The British Library has a great collection of Apocalypse manuscripts and we have featured them in a number of recentblogposts. At the end of this post, we provide a list of the best-known Apocalypse manuscripts that have been digitised in recent years. The most recent Apocalypse to be digitised is the rather lesser-known but finely-executed Additional MS 35166, an Apocalypse in Latin with commentary by Berengaudus and a life of St John the Divine, whose visions are recorded in the Book of Revelation.
The earthquake at the opening of the Sixth Seal. Additional MS 35166, f. 9v (detail), England, S.E. (?London), 2nd half of the 13th century
The top half of every recto and verso of the 38 folios (there are a number of leaves missing, from Revelation 10:7 to 16:8) has a miniature, and underneath is a brief passage from the Apocalypse written in black ink, followed by Berengaudus’ commentary in red ink.
The Second Seal: the Red Horse. Additional MS 35166, f. 7v (detail), England, S.E. (?London), 2nd half of the 13th century
The exquisite tinted drawings faithfully portray John's vivid descriptions of his visions. The illuminator has incorporated John into the majority of scenes, which lends a sense of immediacy to the images: the reader witnesses the horror and awe of the Apocalypse alongside him.
Preceding and following the Apocalypse are scenes from the Life of St John. His death at the hands of the Emperor Domitian in a cauldron of boiling oil is depicted here:
John in a cauldron of oil, Additional MS 35166, f. 1v (detail), England, S.E. (?London), 2nd half of the 13th century
The stories from the life of John are from the New Testament Apocrypha and include the tale of a young man who is presented to a bishop by John and becomes his cup-bearer. The young man, riding a white horse, joins a band of robbers and they kill and steal. John is told this by the bishop and rides out to bring the young man back to the bishop.
The young man and robbers stealing and murdering, Additional MS 35166, f. 35r (detail), England, S.E. (?London), 2nd half of the 13th century
This Apocalypse manuscript may have belonged to a religious guild known as the Kalendars, as it is inscribed, ‘Liber Domus Kalendarum’ on the first folio. The Kalendars were religious guilds of the Middle Ages, composed of clergy and laity, known to have existed in Bristol, Exeter and Winchester in the 12th century. They met on or around Kalends (the first day of the month), hence the name ‘Kalendars’.
For comparison, here are some images of the opening of the Sixth Seal and the earthquake (Rev. 6:11-15) in several other Apocalypse manuscripts held by the British Library, to give you a sense of the differing styles of illumination:
The opening of the Sixth Seal; the earthquake. At the top, a darkened sun and moon and stars falling from the sky. In the centre, a king, a master and other men hiding in caves. To the right, a building collapsing. To the left, St John is witnessing the scene. Royal MS 15 D II, f 131r (detail), England, c 1310
The Sixth Seal: St John looking up at a cloud containing the sun and moon; on the right the ruins of a town and men and women in holes in the ground, with fragments of objects falling from the sky. Add MS 42555, f 16v (detail), England, 3rd quarter of the 13th century
The second of our caption competitions is from a manuscript newly published in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. There are many possibilities for this image – use your imagination! Leave your suggested caption in the comments, or tweet us @BLMedieval. Results will be published here and on Twitter!
??? England, S. (Westminster or London); 4th quarter of the 13th century, Additional 18719, f. 92.
Three of the British Library’s medieval manuscripts are currently on loan to an exhibition at Louvre-Lens. D’Or et d’ivoire: Paris, Pise, Florence, Sienne, 1250–1320 explores the artistic relations between Paris and Tuscany. Over 125 exhibits illustrate the creative exchanges taking place in architecture, sculpture, ivory carving, metalwork, and painting in the 13th and early 14th centuries. The British Library manuscripts offer three superb examples of the opulence and innovation of Parisian manuscript illumination in this period.
Full-page miniature of the Crucifixion, Missal, France (Paris), 1317–1318, Harley MS 2891, f. 145v
Two of the manuscripts are associated with the Sainte-Chapelle, the incredible royal chapel built by Louis IX of France (r. 1226–1270) to store his relics. The first, Harley MS 2891, is a missal with several historiated initials, and two glorious full-page miniatures of the Crucifixion and Christ in Majesty on diaper grounds.
Full-page miniature of Christ in Majesty, Harley MS 2891, f. 146r
Add MS 17341, the second Sainte-Chapelle manuscript, is a lectionary probably made for Philip IV (r. 1285–1314). It is almost an exact copy of a manuscript made twenty years earlier (now Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 17326). However, its artist displays a greater interest in naturalism and spatial illusion, whilst replicating the content and position of the illustrations in its exemplar. Over 260 exquisite historiated initials depict biblical scenes, the majority of which are ‘ladder initials’, encompassing multiple compartments.
Historiated initials at the beginning of Matthew 12: 46-50 and Matthew 20: 20-28, Quatrième Évangéliaire de la Sainte-Chapelle, France (Paris), last quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 17341, f. 145v
‘Ladder initial’ at the beginning of Luke 21: 9-16, Add MS 17341, f. 161r
The extraordinary illuminations in Add MS 17341 have been tentatively associated with the most celebrated of Parisian artists, Maître Honoré (fl. 1288–1318). The name of this influential illuminator is known from a note in a manuscript he illuminated of the Decretum Gratiani (Tours, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 558; miniatures from the manuscript can be found here). Maître Honoré’s name also features in a number of Parisian tax registers. The large tax bills he paid reveal the significant sums this high-end illuminator demanded for his services. His style marks a key development in Parisian illumination, in particular his shading and use of colour. It has been suggested that the delicate and rounded features of his figures reflect the influence of Italian (Sienese?) painting. The innovations of Maître Honoré and his workshop were at the centre of a renaissance in Parisian illumination, and one which took inspiration from artistic styles beyond the confines of northern France.
The Garden of the virtues with seven virgins watering the trees and a hunting scene below, from La Somme le Roi, France (Paris), c. 1295, Add MS 54180, f. 69v
Maître Honoré has also been linked to the third manuscript on loan to Louvre-Lens, Add MS 54180. It is another manuscript likely to have been made for the French king, Philip IV (r. 1285–1314). Add MS 54180 contains a copy of Brother Laurent’s La Somme le Roi, a moral compendium originally compiled in 1279 for Philip’s father, Philip III of France (r. 1270–1285). Two illuminated folios removed from Add MS 54180 are now Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 192 and MS 368.
Miniature in four compartments depicting the Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice, Add MS 54180, f. 91v
For the exhibition’s curator Xavier Decrot, the three British Library manuscripts are ‘seminal in showing the importance of Paris as a centre for luxury production, and especially, the exceptional quality of the illuminators at this time, not only evident in liturgical manuscripts like the Missal and the Fourth Lectionary of the Sainte-Chapelle, but also in other types of book, such as the extraordinary version by Maître Honoré of Brother Laurent’s La Somme le Roi, probably the most beautiful manuscript produced in the period.’
You can enjoy our manuscripts and the other amazing items on display at Louvre-Lens until 28 September 2015. Allez-y nombreux!
Bull of Pope Innocent III (Cotton Charter VIII 24), Italy, Central (Rome), 21 April 1214
In this large and impressive-looking document Innocent III confirms King John’s submission of his kingdom to the temporal lordship of Rome. John had come to an agreement with papal representatives in a meeting at Ewell outside Dover on 15 May 1213. There, he had placed England and Ireland under both the spiritual and temporal lordship of Rome, receiving it back as a vassal of the Pope for an annual tribute of 1000 marks (£666). Having done this, he was absolved from excommunication by Stephen Langton in July 1213 and on 3 October 1213, at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the agreement was confirmed by a royal charter bearing a golden seal and by the King placing his hands between those of the papal legate as a token of his submission.
The gesture would not have been dissimilar to the miniature in the Chronique de France ou de St Denis (Royal MS 16 G VI), depicting the moment in 1193 when John had paid homage to King Philip Augustus of France (r. 1180–1223) for his brother’s Richard’s continental lands.
Chroniques de France ou de St Denis (Royal MS 16 G VI, f. 362v), France, Central (Paris), after 1332, before 1350
Innocent III solemnly confirmed these acts in his 21 April letter to John, noting:
‘…you by a devout and spontaneous act of will and on the general advice of your barons have offered and yielded, in the form of an annual payment of a thousand marks, yourself and your kingdoms of England and Ireland, with all their rights and appurtenances, to God and to SS Peter and Paul His apostles and to the holy Roman to church and to us and our successors, to be our right and our property….’ (trans. C. R. Cheney and W. H. Semple)
He then goes on to recite the text of the King’s charter. At the foot of the bull appear the names and signatures of fourteen cardinals assembled as witnesses as well as the pope’s own signature, or ‘rota’ (a cross inscribed within two concentric circles). The bull has been sealed, like all papal bulls, with a lead seal (or bulla, from which the category of documents gets its name).
The interdict was itself lifted the following year, on 2 July 1214. The church bells were no longer silent and the sacraments of the church were no longer forbidden, meaning masses would again be celebrated and people could again bury their deceased relatives according to Christian rites. For the previous six plus years only the baptism of infants and the confession of the dying had been permitted.
Marginal drawing of a bell and clapper referring to the papal interdict (Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 90r), England, S. (St Albans), 1250-1259
Marginal drawing of bells being rung referring to the relaxation of the papal interdict (Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 94r), England, S. (St Albans), 1250-1259
Innocent III’s support for John would be crucial during the baronial rebellion that led to Magna Carta. The Security Clause enforcing the 1215 agreement concludes: ‘We will not seek to procure from anyone, either by our own efforts or those of a third, anything by which any part of these concessions or liberties might be revoked or diminished’. And yet, on 24 August 1215, Innocent III would issue a papal bull annulling Magna Carta on the grounds that it was extorted from the king by violence and fear, degrading his rights and dignity and the rights of the apostolic see besides.
The annual tribute from this agreement was paid to Rome, if irregularly, into the 1290s. However, English kings grew increasingly at odds with the papacy; no tribute was paid from 1300 to 1330 with the last payment ever recorded being for £1,000 in 1333 from Edward III (r. 1327–1377). The papacy continued to request its tribute, and the question of the growing backlog due from England on account of John’s submission was raised in 1365. This was debated in parliament with the conclusion that John’s original surrender had lacked the assent of the bishops and was thus in fact invalid, marking the formal end to English recognition of papal overlordship.
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.
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants making hay, Add MS 35313, f. 4v
Detail of a roundel showing St Mary Magdalene, Add MS 35313, f. 4v
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.
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.
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:
Add MS 19532, f 11v. Angel pulling out the boastful tongue (Ps 11(12):4).
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:
Add MS 19532, f 182r. David and Goliath.
Add MS 19352, f 141v. Plagues visited upon Egypt.
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.
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:
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.
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.
This week has seen the launch at the British Library on Monday and at Trinity College, Dublin on Wednesday of a new book, The St Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular Manuscript of the Gospel of John, edited by Claire Breay, Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts at the British Library, and Bernard Meehan, Head of Research Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College, Dublin.
The St Cuthbert Gospel is the earliest intact European book and a landmark in the cultural history of western Europe. Now dated to the early eighth century by Richard Gameson and Leslie Webster, the manuscript contains a beautifully written copy of the Gospel of John in Latin and is famous for the craftsmanship and outstanding condition of its contemporary decorated leather binding. Found in Cuthbert's coffin when it was opened in Durham Cathedral in 1104, the Gospel was acquired for the national collection following a major fundraising campaign in 2011-12.
One of the most exciting aspects of the long preparation for the new book on the Gospel was the day that we took the manuscript to the Natural History Museum for a CT scan. The videos produced from this scan have allowed us to look inside the book as never before, to appreciate the many remarkable features of this manuscript. We were able to examine the extraordinary refinement and careful shaping of the wooden boards, establishing that at their maximum the left (front) board measures only 2.4mm thick and the right (back) board only 1.5mm. We could see the cords beneath the raised frames in the decoration and we could examine for the first time the much-debated foundation material lying beneath the raised plant-motif decoration in the centre of the left cover. Roger Powell had suggested that the foundation material might be cord or leather, while Jim Bloxam and Kristine Rose found more recently (in making a facsimile of the binding which they generously made available to the project) that gesso could be used to produce comparable results. It was immediately apparent from the CT scan that neither cord nor leather had been used for the foundation of the central motif, as it is a clay-like material which completely fills the space between the leather and the board.
Cross-section of left board from CT scan, showing clay-like material between the leather and the wooden board.
In the CT scan and in an X-ray image this clay-like material shows as a dull grey, completely different from the gesso used in the most accurate modern facsimile by Rose and Bloxam, which shows as black in the X-ray image.
X-ray of left board (facsimile on left and original on right).
Christina Duffy, Imaging Scientist at the British Library, has produced videos of the St Cuthbert Gospel from the CT scan which show the manuscript, its wooden boards, the cords which lie under the raised frames in the decoration and a cross-section through the whole manuscript showing the structure of the book and the raised decoration. You can watch the video (courtesy of Christina Duffy) here:
In his chapter in the new book launched this week, Nicholas Pickwoad explains in detail how the central motif on the binding appears to have been made using a matrix, carved with the plant design, to impress the wet leather over the clay-like material on to the wooden board.
This new collection of essays is the most substantial study of the book since the 1960s, and is the culmination of our work to promote new research on the Gospel since its acquisition by the British Library. As well as Nicholas Pickwoad's chapter on the structure and production of the binding, the book includes detailed commentary on: Cuthbert in his historical context by Clare Stancliffe; the codicology, text, script and medieval history of the manuscript by Richard Gameson; the decoration of the binding by Leslie Webster; the Irish pocket Gospels by Bernard Meehan, the other relics found in Cuthbert's coffin by Eric Cambridge; and the post-medieval ownership of the book by Arnold Hunt. The book, which significantly revises the existing scholarship on one of the British Library's most recent acquisitions, is now available through the Library's online shop.
Harley MS 2493 contains a copy of Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita. Being over 800 years old, however, means this manuscript has more than one story to tell. A manuscript’s provenance, its journey to the present day through its various former owners, is often as interesting and edifying as the text itself. This manuscript, for instance, becomes a key source for Livy’s classical text only after passing though the hands of two immensely significant Renaissance figures: Francesco Petrarch and Lorenzo Valla.
Harley MS 2493, f 145r: long comment in Valla’s hand at the bottom of the folio.
The manuscript came to the Library in 1753 as part of the collection acquired by Robert and Edward Harley in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Prior to this, it was in the custody of the Jesuit College in Agen, which was in operation between 1591 and 1762. It is unknown how the manuscript made its way to the college, but the manuscript itself indicates that it was in the hands of Lorenzo Valla before that. Valla was an influential Italian humanist in the early 15th century, apostolic secretary to Pope Nicholas V and professor of rhetoric in Rome, and this manuscript was likely his own copy: he makes a great number of annotations, jotted down in the manner of personal notes, and even signs several of the pages.
Harley MS 2493, f 167v: Valla’s signature, LAV VAL, in the inner margin.
While the editing of classical texts was by no means new in Valla’s time, the humanists, driven for learning and motivated in particular by classical literature, proved themselves remarkable as Greek and Latin editors – though not always free of error. There was a strong desire in the Renaissance to produce a trustworthy text, as true as possible to the original. Valla was at the forefront of Latin scholarship, and his own desire for an accurate text led him to many great successes.
Harley MS 2493, f 93r. Portion of the manuscript copied in the 12th century.
Harley MS 2493, f 92r. Portion of the manuscript copied by Petrarch in the 14th century.
But Valla was not the first (or last) to handle this manuscript. Although much of the codex dates from the 12th century, it was completed in the 14th-century by Francesco Petrarch himself, the famed Italian scholar and poet. Petrarch personally copied some thirty folios of the manuscript, comprising the final sections of Decades I and III, and added copious notes to the text. These notes were used by Valla, and influenced his Emendationes in T. Livium. There are many pages where this cooperation can be seen quite clearly.
Harley MS 2493, f 105v. Emendations by Petrarch (between the lines) and marginalia by Valla.
Livy’s history of Rome remains a work of incredible literary value, and the text we read today is in part the result of the efforts of humanist scholars. On Digitised Manuscripts, you can explore Petrarch and Valla’s own copy!