Stephan Batman and Art of Limning

Stephan Batman (c.1542 – 1584) was a published author and translator who, for much of his career, was the rector of St Mary’s, Newington (Newington Butts). His works include A Christall Glasse of Christian Reformation (1569), The Doome Warning All Men to the Judgemente (1581) and his best-known, Batman uppon Bartholome (1582) based on the medieval encyclopedia of Bartolomaeus Anglicanus. Batman was also a member of Archbishop Parker’s household and was involved in collecting books on the Archbishop’s behalf, many of which were given to the library at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. He also read, annotated and collected medieval manuscripts for himself, some of which are now in the Wren Library (B.1.38, B.2.7, B.14.15, B.14.19, and B.15.33).

Batman was also a talented limner. Originally limners were illuminators of manuscripts though towards the end of the sixteenth century limnery could also refer to painting (often portraits) on paper. These works were usually made with fine pigments and bound together with a water-soluble resin called gum Arabic. Today they would be known as watercolours. Batman may himself have written about limning in a work which is now lost.

The illumination pasted onto the flyleaf of manuscript B.14.15 is an example of Batman’s work as a limner.

B.14.15, f.1r

It is a three-quarter length depiction of a black child wearing a band around her head. She holds pink flowers which would also have had a symbolic significance. The two intertwined bands at the bottom of the image calls to mind the wreath of a heraldic crest although these usually show just six twists. Black people are sometimes depicted on family crests such as those for Blackman, Blackmore, Heyman and Andrewes. In the past few years historians have begun to examine the place of black people in sixteenth century society. While Africans are known to have been at the Tudor court from the beginning of the sixteenth century, for major cities including Plymouth and London, there is also evidence of black communities living, working and intermarrying. For example, the parish records of St Botolph’s without Aldgate (close to Newington Butts) have a number of black people recorded in them. They were often working, like their white counterparts, as domestic servants.

Manuscript B.14.15 is a 15th century translation of Gerard of Liège’s De Doctrina Cordis. It was bequeathed to the Augustinian Priory of Holy Trinity at Aldgate in London in 1455 by Dame Christine Saint Nicholas. This text was one of several that circulated in an around this community in the fifteenth century and was typical of the kind of devotional material that was being translated from Latin into the vernacular for female audiences. Batman acquired the manuscript in 1575 and the dates at the bottom of the illustration refer, therefore, to the provenance of the text. Devotional texts in Middle English were Batman’s particular interest and M. B. Parkes has suggested that his especial regard for this text is evinced by his annotations and the inclusion of the fine illustration. It does not appear, however, that this apparent crest has any link to the name Batman. Please contact us if you have any thoughts …


Parkes, M. B., ‘Stephan Batman’s Manuscripts’, Medieval Heritage: Essays in Honour of Tadahiro Ikegami (Tokyo, 1997)

Katherine Coombs, “‘A Kind of Gentle Painting’: Limning in 16th-Century England”

Fairbairn, J., Fairbairn’s Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland, compiled from the best authority by J. Fairbairn and revised by L. Butters (Edinburgh and London)