A new recording of a magnificent choirbook produced for King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, one of the great treasures in the British Library’s music collections, reached number 2 in the Classical Charts in the first week of its release in October 2014.
Detail of a historiated initial with the Tudor rose and pomegranate, from the Choirbook of Petrus Alamire, Southern Netherlands, c. 1516, Royal MS 8 G VII, f. 3r
Containing mostly motets for four voices by Josquin des Prez, Pierre de la Rue and other leading Continental composers, this volume is representative of the finest French and Franco-Flemish repertory of the time. To celebrate the first complete recording of all 34 pieces, full coverage of this beautifully illuminated volume is now freely available on Digitised Manuscripts.
Cantus and tenor parts of the motet ‘Celeste beneficium’ by Jean Mouton, Royal MS 8 G VII, f. 2v
The rich sounds of early sixteenth-century polyphony, as notated in Royal MS 8 G VII, have been recreated by the choir Alamire and the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, under the directorship of Dr David Skinner. Here is a sound-clip of the opening piece:
Released as ‘The Spy’s Choirbook’, the CD’s title refers to the colourful history of its famous scribe, Petrus Alamire (d. 1536), from whom Skinner’s ensemble borrows its name. In addition to making several similar choirbooks for other European courts, Petrus Alamire was a composer, mining engineer, and diplomat. He acted as a spy for Henry VIII, informing him of the movements of Richard de la Pole, the exiled pretender to the English crown. Surviving letters to the King and to Richard de la Pole suggest that Alamire was simultaneously engaged in counter-espionage. Perhaps gifting this manuscript to Henry was one way for Alamire to smooth over his double-dealing.
Alto and bass parts of the motet ‘Celeste beneficium’ by Jean Mouton, Royal MS 8 G VII, f. 3r
Naturalistic foliage, birds and insects, common to the south Netherlandish style of illumination, are combined with Tudor symbols such as the dragon and greyhound ‘supporters’ of the royal arms (f. 2v), and heraldic badges including the portcullis, the double rose, and the pomegranate (f. 3r). The exact circumstances of its presentation to Henry and Catherine are unknown, and it has been suggested that the manuscript may originally have been intended for Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany. ‘Celeste beneficium’, for example, was composed for the French couple, and its text calls upon St Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, to help bring forth children.
Detail of ‘HK’ in the place of stamens in the marginal flora and fauna, Royal MS 8 G VII, f. 2v
It is not difficult, however, to imagine the relevance of this text to Henry and Catherine’s pressing need for a male heir. The following two motets (‘Adiutorium nostrum’ and ‘Nesciens mater virgo virum’) continue this theme, and the fusion of Catherine’s emblem, the pomegranate, with the Tudor double rose, is another probable reference to the desire for progeny (see opening image above). Further evidence to support the idea that this manuscript was designed with Henry in mind appears in a tiny detail amidst the flora and fauna of the marginal decoration: the ‘HK’ which serves to substitute the stamens surely refers to ‘Henricus’ and ‘Katharina’. If the intended patrons did change, this must have occurred extremely early in the manuscript’s production.
Whatever the case, there is little doubt that this book would have greatly appealed to the King. Henry received a thorough musical education: he played several instruments, sang from sight and composed and arranged music. Indeed, it was Henry’s desire to bring the finest musicians in Europe to play and sing at his court which brought Petrus Alamire into close contact.
Now, perhaps for the first time since Henry’s post-dinner entertainment, we can appreciate the full aural and visual magnificence of this unique volume. See here for further details about the CD, and experience Royal MS 8 G VII in its entirety on Digitised Manuscripts.
We would like to advise visitors to the British Library that the Lindisfarne Gospels will not be on display on Tuesday 16 and Wednesday 17 December 2014. The manuscript will be back on display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery on Thursday 18 December. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.
Just in time for the holidays, we announce the latest batch of Greek manuscripts to be uploaded to Digitised Manuscripts. This project has been 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.
As always, there is something for everyone in this latest upload. We have already discussed the marvellous Phillipps Lectionary (Add MS 82957) in two blogposts, and as usual, there are many other Biblical manuscripts of interest to peruse. A bumper crop of patristic manuscripts are also included. Particularly noteworthy here is a very fine manuscript of the Orations of Gregory of Nazianzus (Add MS 36634) and a miscellany which may well repay closer attention (Add MS 24375). Some important Byzantine items have also gone online, amongst which pride of place must go to Add MS 36749, which is the sole witness to 122 letters by an unnamed 10th-century Byzantine professor. Those with an interest in the history of scholarship will welcome yet another manuscript formerly owned by Isaac Casaubon, a heavily annotated copy of the Epistles of Phalaris (Royal MS 16 D II). For classicists, the standout items are surely Add MS 58224, an important manuscript of Appian, and last but certainly not least, the famous Burney MS 69, a lavishly-decorated 16th-century manuscript of Greek treatises on warfare.
If you would like to support our Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, please click here to learn how you can make a donation and help to make our manuscripts accessible online.
Burney MS 69, f 7r, detail. Siege engine from Athenaeus, De Machinis
Add MS 24369, Alexius Aristenus, Nomocanon, and other canonical texts. 15th century.
Add MS 24370, Horologion. 16th century. Illuminated head-pieces and initials. Full leather binding. Rebound in the 19th century, but leather of previous boards onlaid (gilt-tooled, with the Crucifixion at the centre, and emblems of the evangelists).
Add MS 24375, Collection of various theological works, including Maximus the Confessor and Diadorus of Photike, 14th century.
Add MS 27862, John of Damascus, Dialectica sive Capita philosophica (TLG 2934.002) and Expositio fidei (TLG 2934.004); Sketches on the Division of Philosophy according to Christ and On the Seven Good Things; Anastasius of Sinai, Viae dux (TLG 2896.001); selections and fragments from other works (theological and geographical). Byzantine binding (rebacked) of wooden boards covered with blind-tooled leather. Two edge pins, the ends of the straps (now lost) were left over the pastedown and now protrude from the book. The fore-edge is shown on Digitised Manuscripts as f v recto. 11th century.
Add MS 28270, f 163r, detail. Colophon of Nikolaos, a scribe, dated August 1111 (ςχιθ΄).
Add MS 28270, Saints' lives and selections from John Moschus, Pratum Spirituale, entitled The New Paradise (Τὸ νέον παραδείσει). Italy, S., completed August 1111 by Nikolaos. The script is the ‘Reggio style’. 15th century binding of wooden boards covered with stamped leather
Add MS 28821, Mathematarion in Byzantine music notation, containing works by a number of composers such as Manuel Chrysaphes, John Koukouzeles, John Kladas, Xenos Korones, Chionopoulos, John Glykys, Gregorios Mpounes Alyates, Theodoros Manougras and others. 15th-17th century. The old binding, of wooden boards formerly covered with leather, is kept separately under Add MS 28821/1.
Add MS 28822, Collection of canonical texts, imperfect. 13th century.
Add MS 28828, John Zonaras, Epitome historiarum (TLG 3135.001-002), imperfect; George Akropolites, Annales (TLG 3141.002), imperfect; Leo VI the Wise, Oracula. 14th century. Byzantine binding, recovered (with old board leather onlaid) and probably resewn. Full set of petal-shaped corner bosses and round central ones.
Add MS 29715, Service book, possibly a Sticherarion or a Tropologion, imperfect. 12th-13th century.
Add MS 30043, Σχηματολόγιον, offices of the tonsure and consecration of a monk. 15th century.
Add MS 30510, Fragments of prayers, mainly exorcisms, possibly from a roll, imperfect. 14th century.
Add MS 31214, f 4r. Illuminated headpiece from a horologion.
Add MS 31214, Horologion. Illuminated headpieces on ff 4r, and 82r. Drawings on f 234v. Decorated initials and headings in red and gold throughout. 12th century.
Add MS 31919, Menaion for February and the Royal Hours for Holy Friday. A palimpsest: the volume is made up of a number of different manuscripts, namely a theological work written in the 12th century, and Gospel manuscripts (Gregory-Aland 0133, 0269, 0271, 0272, 0273, 0297, l 334; Scrivener Υ or Codex Blenheimius, evst. 282; von Soden ε 83). Completed 1431.
Add MS 36539, Pseudo-Sphrantzes (Macarius Melissenus), Chronicon sive Maius (TLG 3176.001). Italy, N.E. (Venice), in the hand of the scribe Manuel Glynzunius (1540-1596).
Add MS 36634, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes, followed by Pseudo-Nonnus (Nonnus the Abbot), Scholia mythologica, imperfect. 10th century, ff 1-9 being added on paper in the 15th century. Illuminated headpieces.
Add MS 36670, Laonicus Chalcocondyles, Historiae (History of the Turks 1298-1462) (TLG 3139.001). 16th century.
Add MS 36749, Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistles and Poems; Leo Magister, Poems; Anonymi professoris epistulae; Hierocles, In aureum carmen. 10th century, with some paper additions in Messina (southern Italy) in the 15th century.
Add MS 36928, f 44v, David seated, playing the harp, accompanied by Melody.
Add MS 36928, Psalter and Canticles (Rahlfs 1089), with additional texts, including Argumentum Psalmorum (a compilation), other patristic works, and calendar-notes. Eight full-page illuminations, much-rubbed. Headings in gold. Blind-tooled leather binding, on wooden boards (17th century?), with strap for clasp. Probably written in or just before 1090: the table of movable feasts (ff 37r-41v) begins with September 1090
Add MS 37534, Life and Miracles of Saints Cosmas and Damianus (BHG 373b), imperfect, lacking two leaves at the beginning and one or two quires after f 14. All the leaves are mutilated, especially at the top. The narrative differs largely in contents, and wholly in language, from that hitherto known. At the end (f 42r) is a hymn to the archangel Michael in a different hand. Egypt, 11th century: Brought from Egypt in 1907 and said to have been found near Edfu (St Mercurius Monastery). Found with Coptic MSS bearing dates in the late 10th and 11th centuries. Written in a very late uncial hand.
Add MS 38790, Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Sabae (TLG 2877.002), imperfect. 14th century. A colophon on ff 126r-v has been copied from an earlier manuscript, dated 1116. On f 1r is an inscription in Arabic.
Add MS 39583, f 39r, detail. Middle Irish commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates.
Add MS 39583, Fragments collected by Robert Curzon to illustrate the history of writing, including fragments of a Greek Gospel lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 182, Scrivener evst. 233); A leaf from a manuscript containing Ephraem the Syrian, Sermo Compunctorius (CPG 3908); a miniature of St. Mark in the Byzantine style of the ?13th century, probably from a Greek Gospel-book; Facsimile transcript of the Prague fragment of the Codex Forojuliensis of the Gospels; Leaf from a commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates (TLG 0627.012), in Middle Irish. The volume originally contained both Western and Oriental fragments, but the latter have now been transferred to their appropriate departments (Egyptian Antiquities, British Museum, and Asian and African Studies, British Library)
Add MS 39607, John Chrysostom, In epistulam I ad Corinthios homiliae (TLG 2062.156), imperfect. 12th century. Head-pieces tinted yellow, initials slightly tinted.
Add MS 39609, Isaiah of Scetis (Isaiah of Gaza), Asceticon (CPG 5555). 11th century, with paper additions dating from the 17th or 18th century.Illuminated head-pieces and initials, other initials and titles in gold. Hybrid full leather Greek/western binding of goatskin over wooden boards, with blind-tooled central stamp and corner pieces.
Add MS 39610, John Climacus, Scala paradisi (TLG 2907.001) and Liber ad Pastorem (CPG 7853), with additional prefatory material. 11th century. Illuminated head-pieces and initials, and a drawing of the Ladder of Ascent on f 206r. Binding of blind-tooled leather over birch boards. Writing on the upper edge, which can be seen on Digitised Manuscripts as f iii recto.
Add MS 41086, Pentecostarion, imperfect at the beginning. 15th century. Initials and headings in red. 17th-century binding. A later gilt-stamped figure of an angel or evangelist, impressed awry within the top left-hand corner of the outer panel, appears to represent a bungled and abandoned design.
Add MS 41330, Portions of two Euchologia, with many marginal notes. 2nd half of the 15th century (ff 20-128)-4th quarter of the 16th century (ff 1-19). An earlier binding (probably added in the late 16th century when ff 1-19 were inserted) is kept separately under Add MS 41330/1.
Add MS 41483, Greek liturgy. Copied in 1795 by Georgios Gounale, perhaps on Crete? Illuminated initials, headpieces and (ff 2v, 28v) miniatures. Original binding of blind-tooled morocco.
Add MS 57942, f 23r, Byzantine hymn book with musical notation
Add MS 57942, Collection of stichera and other hymns, with late Byzantine musical notation. 15th-16th century, probably written on Crete.
Add MS 58224, Appian, Historia Romana. Eastern Mediterranean (Crete?), c. 1450-1460. Decorative headpiece on f 1r. The text belongs to Mendelssohn's family i (deteriores). The text breaks off after 11 lines on f 65r, after which 37 unfoliated leaves are left blank, marking the lacuna in the Illyrica first found in Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS 70.5.
Add MS 59864, George Acropolites, Annales (TLG 3141.002), imperfect, expl. (1220A) μετὰ παραδρομήν. Not noted in Heisenberg’s edition of George Acropolites. 2nd quarter of the 14th century. In a 17th century binding of parchment over card boards, with fragments of title-labels on spine. Formerly owned by Sir Thomas Phillipps.
Add MS 82957, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 2376) with illumination and ekphonetic notation. 2nd half of the 11th century, Constantinople. Illuminated headpieces (ff 1r, 59r, 93r, 137r, 233r) and headbands (ff 210r, 230r, 248v, 257v, 263r, 278r, 292r, 297r, 300r, 301v, 302v, 309r, 312r). Decorated initials, frequently zoomorphic or historiated. Headings and some writing in gold. Occasional flourishes to letters on the final line of a page, especially χ, φ, λ, ι, and ξ. Formerly owned by Sir Thomas Phillipps.
Burney MS 16, Psalter. Coloured penwork headpiece and initial (f 1r). Written by Matthaeus the hieromonk for Pachomius the monk at the Monastery of Saint Catherine, Mount Sinai, and dated 2 July 1661.
Burney MS 18, Four Gospels and Hebrews (Gregory-Aland 480; Scrivener evan. 568; von Soden δ 462), adapted for liturgical use, imperfect, followed by Synaxarion and Menologion. Headpieces decorated in colours and foliate patterns on gold grounds at the beginning of each Gospel (ff 3r, 63r, 101r, 163r). Titles, initials and capitula in gold. In a binding of blue velvet over wooden boards with embroidered Greek spine title, brass corner pieces and two gold plaquettes of the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Adoration of the Magi set into the upper and lower boards, respectively, dating from the last quarter of the 16th century and probably Milanese or North European imitating a Milanese style. Written by Ioasaph of the monastery of the Theotokos ton Hodegon in Constantinople, 4 June 1366
Burney MS 69, f 12v, detail. Diagram of a siege-engine from Biton, De constructione bellicarum machinarum.
Burney MS 69, Greek treatises on warfare, with numerous drawings. Includes works by Athenaeus, Biton, Heron, Apollodorus, Philo of Byzantium, Leo VI the Wise, and others. Italy, N. E. (Venice), completed 7 May 1545. The scribe of a large portion of the manuscript was identified as that of Escorial MS gr. 138.
Egerton MS 2784, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 716; Scrivener evan. 565; von Soden ε 448). 14th century. A former binding (16th-century stamped black leather) is preserved in the box containing the manuscript, and is now ff iii-v.
Egerton MS 2786, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 346; Scrivener evst. 255). Imperfect and partly palimpsest: ff 55 to 157 are composed of leaves from at least four manuscripts of the 12th century, of which one (ff 59, 60) is a Lectionary, containing lections from Matthew; another (ff 55, 64, 73, 80, 84, 85) is a manuscript of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, written in double columns, and containing portions of the Orations (among others, parts of Orations 37, 38, 45); a third (f 132) is a manuscript of the Septuagint, containing part of Daniel 3; and the rest are from a theological work, most of which is wholly obliterated. 12th-14th century. 5 headpieces in red and brown with a braided or geometric pattern (ff. 40v, 65v, 96v, 132, 136v). Large initials in red and/or brown and red with penwork decoration, some anthropomorphic with a hand blessing. Smaller simpler initials in red. Simple headpieces in brown and red. Highlighting of letters in red.
Egerton MS 2787, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 913; Scrivener act. 223; von Soden α 470). 14th century, produced in the Levant, according to J. W. Burgon, based on the ornamentation. 19 large headpieces in red and/or brown or yellow with penwork decoration at the beginning of most books (ff 1r, 11r, 72r, 96r, 119v, 136r, 146v, 155v, 163r, 169v, 175r, 179r, 186r, 191r, 194r, 198v, 216v, 234v, 241r). Simple headpieces in red or brown. Large initials in brown and red with penwork decoration. Small initials in red. Text in red. In a binding of wooden (oak?) boards, possibly the original, with grooved edges, rebacked. Formerly fully covered in leather, fragment remains at the back edge.
Kings MS 17, Scholia on Pindar's Olympian and PythianOdes. Italy, N., 4th quarter of the 15th century.
Royal MS 1 A XV, Old Testament: Proverbs, Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon (Rahlfs 425), in Greek and Latin. 15th century, possibly written at Crete.
Royal MS 1 D II, Old Testament: Historical books and Isaiah of the Septuagint version (Rahlfs 93), imperfect and with extensive marginal notes. 13th century, with additions in the 15th century.
The 1 December conference celebrating the publication of Professor Lucy Freeman Sandler’s new book was a great success, with around 140 delegates attending. Her book, Illuminators and Patrons in Fourteenth-Century England: The Psalter Hours of Humphrey de Bohun and the Manuscripts of the Bohun Family will be described in more detail in a forthcoming post.
The conference was held in association with AMARC (the Association for Manuscripts and Archives in Research Collections), which welcomed many new members to the organisation. The day began with a welcome from Claire Breay, Head of the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section of the Library, followed by papers by six speakers.
Detail of a miniature of the Beast rising from the sea, from a fragmentary Anglo-Norman Apocalypse, England, early 14th century, Add MS 38842, f. 4v
Paul Binski opened proceedings with his paper on Lombardy and Norfolk, which re-examined the question of Italian influence in English art before 1350 and what is known about Italian art actually in England at that date. Nigel Morgan then delivered his paper on a little-studied fragmentary Anglo-Norman prose Apocalypse in the British Library, Additional 38842. He compared its iconography with that found in Anglo-Norman and Latin apocalypses, noting in particular instances where the miniatures in Additional 38842 reflected more accurately the narrative in the text, which raised the possibility that the artist could read Anglo-Norman.
Before the lunch break Bernard Meehan, the new Chair-elect of AMARC presented the outgoing Chair, Christopher De Hamel with a signed copy of Lucy’s new book in thanks for his many years of service. As well as encouraging attendees to join the Association, Bernard also announced the dates of the two upcoming AMARC meetings: 30 April 2015 at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and 10-11 September in Dublin. Add them to your diary now!
Detail of a miniature of Michal helping David to escape the soldiers of Saul, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England, 1310-1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 52r
The second session was begun by Kathryn Smith, who had travelled from New York for the conference. Kathryn examined the Old Testament prefatory cycle in the Queen Mary Psalter (Royal 2 B.vii), and discussed analogues of and possible sources for some of the Queen Mary Master’s compositions, evidence for the artist’s working methods, and the history and image of the Jews as constructed in pictures and text. Alixe Bovey followed, presenting new evidence for the patronage of the Smithfield Decretals, Royal 10 E. iv, and its connection to the Batayle family.
In the final session, Julian Luxford examined Additional 39758 and Additional 47170 and evidence of the involvement of Walter of Whittlesey, a monk of Peterborough abbey, as the person who commissioned, copied or decorated them. Julian’s paper revealed the character of historical study within one of the major East Anglian monastic foundations and the role that this roll and codex may have played as ‘vindicative’ texts of the abbey’s precedence and property in the region.
Detail of an historiated initial showing Jezebel talking to Ahab in bed, with the ‘embedded marginalia’ of a lewd woman in the margin, from the Bohun Psalter, England (?London), 2nd half of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3277, f. 110v
The day concluded with a paper by Lucy Freeman Sandler. Drawing on the research conducted for her new book, she challenged the assumed marginality of decoration at the edges of the text of the Bohun Psalter, Egerton 3277. These strange drawings are in fact ‘embedded’ in the area adjacent to the historiated initials, both initial and drawing being enveloped by the same gold background. Lucy highlighted many such decorations that offered analogues or subversions of the narrative summarised by the historiated initials, while acknowledging that the meaning of many remained obscure and the subject for future research.
The proceedings were brought to a close with a vote of thanks by Kathleen Doyle, Lead Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library. As thanks for her paper, and in acknowledgement of her nearly 60 years’ work on the manuscripts, Lucy was presented with a large poster of one of the initials from the Bohun Psalter. The opportunity to secure a signed copy of Lucy’s new book was seized by many of the conference attendees. Further copies (unsigned) are still available from the British Library shop!
Exciting news for those of our readers who might want to search for an image of a 13th-century devil with horns, an English drawing of a horse from the 10th century, rain over the Italian countryside, severed limbs or even Job afflicted with boils. More than 200 new images are now available online in our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. For those who have not yet used this catalogue, it has an advanced search page which allows you to search for key words combined with place of origin, date range and many other criteria: http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/search2.asp.
Over 4000 illuminated manuscripts from 800 to 1800 have been catalogued to date and we have now added a new selection with images and descriptions that were not previously available online, mostly from the Additionals series. The following examples show the range and variety of the items newly catalogued:
A Dutch copy of the legend of Jason and Medea (Add MS 10290)
This features colour-wash images of some dramatic and bloodthirsty scenes:
Medea with Jason and the Argonauts in a ship, about to throw the head of her brother into the sea with his severed limbs, to stop her father, King Oethes, who is pursuing them in the other ship; above left, Jason’s abandoned lover Hypsipyle is about to jump off a cliff; from ‘Historie van Jason’, Germany or Netherlands, N. (Harlem), between 1475 and 1480, Add MS 10290, f. 118
Named after Alfred Huth, who donated his collection of manuscripts to the British Museum in 1912, this is a pocket-sized psalter in Latin from Lincoln or York, with an Anglo-Norman text for calculating Easter added at the beginning. It contains 11 full-page miniatures in the style of the William of Devon manuscripts (Royal MS 1 D I, Egerton MS 1151, and others. Simple search using the keywords ‘William of Devon’ and you will find them all in the catalogue. To continue with the gory theme, this one shows a young child being held aloft on a spear by one of Herod’s soldiers:
The Adoration of the Magi: Herod orders the Massacre of the Innocents; the Massacre of the Innocents with a young boy's body held up on a spear, from the ‘Huth Psalter’ England (Lincoln or York?), 4th quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 38116, f. 10r.
A miscellany of scientific and grammatical texts in Latin and Anglo-Norman French (Add MS 17716)
This manuscript contains treatises on French spelling and grammar, as well as Manieres de langage, a text used for teaching the French language in England in the 15th century. It includes several short tales in French, apparently as examples for reading or language practice, one of which has the intriguing title Le mari cocu, battu et content (‘The husband who is cheated on, beaten up and happy’). The story is about a pair of young lovers who concoct an elaborate ruse. The beautiful young wife tells her elderly husband Mr Bon (who has only three grey hairs left) that the falconer (her lover) is a blackguard who wants to seduce her. If he (Bon) disguises himself as her and waits in the garden that night, he will catch him at his tricks. Bon duly waits in the garden for several hours while the lovers have fun inside. Finally the falconer goes to the garden and pretends to make love to Bon dressed as a woman. When Bon responds, the falconer pretends to be horrified and says that he was only there to test his master’s wife’s honour. He beats Bon with a stick in supposed punishment and sends him inside, where Bon finds his wife lying ‘innocently’ in bed, waiting for him. Bon is delighted that his wife and falconer have been so honourable towards him and resolves to treat the falconer as part of the family. Of course the lovers are delighted!
The manuscript also contains a Latin poem on algorithms and treatise on the movement of the planets, part of which is shown here:
Text page with pen-flourished initials of an astronomical treatise, from a Scientific and Grammatical Miscellany, England, 1st half of the 15th century, Add MS 17716, f. 11r.
This is a 10th-century copy of the allegorical poem by Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348-c. 405), made in the south of England. It concerns the struggle between the Vices and Virtues for possession of the human soul. The origin of the manuscript is unknown but it was at Bury St Edmunds Abbey in the 14th century (it contains their pressmark) and then in the library of Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1694 to 1715. The outline drawings of allegorical figures are finely executed with their garments drawn in some detail, providing examples of the tunics and veils worn by Anglo-Saxon women in this period.
Two ink drawings of Superbia's horse grinding its teeth (above) and Superbia reining in her horse, pointing her hand towards three figures in short robes, probably other vices, while Humility and Hope stand on the right, from Aurelius Prudentius, Psychomachia, England, S., 4th quarter of the 10th century, Add MS 24199, f. 12v
These 16th-century Italian botanical manuscripts contain watercolours of the flora and landscapes of the Ancona region of Italy by the amateur botanist Gherardo Cibo (b. 1512, d. 1600).
Full page botanical painting of Galanthus (Snowdrop) on the right and a blue-flowering bulb, probably Ipheion on the left, with a botanist and a young man gathering plants on a mountain top, from Gherardo Cibo, Extracts of Dioscorides' 'De re medica', with botanical paintings, Italy, Central (Urbino), c. 1564-1584, Add MS 22332, f. 35r.
The slaughtering of animals and preparing of meat for the winter are the labours highlighted in these final calendar pages of the year. On the opening folio can be found the beginning of the saints’ days for December. Below, a roundel miniature shows two men in a barn; one has his hands firmly on the horns of a bull, holding him steady, while the other man is preparing to deliver the coup de grâce with a wooden mallet. In the facing folio, another man is butchering a hog outdoors, wielding a long, sharp knife. A bucket of blood is beneath the slaughtering table, and above, we can see a wooly ram (perhaps aghast at the carnage), for the zodiac sign Capricorn. Surrounding this scene is another golden architectural frame, populated with angels playing musical instruments, and a kneeling monk above, perhaps in honour of the feast of the Nativity.
Calendar page for December, with a roundel miniature of two men slaughtering a bull, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 12v
Calendar page for December, with a roundel miniature of a man butchering a hog, with the zodiac sign Capricorn, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 13r
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Future blog posts will outline the damage that the manuscript has sustained, and the particular difficulties of digitising and conserving this item.
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 in the shape of two hands holding palm leaves. (L) Add MS 82957, f 154v. (R) Add MS 19352, f 100r.
Epsilon in the shape of two birds. (L) Add MS 82957, f 113v. (R) Add MS 19352, f 148v.
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:
(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, 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:
(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.