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

17 January 2018

Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library

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Early Career Post-Doctoral Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts

Thanks to external funding, we are pleased to announce a new 3 year fixed-term position in the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern section at the British Library, for a Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts. The successful candidate will have recently completed a doctoral degree in medieval art history, history, literature or another closely-related discipline, or its equivalent, and have the specialist knowledge and strong research experience appropriate for an early career researcher. The new curator will assist the Lead Curator, Illuminated Manuscripts, in all aspects of curatorial work. The principal duties will include cataloguing, describing and publicising medieval and illuminated manuscripts.

Burney ms 343

Burney MS 343, f. 1r

A key aspect of the job will be presenting manuscripts in writing and orally to a variety of audiences, including blog posts, exhibition labels and presentations to students and visitors. Therefore, the ability to describe and present a broad range of material clearly and accurately is essential. The interview may include questions about the date and origin of a manuscript to be shown to be shown on the day..

The post holder will assist in the digitisation programme, including the selection of manuscripts to be digitised and the checking and describing of images, so information technology skills, including web-based skills, are also required.  

A strong knowledge of medieval Latin is also essential, as well as palaeographical and codicological skills. Because the post-holder will be working both independently and as part of a team, the successful candidate will possess a high level of time-management skills and the ability to liaise effectively with colleagues in Western Heritage Collections and other departments at the Library.

Full details of the position and how to apply are available here. The reference is 01795.

The closing date is 18 February. Interviews will be held on 8 March.

 

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16 January 2018

Leonardo da Vinci on the Moon

One of the great thrills of curating our blockbuster exhibition, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, has been choosing the exhibits and revisiting some of our favourite manuscripts. When we were planning the show, I often used to impress people by mentioning certain of the books and objects we were intending to display: medieval manuscripts, Chinese oracle bones and, oh yes, something written by somebody called Leonardo da Vinci, "you may have heard of him?" At this point heads always turned, and I knew we'd captured everyone's attention.

So what exactly was I talking about, when I mentioned that Leonardo's writings would be featured in the exhibition? You may be aware that Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), the great inventor, scientist and artist, made copious notes throughout his career. These were gathered into a series of notebooks, one of which is today preserved at the British Library in London, where it is known as the ‘Codex Arundel’ (after a former owner, the Earl of Arundel): its shelfmark is Arundel MS 263 and it can be viewed in its entirety on our Digitised Manuscripts site. The notes are written in Italian, and if you examine the writing closely, you immediately recognise that they are in Leonardo's characteristic mirror handwriting, reading from right to left.

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Leonardo da Vinci's notebook (Italy, c. 1506-08): Arundel MS 263, f. 104r

One page from Leonardo's notebook seemed particularly appropriate to show in the Astronomy room of Harry Potter: A History of Magic, alongside objects such as an Arabic astrolabe and the oldest surviving manuscript which charts the night sky (made in China around the year AD 700). The diagram shown here describes the reflection of light, according to the alignments of the Sun, Moon and Earth. Leonardo da Vinci’s illustration shows the Sun and Moon revolving round the Earth, accepting the theory popularised by the Greek astronomer, Ptolemy (d. c. AD 170), that the Earth occupied the centre of the universe. Leonardo was writing, of course, approximately 100 years before the invention of the telescope.

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A detail of Leonardo da Vinci's notebook, showing the reflection of light: Arundel MS 263, f. 104r

On the right-hand side of this page are two diagrams showing the Earth and Moon. The second of these supports Leonardo's belief that the Moon was covered with water, and that its surface would operate like a convex mirror, reflecting light. We may no longer believe this to be true (everyone knows that the Moon is made of cream cheese) but it's always fascinating to get a first-hand insight into the mind of a genius such as Leonardo da Vinci. Placing his notebook on display in our Harry Potter exhibition has enabled more of our visitors to come face-to-face with this intriguing document. Maybe we will have inspired some of the astronomers and scientists of the future, who have been coming to see the exhibition in their thousands.

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The Earth and Moon in Leonardo da Vinci's notebook: Arundel MS 263, f. 104r

Harry Potter: A History of Magic is on show at the British Library in London until 28 February 2018. There has been a huge demand for tickets, so we strongly urge you to book in advance of your visit.

 

Julian Harrison (Lead Curator, Harry Potter: A History of Magic)

 

 

12 January 2018

Lady Jane Grey on the BBC iPlayer

Fans of the British Library and of the Tudors alike will be delighted to know that the documentary, England's Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey, is now available to watch on the BBC's iPlayer (UK viewers only). There are three episodes in total, presented by Helen Castor and filmed in part at the Library. Together, they reveal the fascinating story behind the young woman elevated to the throne of England in 1553, and then brutally executed months later.

Lady Jane Grey (1)

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

In this clip, Andrea Clarke of the British Library shows Helen Castor Lady Jane Grey's very own prayerbook, which is held today at the British Library. The whole manuscript is able to view on our Digitised Manuscripts site: Harley MS 2342.

 

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