The Temperate and the Intemperate
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Master of the Dresden Prayer Book
Flemish, Bruges, about 1475 - 1480
Tempera colors and ink on parchment
6 7/8 x 7 5/8 in.

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The Memorable Deeds and Sayings of the Romans, a compilation of stories about ancient customs and heroes written in the first century A.D. by Valerius Maximus, was widely used in the Middle Ages as a textbook for rhetoric. The museum's cutting comes from a French translation of the original Latin text made for Jan Crabbe, abbot of the Cistercian Abbey at Duinen, south of Bruges.

This large miniature appeared at the beginning of book two, Concerning Morals and Customs. In a spacious dining hall, Valerius, dressed in blue on the left, instructs the Emperor Tiberius, to whom he dedicated his book, on the value of temperance. Valerius points out the joyous and intemperate peasants at the front table, who cavort wildly, drink, fall down, and sleep. In contrast, the nobles in the back are models of temperance: evenly spaced at the orderly table, their bodies rigid, they eat with great sobriety. Through this contrast the illuminator suggested that nobles are inherently more temperate, an interpretation that does not derive from the text. Yet in the hands of the witty Master of the Dresden Prayer Book, the bad example of the pleasure-loving peasants is easily the more endearing one.