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Initial E: A Priest Celebrating Mass
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Unknown
Spanish, about 1290 - 1310
Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment

14 3/8 x 9 7/16 in.
MS. LUDWIG XIV 6, FOL. 9

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One of the smaller initials decorating this text of King James's law code for Aragon, the letter E opens the section of laws pertaining to churches and priests. A church whose brick wall is supported on elegant columns fills the circular form of the E . A priest celebrates Mass at the altar before the assembled monks, recognizable from their tonsures, the characteristic shaved circles on the tops of the heads. Each absorbed in his own world, open-mouthed monks sing from the music book that lies on a lectern and one monk on the far right reads from his own book. In contrast, the priest faces front, directly engaging the manuscript's viewers as if to include them in the ceremony.

The artist juxtaposed the solemnity of the Mass, the central ceremony of Christianity, with a headless praying figure and a drinking court jester in the margins. The bars extending from the initial also support battling knights, bird-men, an archer and his prey, and a dog chasing a hare. These fantastic and anecdotal elements in the borders are known as drolleries, acknowledging their humorous tone. The page's mix of the elegant and the absurd is one of the hallmarks of thirteenth-century Gothic art.