THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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237 posts categorized "Featured manuscripts"

14 August 2014

The Wardington Hours

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The British Library has an incredible collection of close to 400 Books of Hours of various styles, dates, origins and sizes, including some of the most celebrated and beautifully illustrated ones ever made. Over the next few weeks we will be featuring the new Books of Hours added to our collection in recent years.

The most beautiful of these recent acquisitions is the Wardington Hours, purchased in 2007 with the help of the Art Fund, the Friends of the British Library and other generous donors. It would otherwise have been taken out of the UK by an overseas purchaser. It has recently been digitised and is available on our website at http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/

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The Betrayal of Christ at the beginning of the office of Matins, from the Wardington Hours, Paris, c.1410-c.1440, Add MS 82945, f. 1r

The Wardington Hours is part of a Book of Hours containing only the Hours of the Passion, a less common cycle of devotions than the Hours of the Virgin. There are eight exquisitely painted miniatures illustrating the Passion of Christ with intricate detail and rich, colourful imagery. Illuminated borders with sparkling gold ivy leaves feature on every page, and include painted dragons with different animal heads in one part of the volume.

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The Way to the Cross at the beginning of the office of Terce, from the Wardington Hours, Paris, c.1410-c.1440, Add MS 82945, f. 18v

The miniatures are attributed to the group of illuminators associated with the Bedford Master, one of the most prominent artists working in Paris in the early fifteenth century, and whose name derives from the Bedford Psalter.  This most celebrated work was made for John of Lancaster (b. 1389, d. 1435), Duke of Bedford, who was the brother of King Henry V and Regent of France for Henry VI and is now in the British Library (Add MS 18850). Both manuscripts contain an unusual miniature of the Crucifixion including the seven last words of Christ. Here is the one from the Wardington Hours:

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The Crucifixion at the beginning of the office of None, from the Wardington Hours, Paris, c.1410-c.1440, Add MS 82945, f. 26v

The Bedford Hours is a complete volume, and the Hours of the Passion is only one of the devotional texts it contains.  But again the image of the Crucifixion accompanies the office of Nones and the miniatures have the same colourful palette and lively style as the Wardington manuscript. The last words of Christ are contained in seven banners in a similar arrangement, with an eighth banner held by a centurion, which reads ‘Vete filius dey erat iste’ (Behold this was the son of God).

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The Crucifixion at the beginning of the office of None, from the Bedford Hours, Paris, c.1410-c.1430, Add MS 18850, f. 240r

The Dunois Hours, also in the library’s collections, was made in the same prominent Paris workshop by the Dunois master for an enemy of the Duke of Bedford and companion of Joan of Arc, John Dunois, Bastard of Orleans.  The latter is portrayed in the margin of the miniature of the Last Judgment, led by Saint John the Evangelist, a patron saint he shared with his English opponent.

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The Last Judgement from the Dunois Hours, Paris, c.1439-c.1450, Yates Thompson MS 3, f. 32v

Though there are similarities in style, the borders of the Wardington manuscript are finer and more exquisite than the ones in the Bedford and Dunois Hours. The text is framed in gold, surrounded by delicate networks of gold ivy leaves and swirling stems.

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A text page with border including dragons, from the Wardington Hours, Paris, c.1410-c.1440, Additional MS 82945, f. 9r

The medieval owner of the Wardington Hours is not known, but it comes from a larger volume, another part of which has been identified by Catherine Reynolds as Huntington Library, MS HM 1100 (see Catherine Reynolds, ‘The Workshop of the Master of the Duke of Bedford: Definitions and Identities’, in Patrons, Authors and Workshops: Books and Book Production in Paris around 1400, ed. by G. Croenen and P. Ainsworth (Leuven, 2006), pp. 437-72 (p. 451)).

The Wardington Hours was owned by the Courgy family of Paris in the 18th century and recently by the leading English bibliophile, Lord Wardington (b.1924, d.2005). In 2004 it was dramatically rescued from a fire in his manor in Oxfordshire when his daughter Helen and a human chain of local people managed to save all his valuable books by passing them out onto the lawn, while the fire brigade held off from spraying water into the part of the house holding the library.

- Chantry Westwell

12 August 2014

The Journey of a Greek Manuscript

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One of the most exciting aspects of working with manuscripts is finding signs of former owners, and learning about how they used their manuscripts. Today’s manuscript, a copy of the Gospels in Greek, can only be linked to one certain owner, but there is quite a bit to say about its earlier history nonetheless.

Additional MS 24376, a fine copy of the Four Gospels in Greek (only lacking the last few words of John), can be dated to the fourteenth century on palaeographical grounds. As is often the case, however, the scribe simply wrote the text, and left gaps for illuminated headpieces and initials at the beginning of each Gospel, and for full-page miniatures of each of the Evangelists. For whatever reason, however, this was not done immediately, and even today the manuscript does not have any illuminated headpieces.

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Beginning of Gospel of Matthew, from Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 696; Scrivener evan. 600; von Soden ε 328), 14th century, Eastern Mediterranean (Constantinople),  Add MS 24376, f. 6r

On f 6r, the gap for the headpiece is clear, and a later illuminator would have been expected to add the “B” of βἰβλος, the first word of the Gospel of Matthew.

A number of inscriptions which would doubtless help us to say more about the manuscript’s history on f 1r have sadly been erased. However, one inscription on f 1v remains, which states that the manuscript was purchased in Constantinople in 1528:

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Detail of an ownership inscription, Add MS 24376, f. 1v

It is clear that shortly after this the manuscript moved north, as full-page miniatures were added some time in the late sixteenth century. These were created by a South Slavonic artist, and the figures in the miniatures are named in Slavonic. However, the text of the Gospels being written by the Evangelists remains Greek, as here in this illumination of Mark:

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Miniature of St Mark the Evangelist, Add MS 24376, f. 103v

It’s worth noting that this full-page illumination lacks the traditional border that is more common in Byzantine Gospel manuscripts, and extending the decoration across the entire page is quite unusual. The manuscript likely stayed in the region of Northern Greece and the Southern Balkans after its illumination, as it was acquired by the British Museum along with a number of other manuscripts at the sale of Henry Stanhope Freeman, who had been Vice-Consul at Janina – now in Greece, then in Albania.

Yet there’s one more twist to the tale of this manuscript. At the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, there is a miniature not of Matthew, but of the Annunciation:

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Miniature of the Annuciation, Add MS 24376, f. 5v

At some point, an owner must have noticed this and inserted a picture of Matthew to make up the loss, as f 292r consists of a woodcut on paper, inserted at a late stage. Where, when, and why this happened, however, remains unknown.

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Woodcut of St Matthew the Evangelist, Add MS 24376, f. 292r

- Cillian O'Hogan

10 August 2014

Happy St Lawrence's Day!

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Today is the feast day of St Lawrence of Rome, an early Christian martyr who suffered a grisly death (we are aware that we highlight these types of saints quite frequently here on the blog; see here for St Apollonia, St Catherine, St Margaret, and St George).  The church which was built on the site of St Lawrence’s tomb became one of the principal churches in Rome, and a popular site of pilgrimage.  He features extensively in medieval art, and is often shown carrying his attribute, the gridiron on which he was martyred.

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Detail of a miniature of St Lawrence holding a book and a gridiron, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1497, Add MS 18851, f. 431r

Not much is known of St Lawrence’s early life, but he was believed to have been born in Spain, and to have studied under future pontiff Sixtus in Zaragoza, which was then a renowned centre of learning in the Roman empire.  When Sixtus became pope, he appointed Lawrence as a deacon despite his young age.  Lawrence’s responsibilities included the maintenance of the treasuries of the church as well as the giving of alms to the poor, and he took the latter charge in particular very seriously, as we will soon see. 

Add MS 18197 f. H K90054-08
Detail of a miniature of St Lawrence holding a book and standing near a gridiron, cutting from a choirbook, Italy (Lombardy) 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Add MS 18197, f. H

In 258 the Roman Emperor Valerian commenced a persecution of the church, and ordered that all bishops, priests, and deacons should be put to death.  Pope Sixtus was seized while celebrating the liturgy and was immediately executed.  Seeing that his death was also imminent, Lawrence, according to his legend, worked as quickly as he could to distribute all the wealth of the church to the poor, crippled, and suffering people of Rome.  When he was ordered by the prefect of Rome to turn over the riches in his care, Lawrence gathered up these unfortunates and presented them to the prefect, telling him that these were the true treasures of the church. 

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 260v G70033-94a
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Lawrence being brought before the Roman prefect, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London?), 1310 – 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 260v

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 261r G70032-70a
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Lawrence being martyred on the gridiron, from the Queen Mary Psalter, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 261r [more on this gorgeous manuscript can be found in our post Beautiful Contraband: The Queen Mary Psalter]

The prefect was enraged by this act of holy defiance and ordered that Lawrence should die a horrible death; the future saint was sentenced to be burnt alive on a gridiron.  Lawrence did not lose his faith (or his sense of humour) even while in the midst of this torture, however; after several hours he is said to have quipped to his executioners, ‘Turn me over; I’m done on this side!’.

Yates_thompson_ms_3_f273v detail
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Lawrence being martyred on the gridiron, watched by a sympathetic marginal character, from the Dunois Hours, France (Paris), c. 1339 – c. 1450, Yates Thompson MS 3, f. 273v

St Lawrence is one of the most beloved saints in the calendar – perhaps owing in some small sense to this humour in the face of adversity, but also because of his love of the suffering and downtrodden of society.  He is the patron saint of the poor, and, rather insensitively, of cooks.  We hope you have a very happy St Lawrence’s Day!

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Miniature of St Lawrence at the beginning of his suffrage, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1500, Add MS 35313, f. 217v

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Detail of an historiated initial of St Lawrence being martyred on the gridiron, from the Stowe Breviary, England (Norwich), 1322 – 1325 and c. 1350 – 1380, Stowe MS 12, f. 292r

Yates Thompson MS 49, f. 39v c1311-05a
Detail of an unfinished miniature of St Lawrence being martyred on the gridiron, from Jacobus de Voragine’s La légende dorée, France (Paris and Rouen), c. 1470, Yates Thompson MS 49, vol. 2, f. 39v

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Detail of a young St Lawrence with his gridiron, at the bottom of a calendar page for August, which contains his feast day, from the Hours of Bonaparte Ghislieri, Italy (Bologna), c. 1500, Yates Thompson MS 29, f. 8r

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Lawrence being martyred on the gridiron, from the Taymouth Hours, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 85r [for more on this fabulous manuscript, please see our post The Taymouth Hours.  And the sharp-eyed among you may have noticed here certain odd similarities to the work of the artist of the Unicorn Cookbook!).

- Sarah J Biggs

05 August 2014

Twenty-four More Greek Manuscripts Online

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Work continues on the Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and others.  In July we uploaded 24 new manuscripts, adding to our previous totals.  We hope you enjoy paging through our newest manuscripts!  Details are of course below:

Add MS 26115, Philostratus, Imagines (TLG 1600.001), imperfect; Constantine Harmenopoulos, Lexicon arranged alphabetically, and some treatises on grammar.  1417? – 1426?.

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Decorated headpiece from a Lectionary of the Acts and the Epistles, Add MS 29714, f. 4r

Add MS 29714, Lectionary of the Acts and the Epistles (Gregory-Aland l 257, Scrivener apost. 69).  1306.

Add MS 31949, Gospel Lectionary, imperfect (Gregory-Aland l 337; Scrivener evst 285).  Mid 13th century.

Add MS 34107, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 1279; Scrivener evan. 321; von Soden ε 1178).  11th or 12th century.

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Fragment of a Gospel lectionary, 12th century, Add MS 36822, f. 3r

Add MS 36822, Fragments of two Gospel Lectionaries (Gregory-Aland l 237, l 2310; Scrivener evst. 237), and an extract from a service-book.  12th-13th century, the last leaf being added in the 17th century.

Add MS 37001, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 2277 [=816]), with canon tables.  11th century, the last leaf having been replaced in the 14th century.

Add MS 37003, New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 2279), with Euthalian apparatus and prefaces attributed to Theodoret (printed in von Soden 1902-1910, vol. 1, pp. 350-354), though the text is not that of the printed commentary in PG 82.  14th century, probably created in  Constantinople.

Add MS 37004, Gospel Lectionary with ekphonetic neumes (Gregory-Aland l 1492), imperfect.  Late 11th century.

Add MS 37006/1, Detached binding from Add MS 37006, of wooden boards covered with plain red leather.  16th century.

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Evangelist miniature, from a Gospel Lectionary, Add MS 37007, f. 3r

Add MS 37007, Gospel Lectionary with ekphonetic neumes (Gregory-Aland l 1495=[l 459]=[l 1205]), with illuminations of the four Evangelists.  13th century, owned by and likely created at the Monastery of St Nicholas in Pentrochonte, north of Berat, Albania.

Portrait of St John the Evangelist, from a Gospel Lectionary, Add MS 37008, f. 1v

Add MS 37008, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 1496 =[l 461]=[ l 1206], with a coloured portrait of St John.  Created at the Monastery of St Marina in Berat, Albania, in 1413.

Add MS 37009, Nomocanon of Manuel Malaxos, compiled for Joasaph, Metropolitan of Boeotia, in 1562.

Add MS 37485, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 2291), volume 1, containing Matthew and Mark.  Early 13th century.

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Evangelist miniature, from a Gospel Lectionary, Add MS 37486, f. 97v

Add MS 37486, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 2291), volume 2, containing Luke and John, and additional texts.  Early 14th century.

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Decorated headpiece from a Psalter, Add MS 39587, f. 1r

Add MS 39587, Psalter (Rahlfs 1091). According to Rahlfs (1914), pp. 108-109, this manuscript and Add MS 39588 (Parham MS VI) were originally a single manuscript.  12th century.

Add MS 39592, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 549; Scrivener evan. 536; von Soden A 136), with marginal commentary.  11th century.

Add MS 39595, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 552, Scrivener evan. 539, von Soden ε 252).  2nd half of the 12th century.

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Decorated headpiece and text from a New Testament, Acts and Epistles, Add MS 39599, f. 2r

Add MS 39599, New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 911 [formerly 227ac., 282p.]; Scrivener act. 217 and Paul. 235; von Soden ο29), with ekphonetic neums, lection notes, and a marginal commentary. 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. The missing portion of the Catholic Epistles, now lost, may have been cut out at the same time.  11th century.

Add MS 39600, New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 912 [formerly Gregory 228ac. and 283p.]; Scrivener act. 218, Paul. 236; von Soden α 366, with the prefaces of Euthalius and Theodoret.  13th century, probably created at Mount Athos.

Add MS 40656, Psalter with Canticles (Rahlfs 1650, Gregory-Aland l 932, Scrivener evan. 612).  13th century.

Add MS 40754, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 1743).  Written in 1256.

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Opening of the Psalter with parallel Latin text, Add MS 47674, f. 2r

Add MS 47674, Psalter and Canticles (Rahlfs 1062), with parallel Latin text, and 8 pairs of illuminated initials (historiated at the beginning of the Latin text).  1220s, Paris.

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Portrait of the Evangelist John and his eagle, at the beginning of a Gospel lectionary, Add MS 47774, f. 1v

Add MS 47774, Gospel lectionary in Modern Greek in the translation of Maximos Kallioupolites (d.1633), whose New Testament was printed posthumously in 1638. Pen drawings of the four Evangelists, in its original binding.  17th century, possibly created in the Balkans.

Add MS 73525, Collection of fragments.

- Cillian O'Hogan

01 August 2014

A Calendar Page for August 2014

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For more information about the Huth Hours, please see our post A Calendar Page for January 2014.

Agricultural labours continue in these two calendar pages for the month of August.  On the first folio, among a scatter border of flowers and insects, we see a roundel of two peasants, inside a barn.  They are at work threshing the wheat that was harvested in July, while, through the window behind them, we can see a few birds circling.  On the facing folio, a barefoot peasant is shaking a shallow basket, literally separating the wheat from the chaff.  Above him is a seated woman with a palm for the zodiac sign Virgo.

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Calendar page for August, with a roundel miniature of two men threshing grain, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 8v

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Calendar page for August, with a roundel miniature of a man separating wheat from chaff, with the zodiac sign Virgo, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 9r

- Sarah J Biggs

26 July 2014

Guess the Manuscript XIV

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As always, thanks are due to those of you who play along with every installment of our game Guess the Manuscript.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to find things that will stump you brilliant people, but we have a few lined up over the coming weeks that we hope will be a sufficient challenge for you.  One such is below, and we'd like to therefore issue an additional challenge.  Please let us know not only what manuscript this comes from, but what these scribbles mean. 

The rules are simple: this image comes from a manuscript that is located somewhere on our Digitised Manuscripts site, and is part of our medieval collections.  You can leave your guesses in the comments below, or via Twitter @BLMedieval.  Happy hunting!

Guess_the_manuscript_xiv

- Sarah J Biggs

Update: And the answer was: Add MS 28816, f. 150r: they are calculations concerning the age of the world.  The Greek writing reads: 'Surely seven hundred and thirty-eight'. The prize was eternal glory and respect from the Medieval Manuscripts Blog – but since no-one guessed correctly, you’ll have to wait until next time for a shot at immortality in these hallowed pages.

 

24 July 2014

Choosing a Husband: Brains or Brawn, Money or Looks?

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Career options for medieval women were limited.  If they were lucky they could choose between getting married or entering a convent.  For some, the latter was preferable to becoming a wife, who was often treated as little more than one of her husband’s possessions.  The majority of women, of course, still chose marriage and family, and the important question was: what type of man made the best husband?  There is a tradition of love debates in courtly society in Anglo-Norman England, which can be found in La Geste de Blanchflour e de Florence and Melior e Ydoine, both based on Latin poems about the relative merits of knights or clerks as husbands.  In other words, should you go for brawn or brains?  Perhaps the first place to look for an answer to these questions is the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, where we searched under ‘clerk’ and ‘knight’ and found some interesting images on the subject.

The one below shows a man, described as a ‘devoted clerk from Pisa’ riding with his future wife to their wedding.  He appears a good husband, perhaps, if a tad boring (but maybe not  – keep reading!).

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a clerk from Pisa and a woman, being led on horseback to their wedding ceremony, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London/Westminster or East Anglia?), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 223v

In the next image the clerk has deserted his wife - the Virgin Mary appeared at his wedding and reminded him of his promise to take holy orders!

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Detail of a bas-de-page of the devoted clerk of Pisa, having left his bride to become a monk, from the Queen Mary Psalter, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 224r

Below another clerk seems to be behaving badly. On the left hand side, he grabs a woman, who looks rather startled and on the right he attacks someone, perhaps a rival.

Royal MS 10 D VIII f. 176r
Detail of a miniature of a clerk and a woman, and the clerk committing a homicide, with a foliate initial 'Sacerdos', at the beginning of causa 15 of Gratian’s Decretum,  France (Paris?), 3rd quarter of the 13th century, Royal 10 D VIII, f. 176r

So let’s see what the knights were like…

This one is stabbing a unicorn; not a good start!

Harley MS 3244 f. 38r E043080
Detail of the lower miniature, depicting a knight spearing a unicorn as it rests in a maiden's lap, from a theological miscellany, England, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 13th century, after c. 1236, Harley MS 3244, f. 38r

And this one seems to be offering the lady a lift on his horse, but is he planning to carry her off?

Royal_ms_10_e_iv_f086v
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a lady and a knight, who is pointing towards his waiting horse; two hounds stand nearby, from the Smithfield Decretals, France (Toulouse?), Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 86v

So, what was a poor girl to do?  The answer is, ask her mother for advice.

Fortunately, one of our manuscripts, Additional MS 46919, a well-known collection of texts in Anglo-Norman French and Middle English from the 14th century, contains a unique copy of a verse debate between a mother and daughter on choosing a husband.  The volume, which has (unfortunately) not been fully photographed yet, is known as the ‘William Herebert Collection’ after the Franciscan friar of Oxford, who compiled it and copied some of the texts, which include Bibbesworth’s Tretiz de langage.

Photo 1 detail
Detail of the beginning of a dialogue between mother and daughter, Add MS 46919, f. 59r

The short debate beginning on f. 59r of this manuscript consists of five 10-line verses alternating between mother and daughter.  In the first verse, the daughter asks her mother how she should choose between her two lovers: one is handsome, the other rich:

Jole mere ke frai? / de deus amanz su mis en plai

Li uns est beaus cu[m] fleur de maii / li autre est riches ben le sei

Or quei ke me seit a fere / pite del douce meyre

Dear mother what should I do? / I am torn between two lovers

The one is as beautiful as the mayflower / The other is rich as I well know

So what should I do? / Have pity on me, sweet mother.

 

The mother replies:

Fille fetes cu[m] les fiz  / kant ieo esteie jeovenette jadis

Volu[n]ters a douns me pris / jeu sanz pru nest ben asis

Daughter, do as girls did / back when I was young.

I soon learned / that a game without a prize is not a good bet

 

She goes on to say that those who let their emotions rule will repent later.  The daughter protests that her handsome lover’s kisses are so delightful and that ill-gotten spoils soon turn sour:

Meuz vaut joie orphanine / ke rischesce a marrement

Ky mel leche d’espine / cher l’achate et poi en prent.

Better to be happy in poverty / than to have wealth but a dreary life

He who licks honey from a thorn / pays dearly and gets little in return.

 

Of course the mother has the final say – she gets her two verses worth, first delivering a stern lesson on the ways of the world:

Le secle est or de tel manere / les riches avaunt les poveres arere

Poi engard hom en la chere / si le riche atorn n’i siet

Marchant a voide almonere / fet a feire poi de espleit.

Such is the way of the world that the rich are in front and the poor behind

And nobody pays any attention to a man’s beautiful face

If he does not have stylish attire and a full purse.

 

But then she tempers this with wisdom.  In the end, it is goodness and honour that count.

Aver est en aventure / Mut est fous ke trop l’aseure

Mes honur et bunte dure / Coment ke del aver alt:

Ke seit entendre mesure / Cil est riche ke moult vault.

Material possessions are transient / only a very foolish person trusts in them too much

But honour and goodness last / whatever happens to possessions.

He who knows moderation / he is rich, for this is valuable.

 

And if all ends well, the outcome will be a wedding - to the right man!

Add MS 24678, f. 22r .K90054-29
Miniature of a marriage, Italy (Bologna), last quarter of the 13th century or 1st quarter of the 14th century, Add MS 24678, f. 22r

-  Chantry Westwell

22 July 2014

Conservation in the 17th Century

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The ‘Mayerne manuscript’, Sloane MS 2052, is on display at the National Gallery’s exhibition Making Colour and is also available to view on Digitised Manuscripts.  Compiled over twenty-six years, it reflects Mayerne’s abiding interest during his middle age in the chemistry of painting and the preparation of pigments, glues, varnishes and other substances.  As Making Colour reveals, before the synthesis and manufacture of pigments in the nineteenth century, artists made their own colours from the raw materials, experimenting and developing them through trial and error. 

Sloane_ms_2052_f026r
Tests for the preparation of a pigment from blackberry juice, from the Mayerne manuscript, England (London), 1620-1646, Sloane MS 2052, f. 26r (inverted)
 

Such information is vitally important for conservators: understanding the chemical make-up of early modern or medieval pigments can help them to determine why paintings have degraded in certain ways, and inform any interventions that they might make to rectify or halt such deterioration.  The Mayerne manuscript is also of interest in the history of conservation as a discipline, since it also contains notes about how paintings were repaired and cleaned nearly four centuries ago. 

1417.c.44
Title page of ‘Inaccessible Glory: or, The impossibility of seeing God’s face whilst we are in the body’, England (London), 1655, 1417.c.44
 

At the close of his sermon, preached at the funeral of Sir Theodore de Mayerne on Friday, 30th March 1655 at St. Martin-in-the-Field, Rev. Thomas Hodges remarked that: 

‘He [Mayerne] was a person of rare accomplishments...I confess I know not any subject which might be either for necessity or delight whereof he was ignorant, nay in which he was not a great proficient, and expert master.  And, which is more admirable, this variety was not attended with the least discernable confusion, but so methodised and digested that he readily at his pleasure commanded it when occasion required, and brought it forth clothed in such language as he spoke him no less an orator than an artist.’ 

Sloane_ms_2052_f023v
Notes on cyan and pigments derived from blackberries with samples, Sloane MS 2052, f. 23v
 

However tidy-minded and articulate Mayerne might have been in life, his manuscript Pictoria, sculptoria et quae subalternarum artium is something of a jumble.  In Sloane MS 2069 (f. 172r), we find a letter from Mayerne to his friend Dr Monginot in 1630, in which he recognised the need ‘to take up my pen, if I wish to leave to posterity some of my dearest children – that is, the fruits of my genius – as my conscience dictates, and as my friends invite me’.  Yet, as with his medical case notes, Mayerne never succeeded in imposing order upon his artistic notes or preparing them for print during his lifetime.  Those illustrated with pigment samples or coloured diagrams have naturally attracted most attention and, until 2004, there was no complete edition in English of this manuscript.  

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Assorted notes, recipes and observations, Sloane MS 2052, ff. 56v-57r
 

Buried among them are fascinating insights into conservation, 17th-century style.  The above page, for example, contains a note that to repair a cracked painting, it should be washed and rinsed thoroughly, and coated on the back with a thick water paint, that may be removed when necessary.  It is tucked among miscellaneous observations on the purification of light linseed oil by filtering it through a cow’s bladder, or the transparency of ox intestines in which gold has been wrapped. 

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Notes on the repair of oil paintings gleaned from Sir Anthony van Dyck, Sloane MS 2052, f. 153v
 

Sir Anthony van Dyck was a source of other conservation tips.  To repair a peeling oil painting and protect it from a damp wall, he advised painting the reverse with umber very finely ground in oil – a recipe essential for paintings undercoated with glue or water colours. 

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Notes on the cleaning of surface impurities and dirt from oil paintings, Sloane MS 2052, f. 14v
 

An unfortunate incident with paintings imported from Italy for Charles I prompted Mayerne to formulate his own ideas.  The paintings had been shipped, ill-advisedly, with a cargo of currants and mercury sublimate.  The former fermented and the latter vaporised, blackening both the oil and tempera paintings in the hold.  Mayerne jotted in the margins that the oils were apparently cleaned with milk – but observed that a more watery liquid would have been better: the oil would have resisted it and prevented the washing away or smearing of the pigments. 

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Notes on the cleaning and restoration of oil paintings, Sloane MS 2052, f. 15r
 

Mayerne continued with further, more specific instructions: that a picture soiled with dust should be washed with a wrung-out sponge, with any parts painted with the pigment Dutch pink protected from spoiling by glued-on paper.  Apparently, potash from crushed grape skins or urine are also effective! 

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Notes on the bleaching of paper, Sloane MS 2052, f. 61r
 

Mayerne’s interest extended beyond oil paintings to include prints, and he sought information from craftsmen such as Mark Anthony, a painter from Brussels, the royal apothecary Louis le Myre and Jean Anceaux, a bookseller from the French town of Sedan.  From the latter, Mayerne acquired some of the earliest recorded information about the bleaching of paper: one stage involved the soaking of paper in water in which a cod has been boiled. 

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Mayerne’s recipe for cleaning tempera paintings, Sloane MS 2052, f. 147r
 

These and many other such notes formed the basis for subsequent experimentation, also recorded in the manuscript.  The same motivation drove Mayerne’s medical and artistic pursuits – a passion for the study, development and application of chemistry – and sustained the compilation of this notebook over twenty-six years.  He also had an eye for the commercial potential of his discoveries.  Towards the end of the manuscript, there is a recipe for ‘freshening tempera pictures and making them equal to those painted with oil’.  To distinguish it from his other notes, many of which had been obtained second-hand, he recorded in the title that it had been ‘invented by T. de Mayerne, 1632’, perhaps with the aim of ensuring that it remained his or his heirs’ intellectual property. 

- James Freeman