Gratian’s “Decretum”


This deluxe version of Gratian’s Decretum was created circa 1280‒90, most likely in Hainaut (in present-day Belgium). The lively decoration of the manuscript indicates a marked taste for narrative, and there are 37 historiated initials. The gloss work was completed by Bartholomew of Brescia. At first examination, Paris would seem to be the most likely place of origin, given that it was the leading center for the study of canon law. However, this particular manuscript exhibits scribal features that suggest its place of origin as being the Cistercian abbey of Cambron in Hainaut. Furthermore, Abbot Baudouin de Bousso, whose tenure at the abbey was from 1283 to 1293, was schooled in theology at the University of Paris, and he would eventually endorse the production of many fine manuscripts while at Cambron. In fact, the catalyst for this endeavor seems to have been the Beaupré Antiphonary (W.759‒761), also in the collections of the Walters Art Museum, which was created at Cambron during the 1280s. Stylistic features of this edition of Gratian’s Decretum (W.133) seem to have connections with the Beaupré Antiphonary. For example, Cistercian monks are shown in three extant illuminations throughout three of the antiphonary volumes; these monks are pictured in brown habits similar to the type worn by clerics in the Decretum. The reliance upon Cistercian precedents for textual and design features associates the work with the Cistercian abbey at Cambron. However, more remains to be confirmed by further inspection of the output of the scriptorium at Cambron. Little is known about Gratian, an Italian Benedictine active in the 12th century, who made the first systematic compilation of canon law, which we know as the Decretum. The main decorative elements in this version are 37 historiated initials, including two inhabited initials, which are on folios 11 recto and 130 recto; flourished initials for secondary text divisions in red and blue ink; smaller initials for tertiary text divisions in blue and red ink; marginal drolleries throughout; rubrics in red; and text in dark-brown ink.

Last updated: October 17, 2017