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233 posts categorized "Featured manuscripts"

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.

Add_ms_38126_f008v
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

Add_ms_38126_f009r
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!).

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f223v
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!

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f224r
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?

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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. 

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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. 

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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.’ 

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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! 

Sloane_ms_2052_f061r
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. 

Sloane_ms_2052_f147r
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

20 July 2014

Enter the Dragon: Happy St Margaret's Day!

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Today is the feast day of St Margaret of Antioch (not to be confused with St Margaret of Scotland or Hungary).  Although St Margaret was declared to be apocryphal in the year 494 by no less an authority than Pope Gelasius, and many people over many years have entertained doubts about her authenticity, she is still widely venerated as a saint today.

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Miniature of St Margaret, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile, southern Netherlands (Ghent?), c. 1500, Add MS 35313, f. 234v

St Margaret was particularly popular in the medieval period, and her cult and image spread widely.  No doubt this was aided by her inclusion in Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend.  In this text, Margaret was said to have been born in Antioch in the closing years of the 3rd century.  Although she was the daughter of a pagan priest, Margaret converted to Christianity and vowed eternal chastity.  She moved to an area in what is now Turkey with her godmother, and there caught the attention of a Roman prefect or governor.  In a turn of events that echoes many of the other early female martyrs, the prefect proposed marriage to her, but Margaret chose to remain true to her vow and to Christianity. 

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 255v G70033-99a
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Margaret being brought before the Roman prefect, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London?), 1310 – 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 255v

Harley MS 5347 f. 26v c12046-06
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret in prison being visited by her godmother, from Tectino’s Life of St Margaret of Antioch in verse, northern Italy, first half of the 15th century, Harley MS 5347, f. 26v

In retaliation, the prefect ordered her to be tortured and thrown into prison.  Whilst there, according to the legend, she was visited by Satan in the shape of a dragon.  Resisting temptation yet again, Margaret was swallowed by the dragon, but emerged from his side unscathed and carrying a cross after praying for aid.  Giving up on the idea of dragon-based revenge, her captors eventually beheaded her.

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 256r G70032-65a
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Margaret emerging from the belly of the dragon, and being beheaded, from the Queen Mary Psalter, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 256r

St Margaret is one of the most instantly recognisable saints in the medieval pantheon, because she is so frequently depicted emerging from the belly of a dragon (for more on the latter subject, see our post The Anatomy of a Dragon).  Her suffrage was widely included in medieval manuscripts, as were miniatures of her torture and death.  Below is a selection of some of our favourite images of St Margaret from throughout our collections; please do let us know if we’ve left out any of your favourites.  As always, you can reach us in the comments below, or on Twitter @BLMedieval.

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Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the dragon, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1497, Add MS 18851, f. 406v

Egerton MS 2019 f. 216r K051116 copy
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the dragon, from a Book of Hours, France (Paris), c. 1440 – c. 1450, Egerton MS 2019, f. 216r

Harley MS 3000 f. 42v K051118
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret in prison, emerging from the dragon, from a Book of Hours (Use of Sarum), and Psalter, southern Netherlands, c. 1460 – c. 1470, Harley MS 3000, f. 42v

Harley MS 2974 f. 165v c6725-03
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the dragon, from a Book of Hours, France (Troyes?), c. 1460 – c. 1470, Harley MS 2974, f. 165v

Yates_thompson_ms_13_f086v_detail
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Margaret being thrown into prison, and escaping from the belly of the dragon, from the Taymouth Hours, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 86v

Yates_thompson_ms_3_f282v_detail
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the fire-breathing dragon, from the Dunois Hours, France (Paris), c. 1339 – c. 1450, Yates Thompson MS 3, f. 282v

Besides providing us with numerous dragon images St Margaret is the patron saint of pregnancy and expectant mothers (something that has particular relevance to me at the moment!).  Happy St Margaret’s Day, everyone!

-  Sarah J Biggs 

19 July 2014

The Colourful Career of Sir Theodore de Mayerne

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It is a curious fact that at present the Mayerne manuscript (Sloane MS 2052) is probably physically closer to its author than at any time since his death.  Visitors to the National Gallery exhibition Making Colour will be able to see this fascinating compilation of writings and observations on painting and the technology and chemistry of art by Sir Theodore de Mayerne (b. 1573, d. 1655) – and, if they choose to stroll across Trafalgar Square, a monument to the man himself in the church where he was buried, St Martin-in-the-Fields.  This is the latest in a series of exhibition loans this year that has seen British Library manuscripts travelling near and far to exhibitions at the British Museum here in London, the National Library of Australia in Canberra, and the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf.  It is also the most recent addition to Digitised Manuscripts.

Sloane_ms_2052_f002r
The hand-written title page of the Mayerne manuscript, 'Pictoria, sculptoria et quae subalternarum artium', England (London), 1620-1646, Sloane MS 2052, f. 2r
 

Physician to French and English royalty, English and foreign ambassadors and reputedly the most expensive doctor in London, as well as author of a travel guide and a contributor to the first authorised pharmacopeia of the Royal College of Physicians, compiler of a cookery book, diplomatic agent and experimental chemist – Sir Theodore de Mayerne led a varied, distinguished life.  He was born on 28th September 1573 in Geneva to Huguenot parents.  A student of the universities of Heidelberg and Montpellier, Mayerne embarked on a medical career in Paris at the close of the sixteenth century, treating members of the French royal family.  In 1605, he experienced a stroke of good fortune: succeeding where other physicians had failed, he cured Lord Norreys of Rycote (a young kinsman of Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury), who had fallen victim to an epidemic in the city.  With a visit to England in the spring of 1606, this medical success laid the foundations for his emigration to England five years later: he secured the post of chief physician to James I, just as the religious atmosphere at the French court began to sour.  

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/14071811/a0bde7cd-8362-4f14-98f5-2273261d113b.png
Portrait of Sir Theodore de Mayerne by Peter Paul Rubens, in oil and black chalk with grey wash, c. 1630,
British Museum PD 1860-6-16-36. © Trustees of the British Museum. 

Mayerne spent the next forty-four years in England, though he travelled regularly to the continent and in 1620 purchased the estate of Aubonne, not far from Geneva.  Contemporaries remarked upon, and several likenesses bear witness to, Mayerne’s corpulence.  Accounts relate that he did not eat regular meals, but preferred to graze whenever he fancied at a table that was kept well-stocked for this purpose.  He died at his home in Chelsea aged eighty-two on 22nd March 1655, apparently as a consequence of drinking bad wine. 

Mayerne monument
Monument to Sir Theodore de Mayerne, St Martin-in-the-Fields, c. 1655
 

For all his considerable medical achievements, Mayerne is remembered today principally for his chemistry experiments and observations.  Although they had a better reception in England, Mayerne’s chemical remedies were frowned upon by the Parisian medical establishment and his approach was, by the standards of the day, rather unorthodox.  

Sloane_ms_2052_f150r
Mayerne’s notes on the mixing of colours, taken from Peter Paul Rubens while sitting for his portrait, Sloane MS 2052, f. 150r
 

It was this preoccupation that led him to make extensive notes over a quarter of a century upon artistic techniques and the preparation of pigments and oils, many gleaned first-hand from leading artists, artisans and craftsmen of the day.  The notes shown above were taken down by Mayerne almost certainly while he sat for his portrait with Peter Paul Rubens. 

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Mayerne’s notes on oil, taken from Anthony van Dyck, Sloane MS 2052, f. 153r
 

These notes on oil are from an interview with Anthony van Dyck – whom Mayerne describes as a ‘Peintre tres excellent’ – on 30th December 1632. 

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Watercolour sketch of a priming knife, Sloane MS 2052, f. 5r
 

Every stage of the painting process was of interest to Mayerne, even the preparation of the canvas: the above illustration showing the shape of the knife used for this purpose, with a marginal note that such blades were a foot long.  Elsewhere, he recorded van Dyck’s experiments with different undercoats: fish glue caused the paint to flake off and ruined the colours; amber varnish thickened the paint too much; and bismuth white with oil was suitable only for illuminating (f. 10v). 

Sloane_ms_2052_f090v
Sketch of an artist’s palette and the location of colours, Sloane MS 2052, f. 90v
 

The manuscript contains extensive notes on the preparation of a wide range of colours, taken from a variety of sources – orpiment (a type of yellow), as described by Mr Janson, ‘bon Peintre’ (f. 152r); white oils, from Mr Feltz (f. 142v); white, black, yellow, green and azure from John Hoskins, ‘excellent peintre inlumineur’ (f. 29r); cyan (f. 23v), red (f. 62r), purple (f. 65v), azure (f. 68r), and many others – as well as pen sketches of palettes.

Sloane_ms_2052_f080v
Mayerne’s experiments with pigments, Sloane MS 2052, f. 80v
 

Most striking are a few leaves in the middle of the manuscript that are filled with neat circles of colour.  Resembling modern-day swatches, these leaves record Mayerne’s testing of the preparation of different pigments: in particular, what formulations best preserved the colour and did not crack as they dried. 

Sloane_ms_2052_f081v
Mayerne’s experiments with pigments, Sloane MS 2052, f. 81v
 

The Mayerne manuscript is an outstanding witness to the diverse intellectual pursuits of a remarkable individual at the heart of court life in Jacobean and Caroline England.  It is an invaluable record of the seventeenth-century ‘medical arts’: the application of scientific methodologies to the study of artistic techniques, and the contribution that painting could make to the development of chemical knowledge.  For Mayerne, there were no ‘two cultures’: he used a broad palette, drawing on science and art, individually and in combination, to make discoveries of benefit to both.  It is an approach that we in the twenty-first century would do well to imitate. 

Making Colour is at the National Gallery, Sainsbury Wing, until 7th September 2014.

- James Freeman

17 July 2014

This Year's Summer Blockbuster: A Giant List of Digitised Manuscript Hyperlinks!

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Here we go again with the giant list of digitised manuscript hyperlinks, friends!  For our new readers, this is a regular feature of the blog; on a quarterly basis we upload a massive spreadsheet for your persusal.  As always, this list contains all of the manuscripts to date that have been uploaded to our Digitised Manuscripts site by those of us in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section.  This does not include the work of our colleagues in other departments, of course - but we're pleased that this quarter's list does include the newest Greek manuscripts digitised as part of our ongoing project on these glorious texts.  And a few more, including the one below.  Happy clicking!  Here is the list: Download BL Medieval and Earlier Digitised Manuscripts Master List 17.07.13

Add_ms_47674_f002r
Decorated initial 'M' and historiated initial 'B'(eatus) with scenes from the life of King David, from a Psalter and Canticles (Rahlfs 1062), with parallel Latin text, Add MS 47674, f. 2r

- Sarah J Biggs

15 July 2014

Set in Stone

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One of the most famous images from our collection is this one from Egerton MS 3028. It is the earliest picture we have of Stonehenge and is one of close to 100 coloured pen drawings accompanying an abridged version in verse of Wace’s Roman de Brut, copied in Britain between 1338 and 1340. This manuscript is currently on display at the Stonehenge Visitors’ Centre, as part of the temporary Set in Stone exhibition.

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Stonehenge, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 30r

Wace’s version of the legend, adapted from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, tells of King Aurelius, son of Constantine, who, having conquered the usurpers Vortigern and Hengist, decides to erect a monument to the British nobles murdered by the Saxons.  Merlin suggests using huge stones that were brought by a giant from Africa to create a stone circle known as the Ring of Killaraus in Ireland.  When the King is incredulous at this suggestion, saying that the stones are much too heavy to transport so far, Merlin replies that ‘wit is more than strength’.  With the help of his magic powers, the stones are indeed brought back to the Salisbury plain by Uther and an army of men, who defeat the Irish on the way. The image above shows either a giant helping Merlin to erect Stonehenge or helping to take down the stones from the Giant’s ring to be carted off to England.  Of course, modern scientific research has shown that Stonehenge was built from two types of rock that must have been transported from far away: the sarsen stones, a type of sandstone, are believed to come from Marlborough Downs, 20 miles away and the smaller bluestones (even they weigh 25-30 tons) are believed to be from the Preseli Hills in south-west Wales, 250km away! There have been many hypotheses as to how they were transported, but none, it could be argued, are any more plausible than Wace’s account involving Merlin and the giant.

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The Shipwreck of St Ursula and the 11 000 virgins, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 10r

The Stonehenge image is one of many delights in Egerton MS 3028.  The shipwreck of the 11000 virgins is another.  The story goes that the mainland Bretons sent an army across the channel to help the British fight off the Saxons, and in return they were sent a shipload of young maidens, descendants of Brutus, to be their wives.  Unfortunately the ship was blown off course and the ladies fell into the hands of the pagans of Cologne, who slayed them all, including St Ursula, when they refused to surrender their virginity.  In some versions of the legend, they die in a shipwreck, as we see here.  St Ursula was a popular saint and the story of the 11000 martyred virgins captured the popular imagination for centuries.  Christopher Columbus named the Virgin Islands after them, Cologne has the Basilica of St Ursula and even London may have had a memorial, the Church of St Mary the Virgin, St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins, on the site of what is now the ‘Gherkin’ in St Mary Axe street in London, where it was said that one of the axes used by the murderous Saxons was kept.

On more familiar territory, here is the coronation of King Arthur, who sports a magnificent red beard.

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King Arthur crowned by bishops, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 37r

Wace, a cleric from Jersey, composed his French version of the Historia for Henry II, who was keen to portray himself as a worthy successor to King Arthur.  Wace cleverly focused on parts of the story which served the king’s aims, giving it a more factual bent and introducing new details such as the Round Table, which became a symbol of the English court.  The name Brut refers to Brutus of Troy, the mythical founder of Britain, and Arthur is portrayed as one of a long line of kings including Henry.

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The Death of King Arthur, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 53r

In this manuscript a section has been added updating the chronicle to the reign of Edward III, who established the Order of the Knights of the Garter, an institution with its foundation in the Arthurian legends.

Real historical events are chronicled in the continuation from ff. 56-63, including the reign of Henry I, who is described as the king who made just laws (‘fist fair[e] les bones leis’).

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The Coronation of Henry I, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 60r

The final part of the manuscript contains two romances from the cycle of Charlemagne: Fierabras, and its ‘prequel’, the Destruction of Rome.  Each one is preceded by a full-page image of one of the heroes :

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Fierebras , England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028,  f. 63v

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Charlemagne, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 83v

Once again, pen drawings are inserted in the text, and this one of a trebuchet is from the story of Roland. Note the two fearful knights peeping over the battlements.

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Attacking a tower with a trebuchet, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 106r

It has been suggested that this manuscript may have been produced in the Gloucester area or South Wales, far from the centres of London and East Anglia, where a more sophisticated  style of illumination was common in the mid-14th century.  Though lacking refinement of technique, the artist of Egerton MS 3028 uses gesture and facial expression to bring out the full drama of the events portrayed.   This image of Lucifer is a wonderful example:

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Lucifer is cast into the fire, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 101r

For more images (105 in total), see the entry for Egerton MS 3028 in our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

Egerton MS 3028 will shortly be fully digitised and available on our Digitised Manuscripts website.

Chantry Westwell