "A Lollard Tract: On Translating the Bible into English", Medium Aevum 7 (1938) 167-83.

Kathleen Scott, "The Illustration and Decoration of Manuscripts of Nicholas Love’s Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ’, Nicholas Love at Waseda, eds. Shoichi Oguro, Richard Beadle and Michael G. Sargent (1997), pp. 61-86; p. 68.

_ _ _, Later Gothic manuscripts, 1390-1490, 2 vols (London, 1996), v. 2, p. 236, 274, 275.

John B. Friedman, Northern English Books, Owners, and Makers in the Late Middle Ages, (Syracuse, 1995) p. 132, 181-183, 186

Online Catalogue of MSS in the Pierpont Morgan Library (CORSAIR)

Michael Sargent, 'The Textual Affiliations of the Waseda MS', Nicholas Love at Waseda, eds. Shoichi Oguro, Richard Beadle and Michael G. Sargent (1997), pp. 175-92.

Simon Horobin, The Language of the Chaucer Tradition (London, 2003).

Sargent Groupings

β2 | γ2 | β

Sargent Pages

Intro. 92, 123-4, 126, 137-9, 148, 151-2, 159. A mixed text: "β2 from the beginning of the text throught the end of chapter 4; γ2 from chapter 5 through the end of the Thursday section; β from there until the last gathering" (intro. 123)

Sargent Number



Please note: Descriptions of Mirror MSS are indebted to: Nicholas Love, The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ: A Full Critical Edition, ed. by Michael G. Sargent (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2005)