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264 posts categorized "Featured manuscripts"

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

03 January 2015

Cicero's Map to the Stars

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Marcus Tullius Cicero, born on 3 January 106 BC, bestrides Latin literature like a colossus. The combination of an immense output of writings and a strong afterlife in the schools of late antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, means that more manuscripts of Cicero’s work survive than of any other classical Latin author. Only Augustine of Hippo can claim a more fertile manuscript tradition.

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Harley MS 4329, f 130r. Miniature of Cicero debating the nature of friendship. From a manuscript containing translations of the De Senectute and De Amicitia into French by Laurent de Premierfait. France, Central (Tours), 1460.

Cicero’s popularity should come as no surprise. His speeches and rhetorical treatises (together with the anonymous Rhetorica ad Herennium, erroneously attributed to Cicero) were the cornerstone of Latin education for generations. Ciceronian style became the benchmark against which other Latin prose was measured. During the Renaissance, the extent to which Cicero should be followed as a model was a matter of fierce debate.

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Harley MS 4796, f 66r, detail. Historiated initial of Cicero and his son in discussion. From a Spanish translation of the De Officiis, De Senectute, and Pro Marcello. Spain, N., 1st half of the 15th century.

In addition to his rhetorical works, Cicero’s letters give a great insight into the world of the late Roman Republic – both the public world, in which he was of course actively involved, and everyday private life. Finally, there is Cicero’s great output of philosophical literature. Not only did this have the virtue of contributing greatly to the development of a Latin vocabulary for philosophical terms, it also constitutes a serious advancement in philosophical learning in itself. Indeed, Cicero’s philosophical works were probably the most popular of his works during the Middle Ages, and provided important points of entry into Greek philosophy for medieval scholars without any knowledge of Greek.

One part of Cicero’s output that has traditionally been less highly valued has been his poetry. Partly because of one notorious verse, o fortunam natam me consule Romam (“Happy Rome, born when I was consul”), and partly because he was eclipsed by the astonishing virtuosity achieved by the poets of the next generation (especially Catullus and Lucretius), it is only recently that scholars have begun to turn a more sympathetic eye to Cicero’s verse.

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Harley MS 647, f 10v, detail. Eridanus.

The situation was different in the Middle Ages, however, and one of Cicero’s most popular works was a translation of the Phaenomena of the Hellenistic poet Aratus. This poem, which describes the constellations, was hugely popular in antiquity, and was repeatedly translated into Latin - by Cicero, Germanicus (grand-nephew of Augustus and father of Caligula), and Varro of Atax in the first century BC alone. Cicero prepared his version of the poem in the 80s BC, when he was in his late teens or early 20s.

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Harley MS 647, f 19r. Solar System.

Astronomical treatises continued to be hugely popular in the Middle Ages, and are frequently to be found in miscellaneous manuscripts. We are fortunate at the British Library to have two particularly fine decorated manuscripts of Cicero’s Aratea: Harley MS 647, and Harley MS 2506.

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Harley MS 647, f 3v. Pisces.

The Ciceronian section of Harley 647 was created in Northern France, around 820. The manuscript is a marvel: Cicero’s text is presented at the bottom of each page, accompanied by a drawing of the relevant constellation. Yet these drawings are formed out of words, taken from the relevant passages of the Astronomica of Hyginus. (You can read more about such text-pictures in a recent blog post by Erik Kwakkel). The manuscript later travelled to the Abbey of Saint Augustine at Canterbury. Three descendants of this manuscript are also now in the British Library: Cotton MS Tiberius C I, Cotton MS Tiberius B V, and Harley 2506.

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Harley MS 2506, f 36v. Pisces.

Harley 2506 is laid out a little differently, however. Here, the drawings are rather more traditional, and the text of Hyginus is kept separate (at the beginning of the volume). Attributed to one of the artists of the Ramsey Psalter, it was created at Fleury probably in around the 990s, before being brought to England. It would be interesting to know what Cicero would have made of the fact that, of all of his works, it was the Aratea that inspired the greatest creativity in medieval scribes and illuminators.

 

Cillian O’Hogan

01 January 2015

A Calendar Page for January 2015

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Regular readers will know that one of our blog traditions is to highlight a calendar from a particular medieval manuscript throughout the course of the year.  Past manuscripts have included the Isabella Breviary, the Hours of Joanna the Mad, the Golf Book, and the Huth Hours.  In 2015 we are pleased to present a manuscript that has featured on our blog before, the London Rothschild Hours.  Confusingly, this manuscript is often also called the Hours of Joanna the Mad (or the Hours of Joanna I of Castile), as it has been suggested that the manuscript belonged to that famous lady.

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Miniature of John the Evangelist on Patmos with his symbol the eagle, being tormented by a demon and visions above, at the beginning of his suffrage, from the London Rothschild Hours (The Hours of Joanna I of Castile), Netherlands (Ghent?), c. 1500, Add MS 35313, f. 10v-11r

Evidence that the book was Joanna’s is tantalising, but inconclusive.  The repeated presence of Joanna’s name saint, John the Evangelist, is a potential clue, and the presence of a number of Spanish saints in the calendar suggests that it was probably produced for a member of the Spanish aristocracy.

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Miniature of the Pentecost, with the Virgin Mary at the centre seated at a lectern, Add MS 35313, f. 33v

In any case, this manuscript is certainly a lavish production, and the prominent places given to women and books in the miniatures indicate that it was prepared for a noble lady who was highly literate.  Every miniature in the manuscript – and there are many – is surrounded by a detailed and extravagant border, often containing animals, flowers, or jewels. 

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Miniature of St George and the dragon, surrounded by a jewelled border, Add MS 35313, f. 223v

The structure of the calendar echoes the beauty of the rest of the manuscript.  Each folio contains a single month, beginning with a small painting of the sign of the zodiac at the top.  Below this is the listing of the saints’ days for the month, and, unusually, every slot is filled with an observance or feast.  Even more unusual are the roundels on the outer edge of the folio that contain illustrations of the most important saints’ days, those days marked in red on the calendar (which is where we get our contemporary phrase ‘red letter days’).  At the bottom of each calendar page is a miniature of the labour for that month, painted by one of the most accomplished Flemish illuminators of the day.

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Calendar page for January, Add MS 35313, f. 1v

Our calendar for January begins with a particularly charming scene.  The traditional labour for this wintery month is to feast before a fire, and at the bottom of the folio we can see a couple preparing to do just that in their bedchamber, watched by an attentive cat.  Outside, a bundled man appears to be making his own way home.   

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Detail of a bas-de-page miniature of a couple feasting indoors, and a man standing outside, from a calendar page for January, Add MS 35313, f. 1v

Four saints’ days have been given red letter status in this manuscript, and one notable one is the conversion of St Paul (see below); the constraints of monochrome still allow for some sense of drama for the scene on the road to Damascus.

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Detail of a roundel miniature of St Paul on the Road to Damascus, from a calendar page for January, Add MS 35313, f. 1v

- Sarah J Biggs