AN inscribed portrait of John Gower, literary champion of Lancastrian kingship, provides the key to the reading of the unique illustrative programme of the Duke of Bedford's Psalter-Hours, Add. MS. 42131, the only manuscript he is known to have commissioned in England. Two hundred and ninety of the 300 minor text divisions are illustrated with portrait heads; a national portrait gallery of Lancastrian friends and foes is concealed in the initials of carefully selected texts. Many of the portraits are repeated, creating distinct subtexts; Gower himself appears ten times as prophet, preacher, and penitent lending the weight of his moral authority to the imagery. The depiction of contemporaries within the text of the Psalter is almost without precedent in the Middle Ages; the exception is in a Bible which was probably made for the Duke's father, Henry IV, by the artist of the inscribed portrait of Gower. This invasion of scriptural text defies convention and, it might be argued, good taste.
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