THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

Introduction

What do Magna Carta, Beowulf and the world's oldest Bibles have in common? They are all cared for by the British Library's Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Section. This blog publicises our digitisation projects and other activities. Follow us on Twitter: @blmedieval. Read more

25 October 2014

Lindisfarne Gospels in our Treasures Gallery

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The Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the greatest treasures in the British Library’s collections, is now back on display in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery. This Latin Gospel-book is thought to be the work of one remarkably gifted scribe and artist, who created it around 700 on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumbria. Its importance lies not only in the beauty of its carpet-pages and its miniatures of the four Evangelists, but also in the tenth-century gloss of its text that is the earliest example of the Gospels in the English language.

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Colophon added by Aldred, the translator of the Old English gloss, in the Lindisfarne Gospels, England, c. 700,
Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 259r 

According to the colophon added by this translator, Aldred (fl. c. 970), who was provost of the community at Chester-le-Street near Durham, the artist-scribe was a monk called Eadfrith, who was Bishop of Lindisfarne from 698 to 721. The inscription records that Eadfrith ‘wrote this book for God and St Cuthbert and also for all the Saints whose relics are on the island’. It also describes the binding made by Billfrith the anchorite, which included a cover adorned with gold, silver and precious gems.

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A Canon table
from Cotton Nero D IV, f. 12v

On display for the next three months are two pages from the canon tables that preface the Lindisfarne Gospels (ff. 12v-13r). These provide readers with a concordance to the Four Gospels, allowing them to locate episodes described by more than one Evangelist. A mistake has been made in Canon 2 (shown), where the name titles at the heads of the three columns have been confused with those of Canon 3 on the facing page. The headings which read ‘Luke’ and ‘John’ have been corrected by a near-contemporary hand to read ‘Mark’ and ‘Luke’. Interlace birds fill the columns and the arch, while a ribbon knotwork design is used for the bases and capitals.

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Detail of masons building the canon table in the Echternach Gospels, from the monastery of St Willibrord, Echternach (now Luxembourg), 11th century,
Harley MS 2821, f. 9r

Visitors to the Gallery will be able to compare the canon tables in the Lindisfarne Gospels with those in the Echternach Gospels, made in the monastery of St Willibrord (in modern day Luxembourg) in the eleventh century. The two tables on display (ff. 8v-9r) show elaborate ornamental pillars upon which masons are still working with hammers and chisels.

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Detail of a remarkably naturalistic bird and fish from the ‘Golden Canon Tables’, Eastern Mediterranean, 6th or 7th century,
Additional MS 5111, f. 11r

In another case nearby there is also the much earlier ‘Golden Canon Tables’ from the Eastern Mediterranean. Written over gold leaf, these tables are set within elaborately adorned architectural frames, including some finely executed birds and fish. These pages were later trimmed to fit a smaller twelfth-century manuscript of the Gospels, causing the loss of some of these details.

The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library is open seven days a week, and is free to visit. If you would like to see the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Echternach Gospels or the Golden Canon Tables in their entirety, please see the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site. 

- Holly James-Maddocks

23 October 2014

How To Be A Hedgehog

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Longstanding readers of our Medieval Manuscripts Blog may know that we have a penchant for hedgehogs. In 2012, we published a post entitled The Distinguished Pedigree of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, based on the accounts of their behaviour in medieval bestiaries. In 2014, we brought you a hedgehog beauty contest, no less, featuring images of five of our favourites. And most recently we focused on the heraldic hedgehog in the 13th-century Dering Roll.

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Hedgehogs rolling on the ground to collect grapes for their young, as illustrated in the Rochester Bestiary (England, c. 1230): London, British Library, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 45r. Hedgehogs were said to creep into vineyards when the grapes were ripe, to climb the vines and shake the fruit down to the ground. Then, rather than eating this bounty on the spot, they would turn onto their backs and roll around, impaling the grapes with their sharp quills. They could then trundle off back to their burrows, carrying the grapes on their spines, as a meal for their young. The bestiary writers allegorized this as a warning of the clever stratagems of the devil in stealing man's spiritual fruits.

We've now discovered this fantastic animation, based on the drawings of hedgehogs in one of the British Library's medieval bestiaries (Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 45r). De Herinacio: On the Hedgehog was made by the amazing Obrazki nunu and Discarding Images. We hope that you love it as much as we do! Maybe it will inspire more people to explore and reinvent our wonderful collections.

De Herinacio. On the Hedgehog from obrazki nunu on Vimeo.

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21 October 2014

Illuminated Manuscripts Conference - More Places Available

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We are delighted to announce that – due to exceptional demand for places – the forthcoming AMARC conference has been moved to a larger venue in the Conference Centre at the British Library. 

There are now more places available to attend this exciting conference on fourteenth-century illuminated manuscripts in the British Library collections – so don’t delay in reserving your spot! There are further details below of the speakers’ papers, with some images of the manuscripts they will be discussing. 

However, the post-conference reception remains fully booked. 

The conference is being held in honour of Lucy Freeman Sandler, whose book Illuminators and Patrons in Fourteenth-Century England: The Psalter Hours of Humphrey de Bohun and the Manuscripts of the Bohun Family will be published shortly. 

The Association for Manuscripts and Archives in Research Collections (AMARC) is sponsoring the conference, which will be held on Monday, 1st December, 2014. 

The conference will begin at 10:45. Papers will be 30 minutes with 15 minutes for questions after each. The sessions will conclude at 5:15. Lunch will be provided. 

The registration fees are £20; £15 for AMARC members and £10 for students. To register, send a cheque made out to AMARC to James Freeman, Research & Imaging Assistant, Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB. Foreign delegates may pay on the day, but should send a notice of their intention to attend to james.freeman@bl.uk

The speakers and their topics are as follows: 

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Detail of a miniature in two registers, showing Jonah being thrown into the sea (above) and Jonah being saved from the whale's mouth (below), from the St Omer Psalter, England (Norfolk), c. 1330-c. 1440, Yates Thompson MS 14, f. 70v
 

- Paul Binski, Lombardy and Norfolk: This paper re-examines the question, first seriously raised by Otto Pächt, of Italian influence in English art before 1350 and what is known about Italian art actually in England at that date. 

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Detail of a marginal hunting scene, with the arms of Ely and Bury St Edmunds, from the Howard Psalter, England (East Anglia), c. 1308-c. 1340, Arundel MS 83 I, f. 14r
 

- Alixe Bovey, Bound to be Together: Revisiting the Howard and De Lisle Psalters (Arundel MS 83 I & II): This paper explores the connections between the celebrated De Lisle Psalter, a fragmentary masterpiece of English illumination, and the somewhat lesser known Howard Psalter. Bound together by William Howard at the turn of the 17th century, both manuscripts were made in England in the 1310s, and in some respects have strikingly similar contents. This paper reflects not only on what the relationship between these books reveals about their medieval creation and early modern reception, but also on Lucy Freeman Sandler’s singular contribution to our understanding of them.

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Detail of an historiated initial with two compartments, showing God the Creator (above) and the Virgin and Child with a Benedictine monk (below), from the chronicle and cartulary of Peterborough Abbey, England (Peterborough), c. 1321-1329, Add MS 39758, f. 20r
 

- Julian Luxford, Walter of Whittlesey, Monk and Artist of Peterborough: Julian will examine British Library Additional MSS 39758 and 47170, which were made in the first half of the fourteenth century by Walter of Whittlesey, a monk of Peterborough Abbey, focusing on what these manuscripts reveal of Whittlesey’s historical interests and his status as a copyist and illuminator of manuscripts. 

Add MS 38842, f. 2r
Detail of a three-part miniature showing an angel giving St John the reed (left), worshippers at the altar (centre), and  two men demolishing the temple (right), from a fragmentary Apocalypse, England (?London), 1325-1330, Add MS 38842, f. 2r

- Nigel Morgan, A fragmentary Apocalypse by one of the Milemete artists - Additional 38842: This fragmentary Anglo-Norman prose Apocalypse has been little discussed in the literature on English illustrated fourteenth-century Apocalypses. This paper will consider both its figure style and iconography.

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Detail of a miniature showing Michal saving David from Saul, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London/Westminster or ?East Anglia), c. 1310-c. 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 52r

- Kathryn Smith, Crafting the Old Testament in the Queen Mary Psalter: This paper considers aspects of the crafting of the Old Testament prefatory cycle in the Queen Mary Psalter (Royal MS 2 B VII), examining analogues of and possible sources for some of the Queen Mary Master's compositions, evidence for the artist's working methods, and the history and image of the Jews as constructed in pictures and text. 

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Detail of an historiated initial showing Jezebel talking to Ahab in bed, with a lewd woman in the margin, from the Bohun Psalter, England (?London), 2nd half of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3277, f. 110v

 - Lucy Freeman Sandler: Embedded Marginalia in Egerton 3277: Lucy will focus on the meanings that emerge when the marginalia of Egerton 3277 are considered as integral components of page design. Specifically, she will discuss the marginalia of Egerton 3277 that are physically ‘embedded’ in the area immediately adjacent to the frames of initial letters, figural subjects linked tangibly with the figural subjects within the initials, which themselves are physical manifestations of textual meaning. The wealth of subtle and multilayered meanings made available to the reader/viewer by the medieval illuminator/designer is suggested by the illustration (above) in the initial of one of the prayers of the Litany showing Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, telling him to arise to take Naboth’s possessions (III Kings 21:15 in the Vulgate) and Jezebel’s marginal counterpart, the marginal woman raising her skirt in a lewd gesture.

 

- James Freeman