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173 posts categorized "Decoration"

01 July 2015

A Calendar Page for July 2015

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To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

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Calendar page for July, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 4v 

The agrarian labours continue in this month’s bas-de-page scene. Amidst a gently rolling landscape, two men are mowing grass with scythes. To the left, a woman is using a pitchfork to turn the grass to dry into hay in the sunshine. Another woman approaches from the background, bearing a basket on her head and a satchel in her hand – perhaps containing refreshments for the workers. Note how the artist has included little details to convey a sense of the midsummer heat: the broad-brimmed hats the labourers are wearing to protect their faces from the sun, and the rolled-up sleeves of the man on the right. The roundels for July show the key religious dates for the month: the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, the Translation of the Relics of St Thomas the Apostle, and the feast days of St Benedict, St Mary Magdalene, and Sts James and Christopher. A lion – the Zodiac sign for Leo – is included as a header in the calendar. 

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants making hay,
Add MS 35313, f. 4v 

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Detail of a roundel showing St Mary Magdalene,
Add MS 35313, f. 4v 

- James Freeman

27 June 2015

Art in the margins: the Theodore Psalter

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The psalter, a copy of the Psalms designed for personal or liturgical uses, was an important text in Byzantinum, particularly in monastic life. Among the many copies of this text surviving down to the present day are marginal psalters, which contain illuminations in the margins of the folios. Several important marginal psalters survive, such as the Barberini, Paris, and Bristol Psalters, all of which can be appreciated for their impressive decoration.

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Add MS 19532, f 1v. Chrysography (writing in gold).

Add MS 19352, the Theodore Psalter, is perhaps the most richly decorated psalter to survive, with 440 marginal illustrations, and we have just updated the catalogue to include a description of every miniature in the manuscript. Nearly every folio contains illustration, and the title and first initial of every verse are in gold.

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Add MS 19352, f 96r. An elaborate orchard scene takes up nearly a third of the page.

These illustrations range widely in their content, as each tries to imagine the most important elements of the Psalm. Specific lines referred to are often linked to the images by means of red or blue lines. The manuscript includes some graphic depictions of God’s wrath:

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Add MS 19532, f 11v. Angel pulling out the boastful tongue (Ps 11(12):4).
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Add MS 19352, f 21v. Burning of Sodom and the five cities.

It also contains scenes of some of the Bible’s most exciting stories:

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Add MS 19532, f 182r. David and Goliath.
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Add MS 19352, f 141v. Plagues visited upon Egypt.
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Add MS 19352, f 201r. Jonah cast into the sea.

Particularly prominent is King David, reputedly the author of a number of the Psalms, who can be seen praying in various ways. Many of these images underscore the prophetic qualities of the Psalms, and include New Testament figures, particularly Jesus and Mary, along with a passage in which they are prophesied.

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Add MS 19352, f 84r. Daniel prophesies on the mount (pink) with the Mother of God at the top and David at the foot.

Other images are used in a liturgical context, and what they depict is not necessarily connected with the Psalm, but connected to a feast or Saint to which that Psalm is significant:

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Add MS 19352, f 81v. The Martyrdom of the Forty Martyrs. Psalm 65 (66) is read on their feast day.

In addition to the Psalms, the Theodore Psalter contains the Odes, and a twelve-syllable poem on David’s early life. Also among the additional material are a colophon and a prayer for the Psalter's recipient. These make it clear that the manuscript was copied in 1066 by Theodoros of Caesarea, presbyter of the Studios Monastery in Constantinople, for the Abbot Michael.

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Add MS 19352, f 208r. Colophon, written in gold.

On Digitised Manuscripts you can see full coverage of this richly decorated manuscript and many others like it.

-          Andrew St. Thomas

20 June 2015

Ex(odus)-Men: Adventures in a Medieval Bible Picture Book

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In a couple of previous blog posts (Superheroes, True Romance, Blood and Gore and Comic Mania), we demonstrated how medieval picture books easily compete with the action, intrigue and visual appeal of the modern comic book (who could forget the dancing camels of The Old English Hexateuch?!). One of the newest additions to our website of Digitised Manuscripts, Additional MS 15277, offers yet another reason to put down your latest graphic novel.

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Moses (with horns) returns from Mount Sinai for the second time, from the 'Paduan Bible Picture Book', Northern Italy (Padua?), c. 1400, Add MS 15277, f. 15r

This Italian manuscript is loaded with tension, violence and transgressive behaviour, bringing to life the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua. The manuscript is imperfect at both the beginning and the end (the Books of Genesis and Ruth are now at Rovigo (Biblioteca dell'Accademia dei Concordi, MS 212, a facsimile of which can be ordered in our Reading Room as MS Facsimile 605)). Nonetheless, what remains is an exciting and rich example of a late medieval Bible picture book. From the plagues of Egypt to the conquest of the Promised Land, the Books of the Old Testament are vibrantly animated.

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Detail of a miniature of the plague of hail (Exodus 9:22-25), Add MS 15277, f. 7r
 
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Bezalel and Aholiab are selected to build the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-11), Add MS 15277 f. 15v
 
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Detail of a miniature of a fight between an Israelite and a man with an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father who blasphemes (Leviticus 24:10), Add MS 15277, f. 23r
 
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Detail of a miniature of the blasphemer being stoned (Leviticus 24:23), Add MS 15277, f. 23v
 
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God tells Moses to punish those who have been transgressing with Moabite women and worshipping their gods; Phinehas thrusts a spear through an Israelite man and Midianite woman in the midst of copulation (Numbers 25:1-9), Add MS 15277, f. 51v
 
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War against the Midianites (Numbers 31:1-12), Add MS 15277, f. 53r
 
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Detail of two miniatures of Joshua killing the King of Makkedah (Joshua 10:28), Add MS 15277, f. 72r

Visit our website of Digitised Manuscripts to explore more incredible images from the Paduan Bible Picture Book.

- Hannah Morcos

 

16 June 2015

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

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Papyrus 3053, scene from the arena. Found at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, among documents dating from the third century.

A recent addition to Digitised Manuscripts is one of our true hidden treasures: possibly the oldest illuminated manuscript in the British Library’s collections. Papyrus 3053, also known as P. Oxy. 2470, was found along with a range of third-century documents at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. Blank on the verso, the recto contains a vivid fragment of a scene from the arena. The papyrus depicts a bear, caught just on the moment of rising up, or perhaps about to leap, to try to catch the figure whose legs are visible in the top left. The hoop in the top right is perhaps a ring through which the figure is aiming to jump. The red swoosh to the right of the fragment is harder to make any sense of, but it seems to serve the purpose of marking off the acrobatic scene from something else. Perhaps it is supposed to designate the curve of the seating at the amphitheatre? Just above the legs of the acrobat are the feet of some letters, reconstructed as ερσωις, though what exactly that might mean (a name, perhaps?) is unclear.

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Papyrus 3053, detail of feet of letters, possibly ερσωις

Such feats of acrobatic dexterity, with the goal of escaping wild beasts, were hugely popular in antiquity, and the papyrus calls to mind the words of the late Latin poet Prudentius (348-c. 405), who notes in his poem the Hamartigenia that “rash figures spring with flying leap over wild beasts and sport amid the risks of death” (inde feras uolucri temeraria corpora saltu | transiliunt mortisque inter discrimina ludunt, Ham. 369-70, trans. Thomson). The prevalence of scenes drawn from the world of Roman spectacle in mosaics and in the few illuminated papyri now extant give further attestation of the popularity of these shows (see, for instance, the famous Antinoopolis Charioteers papyrus , or this fine hunting-scene (perhaps a uenatio?) in a Berlin papyrus. Bears were particularly prized: see, for instance, the many references to the difficulties involved in getting good bears for the games in the letters of the fourth-century senator Symmachus, or the splendid scene depicted by Apuleius in the fourth book of his novel the Metamorphoses.

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Papyrus 3053, sewing repairs

What was the original context of this fragment? Clearly visible are the remains of some sewing along two vertical folds, similar to the sort of sewing we often find in papyrus codices. However, the fact that these two folds are so close to each other makes it clear that the image was not spread across two facing pages of a codex. It has been suggested that the sewing was intended to repair tears that resulted from the folds. Did this image form part of a bookroll, then, or was it perhaps inserted into a codex? In the absence of further information, it’s impossible to say.

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Royal MS 1 D VIII (Codex Alexandrinus) f 41r, detail. Decorated tailpiece at the end of the Gospel of Luke, containing a pomegranate plant and two vines. 5th century.

I mentioned at the beginning that this is possibly the oldest illuminated manuscript in the British Library. We can perhaps exclude papyri that have simple decorative ink coronides on the grounds that these are not illuminations as we would commonly think of them today. But there remains the fact that establishing a clear date for Papyrus 3053 is tricky: while it was found among documents from the third century, there is no hard evidence for dating it exclusively to that century, and we should allow for the possibility that it is from a later period, possibly even the sixth century. Such a dating would make it a near-contemporary of the Cotton Genesis, generally dated to the fifth or sixth century, and later than Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century), which contains tiny miniatures in the tailpiece (such as the one above). Whatever its date, however, Papyrus 3053 is a rare example of a coloured illustration on papyrus, and a precious glimpse into the world of book decoration in the ancient world.

-          Cillian O’Hogan

01 June 2015

A Calendar Page for June 2015

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To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

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Calendar page for June, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 4r 

In June, we are taken back to the labours of the peasantry with a scene of sheep-shearing. Two men sit and remove two sheep’s wool with hand-clippers, while a third bundles another unwilling sheep out of a nearby barn. A freshly shorn sheep grazes to the right, before a gaggle of geese. Five religious festivals have been depicted in roundels this month: the feast days of St Boniface, St Barnabus, St Eligius, and Sts Peter and Paul, and (in the middle) the Nativity of St John the Baptist. The Zodiac sign for this month is Cancer. 

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants shearing sheep,
Add MS 35313, f. 4r 

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Detail of a roundel portraying the Nativity of St John the Baptist,
Add MS 35313, f. 4r 

- James Freeman

21 May 2015

Something for Everyone

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Additional MS 36684 is a Book of Hours, about the size of a small paperback, made in Northern France in the area of Saint-Omer, near where our large set of Arthurian volumes (recently immortalised in cake) were made and decorated, also in the 2nd decade of the 14th century. Though this is a completely different type of book, it was probably aimed at a similar audience. Delightfully idiosyncratic and amusing images once again decorate the text, in seeming contrast to its serious purpose as a devotional aid. The medieval imagination is allowed to run riot, with every aspect of human and animal physiognomy, and everything in between, on display.

The twelve opening pages contain the calendar with activities for the months of the year. Here is the page for January. Rather than attempting it ourselves, we would like to ask you our readers to write a caption for the image in the lower margin. This will be the first in a series of ‘Invent a caption’ competitions on our blog, so over to you, dear readers!

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Calendar page, northern France (Saint-Omer or Therouanne), c. 1320, Add MS 36684, f. 1v

Go on, provide us with a caption to f. 1v, the wittier the better. You can enter via Twitter @BLMedieval or in the comments section below this post.

 

Some of the pages of this manuscript are almost unbeatable for sheer weirdness:

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Page from the Hours of the Virgin with border and margins containing hybrid creatures,  Add MS 36684, f.17r

Others are jewel-like, a perfect ensemble of colour and design to delight the eyes of the reader (is that the legs of a pair of bell-bottomed trousers emerging from a cauldron?):

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Page from the Hours of the Virgin with border and margins including butterfly, Add MS 36684, f.50v

Birds and fish are favourite subjects, but not always as we know them:

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Page from the Hours of the Virgin with border and margins decorated with birds,  Add MS 36684, f.31v

Large historiated initials have scenes from the life of Christ, including the Nativity: here the angel appears to the shepherds, one of whom is playing a bagpipe-like instrument.

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Historiated initial with the angel appearing to the shepherds and decorated border,  Add MS 36684, f.43v

This Book of Hours was owned by none other than John Ruskin in the 19th century. It was in his library at Brantwood and contains his bookplate. Unfortunately there is no record of what he must have made of some of the marginalia!

The images here are just a small selection, evey page is filled with delights. Feast your eyes on our Digitised Manuscripts site, Add MS 36684. You may also like to know that the second half of this amazing book is now New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M.754 (you can see images of it here).

Chantry Westwell

01 May 2015

A Calendar Page for May 2015

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To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

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Calendar page for May, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, architectural column and roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 3v 

The Zodiac sign for May is Gemini, portrayed here unusually as conjoined twins (cephalothoracopagus twins, to be precise, who are joined at the thorax and share a single head). May is the month in which the Finding of the Holy Cross is celebrated. The event is depicted in one of the roundels, with the Pope and other figures standing as witnesses. In the scene below, the gentlewoman and her lapdog make a reappearance, boating on a river. She is playing music on a lute, while one of her companions accompanies her on an instrument resembling a recorder. In the background, two gentlemen are out hunting: they are riding on horseback, one of them bearing a hawk on his wrist. A servant follows, carrying a lance and also a hunting bird. 

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Detail of the Zodiac sign for Gemini, portrayed as conjoined twins,
Add MS 35313, f. 3v 

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Detail of a roundel depicting the Finding of the Holy Cross,
Add MS 35313, f. 3v 

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of boating and hunting,
Add MS 35313, f. 3v

- James Freeman

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