THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

29 April 2012

Monkeys in the Margins

C11404-06a Add 18851 f. 13 detail

Detail from a full strew border of a monkey playing bagpipes, from the Isabella Breviary, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), late 1480s and before 1497, British Library, Additional 18851, f. 13

 

If you happen to be in the mood for a bit of weekend whimsy (and who isn't?), we would like to draw your attention once again to the British Library's 'Isabella Breviary'.  The Breviary was created for Queen Isabella of Castile (1451-1504), and was the manuscript featured in our 2011 calendar series (see here for January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December). 

There is much to recommend this magnificent manuscript, produced in Bruges in the late 1480s and illustrated by the foremost artists of its day, but particularly noteworthy are the many strew and foliate borders which surround the text and miniatures.  Most of these borders contain beautifully naturalistic paintings of plants and animals, including a remarkable number of monkeys.  Monkeys appear regularly across the Breviary's 523 folios, and (like a lot of medieval simians) they are usually shown engaging in recognizably 'human' activities.  Isabella's monkeys, for example, can be seen playing the bagpipes and playing games, capturing wildlife, hunting, spinning, eating and drinking, and even tending to the upkeep of the borders in which they dwell.  We would be interested to hear your thoughts on this remarkable group; a few examples can be seen below.

 

C11420-04b  Add 18851 f. 77 detail

Detail from a full border of a monkey tending to the vinework that surrounds it, from the Isabella Breviary, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), late 1480s and before 1497, British Library, Additional 18851, f. 77

C11425-02c Add 18851 f. 96 detail

Detail from a full border of a monkey tending to the vinework that surrounds it, watched by a bird, from the Isabella Breviary, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), late 1480s and before 1497, British Library, Additional 18851, f. 96

C11468-06c Add 18851 f. 270 detail

Detail from a full border of a monkey looking at itself in a mirror, from the Isabella Breviary, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), late 1480s and before 1497, British Library, Additional 18851, f. 270

C11506-01b Add 18851 f. 419v detail

Detail from a full border of a monkey playing bagpipes, from the Isabella Breviary, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), late 1480s and before 1497, British Library, Additional 18851, f. 419v

C11506-05 Add 18851 f. 421v

Detail from a full border of a monkey with a basket trying to capture a bird, from the Isabella Breviary, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), late 1480s and before 1497, British Library, Additional 18851, f. 421v

C11515-08b Add 18851 f. 459 detail

Detail from a full border of a monkey wearing a cowl spinning thread, from the Isabella Breviary, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), late 1480s and before 1497, British Library, Additional 18851, f. 459

C11518-07b Add 18851 f. 470v detail

Detail from a full border of a monkey playing a game (possibly blowing bubbles?), from the Isabella Breviary, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), late 1480s and before 1497, British Library, Additional 18851, f. 470v

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