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389 posts categorized "Illuminated manuscripts"

27 November 2014

Worn Around the Edges: More on the Phillipps Lectionary

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The Phillipps Lectionary must once have been – and to some extent still is – a very beautiful manuscript. As Tuesday’s post detailed, it is full of richly decorated headpieces, glimmering gold headings, and ornate zoomorphic initials. The manuscript’s condition reveals, however, a story of centuries of use, misuse and neglect that seem at odds with the precious contents. 

Add_ms_82957_f137r
Leaf containing a decorated headpiece and titles written in gold, which displays severe cockling, multiple tears and losses at the leaf edge and upper corner, and the smudging and loss of text, from the Phillipps Lectionary,
Add MS 82957, f. 137r 

Christopher de Hamel’s recent Panizzi lectures showed inordinately expensive and elaborately ornamented giant bibles being used amid the smoke, grease and grime of the monastic refectory. We should therefore avoid the assumption that medieval people treated their books – even luxury ones – with the same care as modern-day curators. In the Phillipps Lectionary, there is damage literally at every turn; no corner of the manuscript has been unaffected by the way the manuscript has been handled and mishandled, stored and ignored, and – most recently – salvaged and painstakingly repaired. 

Add_ms_82957_f119r
A mutilated leaf; the black backdrop highlights how the moisture damage has made the edges fragile and liable to tear and flake away,
Add MS 82957, f. 119r 

The physical condition of this manuscript presents many problems to the curator: how best to balance the need to conserve and protect it with the needs of readers to view and study it; and how to manage the digitisation process. Every manuscript that we plan to digitise is first examined, assessed, and, if necessary, treated by one of our in-house conservators (an earlier post by Ann Tomalak describes this process in more detail). The manuscript you see today on Digitised Manuscripts has been the subject of hours of work and many careful interventions in order to make it fit for digitisation. These repairs will be the subject of a future blog post. Here, our focus will be upon the damage the manuscript has sustained. 

Add_ms_82957_fse005r
The fore-edge of the manuscript, illustrating the areas damaged by rodents,
Add MS 82957 

Most obviously, the manuscript has suffered from rodent damage. The edges of the manuscript, in particular the upper left-hand corner, have been nibbled. Prior to conservation, these thin, shredded strips of parchment would fall off every time the manuscript was opened. Worse still, the discolouration of the parchment in these locations may have been caused in part by the rodents’ urine. Rest assured we washed our hands very thoroughly after handling the manuscript! 

Add_ms_82957_f252r
Detail of a leaf showing moisture staining and severe cockling, with part of the text now concealed under a stiff fold in the parchment,
Add MS 82957, f. 252r 

Damp and mould have also taken their toll on the parchment leaves. The moisture has caused the leaves to swell and cockle. This must have taken place while the manuscript was closed. Adjoining leaves have crinkled together and, though they can be separated, continue to ‘lock’ together when the pages are turned. The mould has eaten away at the parchment, weakening it and making it more likely to split and tear. Rodents also seem to prefer damp and mouldy parchment, because it is softer (and perhaps partially pre-digested!). 

Add_ms_82957_ff126v-127r details
Detail of text that has lifted off and transferred onto the facing leaf,
Add MS 82957, ff. 126v and 127r 

It is fortunate that, in most instances, the margins are so wide that the damp has not reached the text block and caused the ink to bleed. Here, however, the ink has lifted off and transferred onto the facing leaf, damage most likely caused by a combination of moisture damage and friction between the two leaves. 

Add_ms_82957_fse006r
The upper edge of the manuscript, illustrating the swelling caused by moisture damage,
Add MS 82957 

The water/urine damage has affected the shape of the book by making one corner into an uneven wedge shape. 

Add_ms_82957_f152v
Detail of wax droplets,
Add MS 82957, f. 152v 

Humans too have left their mark. In several locations, small red dots are found on the parchment: this is candle wax, which you can feel as a slightly raised spot on the surface. You can see that as the wax has cooled and contracted, it has pulled on the parchment, causing small radiating wrinkles to appear. 

Add_ms_82957_f197v
Detail of a small hole burned into the parchment,
Add MS 82957, f. 197v 

Elsewhere, the damage is more serious, with falling cinders from a candle having burnt small holes into the parchment. In this instance, the cinder burnt a hole through one of the adjoining leaves. 

Add_ms_82957_ff002v-3r details
Detail of an initial ‘Θ (theta) that has been torn out and the corresponding off-print, Add MS 82957, ff. 2v and 3r
 

The manuscript has also been mutilated, with several initials roughly torn out. All that remains of these are ghostly off-prints on facing pages. 

Add_ms_82957_fblefr
Neo-Gothic-influenced blind-tooled binding, probably 19th century,
Add MS 82957, front binding 

The manuscript was rebound, probably in the nineteenth century. The binding features recessed boards, most likely to help to protect the edges from further damage. The blind tooling is unusual – showing neo-Gothic influences that perhaps echoes William Morris bindings from Kelmscott – as is the covering. 

Add_ms_82957_raking detail
Detail of the binding, shot under raking light, revealing the wild boar follicle pattern,
Add MS 82957, front binding 

Close inspection has revealed that the manuscript is bound in wild boar skin. The above image was taken under raking light, a technique where light is shone at an angle from the side, making surface texture more clearly visible. One can see the triangular follicle pattern typical of common pig skin, which was widely used for this purpose. However, the presence of additional bristles – amounting in the live animal to an extra layer of hair – confirms the source as a wild rather than domesticated swine. The circumstances in which the skin was acquired – perhaps a genteel hunting-party? – remains a mystery. 

Stay tuned for the next instalment on the Phillipps Lectionary, when we will describe the conservation and digitisation process in more detail. 

- James Freeman

25 November 2014

The Phillipps Lectionary: a window into 11th-century Byzantine illumination

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In 2006 and 2007, the British Library acquired five Greek manuscripts that had formerly been on long-term deposit as Loan 36. These manuscripts all once belonged to Sir Thomas Phillipps, the noted manuscript collector of the 19th century. All but one (now Add MS 82951) also belonged to Frederick North, 5th Earl of Guilford, much of whose manuscript collection is now in the British Library. The story of the provenance of these manuscripts will be the subject of a future blog post, when the remaining four manuscripts have also been digitised. Today, however, our focus is on the standout item in the group, Additional MS 82957, a very fine 11th-century Gospel Lectionary from Constantinople.

82957 f059 headpiece
Add MS 82957, f 59r. Decorated headpiece with two peacocks, one drinking from a fountain, on top, and two rams on pedestals on either side

The lectionary is extremely fragile and required extensive, painstaking conservation work for over a year before it was fit for digitisation. A future blog post will outlien the particular difficulties of digitising and conserving this item.

82957 f001r headpiece
Add MS 82957, f 1r. Decorated headpiece with numerous animals, birds and other decorations.

The manuscript itself is spectacular. It goes beyond the usual levels of ornamentation for Greek lectionaries of the period to incorporate richly-decorated initials and headpieces. In fact, it is closer in style to some of the great psalters of the eleventh century: including the Theodore Psalter and the Bristol Psalter, both now kept at the British Library. Indeed, the similarities between  some of the decorated initials in this manuscript and that of the Theodore Psalter led to the hypothesis that both were produced at the Stoudios Monastery in Constantinople. More recently, however, a detailed study of a wide range of eleventh-century manuscripts led Irmgard Hutter to suggest that the manuscript should be placed in the circle of the so-called ‘copiste du Métaphraste’, a scribe whose hand can be detected in a number of manuscripts of Symeon Metaphrastes (for bibliographical details, please consult Digitised Manuscripts).

Pi
Pi in the shape of two hands holding palm leaves. (L) Add MS 82957, f 154v. (R) Add MS 19352, f 100r.
Epsilons 2
Epsilon in the shape of two birds. (L) Add MS 82957, f 113v. (R) Add MS 19352, f 148v.
Omicrons
Illuminated initial omicron. (L) Add MS 82957, f 10r. (R) Add MS 19352, f 74v.

Particularly noteworthy are two anthropomorphic initials found at the beginning of the first two sections, below the adorned headpieces:

Anthropomorphic initials
(L) Add MS 82957, f 1r, detail of St John the Evangelist in the form of an epsilon. (R) Add MS 82957, f 59r, detail of a man feeding a bird in the form of an epsilon.

Sadly, the fragility of the manuscript means that there is some loss into the gutter in the case of these two initials, but the level of artistic skill is clear nonetheless.

We finish with a lost initial. f 280 was damaged at some point in the manuscript’s history:

Add_ms_82957_f280v
Add MS 82957, f 280v.

However, the imprint made by a decorated initial on the portion of the page now lost can still be seen on the facing page. It is the letter tau (T) with a bird at the base. The imprint is a little difficult to make out, but is perhaps clearer when put alongside a similar tau from earlier in the manuscript:

Taus
(L) Add MS 82957, imprint of initial tau on f 281r. (R) Add MS 82957, f 3v, bird carrying the letter tau on its shoulder.

There is much more to be discovered in this manuscript, and surely a great deal more to be said about its place in the wider context of 11th-century illumination. The digitisation of this fragile item makes it available to a wide audience, and we invite you to explore its riches.

Cillian O'Hogan

18 November 2014

A Royal Beast and the Menagerie in the Tower

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Yates_thompson_ms_13_f018r - detail
Detail of a miniature of a crowned lion as ‘King of Beasts’ in a Book of Hours (‘The Taymouth Hours’), ?England (?London), c. 1325–c. 1350,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 18r

In light of the recent news that London may be without lions for the first time in 800 years, and with further inspiration from the Royal Beasts exhibition at the Tower of London, we take a turn towards the role of the lion in the medieval imagination.

Barbary lion skull
A skull of a ‘Barbary’ lion, excavated from the moat of the Tower of London in 1937, image courtesy of the Natural History Museum, London

Visitors to Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination may remember the lion skull kindly lent to the British Library by the Natural History Museum. This was one of two skulls unearthed at the Tower of London, where King John (d. 1216) had established a Royal Menagerie which was to become home to an assortment of exotic beasts including lions, bears and one short-lived elephant.

Egerton_ms_3277_f068v detail
Detail of an historiated initial showing the King of England mounted on a lion, from the Bohun Psalter, England (S.E., ?London), 2nd half of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3277, f. 68v

The skulls were radiocarbon dated to 1280–1385 and to 1420–1480, suggesting that these particular lions were the private exhibits of either Edward I, II or III, in the first instance, or of the Lancastrian Henry VI or Yorkist Edward IV, in the second. These ‘Barbary’ lions, hailing from northwest Africa, were doubtless an exciting embodiment of the Royal Arms of England for any English monarch.

Harley4751 f2v
Detail of a miniature of crafty method for catching lions (potentially) by placing a goat in one hole and waiting for a lion to fall down the second hole, from a Bestiary, England (?Salisbury), c. 1225–c. 1250,
Harley MS 4751, f. 2v

Whether royal mascots or diplomatic gifts, numerous archival records indicate a long history of lions at the tower. Exactly how they came to be at the tower, how they were crated and transported, is unknown, but trapping a lion using the method depicted in the Bestiary above (involving two holes and a tethered goat) would be quite a feat. The earliest noted payments to their keepers came from King John in 1210-1212, with records becoming more detailed under Henry III (d. 1272).

Egerton_ms_3277_f104r - detail
Detail of an historiated initial showing a man being devoured by lions (I Kings 20:36), Egerton MS 3277, f. 104r

In 1240, the sheriffs of London were instructed to make provisions for a lion and a keeper, William de Botton, including 14 shillings for ‘buying chains and other things for the use of the lion’. By 1314, the sheriffs were providing a quarter of mutton every day for the maintenance of numerous lions. The polar bear seems to have had it better in this respect. As part of a cost-saving measure for the City, this (chained) Norwegian captive could at least fish for its own supper on the bank of the Thames.

The keeper’s own wages could be slow to materialise, as experienced by William Bounde who was owed £55 by 1408: he would be imprisoned by his creditors, he claimed, and the lions would go unfed. The office was granted to Robert Manfeld in 1436, who would double up as marshal of the hall within the royal household. Perhaps delegating duties became a challenge since it was in the same year that all of the lions in the tower apparently died. Had he simply fed the sick lions a monkey, as recommended by the Bestiary, they may well have been cured.

Royal_ms_12_f_xiii_f005v - detail
Detail of a miniature of lion and his irrational fear of the white rooster, in a Bestiary, England (?Rochester), c. 1230–c. 1300,
Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 5v

The Bestiary describes the power, courage and intelligence of the lion – a fitting emblem of monarchy – who fears nothing save the white rooster, scorpion and snake.

Royal_ms_12_c_xix_f006r - detail
Detail of a miniature of cubs born dead and reanimated by their fathers who breathe life into them, in the Bestiary, England (?North or Central), c. 1200–c. 1210,
Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 6r

When hunted, the Bestiary relates, the lion sweeps his tail over the ground to conceal his tracks; he also sleeps with his eyes open to avoid capture, and he has the ability to resurrect his stillborn cubs. He never attacks women and children, nor the man who prostrates himself before him.

Yates_thompson_ms_13_f008v - detail
Detail of a miniature of Josiane (luckily a virgin of royal blood) with two lions,
Yates Thompson 13, f. 8v (this miniature featured earlier this year in our Valentine's Day blog post, An Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love)

Lions were able to ascertain, by mysterious means, both virginity and royal blood, which is why Josiane was immune to being trapped in a cave with two lions.

Yates_thompson_ms_13_f012r - detail
Detail of a miniature of Beves of Hampton slaying the two lions pestering Josiane,
Yates Thompson 13, f. 12r

Beves of Hampton, by contrast, was forced to employ all his knightly prowess to avoid being devoured alive.

Royal_ms_13_b_viii_f019v - detail
Detail of a miniature of Joanna of Paris embracing a lion, from the ‘Topographia Hiberniae’ of Gerald of Wales, England (?Lincoln), c.1196–1223,
Royal MS 13 B VIII, f. 19v

Occasionally, a ‘woman’s tricks’ might be held responsible for encouraging the amorous affections of the lion, as Gerald of Wales reports was the case at the French court of King Philip.

Roy17EVII f107v
Detail of a column miniature showing Habakkuk (suspended by the hand of God) delivering a jug of stew to Daniel in the lions’ den, from Guyart de Moulins, Bible historiale, France (?Paris), 1357,
Royal MS 17 E VII, f. 107v

Roy1Di f377
Detail of an historiated initial 'A' showing Daniel and two lions in the den, from a Bible, England, c. 1250–c. 1275,
Royal MS 1 D I, f. 377r

The popular stories associated with biblical heroes Daniel, Samson and David gave frequent cause for lions in manuscript miniatures. Daniel’s benign and friendly companions emphasise his miraculous delivery from the lions’ den.

Harley_ms_2803_f126v
Marginal drawings of David keeping his sheep safe by grappling with a lion and a dog (above) and fighting Goliath (below), from the Worms Bible, Germany (Frankenthal), c. 1148,
Harley MS 2803, f. 126v

Other popular subjects include David – shepherd boy and future king – protecting his sheep from a lion, a prolepsis of his battle with Goliath.

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f044r - detail
Detail of a miniature of Samson taking a honeycomb from the lion’s body, from the ‘Queen Mary Psalter’, England (?London or East Anglia), between 1310 and 1320,
Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 44r

Samson was renowned for possessing the strength to tear apart a lion with his bare hands. The illuminator who executed the Samson miniature chose to depict the moment when Samson revisited the dead lion to find bees nesting in its carcass, allowing him to take honey from the lion’s body.

Add 69865 f2v
Detail of an historiated initial containing an Evangelist portrait that represents Mark as a lion, from a Book of Hours, Italy (?Bologna), c. 1390 – c.1400,
Add MS 69865, f. 2v

The lion can be seen, more frequently, distinguishing the Gospel of Mark from the other Evangelists (this particular Mark has morphed into a lion-human hybrid).

Egerton 3266 f8
Detail of an historiated initial showing Jerome and lion, from Jerome, Pseudo-Jerome and others, Epistles and treatises, Italy (?Venice), c. 1390,
Egerton MS 3266, f. 8r

Similarly, Saint Jerome can be identified by his red Cardinal’s hat and his attribute, a lion.

Egerton 1070 f9
Detail of the border of a Calendar page for July, showing Leo and a man harvesting and gathering sheaves of wheat,  from a Book of Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410,
Egerton MS 1070, f. 9r

In the bestselling devotional books of the Middle Ages, the calendar pages often display a zodiac sign paired with a typical activity for the month. Leo, the sign for July, heralded the harvest and he is frequently juxtaposed with scenes of peasants sharpening sickles or threshing grain.

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f078r - detail
Detail of Leo as a lion apparently forced into the July calendar by chain,
Royal 2 B VII, f. 78r

The lion is often very well portrayed in manuscripts and this may be linked to their popularity as an exhibit in the Tower. The improvements to Matthew Paris’ depictions of elephants, for example, are the result of his journey from St Albans to the Menagerie to draw Henry III’s elephant from life. Looking at the miniature above, you can almost imagine William de Botton with his chains worth 14 shillings, cajoling his captive ...

To learn more about the lions and other exotic creatures, their keepers, and the vanished menagerie that was a distant predecessor of London Zoo, check out the Royal Beasts exhibition at the Tower of London.

- Holly James-Maddocks

13 November 2014

Fire and Brimstone: Another Apocalypse Manuscript Goes Live

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Just in case you’ve been living in a cave on the island of Patmos, here’s a reminder about the forthcoming illuminated manuscripts conference at the British Library! It will be taking place on Monday 1st December, 10.45am-5.15pm. It is being held in honour of Lucy Freeman Sandler, who has published extensively on British Library manuscripts. The speakers are each leading lights in the field of art history and manuscript studies: Nigel Morgan, Kathryn Smith, Julian Luxford, Alixe Bovey and Paul Binski. Lucy Freeman Sandler will also be giving a paper on Egerton MS 3277, the Bohun Psalter. This is an unmissable opportunity to hear them talk about their most recent research.

150 people have registered to attend so far. If you haven’t reserved your place yet, don’t delay! E-mail James Freeman (james.freeman@bl.uk) to bag a seat, and check out our earlier blog post for further details of the programme.

As a taster of what we have to look forward to next month, let’s take a closer look at the manuscript that will be the subject of Nigel Morgan’s paper: Add MS 38842, an English apocalypse fragment, which has recently been published on Digitised Manuscripts

Sadly, only 8 folios are known to survive, but they contain wonderful illuminations on every page, including these of the Woman and the Beast. 

Add_ms_38842_ff003v-4r
The Woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and the Beast with seven heads, from an Apocalypse fragment with a commentary in French prose, England, early 14th century,
Add MS 38842, ff. 3v-4r 

A fierce red dragon with seven heads attacks the woman, but she looks back at him defiantly while passing her child up to God in heaven. Below, a host of angels come to her aid with spears, fighting off the beast and his army of club-wielding creatures, which represent vice. They are soon dispatched into a waiting hell-mouth, into which they dive headlong with evil grins. The woman grows wings and escapes from the beast; here she represents the Church, as the French commentary explains, escaping from the evil on earth. 

On either side of the final folio of the British Library fragment is the episode of the angels and the seven vials (Revelation 16). First, the angels, clothed in pure white gowns with golden girdles, receive their vials at the temple door. Although the text states that the vials, containing the wrath of God, are given to the angels by one of the four beasts of the Apocalypse, the image shows an angel giving out the last vial. 

Add_ms_38842_f008r
The seven angels with golden vials,
Add MS 38842, f. 8r 

The commentary in Anglo-Norman French tells us that the angels represent ‘li precheur de la foi’ (the preachers of the faith), ‘ki dampnerunt ceux ki ne la voudrent receuvre’ (who will damn those who do not want to receive it).

On the following page is a scene of high drama: six of the angels pour out God’s wrath on the earth, the sea, the rivers, the sun, the beast’s kingdom and the air. Some people lie sleeping or dead on the left, while in the foreground three figures writhe in terror, at the same time attacking each other violently. 

Add_ms_38842_f008v
The first six angels pour out their vials (right),
Add MS 38842, f. 8v 

This Apocalypse is believed to have been illuminated by the English court artist who worked on the ‘Treatise on Good Government’, given by Walter of Milemete to Edward III (Oxford, Christ Church MS 92). Milemete also presented a copy of the Secretum Secretorum to Edward III as companion volume to his treatise: Add MS 47680, one of the manuscripts displayed in our exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination.  

Add_ms_38842_f005v
Three men worshipping the beast out of the earth, with the dragon on a hill;  fire descends from heaven and four men lie dead,
Add MS 38842, f. 5v 

- Chantry Westwell

06 November 2014

Greek Digitisation Project Update: 40 Manuscripts Newly Uploaded

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We have now passed the half-way point of this phase of the Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and many others, including the A. G. Leventis Foundation, Sam Fogg, the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, the Thriplow Charitable Trust, and the Friends of the British Library. What treasures are in store for you this month? To begin with, there are quite a few interesting 17th- and 18th-century items to look at, including two very fine 18th-century charters, with seals intact, an iconographic sketch-book (Add MS 43868), and a fascinating Greek translation of an account of the siege of Vienna in 1683 (Add MS 38890). We continue to upload some really exciting Greek bindings – of particular note here are Add MS 24372 and Add MS 36823. A number of scrolls have also been uploaded, mostly containing the Liturgy of Basil of Caesarea. A number of Biblical manuscripts are included, too, but this month two manuscripts of classical authors take pride of place: Harley MS 5600, a stunning manuscript of the Iliad from 15th-century Florence, and Burney MS 111, a lavishly decorated copy of Ptolemy’s Geographia.

Add_ch_76659 detail
Add Ch 76659, detail of lead seal of Procopius I

Add Ch 76659, Confirmations by the Patriarch of Constantinople of the stavropegiacal rights of the Monastery of Theotokos Chrysopodariotissa near Kalanos, in the province of Patras in the Peloponnese, December 1786.

Add Ch 76660, Confirmations by the Patriarch of Constantinople of the stavropegiacal rights of the Monastery of Theotokos Chrysopodariotissa near Kalanos, in the province of Patras in the Peloponnese, March 1798.

Add MS 22749, Basil of Caesarea, Divine Liturgy, on a parchment scroll. 12th century.

Add_ms_24372_fblefr
Add MS 24372, front board

Add MS 24372, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes; with additional leaves inserted in the 12th century taken from Symeon Metaphrastes, Passio S. Clementis Admirabilis et S. Agathangeli (BHG 353), imperfect. 11th century. Illuminated head-pieces, gilt titles and initials. Stamped leather on wooden sides and bosses, possibly the original binding, but rebacked in the 19th century, at which time the inner boards were overlaid with goatskin.

Add MS 24381, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes, most being imperfect at the beginning, owing to miniatures which have been torn out. Three miniatures remain on ff 2r, 41v, and 52r. One wooden board from an earlier (15th-century?) binding survives and is kept separately as Add MS 24381/1. Written in 1079 or 1088, probably at Constantinople: the hand has been identified as that of Michael, a monk at the monastery of Christ Panoikteirmon in Constantinople.

Add MS 27563, Basil of Caesarea, Divine Liturgy, on a parchment scroll. 14th century.

Add MS 27564, Basil of Caesarea, Divine Liturgy, on a parchment scroll. 14th century.

Add MS 28823, John Zonaras, Commentary on the Canons of the Apostles, of the ecumenical and local councils and of the Fathers, and related texts. 4th quarter of the 14th century.

Add MS 28825, Greek translation of Ephraem the Syrian, Homilies, imperfect, and other patristic texts, including Isaiah of Gaza, Asceticon, Neilos of Ankara, Epistola ad Diaconum Achillium. Marcian of Bethlehem, and John of Lycopolis. 12th century.

Add MS 33318, Menaion for the month of September, imperfect. f 1 should follow f 185. The text varies considerably from that of modern printed editions. 4th quarter of the 14th century.

Add MS 34554, Lives of saints and theological discourses, imperfect. 16th century.

Add MS 34820, Divine Liturgy of St Basil, imperfect at beginning and end. inc. θυσιαστήριον εἰς ὁσμὴν εὐωδίας, expl. Πλήρωμα Πνεύματος ἁγίου. With a  wooden roller attached. 14th century.

Add MS 35212, John Chrysostom, In Genesim homiliae 10-17, imperfect. 11th century.

Add MS 36635, Lives of Saints, for 9-17 January, mostly by Symeon Metaphrastes. 12th century. Illuminated headpieces and initials.

Add_ms_36636_f048v detail
Add MS 36636, f 48v, detail

Add MS 36636, Lives of Saints, for 3-13 November, mostly by Symeon Metaphrastes. 11th century. Historiated initials and decorated headpieces.

Add MS 36654, Lives of Saints for the month of October, mostly by Symeon Metaphrastes. The manuscript ends with the text set out in cruciform with the letters of the Victorious Cross set in the angles. An inscription on f 215v records that it was brought to the Euergetis Monastery in Constantinople in 1103, and was probably created around the same time.

Add MS 36669, Apophthegmata Patrum: a compilation of the Greek Church Fathers, bearing the title Λειμὼν ἐνθάδε καρπῶν πεπληρωμένος. 14th century. In a 17th-century binding of boards covered with leather with gilt ornament, the centrepiece representing on the upper cover the Crucifixion, on the lower cover David and the angel of the Lord.

Add MS 36754, Collection of homilies by Basil of Caesarea and John Chrysostom, imperfect and mutilated. 11th century.

Add MS 36821, Works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, with the marginal commentary of Maximus the Confessor, and additional texts relating to Pseudo-Dionysius. 1st half of the 10th century, possibly copied from an uncial manuscript of Pseudo-Dionysius written by Methodius, future Patriarch of Constantinople, at Rome.

Add MS 36823, Menaion for the months of November and December, imperfect, partly palimpsest. 15th century, Selymbria: donated to the Diocese of Selymbria by the copyist John Chortasmenus. Bound with bare oak wooden boards, with a 19th-century leather spine. Traces of previous leather covering on back board and nail holes from clasps or furniture.

Add_MS_38890_f003v detail
Add MS 38890, f 3v, illumination of Emperor Leopold

Add MS 38890, Siege of Vienna, Ἀποκλεισμὸς τῆς Βιέννης, an account of the siege by Turks in 1683, translated from Italian into Modern Greek by Jeremias Cacavelas. Written by the priest Nicolas at Bucharest in December 1686, at the request of Constantin Brâncoveanu (b. 1654, d. 1714), later Prince of Wallachia.

Add MS 39608, John Chrysostom, In Genesim homiliae 1-133. 13th century.

Add_ms_43868_f026v
Add MS 43868, f 26v

Add MS 43868, Iconographic sketch-book, relating mostly to religious subjects. Also included are recipes, biblical quotations and church accounts. Pen and ink sketches, with some colour washes. 18th century.

Burney MS 24, Collation of the Codex Ephesinus (Lambeth Palace Library MS 528, Gregory-Aland 71) by Philip Traherne. c 1679.

Burney MS 56, Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, 2nd half of the 16th century.

Burney MS 57, Liturgy of St Basil of Caesarea, 2nd half of the 16th century.

Burney MS 58, Ioannes Sphaciotas, letters and offices. Corcyra, 17th century.

Burney MS 100, Works of Aristotle, preceded by Porphyrius, Isagoge. Italy, N? 1st half of the 15th century.

Burney_ms_111_f001v
Burney MS 111, f 1v. Ptolemaic map of Taprobana (Sri Lanka)

Burney MS 111, Ptolemy, Geographia, with many diagrams and coloured maps, all except that on f 1v being later fifteenth-century replacements on inserted leaves. 4th quarter of the 14th century-1st quarter of the 15th century.

Egerton MS 2743, Menaion, imperfect, from the middle of 16 March until 14 August, with Gospel Lections (Gregory-Aland l 940). Decorated headpieces and initials. 13th century.

Egerton MS 2744, Menaion for the months June, July and August. Imperfect at the beginning and end, some leaves are missing from the body of the volume. 12th century, written at Epirus.

Egerton MS 2745, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 941), imperfect, with ekphonetic notation in some lections: ff 1v-23v, 60r-61r, 62v-66r, 67v-68r, 69v-70r, 71r-121r. 12th century.

Egerton MS 2785, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 715; Scrivener evan. 564; von Soden ε 364). Decorated headpieces and initials. 13th century.

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Harley MS 5600, f 15v. Illumination of Homer surrounded by the nine muses. Medallions of four bearded figures in the four corners.

Harley MS 5600, Homer, Iliad, with prefatory material. Florence, completed on 16 May 1466. With a full-page frontispiece in colours and gold on f 15v; a full white vine border in colours and gold on f 16r; 25 white vine initials in colours and gold.

Harley MS 5620, New Testament: Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 322; Scrivener act. 27; von Soden α 550). Decorated headpieces. 16th century.

Kings MS 16, Homer, Iliad. Italy, 1431.

Royal MS 1 B I, New Testament: Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 308; Scrivener Paul. 25, Act. 20; von Soden α 456), with Euthalian prefaces to the Catholic Epistles, imperfect, being partly damaged throughout. 14th century.

Royal MS 12 A VIII, Complimentary verses to Elizabeth I on her Accession Day, 17 Nov., by Robert Twist, alumnus of Westminster School, in Latin and Greek. 1597.

Royal MS 12 A XXVIII, Complimentary verses inviting a visit from Henry, Prince of Wales, by members of Winchester College. Winchester, c 1603-1612.

Royal MS 12 A XLVII, Complimentary addresses in prose and verse to Elizabeth I on her visit to Woodstock and Oxford, 31 August 1566, by members of Oxford University. Oxford, 1566.

- Cillian O'Hogan

04 November 2014

“Snip It!” at The Jewish Museum, Berlin

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Detail of Abraham and the men of his family being circumcised, from the Egerton Genesis, Southern England, c. 1350–c. 1375,
Egerton MS 1894, f. 9v

Two manuscripts from the British Library are featured in the exhibition “Snip it! Stances on Ritual Circumcision”, newly opened at The Jewish Museum in Berlin (24 October 2014 to 1 March 2015). The British Library’s Egerton Genesis Picture Book and Omne bonum are two of some sixty objects and artworks gathered from international collections to examine the cultural and historical context of circumcision.

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The story of Abraham and Sarah from
Egerton MS 1894, f. 9v

Together with 19 other leaves, this page forms part of a remarkable picture book containing 149 illustrations of Genesis, from the Creation to the history of Joseph. The relative size of the illumination makes clear the primacy of image over the text, with the latter consisting of short captions in Anglo-Norman French, derived from Peter Comestor’s Historia scholastica. The exhibition features this page for its inclusion of Abraham and the men of his family being circumcised (see top for detail). Many more images from this manuscript feature in this previous blog post, and a discussion of the picture book genre can be seen here.

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Detail of the illustrated entry on ‘Circumcisio’ in the encyclopaedic 'Omne bonum', London, c. 1360–1375,
Royal MS 6 E VI, f. 269

The author of the second volume on loan to the exhibition, James le Palmer, said of his work: “Since virtually all good things are in one way or another contained herein, I thought it fitting to name this little work Omne bonum – all good things.” Containing more than 1350 entries arranged in alphabetical order, this work aspired to be a universal collection of knowledge. Over 750 entries are illustrated, including “Circumcisio” above. The ritual is performed on an ordinary child, in agreement with the text which discusses circumcision in the Old Testament, but the artist has followed the pictorial tradition of the Circumcision of Christ.

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Detail of the Circumcision of Abraham in Omne bonum,
Royal MS 6 E VI, f. 3

It is not the entry on “Circumcisio” which is on display in Berlin, however, but a scene depicting the Circumcision of Abraham included in the biblical cycle at the beginning of Omne bonum. This occurs among 109 tinted drawings of Old and New Testament subjects. The curators of the exhibition, Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek and Martina Lüdicke, explain that “Snip it!” illuminates “ritual circumcision from the perspective of the three monotheistic religions. Both loans, Omne bonum and the Egerton Genesis, are exhibited in the room dedicated to the Christian perception of the ritual. The depiction of Abraham’s circumcision greatly enriches our content, emphasizing the Christian interpretation of Abraham’s circumcision as an act of sacrifice.” Starting from the Jewish concept of the Abrahamic covenant, via sculptures exploring the body-shaped-by-culture, to clips from contemporary TV series, this exhibition is described as “incisive in every sense of the term”; for the full details see this press release.

The British Library is delighted to be a lender to this exhibition, and we hope that as many people as possible have the opportunity to see our manuscripts while they are on display in Berlin.

- Holly James-Maddocks

01 November 2014

A Calendar Page for November 2014

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

These two calendar pages for the month of November show a typical labour for this part of the agricultural season – the fattening of pigs for autumn.  On the opening folio, beneath the beginning of the saints’ days for the month, is a roundel of a peasant in the woods.  He is armed with a long stick, and is engaged in knocking acorns from oak trees to feed the pigs that are rooting around near his feet.   On the following folio, we can see a small miniature of a centaur with a bow and arrow, for the zodiac sign Sagittarius.  Beneath him is another peasant, heading home after a day of feeding pigs.  He looks fairly miserable – understandably enough, as he is walking through a heavy rainstorm.  Surrounding this roundel and the continuation of the saints’ days is a frame made up of golden columns, circled by banners with the initials ‘MY’ and ‘YM’.  These initials might be clues to the original owner of the manuscript, whose identity/identities are still unknown.  For more on this mystery, see here.

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Calendar page for November, with a roundel miniature of a man feeding pigs in the woods, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 11v

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Calendar page for November, with a roundel miniature of a man heading home in a rainstorm, with the zodiac sign Sagittarius, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 12r

- Sarah J Biggs

25 October 2014

Lindisfarne Gospels in our Treasures Gallery

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The Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the greatest treasures in the British Library’s collections, is now back on display in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery. This Latin Gospel-book is thought to be the work of one remarkably gifted scribe and artist, who created it around 700 on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumbria. Its importance lies not only in the beauty of its carpet-pages and its miniatures of the four Evangelists, but also in the tenth-century gloss of its text that is the earliest example of the Gospels in the English language.

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Colophon added by Aldred, the translator of the Old English gloss, in the Lindisfarne Gospels, England, c. 700,
Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 259r 

According to the colophon added by this translator, Aldred (fl. c. 970), who was provost of the community at Chester-le-Street near Durham, the artist-scribe was a monk called Eadfrith, who was Bishop of Lindisfarne from 698 to 721. The inscription records that Eadfrith ‘wrote this book for God and St Cuthbert and also for all the Saints whose relics are on the island’. It also describes the binding made by Billfrith the anchorite, which included a cover adorned with gold, silver and precious gems.

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A Canon table
from Cotton Nero D IV, f. 12v

On display for the next three months are two pages from the canon tables that preface the Lindisfarne Gospels (ff. 12v-13r). These provide readers with a concordance to the Four Gospels, allowing them to locate episodes described by more than one Evangelist. A mistake has been made in Canon 2 (shown), where the name titles at the heads of the three columns have been confused with those of Canon 3 on the facing page. The headings which read ‘Luke’ and ‘John’ have been corrected by a near-contemporary hand to read ‘Mark’ and ‘Luke’. Interlace birds fill the columns and the arch, while a ribbon knotwork design is used for the bases and capitals.

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Detail of masons building the canon table in the Echternach Gospels, from the monastery of St Willibrord, Echternach (now Luxembourg), 11th century,
Harley MS 2821, f. 9r

Visitors to the Gallery will be able to compare the canon tables in the Lindisfarne Gospels with those in the Echternach Gospels, made in the monastery of St Willibrord (in modern day Luxembourg) in the eleventh century. The two tables on display (ff. 8v-9r) show elaborate ornamental pillars upon which masons are still working with hammers and chisels.

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Detail of a remarkably naturalistic bird and fish from the ‘Golden Canon Tables’, Eastern Mediterranean, 6th or 7th century,
Additional MS 5111, f. 11r

In another case nearby there is also the much earlier ‘Golden Canon Tables’ from the Eastern Mediterranean. Written over gold leaf, these tables are set within elaborately adorned architectural frames, including some finely executed birds and fish. These pages were later trimmed to fit a smaller twelfth-century manuscript of the Gospels, causing the loss of some of these details.

The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library is open seven days a week, and is free to visit. If you would like to see the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Echternach Gospels or the Golden Canon Tables in their entirety, please see the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site. 

- Holly James-Maddocks