As my time here in the British Library ticks away, I have very much to be grateful for. It has been a massive privilege and pleasure to work with my marvellous colleagues in the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts department, and to be able to have daily contact with such a spectacular collection of manuscripts. One of my greatest joys has been this blog, which I will continue to contribute to, albeit from across the pond. But as a way to mark the end of this particular era, I thought I would share some of my favourite posts from the past 5 years. Without further ado, the Sarah J Biggs Top Ten (chosen via the totally unscientific process of me picking what I liked):
10. Erasing Becket: a post spurred by a number of reader enquiries about the practice of removing references to St Thomas Becket from medieval manuscripts
Miniature of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, and excision of the suffrage of Thomas Becket, Book of Hours (Use of Sarum), South Netherlands, 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 2985, ff. 29v-30r
9. An Old World View of the New: a rare opportunity for me to work on material concerning the Americas, based on a miniature fraught with a legacy of slavery and genocide.
Miniature of cannibals attacking the members of a Spanish expedition to America in 1530, from the Triumphs of Charles V, Italy or the Netherlands, c. 1556-c. 1575, Add MS 33733, f. 10r
8. The Burden of Writing: Scribes in Medieval Manuscripts: what it says on the tin. Although now that I think about it I never did write the promised follow-up about medieval artists.
Detail of a miniature of a hermit at work on a manuscript, from the Estoire del Saint Graal, France (Saint-Omer or Tournai?), c. 1315 – 1325, Royal MS 14 E III, f. 6v
7. ‘Virile, if Somewhat Irresponsible’ Design: The Marginalia of the Gorleston Psalter and More Gorleston Psalter ‘Virility’: Profane Images in a Sacred Space: this glorious two-part post was great fun for me to research and even more fun to write, and firmly established my interest in rude medieval monkeys.
Detail of a marginal creature pulling a face, from the Gorleston Psalter, England, 1310-1324, Add MS 49622, f. 123r
6. Marginali-yeah! The Fantastical Creatures of the Rutland Psalter: Marginalia, monsters, and monkeys! How could anything be better?
Bas-de-page scene of a grotesque hybrid with a panotii (a monstrous race of men with enormous ears), from the Rutland Psalter, England (London?), c. 1260, Add MS 62925, f. 88v
5. The Anatomy of a Dragon: another examination of fantastical medieval creatures (a bit of a theme here); this post was apparently very popular amongst video game aficionados and developers, for some reason.
Detail of a miniature of Alexander the Great battling against two-headed, eight-legged, crowned dragons with multiple eyes along their torsos, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 78v
4. Dress Up for Halloween, Medieval Style: I actually attempted a memento mori costume the year I wrote this post. It was not entirely successful.
Detail of an historiated initial 'D'(ilexi) with a woman (Duchess Dionora?) with a skull for a face admiring herself in a hand mirror, from the Hours of Dionora of Urbino, Italy (Florence or Mantua), c. 1480, Yates Thompson MS 7, f. 174r
3. Bugs in Books: I’ll just quote Pliny here on the subject of insects: ‘Nature is nowhere to be seen in greater perfection than in the very smallest of her works. For this reason then, I must beg of my readers, notwithstanding the contempt they feel for many of these objects, not to feel a similar disdain for the information I am about to give relative thereto, seeing that, in the study of Nature, there are none of her works that are unworthy of our consideration.’
Detail of a miniature of bees guarding their hives against a marauding bear, from Flore de virtu e de costumi (Flowers of Virtue and of Custom), Italy (Padua?), 2nd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 3448, f. 10v
2. Knight v Snail: a casual conversation in our manuscripts store led to one of the most popular blog posts across the British Library, and a lot of interest in this enduring mystery.
Knight and snail from the Smithfield Decretals, southern France (probably Toulouse), with marginal scenes added in England (London), c. 1300-c. 1340, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 107r
1. Unicorn Cookbook Found at the British Library: there's nothing else that deserves the number one spot!
Detail of a unicorn on the grill in Geoffrey Fule's cookbook, England, mid-14th century (London, British Library, MS Additional 142012, f. 137r)
Thank you all for everything, and here’s to many more happy years exploring medieval manuscripts!
- Sarah J Biggs