THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

11 posts from July 2015

31 July 2015

Happy Uncommon Musical Instrument Appreciation Day!

As we are sure you are all aware, today is Uncommon Musical Instrument Appreciation Day, the day on which we are urged to take time to think about the rare and unusual instruments that have gone obsolete, or are otherwise beyond our ken.  We would like to offer a number of examples in the spirit of this momentous occasion - the familiar, the forgotten and the simply odd.  Please be sure to send any other gems you might encounter to us on Twitter @BLMedieval.  Without any further ado:

Add MS 47683 f. 1v G70059-77
Folio with musical instruments, from a leaf from a giant Bible, Italy, 11th-12th century, Add MS 47683, f. 1v

Harley MS 4951, f. 299v E123871
Detail of a man with bells among musical neumes, from the Gradual of Saint-Etienne of Toulouse, France (Toulouse), last quarter of the 11th-first quarter of the 12th century, Harley MS 4951, f. 299v

Harley MS 2804 f. 3vE102183c
Detail of two musicians playing the vielle and a harp or psaltery, from the Worms
Bible, Germany (Frankenthal), 2nd-3rd quarter of the 12th century, Harley MS 2804, f. 3v

Add MS 62925 f. 54r copy copy
Detail of a miniature of a rabbit playing a bell-like instrument, from the Rutland Psalter, England (London?), c. 1260, Add MS 62925, f. 54r

Stowe_ms_17_f061v copy
Detail of two monkeys playing trumpets in an unusual manner, from the Maastricht Hours, Liège, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Stowe MS 17, f. 61v

Add_ms_49622_f106v copy
Detail of a marginal painting of a rabbit and a dog playing a portative organ, from the Gorleston Psalter, England (Suffolk?), 1310-1324, Add MS 49622, f. 106v

Royal MS 14 E III f. 89r c13827-54c
Detail of a marginal painting of a man playing a rabbit-trumpet (despite distractions), from La Queste del Saint Graal, France, c. 1315 - c. 1325, Royal MS 14 E III, f. 89r

 Harley MS 6563 f. 40r E123884
Detail of a cat playing a vielle, from a fragmentary Book of Hours, England (London), c. 1320 - c. 1330, Harley MS 6563, f. 40r

Add_ms_18851_f419v copy
Detail of a marginal painting of a monkey playing bagpipes, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Bruges, c. 1497, Add MS 18851, f. 419v

Add MS 18852, f. 98r copy copy
Detail of a marginal painting of bagpipes (?), from the Hours of Joanna the Mad, Bruges, 1486-1506, Add MS 18852, f. 98r

Arundel_ms_263_f136r and f. 137v
Leonardo da Vinci's drawings, including a mechanical organ and timpani/drums, from the Codex Arundel, Italy (Florence, Milan, and Rome), 1478-1518, Arundel MS 263, f. 136r and 137v

- Sarah J Biggs

29 July 2015

What's Your Favourite Magna Carta Item?

A group of us were recently discussing what is our favourite item in the British Library's Magna Carta exhibition. Mine changes every day, but I had recently plumped in a Twitter Q&A for the John Wilkes teapot, on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Meanwhile, Alex Lock, our researcher on the post-medieval legacy of Magna Carta, finally had to admit that the Middle Ages is the best after all, when he chose the seal matrix of Robert fitz Walter, loaned to the British Library by our friends at the British Museum.

Wedgewood-teapot-thomas-billinge-john-wilkes-41411091885

The John Wilkes teapot (image courtesy of the V&A)

Seal-matrix-BM-seal-robert-fitz-walter

The seal matrix of Robert fitz Walter (image courtesy of the British Museum)

Our followers on Twitter soon sprung into action. Dr Sophie Ambler, Research Associate on the Magna Carta Project, nominated the Statute of Pamiers. Other votes went for the Hexateuch, the painting of Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Shakespeare's King John (nominated by Marc Morris), King John's teeth and thumb-bone, 1066 And All That, and Matthew Paris's map of Britain.

Statute-of-pamiers

The Statute of Pamiers (image courtesy of the Archives nationales)

Painting-herbert-beerbohm-tree-S-332-1989

Portrait of Herbert Beerbohm Tree as King John (image courtesy of the V&A)

Matthew-paris-map-C02049-04

Map of Britain by Matthew Paris (image courtesy of the British Library)

This got us thinking. Is there something that has escaped the above list, or a little-known gem in the exhibition that everyone's overlooked? We'd love to hear from you. Tweet us @BLMedieval, or add a comment at the end of this blogpost, and we'll publish/retweet the best. Anyone for King John's will or the account of William Penn's trial?

You can either see the exhibition in person, until 1 September (tickets can be booked here), or you can view the exhibits in our catalogue or on our dedicated website. Which are your favourites?

Julian Harrison (@julianpharrison, co-curator of Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy)

27 July 2015

Equality, Huh? Who Would Have Thought It?

Our current major show, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, is about to enter its final weeks. The exhibition closes on 1 September, so hurry to see it while you still have the chance. If you're not aware, the reviews have been excellent (blush) and it's been the highest attended British Library exhibition to date.

There are all sorts of weird and wonderful objects in the show, ranging from King John's teeth to an executioner's axe. Here, researcher Alex Lock describes two of our favourite items in the exhibition, made at the time of the French revolution.

The Contrast

The Contrast, 1793: British Liberty, French Liberty, Which is Best? (British Museum 1861,1012.47): reproduced by kind permission of the British Museum

Engraved by Thomas Rowlandson (d. 1827) in 1792, at the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars, this print entitled ‘The Contrast’ compares ‘British Liberty’ with ‘French Liberty’ following the revolution of 4 July 1789. Invoking Magna Carta, the print represents Britain as peculiarly blessed, prosperous, law-abiding and politically advanced, especially when compared with the ancien regimes of continental Europe or the anarchy of revolutionary France. The roundel on the left features Britannia holding ‘Magna Charta’ (symbolising law), with a lion sitting at her feet (symbolising loyalty and strength), and a ship sailing into the distance (symbolising prosperity, wealth and military might). In contrast, the cameo on the right depicts so-called French liberty in very unflattering terms: a gruesome French Medusa tramples a decapitated corpse and carries a trident impaled with hearts, while a corpse hangs from a lamp-post in the background.

Printed in the aftermath of the September Massacres – a wave of killings in France in late summer 1792 – and the arrest of King Louis XVI (who was soon to be executed), 'The Contrast' was designed to expose the dangers of Jacobin ‘French Liberty’, at the risk of revolutionary fervour spreading to Britain. This was exactly its purpose. Although etched by Rowlandson, the image was originally designed by Lord George Manning for the Association for the Preservation of Liberty and Property, whose aim was to counteract Jacobin and reformist sentiments in Britain by circulating anti-French Revolution propaganda.

If the imagery is not clear enough, the words associated with each form of ‘liberty’ are listed underneath the roundels. The keywords for Britain – ‘Religion, Morality, Loyalty, Obedience to the Laws’ – are compared with those for revolutionary France – ‘Atheism, Perjury, Rebellion, Treason, Anarchy’ and worst of all ‘Equality’! The viewer must decide - ‘which is best’?

BM-Jug_English Liberty BM-Jug_French Liberty

An earthenware mug contrasting English and French Liberty, 1793 (British Museum 1982,1101.1): produced by kind permission of the British Museum

The image wasn't only disseminated in print form. We love the fact that it was also reproduced on a large earthenware mug, for those patriots who wished to compare British and French liberty with a cup of something nice!

Both the print and mug are currently on display in the British Library's Magna Carta exhibition, and we are extremely grateful to the British Museum for so generously lending them to us. You can buy tickets for the exhibition here (and remember, under 18s get in for free, the best deal in town!).

Alexander Lock

21 July 2015

Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript

We are delighted to announce the publication of a new book, Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript, edited by Scot McKendrick (Head of Western Heritage at the British Library), David Parker (Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology and Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham), Amy Myshrall (Research Fellow at the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham) and Cillian O’Hogan (Curator of Classical and Byzantine Studies at the British Library).

Cover

Codex Sinaiticus was produced in the middle of the fourth century, and is one of the two oldest Christian Bibles to survive largely intact from antiquity (the other being Codex Vaticanus in Rome). It is also the oldest complete copy of the New Testament in existence. Preserved for many centuries at St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, it is now dispersed between four institutions: St Catherine’s Monastery, the British Library, Leipzig University Library, and the National Library of Russia.

The book consists of the proceedings of a conference held in 2009 to mark the launch of the Codex Sinaiticus website, and its publication marks the culmination of the Codex Sinaiticus Project. It contains twenty-two articles, dealing with all aspects of the manuscript and its history, divided into five sections: Historical Setting, the Septuagint, Early Christian Writings, Modern Histories of Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Sinaiticus Today. Together with the extensive research to be found on the Codex Sinaiticus website, the book provides the most up-to-date information available about the manuscript. It includes a general index, an index of Biblical passages, a list of papyri and manuscripts, and numerous high-resolution images of Codex Sinaiticus.

Formally launched at an event at the British Library last night, the book is published by British Library Publishing in association with Hendrickson Publishers. It is available for purchase in the UK now from the British Library Shop, and will be available in the United States from Hendrickson this September.

Add_ms_43725_f260r
John 21:1-21:25. Codex Sinaiticus (Add MS 43725, f 260r), Eastern Mediterranean (?Palestine), mid-4th century.

- Cillian O’Hogan

16 July 2015

Another Apocalypse Manuscript Digitised

The British Library has a great collection of Apocalypse manuscripts and we have featured them in a number of recent blogposts. At the end of this post, we provide a list of the best-known Apocalypse manuscripts that have been digitised in recent years. The most recent Apocalypse to be digitised is the rather lesser-known but finely-executed Additional MS 35166, an Apocalypse in Latin with commentary by Berengaudus and a life of St John the Divine, whose visions are recorded in the Book of Revelation.

Add_ms_35166_f009v
The earthquake at the opening of the Sixth Seal. Additional MS 35166, f. 9v (detail), England, S.E. (?London), 2nd half of the 13th century

The top half of every recto and verso of the 38 folios (there are a number of leaves missing, from Revelation 10:7 to 16:8) has a miniature, and underneath is a brief passage from the Apocalypse written in black ink, followed by Berengaudus’ commentary in red ink.

Add_ms_35166_f007v
The Second Seal: the Red Horse. Additional MS 35166, f. 7v (detail), England, S.E. (?London), 2nd half of the 13th century

The exquisite tinted drawings faithfully portray John's vivid descriptions of his visions. The illuminator has incorporated John into the majority of scenes, which lends a sense of immediacy to the images: the reader witnesses the horror and awe of the Apocalypse alongside him.

Preceding and following the Apocalypse are scenes from the Life of St John. His death at the hands of the Emperor Domitian in a cauldron of boiling oil is depicted here:

Add_ms_35166_f001v
John in a cauldron of oil, Additional MS 35166, f. 1v (detail), England, S.E. (?London), 2nd half of the 13th century

The stories from the life of John are from the New Testament Apocrypha and include the tale of a young man who is presented to a bishop by John and becomes his cup-bearer. The young man, riding a white horse, joins a band of robbers and they kill and steal. John is told this by the bishop and rides out to bring the young man back to the bishop.

Add_ms_35166_f035r
The young man and robbers stealing and murdering, Additional MS 35166, f. 35r (detail), England, S.E. (?London), 2nd half of the 13th century

This Apocalypse manuscript may have belonged to a religious guild known as the Kalendars, as it is inscribed, ‘Liber Domus Kalendarum’ on the first folio.  The Kalendars were religious guilds of the Middle Ages, composed of clergy and laity, known to have existed in Bristol, Exeter and Winchester in the 12th century.  They met on or around Kalends (the first day of the month), hence the name ‘Kalendars’.

For comparison, here are some images of the opening of the Sixth Seal and the earthquake (Rev. 6:11-15) in several other Apocalypse manuscripts held by the British Library, to give you a sense of the differing styles of illumination:

The Queen Mary Apocalypse

Royal_ms_19_b_xv_f011v
John watching the earthquake, with ruins and fallen stars, and the dead in holes, Royal MS 19 B XV, f 11v (detail), England S. E. (London), or East Anglia, 1st quarter of the 14th century

The Yates Thompson Apocalypse

Yates_thompson_ms_10_f011r
The earthquake at the opening of the Sixth Seal: six heads in holes in the ground with a river in the foreground and the sun and moon, Yates Thompson MS 10, f. 11r (detail), France (Paris), 1370-1390

The Silos Apocalypse

Add_ms_11695_f108r
The opening of the Sixth Seal: Christ enthroned above the dark sun and red moon; below, falling stars and the earthquake, Additional MS 11695, f. 108r, Spain, 1091-1109

The Welles Apocalypse

Royal_ms_15_d_ii_f131r
The opening of the Sixth Seal; the earthquake. At the top, a darkened sun and moon and stars falling from the sky. In the centre, a king, a master and other men hiding in caves. To the right, a building collapsing. To the left, St John is witnessing the scene. Royal MS 15 D II, f 131r (detail), England, c 1310

The Abingdon Apocalypse

Add_ms_42555_f016v
The Sixth Seal: St John looking up at a cloud containing the sun and moon; on the right the ruins of a town and men and women in holes in the ground, with fragments of objects falling from the sky. Add MS 42555, f 16v (detail), England, 3rd quarter of the 13th century


- Chantry Westwell

 

14 July 2015

Caption Competition 2

The second of our caption competitions is from a manuscript newly published in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.   There are many possibilities for this image – use your imagination! Leave your suggested caption in the comments, or tweet us @BLMedieval. Results will be published here and on Twitter!

K151519
??? England, S. (Westminster or London); 4th quarter of the 13th century, Additional 18719, f. 92.

 

 

11 July 2015

Influential Illumination: British Library Loans to Lens

Three of the British Library’s medieval manuscripts are currently on loan to an exhibition at Louvre-Lens. D’Or et d’ivoire: Paris, Pise, Florence, Sienne, 1250–1320 explores the artistic relations between Paris and Tuscany. Over 125 exhibits illustrate the creative exchanges taking place in architecture, sculpture, ivory carving, metalwork, and painting in the 13th and early 14th centuries. The British Library manuscripts offer three superb examples of the opulence and innovation of Parisian manuscript illumination in this period.  

Harley_ms_2891_f145v
Full-page miniature of the Crucifixion, Missal, France (Paris), 1317–1318, Harley MS 2891, f. 145v

 

Two of the manuscripts are associated with the Sainte-Chapelle, the incredible royal chapel built by Louis IX of France (r. 1226–1270) to store his relics. The first, Harley MS 2891, is a missal with several historiated initials, and two glorious full-page miniatures of the Crucifixion and Christ in Majesty on diaper grounds.

Harley_ms_2891_f146r
Full-page miniature of Christ in Majesty, Harley MS 2891, f. 146r

 

Add MS 17341, the second Sainte-Chapelle manuscript, is a lectionary probably made for Philip IV (r. 1285–1314).  It is almost an exact copy of a manuscript made twenty years earlier (now Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 17326). However, its artist displays a greater interest in naturalism and spatial illusion, whilst replicating the content and position of the illustrations in its exemplar. Over 260 exquisite historiated initials depict biblical scenes, the majority of which are ‘ladder initials’, encompassing multiple compartments.

Add_ms_17341_f145v
Historiated initials at the beginning of Matthew 12: 46-50 and Matthew 20: 20-28, Quatrième Évangéliaire de la Sainte-Chapelle, France (Paris), last quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 17341, f. 145v

 

Add_ms_17341_f161r
‘Ladder initial’ at the beginning of Luke 21: 9-16, Add MS 17341, f. 161r

 

The extraordinary illuminations in Add MS 17341 have been tentatively associated with the most celebrated of Parisian artists, Maître Honoré (fl. 1288–1318). The name of this influential illuminator is known from a note in a manuscript he illuminated of the Decretum Gratiani (Tours, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 558; miniatures from the manuscript can be found here). Maître Honoré’s name also features in a number of Parisian tax registers. The large tax bills he paid reveal the significant sums this high-end illuminator demanded for his services. His style marks a key development in Parisian illumination, in particular his shading and use of colour. It has been suggested that the delicate and rounded features of his figures reflect the influence of Italian (Sienese?) painting. The innovations of Maître Honoré and his workshop were at the centre of a renaissance in Parisian illumination, and one which took inspiration from artistic styles beyond the confines of northern France.

Add_ms_54180_f069v
The Garden of the virtues with seven virgins watering the trees and a hunting scene below, from La Somme le Roi, France (Paris), c. 1295, Add MS 54180, f. 69v

 

Maître Honoré has also been linked to the third manuscript on loan to Louvre-Lens, Add MS 54180. It is another manuscript likely to have been made for the French king, Philip IV (r. 1285–1314). Add MS 54180 contains a copy of Brother Laurent’s La Somme le Roi, a moral compendium originally compiled in 1279 for Philip’s father, Philip III of France (r. 1270–1285). Two illuminated folios removed from Add MS 54180 are now Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 192 and MS 368.

Add_ms_54180_f091v
Miniature in four compartments depicting the Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice, Add MS 54180, f. 91v

 

For the exhibition’s curator Xavier Decrot, the three British Library manuscripts are ‘seminal in showing the importance of Paris as a centre for luxury production, and especially, the exceptional quality of the illuminators at this time, not only evident in liturgical manuscripts like the Missal and the Fourth Lectionary of the Sainte-Chapelle, but also in other types of book, such as the extraordinary version by Maître Honoré of Brother Laurent’s La Somme le Roi, probably the most beautiful manuscript produced in the period.’

You can enjoy our manuscripts and the other amazing items on display at Louvre-Lens until 28 September 2015. Allez-y nombreux!

- Hannah Morcos

09 July 2015

Papal Overlordship of England: The Making of an Escape Clause for Magna Carta

From Rome on 21 April 1214, Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) issued a papal bull taking the kingdom of England under his protection. Since 1208, England had been under a papal interdict and its king had been excommunicant since 1209; it looked like this would finally be resolved.

Bull-innocent-iii-protection-E5002-12
Bull of Pope Innocent III (Cotton Charter VIII 24), Italy, Central (Rome), 21 April 1214

In this large and impressive-looking document Innocent III confirms King John’s submission of his kingdom to the temporal lordship of Rome. John had come to an agreement with papal representatives in a meeting at Ewell outside Dover on 15 May 1213. There, he had placed England and Ireland under both the spiritual and temporal lordship of Rome, receiving it back as a vassal of the Pope for an annual tribute of 1000 marks (£666). Having done this, he was absolved from excommunication by Stephen Langton in July 1213 and on 3 October 1213, at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the agreement was confirmed by a royal charter bearing a golden seal and by the King placing his hands between those of the papal legate as a token of his submission.

The gesture would not have been dissimilar to the miniature in the Chronique de France ou de St Denis (Royal MS 16 G VI), depicting the moment in 1193 when John had paid homage to King Philip Augustus of France (r. 1180–1223) for his brother’s Richard’s continental lands.

Royal16gvi_f362v
Chroniques de France ou de St Denis (Royal MS 16 G VI, f. 362v), France, Central (Paris), after 1332, before 1350

Innocent III solemnly confirmed these acts in his 21 April letter to John, noting:

‘…you by a devout and spontaneous act of will and on the general advice of your barons have offered and yielded, in the form of an annual payment of a thousand marks, yourself and your kingdoms of England and Ireland, with all their rights and appurtenances, to God and to SS Peter and Paul His apostles and to the holy Roman to church and to us and our successors, to be our right and our property….’
(trans. C. R. Cheney and W. H. Semple)

He then goes on to recite the text of the King’s charter. At the foot of the bull appear the names and signatures of fourteen cardinals assembled as witnesses as well as the pope’s own signature, or ‘rota’ (a cross inscribed within two concentric circles). The bull has been sealed, like all papal bulls, with a lead seal (or bulla, from which the category of documents gets its name).

The interdict was itself lifted the following year, on 2 July 1214. The church bells were no longer silent and the sacraments of the church were no longer forbidden, meaning masses would again be celebrated and people could again bury their deceased relatives according to Christian rites. For the previous six plus years only the baptism of infants and the confession of the dying had been permitted.

Royal_ms_14_c_vii_f090r
Marginal drawing of a bell and clapper referring to the papal interdict (Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 90r), England, S. (St Albans), 1250-1259
Royal_ms_14_c_vii_f094r
Marginal drawing of bells being rung referring to the relaxation of the papal interdict (Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 94r), England, S. (St Albans), 1250-1259

Innocent III’s support for John would be crucial during the baronial rebellion that led to Magna Carta. The Security Clause enforcing the 1215 agreement concludes: ‘We will not seek to procure from anyone, either by our own efforts or those of a third, anything by which any part of these concessions or liberties might be revoked or diminished’. And yet, on 24 August 1215, Innocent III would issue a papal bull annulling Magna Carta on the grounds that it was extorted from the king by violence and fear, degrading his rights and dignity and the rights of the apostolic see besides.

The annual tribute from this agreement was paid to Rome, if irregularly, into the 1290s. However, English kings grew increasingly at odds with the papacy; no tribute was paid from 1300 to 1330 with the last payment ever recorded being for £1,000 in 1333 from Edward III (r. 1327–1377). The papacy continued to request its tribute, and the question of the growing backlog due from England on account of John’s submission was raised in 1365. This was debated in parliament with the conclusion that John’s original surrender had lacked the assent of the bishops and was thus in fact invalid, marking the formal end to English recognition of papal overlordship.

Both papal bulls are among the items you can see close up in our exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy open until 1 September 2015.

- Katherine Har