This sculpture is the original woodblock from which Gill printed his illustration to The Shipman’s Tale in the Golden Cockerel Press edition of The Canterbury Tales, 1929–31. After use, Gill filled the cut away areas with gesso paste mixed with mother-of-pearl dust to give it a slight twinkle, and delicately painted details with bronze paint. Then, suggestively, he gave it to the model for the woman in bed, Cicely Marchant, the wife of William Marchant. The Marchants ran the Goupil Gallery in London, and were Gill’s dealers. The randy monk is a self- portrait. The opening lines of The Shipman’s Tale are:
A marchant whilom dwelled at Seint-Denys,
That riche was, for which men helde hym wys.
A wyf he hadde of excellent beautee;
And compaignable and revelous was she,
This is a pun, typical of Gill’s goatish humour, on ‘marchant’, Middle English for ‘merchant’. In Chaucer’s tale, the merchant’s wife had expensive habits, and to keep her secret the monk borrowed money from her husband to pay her debts, on the condition that she sleep with him:
That for thise hundred frankes he sholde al nyght
Have hire in his armes bolt upright.