The Pepysian Sketchbook
Although the seventeenth-century naval administrator and politician, Samuel Pepys (1633 –1703) is best known for his engrossing diaries, he also left a legacy of great importance to stained glass historians. For among the papers he bequeathed to Magdalene College, Cambridge, was a remarkable book of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century drawings, some of which may have formed pattern sheets for medieval glaziers (Cambridge, Magdalene Coll. Pepysian MS 1916).
Measuring nearly ten by eight inches, the book mainly consists of what were probably originally loose sheets dating from c. 1390 – 1400. It has no earlier known provenance before it was acquired by Pepys and renamed the ‘Monks Drawing Book’. It is now known as The Pepysian Sketchbook. Featuring the work of more than one artist it includes designs for animals, birds, ornamental motifs and human figures, including angels, the Virgin and what appear to be apostles and prophets. The bird drawings are particularly notable. There are eight sheets. Species include pheasant, rook, peahen, wren, swan, nightingale, lark, woodpecker, crane, cuckoo, spoonbill, falcon, partridge, bullfinch, magpie, kingfisher, bullfinch, landrail, sparrow, robin, eagle, parrot, dove, gull, jay, duck, owl, goose, mallard, and heron.
Although it is unlikely that the book was made specifically for the use of a glazier, some of these drawings are closely comparable with eight exquisite bird drawings in the tracery lights of two south aisle windows in the parish church of St Mary at Salehurst (East Sussex) [Figs 2- 5].
Dating from c. 1400 they are painted in a brown pigment. Sadly several have suffered significant losses. Unfortunately neither the donors nor the painters of the scheme are known. The church itself is one of the largest parish churches in East Sussex. The advowson was acquired by the nearby Cistercian abbey of St Mary at Robertsbridge in 1309.
Further drawings were added to the Sketchbook at a later date (probably in the late fifteenth century) and include a section of an architectural canopy of a design confined almost exclusively to stained glass, together with a figure of the Virgin and Child and designs for the sacred monograms IHC (Christ) and the crowned M (St Mary) both of which also occur frequently in windows of the period.
When the Sketchbook was published in 1924-25, the eminent medievalist, M. R. James (1862–1936) discounted suggestions that it was an embroiderer’s pattern book and considered whether it might have been assembled by an artist with interests in several media, including manuscripts and wall paintings. In later years Professor Richard Marks has wondered if it had come into the hands of a glass painter.
The Pepysian Sketchbook is an important contribution to the discussion about how and where medieval glass painters sourced designs for their windows; a project enriched by the work of the CVMA in cataloguing and publishing all the surviving medieval stained glass in Britain. Some glass painters and workshops seem to have had their own working sketchbooks. The will of a York glazier, William Thompson (d. 1539) which refers to a ‘book of portitour’ which he left to his partner or apprentice, was presumably such a sketchbook.
M. R. James, ‘ An English Medieval Sketchbook, No. 1916 in the Pepysian Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge’, Walpole Society xiii (1924 -5), pp 1 – 17.
R. Marks, Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages, Routledge, 1993, esp pp 31 -33.
R. Marks, ‘Window Glass’ in J. Blair and Nigel Ramsay, English Medieval Industries, London, 2001, pp 265 – 294.
P. Acker, “The Bird and Animal Captions in the Pepysian Sketchbook,” English Language Notes 38 (2000): 1-7