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11 September 2014

Royal Manuscripts Conference Papers Now Online

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We are pleased to announce that selected papers from the two-day international conference associated with the ‘Royal Manuscripts’ exhibition (11 November 2011 – 13 March 2012) are now available on the Electronic British Library Journal 2014 (articles 4–10). 

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God creating the Heavens and the Earth, from Guyart de Moulins, ‘Bible historiale completée’, Genesis to Psalms, France (Clairfontaine and Paris), 1411,
Royal MS 19 D III, vol. 1, f. 3r

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination showcased over 150 richly decorated manuscripts associated with and collected by English monarchs between the ninth and sixteenth centuries.  Drawn mainly from the Old Royal library given to the nation by George II in 1757, the exhibited manuscripts revealed a magnificent artistic inheritance and provided a vivid insight into the lives and aspirations of those for whom they were made.

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The genealogical descent of Henry VI from St Louis in a book presented by John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, to Henry’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, France (Rouen), 1444-45,
Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 3r

On the 12-13 December 2011, seventeen speakers gathered in the British Library to discuss different aspects of the Royal collection, from the makers and users of these books to content as diverse as genealogy and law, legend and history, and liturgy.  An account of the conference, its speakers and their subjects, can be read here.  Many of the manuscripts displayed in the exhibition can still be seen in seven themed facebook albums (The Christian Monarch 700-1400; The Christian Monarch 1400-1600; Edward IV: Founder of the Royal Library; Instruction: How to be a King; The World’s Knowledge; Royal Identities; and The European Monarch), each featuring between 15 and 25 items.  Previous ‘Royal Manuscripts’ blog posts are listed here and here, and are often richly illustrated with items featured in the exhibition.

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Henry VIII at Psalm 1 (where we would expect an image of David), from the Psalter of Henry VIII, England (London), c. 1540,
Royal MS 2 A XVI, f. 3r

The research for this exhibition was funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  Student bursaries for the conference were generously supported by AMARC.

- Holly James-Maddocks

03 July 2014

Famous US Documents In Our Magna Carta Exhibition

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On the eve of Independence Day in the United States, we are excited to announce that original copies of two of the most famous documents in the world, the Declaration of Independence and the US Bill of Rights, will be on display at the British Library next year, on loan from the New York Public Library and the US National Archives. They will be major highlights of our exhibition to celebrate the 800th anniversary of that other extremely famous document, Magna Carta. Our exhibition – Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy – will provide the first opportunity to see these American documents on display in the UK. The exhibition, which will include our two original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta, will tell the story of its medieval roots and track its evolution from medieval peace treaty to modern, international rallying cry against the arbitrary use of authority. Open from 13 March to 1 September 2015, the exhibition is sponsored by Linklaters, the global law firm.

Page 1 of the Declaration of Independence (c) New York Public Library

The Declaration of Independence, copied in the hand of Thomas Jefferson (image courtesy of New York Public Library).

The Declaration of Independence is being loaned by New York Public Library and is the text which Thomas Jefferson, the principal drafter of the Declaration, copied in his own hand, incorporating changes made by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to a draft version. Jefferson’s document also shows passages subsequently excised by Congress, notably the grievance against the slave-trade. The Declaration established the separation of America from Great Britain, and paved the way for the drafting of the American Constitution as we know it.

Delaware's ratification of the Bill of Rights (c) US National Archives edited
Delaware's copy of the Bill of Rights (image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC)

The Bill of Rights is loaned from the US National Archives, and is one of the fourteen original copies of the document produced in 1789, of which twelve are known to survive. This copy was sent to Delaware, which attached its certificate of ratification to the document and returned it to the federal government. The amendments to the Constitution proposed in the document were written by a clerk in the House of Representatives on a single sheet of parchment, and contain clauses guaranteeing Americans a number of personal freedoms and limiting the power of government.

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Detail of Magna Carta, 1215 (from one of the two originals held by the British Library)

Both of these US documents can trace constitutional influences back to Magna Carta, issued by King John in 1215. Magna Carta established for the first time that the king was subject to the law, not above it, and set out a new political order. Global law firm White & Case is sponsoring the loan of the two major US documents to the Library.

In 1976, the British Library loaned one of its 1215 Magna Cartas to the Library of Congress in order to commemorate the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. We are delighted that the US National Archives and New York Public Library have so generously agreed to lend their precious documents to the British Library as we celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015.

Claire Breay 

 

26 June 2014

A Well-Travelled Medieval Map

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In a blog post back in January (An Even Older View of the New World) we mentioned the Map Psalter, one of our manuscripts that had travelled all the way to Australia for an exhibition of maps in Canberra.  The exhibition, Mapping our World: Terra Incognita to Australia, is now over and we are happy to say that the Psalter, Add MS 28681 (and the other manuscripts that went with it) has returned safely to it shelf in the manuscripts storage at the British Library. And it is now fully digitised on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

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Psalter World Map, England, c. 1265, Add MS 28681, f. 9r

The Map Psalter gets its name from a very detailed map of the world on the first page, dating from the mid-13th century, one of the most important maps to survive from this period.  The world is represented as a flat circle, with Jerusalem in the middle.  The upper part of the circle is occupied by Asia, and the lower half divided into two quarters for Europe and Africa. Beneath Jerusalem it is quite easy to make out the names Roma, Grecia,  Dalmatia, Burgundia, etc.  The countries of the British Isles are discernable in the lower left quadrant, and despite the very limited space available one can make out rivers such as the Thames and Severn, and London is marked with a gold dot.

So, while the map is not accurate in our sense, it shows the places that were of interest to the people using it, and of course, most importantly, the earth is presided over by Christ and two angels: it is very much God’s creation.

There are indications that this manuscript was made in London and it has been suggested that the map may even be a miniature version of one that is known to have been painted on the wall of King Henry III’s bed-chamber in the Palace of Westminster.

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Psalter World Diagram, England, c. 1265, Add MS 28681, f. 9v

On the verso of the world map is this diagram of Christ with angels, holding a globe divided into the three continents containing the names of the principal kingdoms and cities of Asia, Europe, and Africa.

The two diagrams are followed by a table and then the calendar, which allows us to date the manuscript to after 1262, the year in which Richard of Chichester was made a saint, as he appears among the saints in the calendar page for June. Other saints in the calendar, for example the relatively obscure St Erkenwald, a seventh-century Bishop of London, added to the style of the decoration, seem to indicate that the book was probably made in or near that city.

 The Psalms are decorated with historiated initials at the major divisions, including this image of Jonah at the beginning of Psalm 68.  He must have known he was going swimming as he has taken off all his clothes, and yet he clutches vainly at a tree while the whale has him by the foot – poor Jonah!

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Jonah and the Whale, England, c. 1265, Add MS 28681, f. 82v

At the beginning of Psalm 97, the initial ‘C’ of ‘Cantate’ contains these three monks, who seem to be singing with great gusto, thoroughly enjoying themselves:

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Monks singing, England, c. 1265, Add MS 28681, f. 116v

Following the Psalter-proper are petitions and collects, and then the Psalter of the Virgin or Ave Psalter, preceded by this full page image of the Virgin and Christ enthroned, with the Virgin’s feet resting on a lion. The Christ-child is in a curiously contorted pose, playing with his mother’s hair:

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Virgin and Christ enthroned, England, c. 1265, Add MS 28681, f. 190v

There follow a series of prayers to the Cross in Anglo-Norman French (ff. 212-217), whereas the rest of the Psalter is in Latin. At this time French was still the language of the English court.

A series of 6 full page miniatures on a gold background of scenes from the New Testament were added to the front of the Psalter.  They are different in style to the decoration within the Psalter, but date from the same period, or slightly later.  This one shows the Nativity with Christ in a chalice-shaped manger.

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The Nativity, England, 1275-1300 Add MS 28681, f. 4r

Welcome back to the Map Psalter!

- Chantry Westwell

21 June 2014

English Fourteenth-Century Illuminated Manuscripts in the British Library: a Conference

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The British Library is pleased to announce an AMARC conference to celebrate the launch of Lucy Freeman Sandler’s book Illuminators and Patrons in Fourteenth-Century England: The Psalter 'Hours of Humphrey de Bohun and the Manuscripts of the Bohun Family.  Details are as follows:

English Fourteenth-Century Illuminated Manuscripts in the British Library

Monday, 1 December 2014

British Library Conference Centre

Bohun Hours
British Library, Egerton MS 3277, f. 46v (detail)

Speakers:  Paul Binski, Alixe Bovey, Julian Luxford, Nigel Morgan, Kathryn Smith, and Lucy Freeman Sandler 

Evening book launch and reception hosted by Sam Fogg, at the Sam Fogg Gallery 

Registration fees: £20 general, £15 for AMARC members, £10 for students.  Lunch provided.

To register, send a cheque made out to AMARC to Kathleen Doyle, Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB.  Foreign delegates may register and pay on the day.  Places limited to 80.

 

15 June 2014

Magna Carta Webpage Goes Live

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It's exactly one year to go until the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta (15 June 2015). To mark that anniversary, the British Library will be staging a major exhibition — Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy — telling the story of that document and the people who have used (and abused it) from 1215 until the present day. Our dedicated webpage for that exhibition is now live. Over the coming months we'll be adding more information to it, including how to book tickets, details of our events programme and news about the unification of the four surviving 1215 Magna Cartas in February 2015. The British Library's exhibition, which is sponsored by Linklaters, promises to be spectacular, and we're already very excited about it; so please keep an eye on the webpage for our latest news.

Cotton_ms_claudius_d_ii_f116r Studio c13220-28

In the meantime, here is our list of 10 things you didn't know about Magna Carta (unless, of course, you've been reading our blog!).

05 June 2014

Medieval Comics Continued (Not for the Squeamish!)

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In our first post on medieval comic strips, we promised blood and gore and true romance, and so here it is – but beware!  Of course, Bibles and theological books can contain some really good material, but we have found great examples, too, in works of science, history and allegory. 

A 12th-century Medical Collection - Horrible Science

Perhaps this is stretching the analogy a little as there is no story-line, but here the comic-strip format is used for instruction in medical procedures.  The captions in Latin indicate the affliction that is being treated and the images are certainly gory – ouch!  There probably weren’t very long queues to see these GPs and not many would have made it to a second consultation!

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A  full-page miniature in four compartments of a doctor instructing an assistant on how to prepare medicine; two doctors operating on the head of a patient whose hands are tied behind his back; and two images of a doctor with patients who have cautery points marked on their heads and bodies, 4th quarter of the 12th century, England, N.? or France, N.?, Sloane MS 1975,
f. 91v

 Valerius Maximus: Memorabilia: intrigue and murder in Ancient Rome

Roman history is given comic-book treatment in this Paris manuscript from the 15th century. Here the story of Lucretia, early heroine of the Roman republic, is told in a series of very lifelike images.

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Sextus Tarquinius threatens Collatinus' wife, Lucretia, with death (left), Lucretia commits suicide before Collatinus, Lucretius, her father, Brutus and Publius Valerius; King Tarquinius Superbus expelled from Rome (left), Lucretius, Collatinus, Brutus and P. Valerius swear to avenge Lucretia (right); P. Valerius Publicola, as Consul, orders his troops to remove the axe symbols of Tarquinius' authority (left), and orders his imposing, fortress-like palace to be demolished (right), France (Paris); between 1473 and c. 1480, Harley MS 4374, f. 211

Roman de la Rose - the original ‘True Romance’

In these images from a Rose manuscript, a range of characters including ladies and monks  have speech banners, each with a courtly phrase or lover’s lament, words that they seem to be saying themselves, like , 'Lonc temps vivre ne pouray' (I cannot live long), 'Ay ay nus ne doit amer' (Ai, nobody must love),  'Ma dame ie vous aim' (My lady, I love you), 'Lasse iai failli a ioie' (Alas, I am without joy).

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Full-page image with two compartments containing 8 figures including men, women, monks and a nun, all pierced by the arrows of love and holding scrolls, France (Paris); c. 1320 - c. 1340, Royal MS 19 B XIII, f. 4r

Taymouth  Hours  - Amoras, a medieval Andy Capp?

In medieval legend, Amoras the knight is the classic anti-hero and hapless husband in one of a series of miracles associated with the Virgin Mary. When in need of money he sells his wife to the Devil in return for a chest of gold, but on  their way to hand her over, they pass a chapel. The wife prays to the Virgin, who takes her place when the Devil appears and drives him away forever. The legend of Amoras is told in the Taymouth Hours in a series of bas-de page images with captions. It extends over the lower margins of 5 pages, with each image representing an episode in the story.

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Amoras the knight conversing with the devil, with a caption reading, ‘Cy fist ameroys le che[va]l[e]r omage au deable et a celi p[ro]mist de fere venir a li sa fe[m]me cele iour en un an.’ (recto);  Amoras opening a chest of coins, with a caption reading, ‘Cy le deable dona tresor a ameroise ap[re]s sun omage fere.’ (verso), 2nd quarter of the 14th century, England (London?), Yates Thompson MS 13, ff. 162r-162v

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Amoras taking his wife to the devil, with a caption reading, ‘Cy chevauche ameroyse et mene sa feme oue li ver le deable.’ (recto); the distraught wife of Amoras asleep before a large image of the Virgin and Child, with a caption reading, ‘Cy en g[ra]nt t[ri]stesce la fe[m]me ameroyse dort devaunt un ymage de n[ost]re dame.’(verso), 2nd quarter of the 14th century, England (London?), Yates Thompson MS 13, ff. 163r-163v

Here, in the final episode, the Virgin Mary sees that the devils get what they deserve and Amoras is left looking foolish:

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Amoras and the Virgin Mary riding, while two devils flee, with a caption reading, ‘Cy n[ost]re dame chevauche o amerois vers le deable en semblaunce de sa fe[m]me li noun sachaunt.’ 2nd quarter of the 14th century, England (London?), Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 164r

We hope you’ve enjoyed our tour through medieval comics, and that you have a chance to experience Comics Unmasked.

- Chantry Westwell

13 May 2014

Comic Mania

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We received some lovely feedback about our recent post, Superheroes, True Romance, Blood and Gore ... so here are three more medieval comic strips. Some people suggested, incidentally, that the famous Bayeux Tapestry qualifies as one of the earliest "comic strips", but here are some British Library examples from the 12th century.

Silos Apocalypse - Daniel the Superhero

A vision of the life of Daniel is illustrated in graphic detail in this Spanish version of Revelations made in the monastery of Silos in Northern Spain. King Darius orders Daniel to be thrown into the lions' den. Daniel appears in the den, on the right, where he is given food and the lions lick his feet. In the lower half of the image, Darius lies awake, worrying about the punishment he has inflicted on Daniel.

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Scenes from the Life of Daniel, Spain, 4th quarter of the 10th century: London, British Library, Ms Additional 11695, ff. 238v-239r

The Guthlac Roll -  the life of a ‘cult’ hero

Saints’ lives were usually action-packed and gory, lending themselves easily to the comic-strip format. The Guthlac roll tells the story of the life of St Guthlac using a series of images in roundels with labels (see our recent blogpost On A Roll).

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St Guthlac receiving the tonsure at Repton Abbey, with the inscription 'Guthl[acus] tonsura[m] suscipit apud rependune', and inscriptions 'Epi[s]c[opus]', 'Guthlac[us]', and 'Ebba abbatissa' labelling the figures, England (possibly Crowland), c. 1175-1225: London, British Library, Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 3 

 

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Drawing of Guthlac exorcising a demon from Ecgga: London, British Library, Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 10

 

Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert - miraculous events 

St Cuthbert’s life is told in 46 pictures in this beautiful picture book from the 12th century:

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Miniature of Cuthbert accepting the bishopric at a synod of fellow monks; miniature of a man ministering to his ailing servant with holy water blessed by Cuthbert, from Chapter 24 & 25 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, Durham, 4th quarter of the 12th century: London, British Library, MS Yates Thompson 26, ff. 53v-54r

Here is an action-packed image of a man falling from a tree (degree of difficulty 1.7):

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Cuthbert's vision of the soul of a man, who was killed by falling from a tree, being carried to heaven, from Chapter 34 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert: London, British Library, MS Yates Thompson 26, f. 63v

Don't forget that our exhibition Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK is on at the British Library until 19 August 2014.

Chantry Westwell

08 May 2014

Superheroes, True Romance, Blood and Gore

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The British Library’s amazing new exhibition, Comics Unmasked, was opened last week by TV presenter and comics fan Jonathan Ross. Talking about the oldest item on show, an early printed version of the Bible with graphic images, Jonathan commented that the Bible can be a great source of material for comic books. We in Medieval Manuscripts know this only too well!

Of course, it all began with manuscripts. Here are some early examples.

The Old English Hexateuch – How many modern comic books have dancing camels?

This 11th-century Old English version of six books of the Old Testament is filled with graphic depictions of the well-known stories, like the series below showing Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden:

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Adam and Eve, England, S. E. (Canterbury), 2nd quarter of the 11th century: London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius B IV, f. 7v

We had to include this picture of the dancing camels!

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Abraham’s Camels in the Book of Genesis: London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius B IV, f. 39r

Holkham Bible Picture Book -  Joseph hears shocking news, ‘SHOCK’, ‘HORROR’!!

Sometimes described as England’s first graphic novel, this book tells stories from the Old and New Testament in a series of pictures with captions in Anglo-Norman French. There is some interesting material that didn’t make it into the authorised version of the Bible. The page below tells about Joseph’s reaction when he hears Mary is having a baby: the banners contain the dialogue, like speech bubbles in modern cartoons. In the second image, Joseph, whose friends have been telling him some home truths about his wife, is touching Mary’s stomach and asking her some awkward questions. Mary protests, ‘No, really don’t worry, I have never committed a bodily sin’. Of course he doesn’t believe her, but fortunately an angel drops in to reveal the divine plan and he has to eat humble pie.

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Joseph finds out about Mary’s pregnancy, England, S.E. (?London), 1327-1335: London, British Library, MS Add 47682, f. 12r

Episodes from the life of Christ are also given the comic-book treatment:

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The healing of the paralysed man; Christ rests by a well; the woman of Samaria; the disciples eat but Jesus will not: London, British Library, MS Add 47682, f. 24v

Egerton Genesis Picture Book – the Prequel, or where it all began

Egerton MS 1894, better known as the Egerton Genesis Picture Book, tells the creation story in a series of images:

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The first days of Creation, England (?Norfolk), 3rd quarter of the 14th century: London, British Library, MS Egerton 1894, f. 1r

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God creates the birds, animals and man, and rests on the final day: London, British Library, MS Egerton 1894, f. 1v

You can read more about this manuscript in our blogpost A Medieval Comic Strip.

Queen Mary Psalter –   Moses, the greatest epic hero

The life of Moses is one of the great stories of all time, providing material for comics and movies such as the Charlton Heston epic and Spielberg’s ‘Prince of Egypt’. The Queen Mary Psalter contains a remarkable series of Old Testament stories told in a series of 223 pictures with captions in French. Included in the series is the Moses story. Here are some of the episodes:

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Miniature in two parts of the king of Egypt demanding that all Jewish infants be killed (above); of the birth of Moses, and Moses placed in a basket and left on the banks of the Nile (below), England (London?), c. 1310-1320: London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 22v

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Miniature of Moses freeing the Israelites from the king of Egypt, (above); miniature of Moses and the king of Egypt's troops facing each other across the Red Sea, (below): London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 24v

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Miniature of God giving the laws to Moses for a second time (above); and of Moses showing the laws to the Israelites (below): London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 26r

We'll feature more medieval "comics" on this blog in the next few weeks. We're having great fun putting this list together, and would welcome more suggestions via @BLMedieval. Meanwhile, you can see our Comics exhibition in London until 19 August 2014, book your tickets online here.

Chantry Westwell