A new recording of a magnificent choirbook produced for King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, one of the great treasures in the British Library’s music collections, reached number 2 in the Classical Charts in the first week of its release in October 2014.
Detail of a historiated initial with the Tudor rose and pomegranate, from the Choirbook of Petrus Alamire, Southern Netherlands, c. 1516, Royal MS 8 G VII, f. 3r
Containing mostly motets for four voices by Josquin des Prez, Pierre de la Rue and other leading Continental composers, this volume is representative of the finest French and Franco-Flemish repertory of the time. To celebrate the first complete recording of all 34 pieces, full coverage of this beautifully illuminated volume is now freely available on Digitised Manuscripts.
Cantus and tenor parts of the motet ‘Celeste beneficium’ by Jean Mouton, Royal MS 8 G VII, f. 2v
The rich sounds of early sixteenth-century polyphony, as notated in Royal MS 8 G VII, have been recreated by the choir Alamire and the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, under the directorship of Dr David Skinner. Here is a sound-clip of the opening piece:
Released as ‘The Spy’s Choirbook’, the CD’s title refers to the colourful history of its famous scribe, Petrus Alamire (d. 1536), from whom Skinner’s ensemble borrows its name. In addition to making several similar choirbooks for other European courts, Petrus Alamire was a composer, mining engineer, and diplomat. He acted as a spy for Henry VIII, informing him of the movements of Richard de la Pole, the exiled pretender to the English crown. Surviving letters to the King and to Richard de la Pole suggest that Alamire was simultaneously engaged in counter-espionage. Perhaps gifting this manuscript to Henry was one way for Alamire to smooth over his double-dealing.
Alto and bass parts of the motet ‘Celeste beneficium’ by Jean Mouton, Royal MS 8 G VII, f. 3r
Naturalistic foliage, birds and insects, common to the south Netherlandish style of illumination, are combined with Tudor symbols such as the dragon and greyhound ‘supporters’ of the royal arms (f. 2v), and heraldic badges including the portcullis, the double rose, and the pomegranate (f. 3r). The exact circumstances of its presentation to Henry and Catherine are unknown, and it has been suggested that the manuscript may originally have been intended for Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany. ‘Celeste beneficium’, for example, was composed for the French couple, and its text calls upon St Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, to help bring forth children.
Detail of ‘HK’ in the place of stamens in the marginal flora and fauna, Royal MS 8 G VII, f. 2v
It is not difficult, however, to imagine the relevance of this text to Henry and Catherine’s pressing need for a male heir. The following two motets (‘Adiutorium nostrum’ and ‘Nesciens mater virgo virum’) continue this theme, and the fusion of Catherine’s emblem, the pomegranate, with the Tudor double rose, is another probable reference to the desire for progeny (see opening image above). Further evidence to support the idea that this manuscript was designed with Henry in mind appears in a tiny detail amidst the flora and fauna of the marginal decoration: the ‘HK’ which serves to substitute the stamens surely refers to ‘Henricus’ and ‘Katharina’. If the intended patrons did change, this must have occurred extremely early in the manuscript’s production.
Whatever the case, there is little doubt that this book would have greatly appealed to the King. Henry received a thorough musical education: he played several instruments, sang from sight and composed and arranged music. Indeed, it was Henry’s desire to bring the finest musicians in Europe to play and sing at his court which brought Petrus Alamire into close contact.
Now, perhaps for the first time since Henry’s post-dinner entertainment, we can appreciate the full aural and visual magnificence of this unique volume. See here for further details about the CD, and experience Royal MS 8 G VII in its entirety on Digitised Manuscripts.
Just in time for the holidays, we announce the latest batch of Greek manuscripts to be uploaded to Digitised Manuscripts. This project has been generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and many others, including the A. G. Leventis Foundation, Sam Fogg, the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, the Thriplow Charitable Trust, and the Friends of the British Library.
As always, there is something for everyone in this latest upload. We have already discussed the marvellous Phillipps Lectionary (Add MS 82957) in two blogposts, and as usual, there are many other Biblical manuscripts of interest to peruse. A bumper crop of patristic manuscripts are also included. Particularly noteworthy here is a very fine manuscript of the Orations of Gregory of Nazianzus (Add MS 36634) and a miscellany which may well repay closer attention (Add MS 24375). Some important Byzantine items have also gone online, amongst which pride of place must go to Add MS 36749, which is the sole witness to 122 letters by an unnamed 10th-century Byzantine professor. Those with an interest in the history of scholarship will welcome yet another manuscript formerly owned by Isaac Casaubon, a heavily annotated copy of the Epistles of Phalaris (Royal MS 16 D II). For classicists, the standout items are surely Add MS 58224, an important manuscript of Appian, and last but certainly not least, the famous Burney MS 69, a lavishly-decorated 16th-century manuscript of Greek treatises on warfare.
If you would like to support our Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, please click here to learn how you can make a donation and help to make our manuscripts accessible online.
Burney MS 69, f 7r, detail. Siege engine from Athenaeus, De Machinis
Add MS 24369, Alexius Aristenus, Nomocanon, and other canonical texts. 15th century.
Add MS 24370, Horologion. 16th century. Illuminated head-pieces and initials. Full leather binding. Rebound in the 19th century, but leather of previous boards onlaid (gilt-tooled, with the Crucifixion at the centre, and emblems of the evangelists).
Add MS 24375, Collection of various theological works, including Maximus the Confessor and Diadorus of Photike, 14th century.
Add MS 27862, John of Damascus, Dialectica sive Capita philosophica (TLG 2934.002) and Expositio fidei (TLG 2934.004); Sketches on the Division of Philosophy according to Christ and On the Seven Good Things; Anastasius of Sinai, Viae dux (TLG 2896.001); selections and fragments from other works (theological and geographical). Byzantine binding (rebacked) of wooden boards covered with blind-tooled leather. Two edge pins, the ends of the straps (now lost) were left over the pastedown and now protrude from the book. The fore-edge is shown on Digitised Manuscripts as f v recto. 11th century.
Add MS 28270, f 163r, detail. Colophon of Nikolaos, a scribe, dated August 1111 (ςχιθ΄).
Add MS 28270, Saints' lives and selections from John Moschus, Pratum Spirituale, entitled The New Paradise (Τὸ νέον παραδείσει). Italy, S., completed August 1111 by Nikolaos. The script is the ‘Reggio style’. 15th century binding of wooden boards covered with stamped leather
Add MS 28821, Mathematarion in Byzantine music notation, containing works by a number of composers such as Manuel Chrysaphes, John Koukouzeles, John Kladas, Xenos Korones, Chionopoulos, John Glykys, Gregorios Mpounes Alyates, Theodoros Manougras and others. 15th-17th century. The old binding, of wooden boards formerly covered with leather, is kept separately under Add MS 28821/1.
Add MS 28822, Collection of canonical texts, imperfect. 13th century.
Add MS 28828, John Zonaras, Epitome historiarum (TLG 3135.001-002), imperfect; George Akropolites, Annales (TLG 3141.002), imperfect; Leo VI the Wise, Oracula. 14th century. Byzantine binding, recovered (with old board leather onlaid) and probably resewn. Full set of petal-shaped corner bosses and round central ones.
Add MS 29715, Service book, possibly a Sticherarion or a Tropologion, imperfect. 12th-13th century.
Add MS 30043, Σχηματολόγιον, offices of the tonsure and consecration of a monk. 15th century.
Add MS 30510, Fragments of prayers, mainly exorcisms, possibly from a roll, imperfect. 14th century.
Add MS 31214, f 4r. Illuminated headpiece from a horologion.
Add MS 31214, Horologion. Illuminated headpieces on ff 4r, and 82r. Drawings on f 234v. Decorated initials and headings in red and gold throughout. 12th century.
Add MS 31919, Menaion for February and the Royal Hours for Holy Friday. A palimpsest: the volume is made up of a number of different manuscripts, namely a theological work written in the 12th century, and Gospel manuscripts (Gregory-Aland 0133, 0269, 0271, 0272, 0273, 0297, l 334; Scrivener Υ or Codex Blenheimius, evst. 282; von Soden ε 83). Completed 1431.
Add MS 36539, Pseudo-Sphrantzes (Macarius Melissenus), Chronicon sive Maius (TLG 3176.001). Italy, N.E. (Venice), in the hand of the scribe Manuel Glynzunius (1540-1596).
Add MS 36634, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes, followed by Pseudo-Nonnus (Nonnus the Abbot), Scholia mythologica, imperfect. 10th century, ff 1-9 being added on paper in the 15th century. Illuminated headpieces.
Add MS 36670, Laonicus Chalcocondyles, Historiae (History of the Turks 1298-1462) (TLG 3139.001). 16th century.
Add MS 36749, Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistles and Poems; Leo Magister, Poems; Anonymi professoris epistulae; Hierocles, In aureum carmen. 10th century, with some paper additions in Messina (southern Italy) in the 15th century.
Add MS 36928, f 44v, David seated, playing the harp, accompanied by Melody.
Add MS 36928, Psalter and Canticles (Rahlfs 1089), with additional texts, including Argumentum Psalmorum (a compilation), other patristic works, and calendar-notes. Eight full-page illuminations, much-rubbed. Headings in gold. Blind-tooled leather binding, on wooden boards (17th century?), with strap for clasp. Probably written in or just before 1090: the table of movable feasts (ff 37r-41v) begins with September 1090
Add MS 37534, Life and Miracles of Saints Cosmas and Damianus (BHG 373b), imperfect, lacking two leaves at the beginning and one or two quires after f 14. All the leaves are mutilated, especially at the top. The narrative differs largely in contents, and wholly in language, from that hitherto known. At the end (f 42r) is a hymn to the archangel Michael in a different hand. Egypt, 11th century: Brought from Egypt in 1907 and said to have been found near Edfu (St Mercurius Monastery). Found with Coptic MSS bearing dates in the late 10th and 11th centuries. Written in a very late uncial hand.
Add MS 38790, Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Sabae (TLG 2877.002), imperfect. 14th century. A colophon on ff 126r-v has been copied from an earlier manuscript, dated 1116. On f 1r is an inscription in Arabic.
Add MS 39583, f 39r, detail. Middle Irish commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates.
Add MS 39583, Fragments collected by Robert Curzon to illustrate the history of writing, including fragments of a Greek Gospel lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 182, Scrivener evst. 233); A leaf from a manuscript containing Ephraem the Syrian, Sermo Compunctorius (CPG 3908); a miniature of St. Mark in the Byzantine style of the ?13th century, probably from a Greek Gospel-book; Facsimile transcript of the Prague fragment of the Codex Forojuliensis of the Gospels; Leaf from a commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates (TLG 0627.012), in Middle Irish. The volume originally contained both Western and Oriental fragments, but the latter have now been transferred to their appropriate departments (Egyptian Antiquities, British Museum, and Asian and African Studies, British Library)
Add MS 39607, John Chrysostom, In epistulam I ad Corinthios homiliae (TLG 2062.156), imperfect. 12th century. Head-pieces tinted yellow, initials slightly tinted.
Add MS 39609, Isaiah of Scetis (Isaiah of Gaza), Asceticon (CPG 5555). 11th century, with paper additions dating from the 17th or 18th century.Illuminated head-pieces and initials, other initials and titles in gold. Hybrid full leather Greek/western binding of goatskin over wooden boards, with blind-tooled central stamp and corner pieces.
Add MS 39610, John Climacus, Scala paradisi (TLG 2907.001) and Liber ad Pastorem (CPG 7853), with additional prefatory material. 11th century. Illuminated head-pieces and initials, and a drawing of the Ladder of Ascent on f 206r. Binding of blind-tooled leather over birch boards. Writing on the upper edge, which can be seen on Digitised Manuscripts as f iii recto.
Add MS 41086, Pentecostarion, imperfect at the beginning. 15th century. Initials and headings in red. 17th-century binding. A later gilt-stamped figure of an angel or evangelist, impressed awry within the top left-hand corner of the outer panel, appears to represent a bungled and abandoned design.
Add MS 41330, Portions of two Euchologia, with many marginal notes. 2nd half of the 15th century (ff 20-128)-4th quarter of the 16th century (ff 1-19). An earlier binding (probably added in the late 16th century when ff 1-19 were inserted) is kept separately under Add MS 41330/1.
Add MS 41483, Greek liturgy. Copied in 1795 by Georgios Gounale, perhaps on Crete? Illuminated initials, headpieces and (ff 2v, 28v) miniatures. Original binding of blind-tooled morocco.
Add MS 57942, f 23r, Byzantine hymn book with musical notation
Add MS 57942, Collection of stichera and other hymns, with late Byzantine musical notation. 15th-16th century, probably written on Crete.
Add MS 58224, Appian, Historia Romana. Eastern Mediterranean (Crete?), c. 1450-1460. Decorative headpiece on f 1r. The text belongs to Mendelssohn's family i (deteriores). The text breaks off after 11 lines on f 65r, after which 37 unfoliated leaves are left blank, marking the lacuna in the Illyrica first found in Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS 70.5.
Add MS 59864, George Acropolites, Annales (TLG 3141.002), imperfect, expl. (1220A) μετὰ παραδρομήν. Not noted in Heisenberg’s edition of George Acropolites. 2nd quarter of the 14th century. In a 17th century binding of parchment over card boards, with fragments of title-labels on spine. Formerly owned by Sir Thomas Phillipps.
Add MS 82957, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 2376) with illumination and ekphonetic notation. 2nd half of the 11th century, Constantinople. Illuminated headpieces (ff 1r, 59r, 93r, 137r, 233r) and headbands (ff 210r, 230r, 248v, 257v, 263r, 278r, 292r, 297r, 300r, 301v, 302v, 309r, 312r). Decorated initials, frequently zoomorphic or historiated. Headings and some writing in gold. Occasional flourishes to letters on the final line of a page, especially χ, φ, λ, ι, and ξ. Formerly owned by Sir Thomas Phillipps.
Burney MS 16, Psalter. Coloured penwork headpiece and initial (f 1r). Written by Matthaeus the hieromonk for Pachomius the monk at the Monastery of Saint Catherine, Mount Sinai, and dated 2 July 1661.
Burney MS 18, Four Gospels and Hebrews (Gregory-Aland 480; Scrivener evan. 568; von Soden δ 462), adapted for liturgical use, imperfect, followed by Synaxarion and Menologion. Headpieces decorated in colours and foliate patterns on gold grounds at the beginning of each Gospel (ff 3r, 63r, 101r, 163r). Titles, initials and capitula in gold. In a binding of blue velvet over wooden boards with embroidered Greek spine title, brass corner pieces and two gold plaquettes of the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Adoration of the Magi set into the upper and lower boards, respectively, dating from the last quarter of the 16th century and probably Milanese or North European imitating a Milanese style. Written by Ioasaph of the monastery of the Theotokos ton Hodegon in Constantinople, 4 June 1366
Burney MS 69, f 12v, detail. Diagram of a siege-engine from Biton, De constructione bellicarum machinarum.
Burney MS 69, Greek treatises on warfare, with numerous drawings. Includes works by Athenaeus, Biton, Heron, Apollodorus, Philo of Byzantium, Leo VI the Wise, and others. Italy, N. E. (Venice), completed 7 May 1545. The scribe of a large portion of the manuscript was identified as that of Escorial MS gr. 138.
Egerton MS 2784, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 716; Scrivener evan. 565; von Soden ε 448). 14th century. A former binding (16th-century stamped black leather) is preserved in the box containing the manuscript, and is now ff iii-v.
Egerton MS 2786, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 346; Scrivener evst. 255). Imperfect and partly palimpsest: ff 55 to 157 are composed of leaves from at least four manuscripts of the 12th century, of which one (ff 59, 60) is a Lectionary, containing lections from Matthew; another (ff 55, 64, 73, 80, 84, 85) is a manuscript of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, written in double columns, and containing portions of the Orations (among others, parts of Orations 37, 38, 45); a third (f 132) is a manuscript of the Septuagint, containing part of Daniel 3; and the rest are from a theological work, most of which is wholly obliterated. 12th-14th century. 5 headpieces in red and brown with a braided or geometric pattern (ff. 40v, 65v, 96v, 132, 136v). Large initials in red and/or brown and red with penwork decoration, some anthropomorphic with a hand blessing. Smaller simpler initials in red. Simple headpieces in brown and red. Highlighting of letters in red.
Egerton MS 2787, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 913; Scrivener act. 223; von Soden α 470). 14th century, produced in the Levant, according to J. W. Burgon, based on the ornamentation. 19 large headpieces in red and/or brown or yellow with penwork decoration at the beginning of most books (ff 1r, 11r, 72r, 96r, 119v, 136r, 146v, 155v, 163r, 169v, 175r, 179r, 186r, 191r, 194r, 198v, 216v, 234v, 241r). Simple headpieces in red or brown. Large initials in brown and red with penwork decoration. Small initials in red. Text in red. In a binding of wooden (oak?) boards, possibly the original, with grooved edges, rebacked. Formerly fully covered in leather, fragment remains at the back edge.
Kings MS 17, Scholia on Pindar's Olympian and PythianOdes. Italy, N., 4th quarter of the 15th century.
Royal MS 1 A XV, Old Testament: Proverbs, Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon (Rahlfs 425), in Greek and Latin. 15th century, possibly written at Crete.
Royal MS 1 D II, Old Testament: Historical books and Isaiah of the Septuagint version (Rahlfs 93), imperfect and with extensive marginal notes. 13th century, with additions in the 15th century.
Exciting news for those of our readers who might want to search for an image of a 13th-century devil with horns, an English drawing of a horse from the 10th century, rain over the Italian countryside, severed limbs or even Job afflicted with boils. More than 200 new images are now available online in our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. For those who have not yet used this catalogue, it has an advanced search page which allows you to search for key words combined with place of origin, date range and many other criteria: http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/search2.asp.
Over 4000 illuminated manuscripts from 800 to 1800 have been catalogued to date and we have now added a new selection with images and descriptions that were not previously available online, mostly from the Additionals series. The following examples show the range and variety of the items newly catalogued:
A Dutch copy of the legend of Jason and Medea (Add MS 10290)
This features colour-wash images of some dramatic and bloodthirsty scenes:
Medea with Jason and the Argonauts in a ship, about to throw the head of her brother into the sea with his severed limbs, to stop her father, King Oethes, who is pursuing them in the other ship; above left, Jason’s abandoned lover Hypsipyle is about to jump off a cliff; from ‘Historie van Jason’, Germany or Netherlands, N. (Harlem), between 1475 and 1480, Add MS 10290, f. 118
Named after Alfred Huth, who donated his collection of manuscripts to the British Museum in 1912, this is a pocket-sized psalter in Latin from Lincoln or York, with an Anglo-Norman text for calculating Easter added at the beginning. It contains 11 full-page miniatures in the style of the William of Devon manuscripts (Royal MS 1 D I, Egerton MS 1151, and others. Simple search using the keywords ‘William of Devon’ and you will find them all in the catalogue. To continue with the gory theme, this one shows a young child being held aloft on a spear by one of Herod’s soldiers:
The Adoration of the Magi: Herod orders the Massacre of the Innocents; the Massacre of the Innocents with a young boy's body held up on a spear, from the ‘Huth Psalter’ England (Lincoln or York?), 4th quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 38116, f. 10r.
A miscellany of scientific and grammatical texts in Latin and Anglo-Norman French (Add MS 17716)
This manuscript contains treatises on French spelling and grammar, as well as Manieres de langage, a text used for teaching the French language in England in the 15th century. It includes several short tales in French, apparently as examples for reading or language practice, one of which has the intriguing title Le mari cocu, battu et content (‘The husband who is cheated on, beaten up and happy’). The story is about a pair of young lovers who concoct an elaborate ruse. The beautiful young wife tells her elderly husband Mr Bon (who has only three grey hairs left) that the falconer (her lover) is a blackguard who wants to seduce her. If he (Bon) disguises himself as her and waits in the garden that night, he will catch him at his tricks. Bon duly waits in the garden for several hours while the lovers have fun inside. Finally the falconer goes to the garden and pretends to make love to Bon dressed as a woman. When Bon responds, the falconer pretends to be horrified and says that he was only there to test his master’s wife’s honour. He beats Bon with a stick in supposed punishment and sends him inside, where Bon finds his wife lying ‘innocently’ in bed, waiting for him. Bon is delighted that his wife and falconer have been so honourable towards him and resolves to treat the falconer as part of the family. Of course the lovers are delighted!
The manuscript also contains a Latin poem on algorithms and treatise on the movement of the planets, part of which is shown here:
Text page with pen-flourished initials of an astronomical treatise, from a Scientific and Grammatical Miscellany, England, 1st half of the 15th century, Add MS 17716, f. 11r.
This is a 10th-century copy of the allegorical poem by Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348-c. 405), made in the south of England. It concerns the struggle between the Vices and Virtues for possession of the human soul. The origin of the manuscript is unknown but it was at Bury St Edmunds Abbey in the 14th century (it contains their pressmark) and then in the library of Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1694 to 1715. The outline drawings of allegorical figures are finely executed with their garments drawn in some detail, providing examples of the tunics and veils worn by Anglo-Saxon women in this period.
Two ink drawings of Superbia's horse grinding its teeth (above) and Superbia reining in her horse, pointing her hand towards three figures in short robes, probably other vices, while Humility and Hope stand on the right, from Aurelius Prudentius, Psychomachia, England, S., 4th quarter of the 10th century, Add MS 24199, f. 12v
These 16th-century Italian botanical manuscripts contain watercolours of the flora and landscapes of the Ancona region of Italy by the amateur botanist Gherardo Cibo (b. 1512, d. 1600).
Full page botanical painting of Galanthus (Snowdrop) on the right and a blue-flowering bulb, probably Ipheion on the left, with a botanist and a young man gathering plants on a mountain top, from Gherardo Cibo, Extracts of Dioscorides' 'De re medica', with botanical paintings, Italy, Central (Urbino), c. 1564-1584, Add MS 22332, f. 35r.
The slaughtering of animals and preparing of meat for the winter are the labours highlighted in these final calendar pages of the year. On the opening folio can be found the beginning of the saints’ days for December. Below, a roundel miniature shows two men in a barn; one has his hands firmly on the horns of a bull, holding him steady, while the other man is preparing to deliver the coup de grâce with a wooden mallet. In the facing folio, another man is butchering a hog outdoors, wielding a long, sharp knife. A bucket of blood is beneath the slaughtering table, and above, we can see a wooly ram (perhaps aghast at the carnage), for the zodiac sign Capricorn. Surrounding this scene is another golden architectural frame, populated with angels playing musical instruments, and a kneeling monk above, perhaps in honour of the feast of the Nativity.
Calendar page for December, with a roundel miniature of two men slaughtering a bull, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 12v
Calendar page for December, with a roundel miniature of a man butchering a hog, with the zodiac sign Capricorn, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 13r
In 2006 and 2007, the British Library acquired five Greek manuscripts that had formerly been on long-term deposit as Loan 36. These manuscripts all once belonged to Sir Thomas Phillipps, the noted manuscript collector of the 19th century. All but one (now Add MS 82951) also belonged to Frederick North, 5th Earl of Guilford, much of whose manuscript collection is now in the British Library. The story of the provenance of these manuscripts will be the subject of a future blog post, when the remaining four manuscripts have also been digitised. Today, however, our focus is on the standout item in the group, Additional MS 82957, a very fine 11th-century Gospel Lectionary from Constantinople.
Add MS 82957, f 59r. Decorated headpiece with two peacocks, one drinking from a fountain, on top, and two rams on pedestals on either side
The lectionary is extremely fragile and required extensive, painstaking conservation work for over a year before it was fit for digitisation. Future blog posts will outline the damage that the manuscript has sustained, and the particular difficulties of digitising and conserving this item.
Add MS 82957, f 1r. Decorated headpiece with numerous animals, birds and other decorations.
The manuscript itself is spectacular. It goes beyond the usual levels of ornamentation for Greek lectionaries of the period to incorporate richly-decorated initials and headpieces. In fact, it is closer in style to some of the great psalters of the eleventh century: including the Theodore Psalter and the Bristol Psalter, both now kept at the British Library. Indeed, the similarities between some of the decorated initials in this manuscript and that of the Theodore Psalter led to the hypothesis that both were produced at the Stoudios Monastery in Constantinople. More recently, however, a detailed study of a wide range of eleventh-century manuscripts led Irmgard Hutter to suggest that the manuscript should be placed in the circle of the so-called ‘copiste du Métaphraste’, a scribe whose hand can be detected in a number of manuscripts of Symeon Metaphrastes (for bibliographical details, please consult Digitised Manuscripts).
Pi in the shape of two hands holding palm leaves. (L) Add MS 82957, f 154v. (R) Add MS 19352, f 100r.
Epsilon in the shape of two birds. (L) Add MS 82957, f 113v. (R) Add MS 19352, f 148v.
Illuminated initial omicron. (L) Add MS 82957, f 10r. (R) Add MS 19352, f 74v.
Particularly noteworthy are two anthropomorphic initials found at the beginning of the first two sections, below the adorned headpieces:
(L) Add MS 82957, f 1r, detail of St John the Evangelist in the form of an epsilon. (R) Add MS 82957, f 59r, detail of a man feeding a bird in the form of an epsilon.
Sadly, the fragility of the manuscript means that there is some loss into the gutter in the case of these two initials, but the level of artistic skill is clear nonetheless.
We finish with a lost initial. f 280 was damaged at some point in the manuscript’s history:
Add MS 82957, f 280v.
However, the imprint made by a decorated initial on the portion of the page now lost can still be seen on the facing page. It is the letter tau (T) with a bird at the base. The imprint is a little difficult to make out, but is perhaps clearer when put alongside a similar tau from earlier in the manuscript:
(L) Add MS 82957, imprint of initial tau on f 281r. (R) Add MS 82957, f 3v, bird carrying the letter tau on its shoulder.
There is much more to be discovered in this manuscript, and surely a great deal more to be said about its place in the wider context of 11th-century illumination. The digitisation of this fragile item makes it available to a wide audience, and we invite you to explore its riches.
Detail of a miniature of a crowned lion as ‘King of Beasts’ in a Book of Hours (‘The Taymouth Hours’), ?England (?London), c. 1325–c. 1350, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 18r
In light of the recent news that London may be without lions for the first time in 800 years, and with further inspiration from the Royal Beasts exhibition at the Tower of London, we take a turn towards the role of the lion in the medieval imagination.
Visitors to Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination may remember the lion skull kindly lent to the British Library by the Natural History Museum. This was one of two skulls unearthed at the Tower of London, where King John (d. 1216) had established a Royal Menagerie which was to become home to an assortment of exotic beasts including lions, bears and one short-lived elephant.
Detail of an historiated initial showing the King of England mounted on a lion, from the Bohun Psalter, England (S.E., ?London), 2nd half of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3277, f. 68v
The skulls were radiocarbon dated to 1280–1385 and to 1420–1480, suggesting that these particular lions were the private exhibits of either Edward I, II or III, in the first instance, or of the Lancastrian Henry VI or Yorkist Edward IV, in the second. These ‘Barbary’ lions, hailing from northwest Africa, were doubtless an exciting embodiment of the Royal Arms of England for any English monarch.
Detail of a miniature of crafty method for catching lions (potentially) by placing a goat in one hole and waiting for a lion to fall down the second hole, from a Bestiary, England (?Salisbury), c. 1225–c. 1250, Harley MS 4751, f. 2v
Whether royal mascots or diplomatic gifts, numerous archival records indicate a long history of lions at the tower. Exactly how they came to be at the tower, how they were crated and transported, is unknown, but trapping a lion using the method depicted in the Bestiary above (involving two holes and a tethered goat) would be quite a feat. The earliest noted payments to their keepers came from King John in 1210-1212, with records becoming more detailed under Henry III (d. 1272).
Detail of an historiated initial showing a man being devoured by lions (I Kings 20:36), Egerton MS 3277, f. 104r
In 1240, the sheriffs of London were instructed to make provisions for a lion and a keeper, William de Botton, including 14 shillings for ‘buying chains and other things for the use of the lion’. By 1314, the sheriffs were providing a quarter of mutton every day for the maintenance of numerous lions. The polar bear seems to have had it better in this respect. As part of a cost-saving measure for the City, this (chained) Norwegian captive could at least fish for its own supper on the bank of the Thames.
The keeper’s own wages could be slow to materialise, as experienced by William Bounde who was owed £55 by 1408: he would be imprisoned by his creditors, he claimed, and the lions would go unfed. The office was granted to Robert Manfeld in 1436, who would double up as marshal of the hall within the royal household. Perhaps delegating duties became a challenge since it was in the same year that all of the lions in the tower apparently died. Had he simply fed the sick lions a monkey, as recommended by the Bestiary, they may well have been cured.
Detail of a miniature of lion and his irrational fear of the white rooster, in a Bestiary, England (?Rochester), c. 1230–c. 1300, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 5v
The Bestiary describes the power, courage and intelligence of the lion – a fitting emblem of monarchy – who fears nothing save the white rooster, scorpion and snake.
Detail of a miniature of cubs born dead and reanimated by their fathers who breathe life into them, in the Bestiary, England (?North or Central), c. 1200–c. 1210, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 6r
When hunted, the Bestiary relates, the lion sweeps his tail over the ground to conceal his tracks; he also sleeps with his eyes open to avoid capture, and he has the ability to resurrect his stillborn cubs. He never attacks women and children, nor the man who prostrates himself before him.
Lions were able to ascertain, by mysterious means, both virginity and royal blood, which is why Josiane was immune to being trapped in a cave with two lions.
Detail of a miniature of Beves of Hampton slaying the two lions pestering Josiane, Yates Thompson 13, f. 12r
Beves of Hampton, by contrast, was forced to employ all his knightly prowess to avoid being devoured alive.
Detail of a miniature of Joanna of Paris embracing a lion, from the ‘Topographia Hiberniae’ of Gerald of Wales, England (?Lincoln), c.1196–1223, Royal MS 13 B VIII, f. 19v
Occasionally, a ‘woman’s tricks’ might be held responsible for encouraging the amorous affections of the lion, as Gerald of Wales reports was the case at the French court of King Philip.
Detail of a column miniature showing Habakkuk (suspended by the hand of God) delivering a jug of stew to Daniel in the lions’ den, from Guyart de Moulins, Bible historiale, France (?Paris), 1357, Royal MS 17 E VII, f. 107v
Detail of an historiated initial 'A' showing Daniel and two lions in the den, from a Bible, England, c. 1250–c. 1275, Royal MS 1 D I, f. 377r
The popular stories associated with biblical heroes Daniel, Samson and David gave frequent cause for lions in manuscript miniatures. Daniel’s benign and friendly companions emphasise his miraculous delivery from the lions’ den.
Marginal drawings of David keeping his sheep safe by grappling with a lion and a dog (above) and fighting Goliath (below), from the Worms Bible, Germany (Frankenthal), c. 1148, Harley MS 2803, f. 126v
Other popular subjects include David – shepherd boy and future king – protecting his sheep from a lion, a prolepsis of his battle with Goliath.
Detail of a miniature of Samson taking a honeycomb from the lion’s body, from the ‘Queen Mary Psalter’, England (?London or East Anglia), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 44r
Samson was renowned for possessing the strength to tear apart a lion with his bare hands. The illuminator who executed the Samson miniature chose to depict the moment when Samson revisited the dead lion to find bees nesting in its carcass, allowing him to take honey from the lion’s body.
Detail of an historiated initial containing an Evangelist portrait that represents Mark as a lion, from a Book of Hours, Italy (?Bologna), c. 1390 – c.1400, Add MS 69865, f. 2v
The lion can be seen, more frequently, distinguishing the Gospel of Mark from the other Evangelists (this particular Mark has morphed into a lion-human hybrid).
Detail of an historiated initial showing Jerome and lion, from Jerome, Pseudo-Jerome and others, Epistles and treatises, Italy (?Venice), c. 1390, Egerton MS 3266, f. 8r
Similarly, Saint Jerome can be identified by his red Cardinal’s hat and his attribute, a lion.
Detail of the border of a Calendar page for July, showing Leo and a man harvesting and gathering sheaves of wheat, from a Book of Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410, Egerton MS 1070, f. 9r
In the bestselling devotional books of the Middle Ages, the calendar pages often display a zodiac sign paired with a typical activity for the month. Leo, the sign for July, heralded the harvest and he is frequently juxtaposed with scenes of peasants sharpening sickles or threshing grain.
Detail of Leo as a lion apparently forced into the July calendar by chain, Royal 2 B VII, f. 78r
The lion is often very well portrayed in manuscripts and this may be linked to their popularity as an exhibit in the Tower. The improvements to Matthew Paris’ depictions of elephants, for example, are the result of his journey from St Albans to the Menagerie to draw Henry III’s elephant from life. Looking at the miniature above, you can almost imagine William de Botton with his chains worth 14 shillings, cajoling his captive ...
To learn more about the lions and other exotic creatures, their keepers, and the vanished menagerie that was a distant predecessor of London Zoo, check out the Royal Beasts exhibition at the Tower of London.
Just in case you’ve been living in a cave on the island of Patmos, here’s a reminder about the forthcoming illuminated manuscripts conference at the British Library! It will be taking place on Monday 1st December, 10.45am-5.15pm. It is being held in honour of Lucy Freeman Sandler, who has published extensively on British Library manuscripts. The speakers are each leading lights in the field of art history and manuscript studies: Nigel Morgan, Kathryn Smith, Julian Luxford, Alixe Bovey and Paul Binski. Lucy Freeman Sandler will also be giving a paper on Egerton MS 3277, the Bohun Psalter. This is an unmissable opportunity to hear them talk about their most recent research.
150 people have registered to attend so far. If you haven’t reserved your place yet, don’t delay! E-mail James Freeman (email@example.com) to bag a seat, and check out our earlier blog post for further details of the programme.
As a taster of what we have to look forward to next month, let’s take a closer look at the manuscript that will be the subject of Nigel Morgan’s paper: Add MS 38842, an English apocalypse fragment, which has recently been published on Digitised Manuscripts.
Sadly, only 8 folios are known to survive, but they contain wonderful illuminations on every page, including these of the Woman and the Beast.
The Woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and the Beast with seven heads, from an Apocalypse fragment with a commentary in French prose, England, early 14th century, Add MS 38842, ff. 3v-4r
A fierce red dragon with seven heads attacks the woman, but she looks back at him defiantly while passing her child up to God in heaven. Below, a host of angels come to her aid with spears, fighting off the beast and his army of club-wielding creatures, which represent vice. They are soon dispatched into a waiting hell-mouth, into which they dive headlong with evil grins. The woman grows wings and escapes from the beast; here she represents the Church, as the French commentary explains, escaping from the evil on earth.
On either side of the final folio of the British Library fragment is the episode of the angels and the seven vials (Revelation 16). First, the angels, clothed in pure white gowns with golden girdles, receive their vials at the temple door. Although the text states that the vials, containing the wrath of God, are given to the angels by one of the four beasts of the Apocalypse, the image shows an angel giving out the last vial.
The commentary in Anglo-Norman French tells us that the angels represent ‘li precheur de la foi’ (the preachers of the faith), ‘ki dampnerunt ceux ki ne la voudrent receuvre’ (who will damn those who do not want to receive it).
On the following page is a scene of high drama: six of the angels pour out God’s wrath on the earth, the sea, the rivers, the sun, the beast’s kingdom and the air. Some people lie sleeping or dead on the left, while in the foreground three figures writhe in terror, at the same time attacking each other violently.
The first six angels pour out their vials (right), Add MS 38842, f. 8v
This Apocalypse is believed to have been illuminated by the English court artist who worked on the ‘Treatise on Good Government’, given by Walter of Milemete to Edward III (Oxford, Christ Church MS 92). Milemete also presented a copy of the Secretum Secretorum to Edward III as companion volume to his treatise: Add MS 47680, one of the manuscripts displayed in our exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination.
Three men worshipping the beast out of the earth, with the dragon on a hill; fire descends from heaven and four men lie dead, Add MS 38842, f. 5v
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).