According to the Bodleian Library’s online entry for the Benedictional of St Aethelwold, this page (of which only half is here shown) is a miniature of the Annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary (I have left Gabriel out of the picture here, but no doubt he is relieved to have escaped the presence of so formidable a lady), “preceding the benediction for the first Sunday in Advent”.
This manuscript, a collection of benedictions with lavish illustrations, is an example of the “Winchester School” of illumination around the end of the tenth century, a style recognizable by its creative ways of avoiding blank spaces and lavish use of colour. In the eleventh century a Continental influence asserted itself and brought in the line drawings and tiny fluttering draperies which characterize later Anglo-Saxon art, and this style came to be unfashionably baroque. The Benedictional shows a lot of women, and a lot of them, as here, with books of some kind — sometimes singing, or, as here, writing!!
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that people in medieval art were expressionless. It’s true that some artists are better than others at doing faces — and Anglo-Saxon artists were best at 3/4 views — but if you see the whole page (here), you can guess that the artist took his inspiration from the point at which St Mary says, “How can this be, since I am a virgin and have not known a man?” and poor Gabriel has to try to answer her very logical question in a way that kind of makes sense.
It might be the artist accidentally mirroring. It could be for the better composition of the picture. It’s possible it was a mistake not noticed until too late. But whatever the reason, there can’t have been much of a stigma against left-handedness if it can appear in a full-page picture in the image of the Blessed Virgin herself. As a lefty myself, and knowing SCAdian lefty scribes, it’s fun to see that kind of thing.
Anyway, I can’t believe I only discovered this highly favoured Lady only two days ago, as I like her so much I’m considering changing my profile picture.
(Do you know how hard it is to find ladies without mantels on in the Benedictional? Probably not. I was looking for a good clear picture for the research half of my project for next year’s Northshield Arts and Sciences Competition.)