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90 posts categorized "Anglo-Saxon"

22 August 2015

Anglo-Saxon Charters Internship

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We are very pleased to be able to offer an internship in our Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts Section, researching and cataloguing the British Library's collections of Anglo-Saxon charters. This position is suitable for post-graduates or post-doctoral students in early medieval history, Anglo-Saxon studies or another relevant subject.
 
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Charter of Bishop Ealdred of Worcester granting Dodda, his minister, the lease for life of land at Bredons Norton, Worcestershire, 1058 (British Library Additional Charter 19801)
 
The primary focus of the internship will be to enhance the Library's Digitised Manuscripts site, by creating and revising existing catalogue records for around 200 Anglo-Saxon charters in Latin and Old English. The intern will also assist, where relevant, with preparation for the Library's forthcoming Anglo-Saxons exhibition, working under the supervision of the Curator of Pre-1600 Historical Manuscripts.

In addition, the intern will be involved in other aspects of the work of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts Section, including responding to enquiries and engaging with the public through this Blog, and they will gain insight into various curatorial duties and aspects of collection care. The intern will enjoy privileged access to printed and manuscript research material, and will work alongside specialists with wide-ranging and varied expertise.

This internship is designed to provide an opportunity for the student to develop research skills and expertise in early medieval history, and in presenting manuscripts to a range of audiences.  Previous interns have provided feedback that they felt a valued member of the team, gained professional confidence and developed their career by carrying out a 'real' job with specific duties.
 
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Charter of King Edgar granting Æthelflæd, matrona, land at Chelsworth, Suffolk, 962 (British Library Harley Charter 43 C 3)

The programme is only open to students who are engaged actively in research towards, or have recently completed, an MA, MPhil or PhD in a subject area relevant to the study of Anglo-Saxon charters or manuscripts, and who have a right to work in the United Kingdom. The selection process may include questions about the date and origin of a particular charter to be shown at the interview.

The term of this internship is full time (36 hours per week over 5 days) for 6 months or to 31 March 2016, depending on the start date. The salary is £9.15 per hour. The internship will ideally start on 5 October 2015 or as soon as relevant security checks have been completed.    

To apply, please visit www.bl.uk/careers quoting vacancy ref: COL00231 and upload a CV and Cover Letter. The Cover Letter should include answers to the following three questions:

1.  Please give examples of your experience in cataloguing or describing Anglo-Saxon charters or manuscripts.

2.  Please provide examples of your experience in writing about your research for a general audience.

3.  Please give an example of how you have adapted your own communicating style to deal with different people and situations.

 
Closing Date: 3 September 2015
Interview Date: 11 September 2015

25 June 2015

Getting Under the Covers of the St Cuthbert Gospel

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This week has seen the launch at the British Library on Monday and at Trinity College, Dublin on Wednesday of a new book, The St Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular Manuscript of the Gospel of John, edited by Claire Breay, Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts at the British Library, and Bernard Meehan, Head of Research Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College, Dublin. 

New book cover

 

The St Cuthbert Gospel is the earliest intact European book and a landmark in the cultural history of western Europe. Now dated to the early eighth century by Richard Gameson and Leslie Webster, the manuscript contains a beautifully written copy of the Gospel of John in Latin and is famous for the craftsmanship and outstanding condition of its contemporary decorated leather binding. Found in Cuthbert's coffin when it was opened in Durham Cathedral in 1104, the Gospel was acquired for the national collection following a major fundraising campaign in 2011-12.

One of the most exciting aspects of the long preparation for the new book on the Gospel was the day that we took the manuscript to the Natural History Museum for a CT scan. The videos produced from this scan have allowed us to look inside the book as never before, to appreciate the many remarkable features of this manuscript. We were able to examine the extraordinary refinement and careful shaping of the wooden boards, establishing that at their maximum the left (front) board measures only 2.4mm thick and the right (back) board only 1.5mm. We could see the cords beneath the raised frames in the decoration and we could examine for the first time the much-debated foundation material lying beneath the raised plant-motif decoration in the centre of the left cover. Roger Powell had suggested that the foundation material might be cord or leather, while Jim Bloxam and Kristine Rose found more recently (in making a facsimile of the binding which they generously made available to the project) that gesso could be used to produce comparable results. It was immediately apparent from the CT scan that neither cord nor leather had been used for the foundation of the central motif, as it is a clay-like material which completely fills the space between the leather and the board.

Cross-section from CT scan
Cross-section of left board from CT scan, showing clay-like material between the leather and the wooden board.

In the CT scan and in an X-ray image this clay-like material shows as a dull grey, completely different from the gesso used in the most accurate modern facsimile by Rose and Bloxam, which shows as black in the X-ray image.

X-ray of left board (facsimile on left and original on right)
X-ray of left board (facsimile on left and original on right).

Christina Duffy, Imaging Scientist at the British Library, has produced videos of the St Cuthbert Gospel from the CT scan which show the manuscript, its wooden boards, the cords which lie under the raised frames in the decoration and a cross-section through the whole manuscript showing the structure of the book and the raised decoration. You can watch the video (courtesy of Christina Duffy) here:

 

In his chapter in the new book launched this week, Nicholas Pickwoad explains in detail how the central motif on the binding appears to have been made using a matrix, carved with the plant design, to impress the wet leather over the clay-like material on to the wooden board.

This new collection of essays is the most substantial study of the book since the 1960s, and is the culmination of our work to promote new research on the Gospel since its acquisition by the British Library. As well as Nicholas Pickwoad's chapter on the structure and production of the binding, the book includes detailed commentary on: Cuthbert in his historical context by Clare Stancliffe; the codicology, text, script and medieval history of the manuscript by Richard Gameson; the decoration of the binding by Leslie Webster; the Irish pocket Gospels by Bernard Meehan, the other relics found in Cuthbert's coffin by Eric Cambridge; and the post-medieval ownership of the book by Arnold Hunt. The book, which significantly revises the existing scholarship on one of the British Library's most recent acquisitions, is now available through the Library's online shop.

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- Claire Breay

17 June 2015

Project Curator, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

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The British Library is recruiting for a Project Curator, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts. This is a full time, fixed term position, from 1 September 2015 to 31 December 2018. Full details of the post and how to apply can be found here.

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A page from the Vespasian Psalter, in the British Library's collections (Cotton MS Vespasian A I, f. 12r)

The post will provide curatorial support for a major exhibition on the Anglo-Saxons, to be held at the British Library in 2018–19. The successful candidate will be part of a small team within the Library’s Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts Section. Key responsibilities of the post-holder will include: researching manuscripts and drafting text for the exhibition catalogue; contributing to the Library’s online manuscripts catalogue; assisting in the preparation of learning materials; promoting the exhibition on social media; and supporting the organisation of the conference associated with the exhibition.

You will have a post-graduate degree, or its equivalent, in Anglo-Saxon studies or a related discipline. You must have specialist experience of researching Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, a good knowledge of Latin and knowledge of Old English, and have expertise in early medieval palaeography and codicology. Excellent organisation skills are essential, as is the ability to communicate effectively to a wide range of audiences and to meet strict deadlines. Candidates must be able to work independently and as part of a team.

The deadline for aplications is 28 June 2015, and interviews will take place in the week beginning 20 July 2015.

28 April 2015

An 'Additional' Round Table Celebration

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The illuminated manuscripts staff held a small celebration on Thursday – our unique set of three volumes of the entire Lancelot-Grail, Additional MSS 10292, 10293 and 10294 have been digitised – that’s a total of 695 folios with 742 images! We had a special cake made to mark the occasion, and here it is, with one of the gorgeous images from Additional MS 10293 (f. 199r)  of Lancelot and Guinevere reproduced in icing!

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(Cake courtesy of Cakeology, Wimbledon)

Digitisation of these manuscripts has been a long and torturous process, begun in 2013: the volumes are very large and not easy to photograph and in 1860, when they were rebound, the decision was made to separate the first folios of two of the volumes, Additional MSS 10293 and 10294, into a separate volume, now Additional MS 10294/1. Both folios have gorgeous miniatures and full borders, and they were bound separately ‘for better preservation’ (according to a note on one of the flyleaves) as, being opening folios, they have been well-used so the illumination is worn and the parchment is deteriorating at the edges.  But this has made the process of cataloguing and digitisation more complex, as the separate volume needs to be correctly labelled, recorded and entered in the cataloguing system so that users in our Reading Room and online, are able to access it easily.  

But it has all been worth it – these manuscripts are a treasure-trove of incredible images of knights, kings, battles, devils, hermits, sea voyages, dragons and everything in between. Here are some of our favourites, including the opening page of the Histoire de Merlin from the first volume. The image shows God opening the gates of hell with the devils meeting inside; one of the devils later fathers Merlin (see the following image on f. 77v).  We are not too sure what is happening in the lower margin of f. 76r – perhaps our readers have some suggestions!

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God, the gates of Hell and devils meeting¸ with full border,
 northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10292, f. 76r

Below is the first folio of Additional MS 10293, the part known as the Lancelot-propre, or Lancelot du Lac, that tells the story of Lancelot, his chivalric exploits and his love for Guinevere.  The image shows the aged King Ban, Lancelot’s father with his brother, King Bohors of Gaunes, before he was killed and dispossessed by the treacherous knight, Claudas. The text begins ‘En la marche de Gaule et de la petite bertaigne avoit ii rois’ (in the border of Gaul and little Brittany there once lived two kings….). The border is decorated with hybrid creatures, animals and human figures, one side consisting of a 3-storey chapel, each storey containing a courtly character. There are marvellous details to zoom in on, including a nun feeding a beggar on the lower right and a fire-breathing devil above the main image. 

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King Ban of Benoith and King Bohort of Gaunes, with full border,
northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10294/1, f. 1a recto

In this poignant image from the end of the Mort d’Artu, the hand emerges from the lake to take back Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword, and Arthur is shown, lying wounded in the foreground, while the young squire, Giflet or Griflet, looks on.

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The death of King Arthur: his sword is returned to the hand in the lake,
northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10294, f. 94r

Ending on a happier note, with another party, the opening folio of Queste del Saint Graal  from the third volume, shows King Arthur’s court seated at the table at Camelot on the eve of Pentecost, against a sumptuous gold backdrop. The border once again, is a plethora of knights, hybrid creatures and scenes from medieval life, including a man carrying a child in an early version of a baby backpack, but some scenes are best not described in this blog!

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Arthur’s court at Camelot, with full border,
northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10294/1, f. 1d recto

13 January 2015

RIP Æthelwulf, King of the West Saxons

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King Æthelwulf, who died on 13 January 858, has been rather overshadowed by his more famous son, Alfred the Great – but did he lay the foundations for Alfred’s success?

Æthelwulf consolidated the West Saxon kingdom, strengthened his family’s rule over Kent and brought Devon and Cornwall under his influence. It seems that he was quite a networker, currying favour with Pope Benedict III and Charles the Bald, the Carolingian emperor. He travelled to Rome in 855 ‘with a multitude of people’, and gave gifts of ‘a fine gold crown weighing 4 lb, … one sword bound with fine gold; four silver-gilt Saxon bowls; one all-silk white shirt with roundels, with gold-studding; and two large gold-interwoven veils’, as well as lavish donations of gold and silver to ‘the clergy, leading men and people of Rome’ (from the Liber Pontificalis: AD 817–891, ed. by R. Davis (1995)).

On his way home, Æthelwulf stopped off at the court of Charles the Bald for three months and married the emperor’s daughter Judith in an elaborate ceremony. His new bride replaced Æthelwulf’s wife Osburh, who had borne all his children, including five sons. It is not known if Osburh had died before this or was discarded in favour of Judith, who was probably only fourteen. Æthelwulf’s connection to Carolingian royalty is referred to many times in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and was no doubt considered a very prestigious move.

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Detail from a genealogical roll, showing Æthelwulf (centre), his father Ecgberht, King of the West Saxons (above), King Beorhtric (right), and below, 4 roundels containing his sons, Æthelbald, Æthelberht, Æthelred and Alfred, England, 4th quarter of the 13th century, Royal MS 14 B V, Membrane 1.

Here is an image of King Æthelwulf (in the centre) from a genealogical roll chronicle produced in the reign of Edward I (1272-1307). He is shown against a shiny gold background, with his left hand on his heart. The French text beside him focuses on the gifts of money he gave to the Pope. Beside him is a man on stilts playing a pipe with an animal head.

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Text page with West-Saxon genealogy to King Alfred, England, S.E. (Winchester), 4th quarter of the 11th century, Add MS 34652, f. 2v.

This is a leaf that has been detached from Cotton MS Otho B XI, one of the manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It contains an Anglo-Saxon genealogy from King Cerdic (519-534) to Alfred (871-899). On the 7th line, Ecgberht (‘ecbyrht’), father of Æthelwulf, is listed as reigning for 37 years and 7 months (802-839).  He was succeeded by his son: ‘þa feng æþelwulf to his sunu 7 heold nigenteolðe healf gear’ (‘his son Æthelwulf took over the kingdom and held it for the nineteenth half year’, i.e. eighteen and a half years) (lines 8-9). There follows a seven-line list of Æthelwulf’s antecedents with their patronymics: Æthelwulf is ‘ecbyrhting’ (son of Ecbyrht), Ecbyrht is ‘ealmunding’ (son of Ealhmund), Ealmund is ‘eafing’ (son Eafa, who married a Kentish princess) and so on back to ‘cynric cerdiccing’, Cynric, son of King Cerdic, who some believe was a Saxon invader and founder of the dynasty of Wessex.

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Charter of King Æthelwulf of Wessex, England, S. E. (Christ Church, Canterbury), 843, Stowe Charter 17

The earliest surviving charter of a king of Wessex is a grant by King Æthelwulf, dated 28 May 843 (Stowe Charter 17). Æthelwulf gave to his thegn Æthelmod land at Little Chart, Kent, including woods called Theodorice-snad and Beaneccer, and swine-pastures at Ætingden, Lidingden, Meredenn and Uddanh. Attached to the bottom of the charter is a small fragment of parchment containing a note of the witnesses, including Æthelwulf himself and Ceolnoð, Archbishop of Canterbury. This must have been used as an aide-memoire by the scribe when writing up the fine copy.

Æthelwulf was succeeded by his sons Æthelbald, Æthelberht, Æthelred and finally Alfred, his youngest son, who reigned for 22 winters.

- Chantry Westwell

29 December 2014

Been Around the World: Exhibition Loans in 2014

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The British Library has a long track record in supporting exhibitions at home and abroad – and 2014 has been no different.  This year has seen medieval manuscripts from the British Library travel near and far to a great diversity of exhibitions.  Here are some of the highlights: 

Mapping Our World: National Library of Australia, Canberra, 7 November 2013-10 March 2014 

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A two-page mappa mundi from the beginning of a copy of Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, England, late 14th century,
Royal MS 14 C IX, ff. 1v-2r 

This fascinating exhibition took a look at how people through the ages had drawn and depicted the world around them in maps, atlases and charts.  Medieval mappae mundi are an important facet of this story, containing not just geographical but also theological, historical and legendary material.  Two manuscripts that contained a mappa went to Canberra for the exhibition: a copy of Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon (Royal MS 14 C IX) and a copy of Macrobius’ Commentary on Cicero’s Dream of Scipio (Harley MS 2772). 

Set in Stone? How Our Ancestors Saw Stonehenge: Stonehenge Visitor Centre, 18 December 2013-14 September 2014 

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Miniature of Merlin building Stonehenge, from Wace, ‘Roman de Brut’, England, second quarter of the 14th century,
Egerton MS 3028, f. 30r 

Stonehenge has remained a source of fascination and speculation over the centuries, as this exhibition illustrated with two British Library manuscripts: Egerton MS 3028, a copy of Wace’s Roman de Brut; and Cotton MS Nero D VIII, a large compilation of historical texts, including Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae.  Along with his contemporary Henry of Huntingdon, Geoffrey was one of the earliest chroniclers to comment on the monument and weave a story about its origins.  Wace used Geoffrey’s fantastical work of history for his own Roman de Brut, a verse epic in French about Britain’s ancient kings.  The copy in Egerton MS 3028 is remarkable for containing the earliest depiction of the monument: specifically, of Merlin lifting a lintel on top of two of the standing stone, to the evident wonderment of onlookers. 

Vikings: Life and Legend: British Museum, 6 March-22 June 

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King Cnut and Queen Emma in the New Minster Liber Vitae,
Stowe MS 944, f. 6r 

The New Minster Liber Vitae (Stowe MS 944) formed part of an exhibition that challenged preconceptions about the Vikings by bringing together new research with a glittering (and often fearsome) array of treasure, loot, weaponry, jewellery and surviving fragments of a longboat.  This manuscript, begun in Winchester in 1031, opens with a full-page drawing that commemorates the presentation to the church of New Minster by King Cnut and his wife Emma (Ælfgifu) of a cross – and, significantly, their integration into the spiritual as well as temporal realms of England. 

Art and Alchemy: Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, 5 April-10 August 

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Detail of an alchemist, probably Hermes Trismegistus, holding a hermetic flask, from the Ripley Scrolls, late 16th/early 17th century,
Add MS 5025, f. 2r 

Four of the British Library’s Ripley Scrolls (Add MS 5025) were on display for this exhibition, which featured works by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Rembrandt van Rijn, Rubens and many others.  Based on The Compound of Alchemy of George Ripley (d. c. 1490) and other pseudo-scientific texts, these scrolls are intriguing, bizarre and perplexing in equal measure, featuring arcane experiments, human-animal hybrids, and cryptic inscriptions. 

Louis the Bavarian: Centre for Bavarian History, Regensburg, 16 May-2 November 

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Miniature of king Robert of Anjou sitting on his throne, with inscribed fleur-de-lis in the background, from the Address of the City of Prato to Robert of Anjou, Italy (Tuscany), c. 1335,
Royal MS 6 E IX, f. 10v 

Two other British Library manuscripts made the journey to Germany in the spring, for an exhibition on Louis IV, who reigned as Holy Roman Emperor from 1328-1347.  The first loan was Royal MS 6 E IX, a lavish copy of an address by the city of Prato to Robert of Anjou, from whom it sought protection from Louis.  The other loan was of a German Apocalypse manuscript, Add MS 15243, made in the early fourteenth century.  This manuscript is a rare survival, with a distinctive decorative style, which marks it out from the more common Latin or French Apocalypses (a blog post on this manuscript will be forthcoming in the New Year). 

Making Colour: National Gallery, 18 June-7 September 2014 

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Theodore Mayerne’s experiments with pigments, from ‘Pictoria, sculptoria et quae subalternarum artium’, England (London), 1620-1646,
Sloane MS 2052, f. 80v 

In June, the Mayerne manuscript (Sloane MS 2052) headed down the road to the National Gallery for an exhibition on the science behind the making of pigments, whether made from crushed insects or precious minerals, or acquired locally or from distant lands, and how and why they might deteriorate over time.  Theodore Mayerne (d. 1655), court physician to James I and Charles I, assembled a notebook that records his own personal experiments with colour, including notes taken from leading artists of the day, such as Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. 

The Art of Charlemagne: Centre Charlemagne, Aachen, 20 June-21 September 

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Incipit page at the beginning of the Gospel of St Mark, from the Harley Golden Gospels, Germany (?Aachen), 1st quarter of the 9th century,
Harley MS 2788, f. 72r 

Harley MS 2788 – the Harley Golden Gospels – was on display for three months in the city of Aachen, where it may have been made in the first quarter of the ninth century.  The exhibition brought together works of art from Charlemagne’s time.  It is one of a group of books closely associated with the German emperor and his capital at Aachen, reflecting his personal initiatives and tastes.  Its name is appropriate: prefatory canon tables, a title page, full-page miniatures of the Evangelists and corresponding incipit pages are all richly illuminated with gold. 

Snip It! Stances on Ritual Circumcision: Jewish Museum, Berlin, 24 October 2014-1 March 2015 

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Detail of a miniature of the Circumcision of Abraham, from James le Palmer’s Omne bonum, London, c. 1360–1375, Royal MS 6 E VI, f. 3r
 

Miniatures depicting the circumcision of Abraham in two British Library manuscripts went on display in Berlin for this exhibition that explored the roots of this ritual and the Abrahamic covenant through to modern-day references in popular culture.  The Egerton Genesis (Egerton MS 1894) contains 149 miniatures in pen and colour washes, accompanied by captions derived from Peter Comestor’s Historia scholastica.  The first volume of James le Palmer’s unfinished encyclopaedia, the Omne bonum (Royal MS 6 E VI), is prefaced by a series of 109 tinted drawings of Old and New Testament scenes. 

The Magi: Legend, Art and Cult: Museum Schnütgen, Cologne, 25 October 2014-25 January 2015 

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The Adoration of the Magi, from the Benedictional of St
Æthelwold, England (Winchester), 963-984, Add MS 49598, f. 24v 

In 1164, relics of the Magi were deposited at Cologne Cathedral, where they remain.  850 years later, an exhibition looks at their important place in medieval art as the first men to recognise Christ as the Son of God.  The British Library’s contribution is the Benedictional of St Æthelwold (Add MS 49598), made 963-984, which contains a full-page illuminated miniature of the Adoration of the Magi within an ornate foliate border. 

- James Freeman

14 December 2014

Important notice: Temporary removal of Lindisfarne Gospels from display in the Treasures Gallery

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We would like to advise visitors to the British Library that the Lindisfarne Gospels will not be on display on Tuesday 16 and Wednesday 17 December 2014. The manuscript will be back on display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery on Thursday 18 December. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

The Lindisfarne Gospels can always be viewed online on Digitised Manuscripts.

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The Lindisfarne Gospels: London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero D. IV, f. 16r.

- Cillian O'Hogan

08 November 2014

The Harley Psalter: Devils in the Details

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 103 (Vulgate numbering): The creations of the Lord: valleys and mountains (left) with springs where beasts and birds are drinking, a man ploughing with oxen, a sea with ships on it and beasts in the water (centre); lions and other beasts among the rocks (right), from the Harley Psalter, S.E. England (Canterbury), 1st half of the 11th century, Harley MS 603, f. 51v

The Harley Psalter is one of three manuscripts copied from the very well-travelled Utrecht Psalter, a Carolingian masterpiece made around 825 at the Benedictine monastery of Hautvilliers near Rheims in Northern France. Now MS 32 at the Universiteitsbibliotheek in Utrecht, the Utrecht Psalter spent at least two hundred years in Canterbury from about 1000 AD, where it was the inspiration for our very own Harley Psalter, Harley MS 603. Dating from the first half of the 11th century, the Harley Psalter has a very similar arrangement and many near-identical images to those of the Utrecht Psalter, though the version of the Psalms is different. In each one of the large pen drawings, the artist has attempted to represent the words of the Psalms in pictorial form - not always an easy task. The images often include four or five episodes from the text of the Psalm that follows, depicted in a vibrant yet intimate style. They are extraordinarily detailed, filled with tiny people and animals and many details, some amusing, and some bizarre.  This is the medieval ‘Where’s Wally?’: the reward for hours of searching is an unexpected delight from time to time.

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 5: The psalmist entering a sanctuary (left), from which a winged demon is fleeing (centre), and above him an angel placing a wreath on a martyr's head; on the right, demons are prodding the wicked in a pit of fire, Harley MS 603, f. 3r

There are, of course, the standard variations on the theme of the righteous and unrighteous, such as holy tabernacles and fiery pits, the psalmist appealing to God and his angels for help against foes and demons.  

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 134
: The Lord unleashing the fury of the wind and rain and his angels with spears slaying kings and their armies, Harley MS 603, f. 69r

God’s vengeance is portrayed repeatedly and with relish, as are the agitated gestures of the figures who suffer the consequences, particularly kings and judges.

So much for the standard fare. Here are a few unusual and interesting details we found to enjoy (apart from a medieval umbrella!). Please look for your own favourites in the online images and share them with us via Twitter: unlike the ‘Where’s Wally?’ books, Digitised Manuscripts allows you to zoom in for added searchability.

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Detail from a miniature illustrating Psalm 7: a female demon with quadruplets (below right), Harley MS 603, f. 4r

Here is a female demon with her brood of quadruplets. She seems to have her hands full!

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 21: The themes include: (1) the lamentation of the psalmist, who is shown holding two vials, and is attacked by bulls, dogs and lions, with a unicorn below (lower right); (2) prophetic images of Christ’s passion including an empty cross and two men dividing a garment in front of a lot machine (centre); and (3) praise to heaven, represented by the tabernacle with the meek eating at a circular table and seven women seated with babies (the seed of Israel), Harley MS 603, f. 12r

As those of you who follow this blog will know, we have a soft spot for unicorns. Here is one that seems to be facing up to two men with scythes. One has to wonder what the outcome of that contest will be. Our money is on the unicorn, naturally.

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Detail of a miniature illustrating Psalm 30: People watching acrobats and a dancing bear
, Harley MS 603, f. 17r

Continuing with the animal theme, this image includes a dancing bear and acrobats, presumably as a condemnation of frivolous pastimes.

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 108: Below Christ in a mandorla with angels, a wicked man is seized by a demon (left) and the psalmist with a locust, standing in oil from an oil-horn (right); the sinner is punished (lower left), his wife and children abandoned and his treasures taken from his chest, Harley MS 603, f. 56r

And here a locust is an onlooker to the punishment of a sinful man. The sinner’s treasure is looted, his wife tears her hair out and his children are abandoned, naked.  

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Added miniature illustrating Psalm 59: The Lord in a mandorla handing a pair of shoes to an angel; the defenders of the city of Edom(?) are facing the attacking soldiers
, Harley MS 603, f. 32v

Finally, did you know that angels wore shoes? No, nor did we, but in the picture the Lord is handing a pair to an angel (illustrating the line, ‘Over Edom will I cast out my shoe’). The style of this image is different: it is one of the drawings added to the Psalter in the 12th century. 

There are 112 of these fascinating and skilful illustrations in the Harley Psalter, an impressive achievement by any standard. The artistic style, originally from Reims, was influential in the development of late Anglo-Saxon book decoration and the coloured line drawings that became especially popular in England at the time. For further examples of this style, check out the Tiberius Psalter (Cotton MS Tiberius C VI), which dates to the third quarter of the 11th century. Two copies of the Psychomachia at the British Library also contain similar decoration: Cotton MS Cleopatra C VIII and Additional MS 24199 (the latter will soon make an appearance on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts).

- Chantry Westwell