The fourteenth century in western Europe witnessed a surge of monastic and lay interest in imitating the practices of the sainted desert hermits known to later generations as the Desert Fathers and Mothers. With 272 illustrations narrating the lives of desert fathers and mothers, NY, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS. M.626 represents an outstanding and rare witness to this moment of eremitic adulation. This talk argues that the manuscript was also part of a broad campaign of identity construction at the court of King Robert of Anjou (r. 1309–1343). On folio 60v of the manuscript, a crypto-portrait, a disguised representation of King Robert as Emperor Theodosius, suggests that Robert was one of the intended readers of Morgan MS. M.626. It is well known that Robert endeavoured to present himself as a pious ruler throughout his reign. The Morgan manuscript sheds light on one such way the sovereign endeavoured to do so—by embodying and performing a sacred rulership through his readings of the Lives of the Desert Fathers.
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