THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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258 posts categorized "Featured manuscripts"

21 March 2015

True Nobility and Plagiarism

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Being a royal librarian could be a lucrative business in the fifteenth century, as the career of Quentin Poulet illustrates. Born in Lille, he went from obscure scribe in a book-producer’s confraternity in Bruges in 1477-78, to keeper of the library of Henry VII in 1492. From the few records of his life that survive, we know that on 26th July 1497, he was paid £23 sterling for ‘a boke’ with a bonus of 10 marks on top from the royal purse. The ‘boke’ in question may well be Royal MS 19 C VIII, a copy of the Imaginacion de la vraie noblesse, which has just been photographed and uploaded to Digitised Manuscripts. 

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Miniature showing the young knight observing an archer and a carter as models for princely conduct, surrounded by a naturalistic scatter border, from the Imaginacion de la vraie noblesse, London and Bruges, c. 1496-97,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 41r 

One might imagine why Henry was so chuffed with the present. The text is a knightly ‘mirror’ text, intended to offer moral guidance and instruction in courtly behaviour to its aristocratic reader – and what better reader than the ten-year-old Arthur Tudor, prince of Wales? For the heir apparent to Henry VII, this book could plausibly have formed part of his schooling. It offers edifying exempla: from the three aspects of nobility – love of God, love of justice, and love of good reputation – personified as three women, to the virtues embodied by the archer (his skill of focusing on a target) and the carter (his determination, or drive if you’re in the mood for a pun!). It warns how poor counsellors can lead a prince astray, while illustrating the divine right of kings in ruling over their realms. 

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Detail of the colophon of Quentin Poulet,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 97v 

Poulet copied the manuscript himself, writing the text in an elegant Bâtarde script – a style of handwriting common among manuscripts produced under the patronage of the Burgundian court (as illustrated by the copy of the Mystère de la Vengeance made c. 1465 for Philip the Good, acquired last year by the British Library and now Add MS 89066/1 and Add MS 89066/2). 

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Miniature of Lady Imagination taking her leave of the young knight at the end of his pilgrimage, with the city of Halle in the background,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 90r 

The text was not widely known in England: the only other known insular copy was made for Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, in 1464 (now Geneva, Bibliothèque publique et universitaire, MS fr. 166). Its obscurity may explain why Poulet was able to pass the work off as his own. The narrative frame of a pilgrimage from Lille to Halle (which town is illustrated in the background of many of the miniatures), and its attribution to a member of a prominent Flanders family, Hugues of Lannoy, also explain the text’s appeal to Poulet. 

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Detail of an historiated initial depicting the presentation of the manuscript by Quentin Poulet to Henry VII,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 1r 

Poulet cannily repackaged the text, changing the title slightly from the Enseignement to the Imaginacion de la vraie noblesse, prefacing it with his own dedicatory introduction, and incorporating his name into the colophon at the end (which records the manuscript’s completion at the royal palace of Sheen on 30th June 1496). A historiated initial at the beginning of the preface depicts Poulet kneeling before Henry VII and offering him the book. 

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Miniature showing the young knight a man with severed arms, illustrative of his lack of honour, surrounded by a naturalistic scatter border and animal-rebus on the name of Quentin Poulet,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 32v – this image may be familiar to you from our Valentine’s Day post, An Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love 

Poulet also had his name encoded into the decoration, in the form of a chicken (‘un poulet’, in French) emerging from a shell in one of the scatter borders that surround the miniatures. These borders contain naturalistic flowers and plants (pansies, roses, carnations and strawberry sprigs), animals, birds and insects (a bear, a jay, a grouse, an owl, a fly and a butterfly), and a cheeky monkey that is aping the gestures of the young knight (for more monkey business, take a look at our earlier post, Apes Pulling Shapes). 

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Miniature showing Lady Imagination introducing the young knight to the Three Aspects of Nobility, embodied as young women, surrounded by a naturalistic scatter border,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 11r 

The manuscript contains six large illustrations, which were completed by the Bruges illuminator known to modern scholarship as the ‘Master of the Prayer Books of Around 1500’. (A note was added in pencil to f. 81v by Frederic Madden in 1845, drawing attention to the loss of the following leaf, which presumably contained a seventh miniature). His work is also found in Harley MS 4425, featured on this blog in our posts Sex and Death in the Roman de la Rose and The Height of Fashion, and Royal MS 16 F II, a compilation including poetry by Charles of Orléans.  The British Library also holds one other copy of the Enseignement – Add MS 15469 – another illustrated but much less lavish production on paper.

- James Freeman

10 March 2015

The Greek Manuscripts of Robert Curzon, Part I

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Front cover of Add MS 39603 (binding of wooden boards covered with blue velvet, much worn. On both covers is a cross with a patterned border, between corner-ornaments, all gilt)

In Saturday's blog post, we featured Add MS 39591, a manuscript that was ‘improved’ in the 19th century for its owner Robert Curzon, 14th Baron Zouche. Today, we provide the first of a two-part guide to Curzon’s Greek manuscripts. Most of the 42 Greek manuscripts from Curzon’s collection have now been digitised as part of the Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project. Curzon’s manuscripts are especially significant for two reasons: first, he almost always leaves detailed notes about his acquisition of individual items in the manuscripts (much material for future #FlyleafFridays here!), and second, a large number of his manuscripts retain Byzantine-style bindings. For these reasons, details are given below of provenance and/or bindings where these are particularly interesting or significant.

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Add MS 39583, f 20r. Miniature of St Mark in the Byzantine style of the ?13th century, probably from a Greek Gospel-book

Add MS 39583. Fragments collected by Robert Curzon to illustrate the history of writing. 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). The Greek contents are a fragment of a Greek Gospel lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 182); a leaf from a manuscript containing Ephraem the Syrian, Sermo Compunctorius (CPG 3908); and a miniature of St. Mark in the Byzantine style of the ?13th century, probably from a Greek Gospel-book.

Add MS 39584. Parchment roll containing Ἀκολουθία τῶν Ἐγκαινίων: Office for the dedication of a church, with connected or similar offices. 14th century. This roll has been photographed and will appear on Digitised Manuscripts in the coming weeks.

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Add MS 39585, front cover

Add MS 39585. Octateuch (Rahlfs 426), imperfect. 11th century, possibly written in Constantinople, where it was by the early 15th century. Bound in boards covered with black leather, blind-tooled with a plain double-line border and a saltire cross, fastened by a leathern thong. On the front cover has been fastened a late Byzantine icon (which may be as late as the sixteenth cent.), given to Curzon (according to a note inside the cover, f i) at Jerusalem by his English servant, William Fuller. It is attached to the binding by a silver frame, in the corners of which are set four stones from Mount Sinai, while in each of the upper lower rims are six stones from the bed of the Jordan. The icon is on wood. The faces are raised, perhaps by means of wax, and the whole is varnished. A double row of saints is shown, which are as follows:-Top row, St John the Baptist, St Nicholas, St George, St Demetrios, Bottom row, Prophet Daniel, Holy Barnabas, Holy Sophronios, St Christophoros. The fore-edge image is listed on Digitised Manuscripts as f vi recto. Curzon acquired the manuscript at the Monastery of St Sabba near Jerusalem (f iii recto).

Add MS 39586. Psalter and Canticles (Rahlfs 1090), with later additions on extra leaves, original and inserted, at beginning and end. Much-defaced miniature of the Psalmist, f 1v. Decorated headpiece, f 2r. Initials, headings and points in red. Some scribblings and drawings in the margins. Early 11th century. Bound in boards covered with blind-tooled leather, originally red (17th century), each studded with five brass bosses, most of which are lost, and with traces of a clasp. On the board of the front cover (f i recto) is written Γαβρηλ Βγ. The fore-edge can be viewed on Digitised Manuscripts as f viii recto. Acquired at the Karakallou Monastery on Mount Athos, according to Curzon’s printed catalogue, though a note in the manuscript (f iv recto) states that the MS was bought from the Monastery of St. Sabba, near Jerusalem.

Add MS 39587. Psalter (Rahlfs 1091). According to Rahlfs, this manuscript and Add MS 39588 (Parham MS VI) were originally a single manuscript. 12th century. Binding is half black, modern English, by Charles Lewis, of black velvet studded on each cover with five silver bosses of open work in silver set with crystals. Acquired at the Monastery of St Sabba near Jerusalem (f i recto).

Add MS 39588. Canticles and other Services, imperfect (Rahlfs 1091), the continuation of the previous manuscript. 12th century. Initials and decorated headpieces in red. Two rough drawings on f 40v. Binding of brown leather. A note by Curzon on f i recto states 'I forget whether I got this MS. at Therapia, of an old woman, who lived at the top of the hill, behind Ld. Ponsonby's stables; from whom I got 4 bad MSS. of the 16th century or whether I got it at Athens, from a certain schoolmaster'. Rahlfs' belief that this manuscript was originally part of Add MS 39587 makes it more probable that Curzon acquired it at St Sabba (the source of Add MS 39587)

Add MS 39589. Psalter (Rahlfs 1092) with introduction and commentary based on that of Euthymius Zigabenus (PG 128), attributed in the manuscript to Nicephorus Blemmydes, imperfect. 2nd half of the 12th century. Initials and headings in red. Ornamental headpieces in red and green before the introduction to the commentary and the Psalter (ff 1r, 12r). On f 11v are the remains of a miniature, representing the Psalmist. Almost all the colour has flaked off, leaving only the outlines; the nimbus was of gold, and Δα(υεί)δ is written in red on the right of the head. Modern binding of blue velvet. Purchased by Robert Curzon in Therapia in 1837 for 1 dollar (f i recto).

Add MS 39590. New Testament, without the book of Revelation (Gregory-Aland 547). Contains Euthalian prefaces to the Epistles and prefatory notes and epigrams to the Gospels. 11th century, the flyleaves are taken from a 10th-century manuscript of sermons by John Chrysostom. In wooden boards covered with brown leather (possibly 15th century), blind-tooled, with ornamental borders and stamped medallions containing dogs, etc., metal bosses in the middle and at the four corners, several of which have been lost and, in two cases, replaced by modern nails. The fore-edge is listed on Digitised Manuscripts as f ix recto. Acquired at the Karakallou Monastery on Mount Athos (f ii recto).

Add MS 39591. Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 548). At the end a 14th-century hand has added the oikoi (acrostic "αβγ-ο") from the Office of the Akathist. Mid-12th century. Initials, titloi, and numbers of Ammonian sections in gold and over red. Headpieces illuminated in gold and colours. Before each Gospel is a miniature of the Evangelist. The first of these (f iii verso) is modern, and it is not certain that there was an original miniature of St Matthew. The three original miniatures (ff 44v, 70v and 124v) have in each case a plain gold ground and show the Evangelist seated. These were significantly overpainted at the same time as the miniature of St Matthew was added.The first 8 lines of St. John's Gospel are written in gold over red. Some of the earlier folios (ff 2r-4r, 15v-16r) have been furnished with neums in red, and notes of lessons have been made as far as f 5r, in both cases by a later hand. The manuscript was "improved" for Robert Curzon in the 19th century.

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Add MS 39592, front cover

Add MS 39592. Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 549), with marginal commentary. 11th century. Gospel headings and initials on the first page of each Gospel in gold; other initials in magenta. Bound in a comparatively modern binding of boards covered with red velvet, with a leaf-like plate of silver-gilt at each corner, formerly clasped by cords of red and yellow. Images of the fore-edges can be foudn on Digitised Manuscripts as ff iii-v. Acquired at the Xenophontos Monastery on Mount Athos (f i recto).

Add MS 39593. Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 550), with prefaces taken from the commentary of Theophylact, and synaxaria. 12th century. Decorated headpieces. Initials, lists of chapters, Ammonian section-numbers, and lection notes in red, much-faded. Binding of boards covered with black leather, blind-tooled, with cross on front cover, much rubbed. Acquired at the Karakallou Monastery on Mount Athos (f 2v).

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Front cover of Add MS 39594

Add MS 39594. Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 551), with capitula, Ammonian sections, lection notes, and subscriptions. 12th century. Followed by synaxaria, added on paper in the late fifteenth century. Full-page miniatures of the Evangelists. Illuminated headpieces and initials. Other initials, headings, titloi, lection notes, and section numbers in varying tints. Binding is probably 16th century. Boards covered with dark brown leather. The upper cover has a blind-stamped border with a cross in the middle, the spaces left being filled irregularly with stamped designs, rosettes, rings containing birds, etc. The lower cover has a more regular pattern, also blind-stamped, a border enclosing a panel divided by diagonal lines crossing, the spaces being occupied by conventional designs. The fore-edge can be viewed on Digitised Manuscripts as f ii recto. Acquired at the Karakallou Monastery on Mount Athos (f i recto).

Add MS 39595. Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 552). 2nd half of the 12th century. Illuminated headpieces and initials. The first page of each Gospel is written in gold over magenta. Initials and titloi in magenta. In a binding of wooden boards, covered with brown leather, probably 16th-17th century, with a blind-tooled pattern of a saltire in a panel. Acquired at the Monastery of St Sabba (f iii recto).

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Add MS 39596, fore-edge

Add MS 39596. Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 553). 13th century. Illuminated headpieces and Gospel initials. Titloi, chapter-numbers, subscriptions, intials, and capitula in red. Binding of wooden boards covered with dark brown leather, probably 16th century. The fore-edge can be viewed on Digitised Manuscripts as f iv recto. Acquired at the Monastery of St Sabba (f i recto).

Add MS 39597. Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 554). Written in 1272. Illuminated headpieces and Gospel initials, other initials and titloi in red. Binding of blind-panelled black leather over wooden boards, 16th-17th century. Acquired at the Monastery of St Sabba for 10 dollars (f i recto).

Add MS 39598. New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 910), with Euthalian headings, preceded by Dorotheus of Tyre, Index Apostolorum et Discipulorum. Completed in 1009. Decorated headpiece in red and black before Acts. Headings, subscriptions and the first few words of each paragraph in red. Binding of wooden boards, covered with black leather: 16th-17th cent. Acquired at the Monastery of St Sabba (f ii recto).

Add MS 39599. New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 911), with ekphonetic neums, lection notes, and a marginal commentary, being a combination of the commentaries of Theophylact and Oecumenius on Acts, an abbreviated version of the commentary of Oecumenius on the Pauline Epistles, and a selection from the text now in Cramer's Catena (1840) on the Catholic Epistles. Imperfect at the end. The volume also contained Revelation, which was cut out by the Hegoumenos of the Karakallou Monastery, and which is now bound separately as Add MS 39601 (see below). The missing portion of the Catholic Epistles, now lost, may have been cut out at the same time. 11th century. In boards covered with brown leather, blind-tooled with a panel pattern and varnished, perhaps of the 16th century. Acquired at the Karakallou Monastery on Mount Athos (note on the inside front cover).

Add MS 39600. New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 912), with the prefaces of Euthalius and Theodoret. 13th century. Decorated headpiece in red at the beginning of Acts. Initials, subscriptions, titloi, and lection notes in red. The manuscript also contains a line-engraving of the Monastery of Simonopetra, dated 1836, which was included in the volume when it was rebound in red velvet in the 19th century. Acquired at the Simonopetra Monastery on Mount Athos (f i recto).

Add MS 39601. Revelation (Gregory-Aland 911 [=2040]), imperfect at the end, expl. 20:11, καὶ ὁ οὐρανός, καὶ τόπος, with a marginal commentary by Andreas of Caesarea, Commentarii in Apocalypsin (TLG 3004.001). Originally part of Add MS 39599 (see above), but the hand of the text (perhaps not that of the commentary) is different and a good deal smaller. 19th century binding of red velvet. Acquired at the Karakallou Monastery on Mount Athos (f ii verso).

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Add MS 39602, front cover

Add MS 39602. Gospel lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 181). Written at Ciscissa in Cappadocia for the bishop Stephanos in 980: f 220v.Revised by Michael, a notary, at Ciscissa in 1049: f 221r. There is a note in Georgian on f 1r, discussed in a blog post by Adam McCollum. Decorated head-pieces and initials in red and blue, headings and neumes in red. A number of the initials are of zoomorphic or anthropomorphic form, e.g. O in the form of a fish (ff 6r, 138v, 157v), and E with a human hand for a cross-bar (ff 1r, 7v). Bound in red velvet with a clasp, the front cover studded with five gilt buckles. Acquired at the Karakallou Monastery on Mount Athos, according to Scrivener, Codex Augiensis p. 51.

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Add MS 39603, f 112r, text in the shape of a cross

Add MS 39603. Cruciform Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 233). 12th century. Illuminated initials and finial ornaments at each angle of the cruciform text. Fully illuminated cruciform borders enclose the text on ff 1r, 42r, 112r. Tail-piece on f 196v. Neums in red, headings and rubrics in gold over red. The first two pages of text are also in gold over red. Modern but not recent binding of wooden boards covered with blue velvet, much worn. On both covers is a cross with a patterned border, between corner-ornaments, all gilt. The cross on the front cover has the inscription "IC XC NIKA".

Keep an eye out on the blog for the second part of this journey through the manuscripts of Robert Curzon, which will also include a bibliography.

- Cillian O’Hogan

07 March 2015

Spot the Difference!

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Illuminated manuscripts of the Gospels often have portraits of the Evangelists preceding individual Gospel books. This is because leaves at the beginning and end of manuscripts tend to be the most likely to be lost or damaged, especially if manuscripts are left unbound for some time. You can see many examples of manuscripts with somewhat discoloured first and last leaves on Digitised Manuscripts

What this means for Gospel manuscripts is that St Matthew is on occasion missing from volumes nowadays  - this is the case, for instance, in Add MS 24376 (Gregory-Aland 696), a Greek Gospel book we have looked at previously on the blog. Today, we’re highlighting a rather unusual manuscript – one for which a later owner commissioned a new portrait of St Matthew.

Robert Curzon, 14th Baron Zouche, was a renowned 19th-century traveller and manuscript collector. He journeyed widely in Greece and in the Near East, and amassed a sizeable collection of Greek and Oriental manuscripts. On his death, over two hundred of these manuscripts were placed on loan in the British Museum, and were bequeathed to the Museum in the will of his daughter, Darea Curzon, in 1917. These now constitute Add MSS 39583-39671, along with Oriental MSS 8729-8855, the latter being cared for by our colleagues in Asian and African Collections. Curzon published a catalogue of his collection in 1849. He retained a personal copy, which he annotated in subsequent years. This was presented to the British Museum along with the other manuscripts, and is now held as Add MS 64098. In a future blog post we will go into more detail on all of Curzon’s Greek manuscripts, but today we have space to focus on one.

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Add MS 39591, ff iii verso-1r

Add MS 39591 (Gregory-Aland 548) was created in the mid-12th century, at which time, presumably, portraits of all four evangelists were added. But by the time Curzon acquired the manuscript from the Monastery of St Sabba, near Jerusalem, in 1834, the portrait of Matthew was no longer to be found. As a result, a new portrait was created, to complete the volume, and this is now f iii verso. You can see the clear difference between the quality and condition of the parchment of this leaf and that of f 1r, the beginning of the 12th-century manuscript proper.

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Burney MS 19, f 1v, St Matthew, 2nd quarter of the 12th century
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Burney MS 19, f 63v, St Mark, 2nd quarter of the 12th century

In addition, the colouring is not characteristically Byzantine, and the image of Matthew is rather closer to that of Mark than that more typically associated with Matthew, as in, for example, Burney 19, above.

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Add MS 39591, f 44v, St Mark, 12th century, overpainted in the 19th century



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Add MS 39591, f 74v, St Luke, 12th century, overpainted in the 19th century
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Add MS 39591, f 124v, St John the Evangelist, 12th century, overpainted in the 19th century

The same later artist has also touched up the other portraits in Add MS 39591. Here are Mark, Luke and John.

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Add MS 39591, f 44v, detail of Roman script or type transferred to the red cushion during the 19th-century overpainting

But the artist has left a tiny trace of his work in the portrait of St Mark. On Mark’s red cushion, some letters in Roman script can be seen. Presumably, a page containing these letters was put against the portrait of Mark while it was still damp, and these letters were transferred. The fact that they are in Roman script makes it more likely that this restoration work was done after the manuscript had left the Monastery of St Sabba, rather than before.

- Cillian O’Hogan

05 March 2015

Collaboration and Customisation: The Evolution of a Royal Book

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As we draw to the end of Paris fashion week, let us turn to a manuscript that exudes the best of Parisian style. The haute couture of book illumination, this glorious Book of Hours showcases the work of the French capital’s most in-demand fifteenth-century illuminators. 

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Miniature of the Visitation by the Egerton Master, from ‘The Hours of René of Anjou’, France (Paris), 15th century, Egerton MS 1070, f. 29v

It is the eponymous manuscript of the Egerton Master, whose mastery is elsewhere illustrated in the stunning two-volume Bible historiale that starred in our exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination. The Egerton Master collaborated on several occasions with other fashion­able painters of the day. These included the Mazarine Master, who helped to complete the miniatures and decoration towards the end of this lavish manuscript, along with two lesser-known Parisian artists.

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Detail of a miniature of The Last Supper by the Mazarine Master, Egerton MS 1070, f. 113r

One of the more unusual characteristics of Egerton MS 1070 is the unique border decoration. Angels carry freshly unearthed branches of acanthus, roots intact, which extend up the vertical margins.

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Miniatures of Saint Denis and his companions, and Saint George, with border decoration of angels carrying branches of acanthus by the Egerton Master, Egerton MS 1070, f. 90v

A book fit for a king? Well, it was actually owned by several…

Following the original commission, this exceptional Book of Hours passed into the hands of a number of monarchs, including Henry VII, before entering the British Library’s collection (via a short residency at a Jesuit College in Krakow). Today the manuscript is identified by the name of one of its fifteenth-century owners, René of Anjou. ‘Le bon roi René’ (‘good king René’) was an influential European leader, patron of the arts and occasional author, whose many titles included duke of Anjou, duke of Lorraine and Bar, and count of Provence, as well as king of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem.

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Full-page miniature of René’s coat of arms, Egerton MS 1070, f. 4v

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Full-page miniature of Jerusalem with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock, Egerton MS 1070, f. 5r

When the book came into René’s possession, it was carefully customised to suit its new owner and assert his status. This is evident from the beginning of the book: two full-page miniatures depict firstly René’s coat of arms and, on the facing page, Jerusalem, the capital of his kingdom in the Holy Land. Painted by Netherlandish artist Barthélemy d'Eyck, they reflect the early stages of the close relationship between this artist and his patron.

Texts were also added to personalise the manuscript for René’s own private devotion, such as the prayer below which incorporates his name.  

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Detail of added prayer including René’s name [Renatum], Egerton MS 1070, f. 43v

The additions also permeate into the borders: many of the angels find the burden of their flight eased by billowing sails, which carry René’s motto 'En Dieu en soit' (‘in accordance with God’s will’). As well as furthering his devotional appropriation of the book, they function as a graffiti artist’s tag, stamping René’s ownership in his own distinctive manner.

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Detail of border decoration including the addition of René’s motto
'En Dieu en soit', Egerton MS 1070, f. 16r

Why not delve deeper into this fascinating codex by exploring it in full on our Digitised Manuscripts website.

- Hannah Morcos

01 March 2015

A Calendar Page for March 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 March, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, architectural column and suspended roundel, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 2v 

In this month’s border decoration, a roundel for the Feast of the Annunciation is suspended from a perpendicular gothic column. This elaborate architectural design itself encloses a scene showing the Mass of St Gregory, who died on 12th March 604. According to Paul the Deacon’s 8th-century biography of Gregory, the Man of Sorrows appeared as Gregory celebrated mass as Pope, in response to his prayers to convince someone of the doctrine of transubstantiation – that is, Christ’s physical presence in the consecrated host. 

At the top of the page, there is the Zodiac sign for March: Aries the Ram. At the bottom, there is another scene of agricultural industriousness. Three peasants labour in a fenced-off garden: the men digging and planting fruit trees, the woman pulling up weeds. They are overseen by a gentlewoman, who is holding a small lapdog in her arms, and her female attendant. A large and imposing building, presumably the woman’s residence, stands in the background. 

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants labouring in a garden,
Add MS 35313, f. 2v 

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Detail of an architectural column enclosing the scene of the Mass of St Gregory,
Add MS 35313, f. 2v 

- James Freeman

19 February 2015

Written on the Edge

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When you think of a bookshelf, an image comes immediately to mind: books in an orderly row, arranged alphabetically, thematically, or perhaps by height or colour, but (usually!) standing upright, with spines facing outward. But it does not necessarily follow that books were always kept in this way. In fact, our earliest visual evidence for bookshelves, or book storage, suggests that books were laid flat, sometimes on individual shelves, and often with fore-edge or lower edge facing outwards, rather than the spine. Some evidence that this continued to be the case, both in the Latin west and in the Byzantine world, is given by the existence of decorations, titles, or other writing, on the edges of manuscripts.

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Egerton MS  2610. Cretan-style decorated fore-edge. Similar decoration can be seen on the edges of Royal MS 1 A XV.

Writing on edges could potentially be of great use to scholars in reconstructing Byzantine libraries, or in assigning provenance. But the barriers to such research are daunting, not least since the details of such writing are not always recorded in catalogue entries.Moreover, the text is often extremely difficult to read, because of the dirt that has accrued on the edges that have faced outwards in a library or study for centuries. And it is a challenge to photograph edges clearly, especially in manuscripts that have been rebound, such that the binding extends beyond the text-block and casts a shadow over the edges. But it would be very interesting to know whether, for instance, the relative brevity or length of titles could give clues as to whether the manuscript was owned by a private individual (who may only have needed one copy of a Nomocanon) or by a monastic or imperial library. In the hopes of making such a study easier, we provide here a brief list of Greek manuscripts in the British Library with writing on the fore-edge or lower edge. Unfortunately, not all of these edges can be seen online at present, but those not online have been transcribed where possible.

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Add MS 39609, containing Isaiah of Scetis, Asceticon. Writing on the upper edge: + ΑΒΒΑ(?) ΗΣΑΙΟΥ. Manuscript of the Asceticon of Isaiah of Scetis. From the Karakalou Monastery, Mount Athos.

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Add MS 39610, containing John Climacus, Scala Paradisi and Liber ad Pastorem. Writing on the upper edge: […K] ΚΛΗΜΑΚΑΣ. From the Monastery of Simonopetra, Mount Athos.

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Burney MS 55, containing Manuel Malaxos, Nomocanon. Writing on the upper edge: ΝΟΜΟΣ. Owned by Parthenius, Metropolites of Silistria.

Burney MS 94, containing grammatical and medical texts. Writing on the lower edge: XVIII.(This manuscript was written at Venice, but appears to have been in the possession of a succession of Greek monks, see the catalogue entry).

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Burney MS 110, containing Zenobius, Epitome collectionum Luculli Tarrhaei et Didymi. Writing on the fore-edge: ΑΙΣΩΠΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΖΗΝΟΒΙΟΣ. Written in central or northern Italy.

Harley MS 5571, a psalter. Writing on the fore-edge: ΨΑΛΤΗΡΙΟΝ. Owned by Santa Maria in Organo at Verona (Greek and Latin ex-libris).

Harley MS 5582, a psalter. Writing on the fore-edge: + ΨΑΛΤΗ[ΡΙΟΝ] (last few letters barely legible). Written by the monk Sophonias for the hieromonk Ioseph of Syria.

Harley MS 5625, Galen, De Pulsibus. Writing on the fore-edge. ΓΑΛΗ-ΝΟΥ ΜΕΓΑΛΗ ΣΦΥ-ΓΜΙΚΗ.

Harley MS 5630, works of Symeon, Archbishop of Thessalonica 1416/7-1429. Writing on the lower edge: + ΣΥΜΕΩΝ ΤΟΥ ΜΕΓ , ΘΕΟΛΟΓΟΥ ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΗΣ

Harley MS 5693, Homer’s Iliad. Writing on the fore-edge: HOMERUS, and lower edge inscribed '6[6?]’.

-          Cillian O’Hogan

01 February 2015

A Calendar Page for February 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 February, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, four roundels and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 2r 

For this month, the bas-de-page scene is an appropriately wintry and barren one. In the foreground, two ruddy-faced labourers prune back vines, while another carries off the trimmings for firewood in a bundle on his back (note how he is wearing medieval mittens against the cold!). A female figure is following in his footsteps in the background, and to the right a team of oxen draw a plough through a frosty field. The Zodiac sign for this month is Pisces, shown at the top of the page. The border contains four roundels for the key religious festivals of the month, which are picked out in red in the calendar.  These are the feast days of the Purification of the Virgin Mary (also known as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, or Candlemas), Saints Vedastus and Amandus (two bishops from northern France/Belgium, close to where the manuscript originated), the Chair of St Peter, and St Matthias. 

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of men pruning vines and gathering firewood,
Add MS 35313, f. 2r 

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Detail of a roundel illustrating the Purification of the Virgin Mary,
Add MS 35313, f. 2r 

- James Freeman

21 January 2015

Das Ende der Welt: An Overlooked German Apocalypse

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‘Bad work’: that is how M.R. James described an unusual German Apocalypse at the British Library, in his 1927 Schweich Lectures on The Apocalypse in Art. The full-page illustrations in Add MS 15243 – which was published on Digitised Manuscripts at the end of 2014 – may lack some of the finesse of those found in English or French Apocalypses, but a closer look reveals plenty of interest in this manuscript. 

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Detail of large pen flourished initial with zoomorphic grotesques at the beginning of the Book of Revelation, Germany (?Erfurt), c. 1350-c. 1370, 
Add MS 15243, f. 3r 

As followers of this blog will know already, the particular fashion for Apocalypse manuscripts in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century France and England is illustrated by the numerous copies that survive from those countries. Many in the British Library’s collections have been digitised and have featured in such blog posts as Apocalypse Now, Apocalypse Then, Fire and Brimstone, and Visions of the Apocalypse. 

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Full-page illuminated miniature depicting an angel casting a millstone into the sea,
Add MS 15243, f. 31r 

How common were German Apocalypse manuscripts? James’s survey – acknowledged at the time as being incomplete – gives a slightly misleading impression of the manuscript’s rarity. Of the 92 Apocalypses he listed, a mere six were from Germany, and only Add MS 15243 among them contained the text in German. Further surveys in the journal Traditio in 1984-86 and the Katalog der deutschprachigen illustrierten Handschriften des Mittelalters have increased the numbers, and Carola Redzich’s 2010 study of the language, transmission and reception of German Apocalypses has revealed a lively tradition in that country as well. (All bibliographical references may be found in full in the catalogue entry). 

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Full-page illuminated miniature depicting the beginning of John’s visions,
Add MS 15243, f. 4r 

The manuscript dates to around 1350-1370 and is possibly from Erfurt in Thuringia, Germany: blind-stamped motifs on the pig-skin binding match those used by a workshop there around 1490-1520. It contains a series of fourteen full-page, unbordered, illuminated miniatures. How closely these illustrations relate to the text varies from image to image. Some are very close to what John described, while others are not, owing to idiosyncratic inclusions or omissions by the artist. The book opens with a miniature of John in a cave on the island of Patmos (which featured in our most recent hyperlinks announcement). This is followed by another that depicts the beginning of his visions (shown above). Here, the artist has compressed two narrative stages together into a single scene: the appearance of Christ with various accoutrements (Rev. 1:12-16), and John’s falling ‘at his feet as dead’ and Christ laying his right hand upon him and saying ‘“Fear not”’ (Rev. 1:17). 

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Full-page illuminated miniature depicting the appearance of the four horsemen,
Add MS 15243, f. 12r 

The miniature illustrating the appearance of the Four Riders diverges from the text (Rev. 6:1-8). The first two Riders are as described in the Book of Revelation: the first on a white horse, wearing a crown and carrying a bow; the second on a red horse and wielding a large sword. Differences emerge thereafter. The third Rider is on a white, rather than a black, horse. Most strikingly, the fourth Rider – an emaciated figure with a skull-head, representing Death – is mounted on a winged lion. According to the text, Death is mounted on a ‘pale horse’. Why does the decorative scheme deviate here, and how common was this in Apocalypse manuscripts? Lion-hybrids are described elsewhere in the Apocalypse text, the closest but by no means exact match being the first of the ‘four living creatures’ described in Rev. 4:7-8. This lion was accompanied by a calf, a man and an eagle, each furnished with six wings and ‘full of eyes’, which are immediately recognisable as the symbols of the Evangelists. A winged lion is also mentioned in the Old Testament, in the first of Daniel’s apocalyptic visions (Daniel 7:4). Their relevance to this particular part of the Book of Revelation, and the reasons for the artist’s choice, are unclear, however, as are the reasons for the artist’s deviation from the text. 

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Full-page illuminated miniature depicting the Woman and the Beast,
Add MS 15243, f. 19r 

The complexity of John’s visions, and the obscurity of the language in which they are expressed, presented obvious challenges to the manuscript illuminator. Here, the artist has included certain elements from the text: the moon being under the Woman’s feet, her bringing forth a child that is delivered up to God, and the Beast with seven heads and crowns that drew stars from the heavens and cast them down to earth. Others he has abandoned: the ten horns on the Beast (Rev. 12:3) and the Woman being ‘clothed with the sun’ (Rev. 12:1). According to the text, the Woman is also ‘crowned with twelve stars’ (Rev. 12:1), which the artist has interpreted as ‘crowned, with twelve stars’, placing the twelve stars around her head like a nimbus or halo. That three are meant to be hidden behind the child is cleverly indicated by the twelfth star emerging from behind his back as the Woman lifts him up to God.

Download Add MS 15243 collation

The collation of this manuscript is highly irregular. Each of these illustrations, as well as two leaves of text, are on single leaves of parchment that have then been inserted into the manuscript. The order in which they have been stitched in is unusual in places, and to add to the complexity in a few instances parchment strips have been added to reinforce the leaves against the sewing. We have provided a detailed description of the collation in the record, but this seems an instance where a visual aid might be helpful!  

- James Freeman