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403 posts categorized "Illuminated manuscripts"

29 January 2015

Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project: Another thirty manuscripts go online!

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In our penultimate Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project update, we are very glad to announce that another thirty manuscripts have been digitised. There are great riches to be found in this month’s update, particularly for those with interests in theological treatises. Pride of place this month must go to a very fine 11th-century copy of the Orationes of Gregory of Nazianzus, which also incorporates some of the scholia on Gregory attributed to Nonnus. Byzantine learning is well represented by a 15th-century copy of Manuel Moschopoulos’ grammatical treatise, the Erotemata, written by the prolific scribe George Baiophoros in Constantinople, which is preserved in a contemporary binding. More of the many classical manuscripts collected by Charles Burney are also included in this month’s group of uploads, with Burney 75 being a particularly important collection of classical and Byzantine epistolography. Additionally, another group of Biblical manuscripts are to be found in the list below. Finally, perhaps the most curious item of the month is Harley MS 952. Titled Ilias in nuce, (“The Iliad in a nutshell”) or Homeri φληάς  (“The Flead”), it is a late 17th-century mock epic poem written in Homeric Greek on the subject of fleas in Glamorgan.

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.

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Miniature of Gregory of Nazianzus and Christ, Add MS 39606, f 1v

Add MS 27359, John Zonaras, Commentary on the Canons from the Octoechos (in its longer version), imperfect at the beginning and at the end. Completed in 1252, this is one of the earliest dated Greek manuscripts written on Western paper.

Add MS 27865, Sticherarion, imperfect and badly mutilated. 2nd half of the 13th century, Ioannina.

Add MS 32011, Euchologion. 13th century.

Add MS 36589, Lives of Saints for the month of February, and patristic texts. 12th century.

Add MS 39588, Canticles and other Services, imperfect (Rahlfs 1091). According to Rahlfs, this manuscript and Add MS 39587 (Parham MS V) were originally a single manuscript. ff 41-49 are fragments not part of the original manuscript. Initials and decorated headpieces in red. Two rough drawings on f 40v. 12th century.

Add MS 39605, Sermons on the Gospels of John and Matthew, possibly by Metrophanes of Smyrna. Early 10th century.

Add MS 39606, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes, followed by extracts from Pseudo-Nonnus, Scholia mythologica. Illuminated head-pieces and initials, paragraph initials in gold. On f 1v is a full-page miniature, much-rubbed, of Gregory seated on Christ's right, each with a book. 11th century.

Add MS 39611, Heirmologion, with musical notation, arranged according to ἤχοι or modes. Four quires, containing the first ἤχος and the first ἤχος πλάγιος, are lost.

Add MS 39618, Theological and religious works, including [Athanasius], Quaestiones ad Antiochum ducem (a longer version of Quaestio 1 than that printed in the Patrologia Graeca), John Climacus Scala Paradisi, and other texts. 16th century. Also digitised is the former (19th-century) binding.

Add MS 40726, Manual of Byzantine ecclesiastical painting, similar to that written by Dionysius of Fourna, Ἑρμηνεία τῆς ζωγραφικῆς τέχνης (edited by Papadopoulos-Kerameus 1909). Two distinct manuscripts (the division is at f 68), in different hands and with different original pagination, are bound together to form the present volume. 18th century.

Add MS 41180, Stichera and Canons on the weekdays, followed by two consecutive leaves from an earlier Gospel book (Gregory-Aland 2485). 12th-13th century.

Add MS 43790 A, Fragment of a Menaion for 13-29 November, imperfect. 13th century.

Add MS 43790 B, Fragments of Greek liturgical manuscripts, including Gregory-Aland l 2373, 2374, and 2375. 11th-14th centuries.

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Inner front board of Add MS 64797 (Constantinople, 1st half of the 15th century)

Add MS 64797, Manuel  Moschopoulos, Erotemata. Palimpsest, the undertext dating from 11th-12th cent. and presrving fragments of lives of the saints. f 63r contains fragments from the life of Stephen the Younger by Stephen the Deacon (PG 100:1069-1186), specifically 1108C. 1st half of the 15th century, copied at the Monastery of Prodromos Petra in Constantinople by Georgios Baiophoros. In a contemporary binding of blind-stamped leather over wooden boards with raised spine.

Add MS 82954, Nikolaos Malaxos, Services in Honour of St Luke the Evangelist. Illuminated headpieces and rubricated initials. 16th century.

Arundel MS 527, John Koukouzeles and others, Anagrammatismoi for the principal feasts, and hymns, tropes, and other theological miscellanea. Musical notation (with neumes). 3rd quarter of the 15th century.

Burney MS 21, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 484; Scrivener evan. 571; von Soden ε 322), adapted for liturgical use. Illuminated headpieces and initials (ff 9r, 76r, 121r, 197r). Written in 1291-92 by the scribe Θεόδωρος ῾Αγιοπετρίτης for the monk Gerasimos, grand sceuophylax of the monastery τοῦ Φιλοκάλου in Thessalonica.

Burney MS 22, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 184; Scrivener evst. 259). Written on Cyprus in 1319.

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Headpiece at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, Burney MS 23, f 22r

Burney MS 23, Four Gospels adapted for liturgical use (Gregory-Aland 485; Scrivener evan. 572; von Soden ε 247), imperfect. Coloured headpieces and initials (ff 22r, 99r, 149r, 207r). 12th century.

Burney MS 45, Homilies on the Gospels for each Sunday of the ecclesiastical year collected by Philotheos Kokkinos, Patriarch of Constantinople. Italy, N. E. (Venice) or Eastern Mediterranean (Crete), 3rd quarter of the 16th century.

Burney MS 55, Manuel Malaxos, Nomocanon, and other texts. 2nd half of the 16th century.

Burney MS 60, Apparatus Bellicus. 4th quarter of the 16th century.

Burney MS 72, Manuel Chrysoloras, Erotemata, with Latin interlinear and marginal glosses, followed by a Latin commentary on the work, and other short works. 4th quarter of the 15th century.

Burney MS 75, Letters by or attributed to classical and Byzantine figures, including Libanius, Nicholas Cabasilas, Brutus, Demetrius Cydones, Gregory of Nazianzus, and others. Written in part by the scribe Δημήτριος Ραοὺλ Καβάκης (ff 138r-144v, 177r-178v); formerly erroneously ascribed to Ἰωάσαφ. Greece (Mistra) or Italy, Central (Rome), mid-15th century.

Burney MS 78, Aphthonius and Hermogenes, with prologues and scholia by Maximus Planudes. Italy, N. E. (Venice) or Eastern Mediterranean, 4th quarter of the 14th century-1st quarter of the 15th century.

Burney MS 84, Proclus of Athens, In Platonis Alcibiadem I (TLG 4036.007), imperfect. Italy, N.? 4th quarter of the 16th century.

Burney MS 93, Manuel Moschopoulos, Erotemata, imperfect. Italy, Central or N., 4th quarter of the 15th century.

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Miniature of Christ and the four Evangelists, Egerton MS 2163, f 1v

Egerton MS 2163, Gospel Lectionary with ekphonetic notation (Gregory-Aland l 339; Scrivener evst. 59). 1 full-page miniature of Christ and the four Evangelists in colours on a gold ground (f 1v). 5 headpieces in colours and gold (ff 2r, 32r, 82r, 147r, 200v). Large initials in gold, or in gold and colours. Simple endpieces in gold. Chrysography. Accents in red. 2nd half of the 12th century, possibly produced at Constantinople.

Egerton MS 3046, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 238; Scrivener evst. 254), with extensive notes dated 1875 by John Ruskin mostly relating to the script, imperfect and misbound. Small headpieces in gold. Large initials in colours and gold in decorated forms. Initials in gold over red. Accents in red. Writing in gold. Excised headpiece (f 2r, the offset on f 155v). Late 11th-early 12th century.

Harley MS 952, Ilias in Nuce sive Homeri φληάς vel skipsodia, a parodic epic poem in Homeric Greek about fleas in Glamorgan. Wales (Glamorgan?), c. 1670.

 

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.

 

- Cillian O’Hogan

21 January 2015

Das Ende der Welt: An Overlooked German Apocalypse

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‘Bad work’: that is how M.R. James described an unusual German Apocalypse at the British Library, in his 1927 Schweich Lectures on The Apocalypse in Art. The full-page illustrations in Add MS 15243 – which was published on Digitised Manuscripts at the end of 2014 – may lack some of the finesse of those found in English or French Apocalypses, but a closer look reveals plenty of interest in this manuscript. 

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Detail of large pen flourished initial with zoomorphic grotesques at the beginning of the Book of Revelation, Germany (?Erfurt), c. 1350-c. 1370, 
Add MS 15243, f. 3r 

As followers of this blog will know already, the particular fashion for Apocalypse manuscripts in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century France and England is illustrated by the numerous copies that survive from those countries. Many in the British Library’s collections have been digitised and have featured in such blog posts as Apocalypse Now, Apocalypse Then, Fire and Brimstone, and Visions of the Apocalypse. 

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Full-page illuminated miniature depicting an angel casting a millstone into the sea,
Add MS 15243, f. 31r 

How common were German Apocalypse manuscripts? James’s survey – acknowledged at the time as being incomplete – gives a slightly misleading impression of the manuscript’s rarity. Of the 92 Apocalypses he listed, a mere six were from Germany, and only Add MS 15243 among them contained the text in German. Further surveys in the journal Traditio in 1984-86 and the Katalog der deutschprachigen illustrierten Handschriften des Mittelalters have increased the numbers, and Carola Redzich’s 2010 study of the language, transmission and reception of German Apocalypses has revealed a lively tradition in that country as well. (All bibliographical references may be found in full in the catalogue entry). 

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Full-page illuminated miniature depicting the beginning of John’s visions,
Add MS 15243, f. 4r 

The manuscript dates to around 1350-1370 and is possibly from Erfurt in Thuringia, Germany: blind-stamped motifs on the pig-skin binding match those used by a workshop there around 1490-1520. It contains a series of fourteen full-page, unbordered, illuminated miniatures. How closely these illustrations relate to the text varies from image to image. Some are very close to what John described, while others are not, owing to idiosyncratic inclusions or omissions by the artist. The book opens with a miniature of John in a cave on the island of Patmos (which featured in our most recent hyperlinks announcement). This is followed by another that depicts the beginning of his visions (shown above). Here, the artist has compressed two narrative stages together into a single scene: the appearance of Christ with various accoutrements (Rev. 1:12-16), and John’s falling ‘at his feet as dead’ and Christ laying his right hand upon him and saying ‘“Fear not”’ (Rev. 1:17). 

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Full-page illuminated miniature depicting the appearance of the four horsemen,
Add MS 15243, f. 12r 

The miniature illustrating the appearance of the Four Riders diverges from the text (Rev. 6:1-8). The first two Riders are as described in the Book of Revelation: the first on a white horse, wearing a crown and carrying a bow; the second on a red horse and wielding a large sword. Differences emerge thereafter. The third Rider is on a white, rather than a black, horse. Most strikingly, the fourth Rider – an emaciated figure with a skull-head, representing Death – is mounted on a winged lion. According to the text, Death is mounted on a ‘pale horse’. Why does the decorative scheme deviate here, and how common was this in Apocalypse manuscripts? Lion-hybrids are described elsewhere in the Apocalypse text, the closest but by no means exact match being the first of the ‘four living creatures’ described in Rev. 4:7-8. This lion was accompanied by a calf, a man and an eagle, each furnished with six wings and ‘full of eyes’, which are immediately recognisable as the symbols of the Evangelists. A winged lion is also mentioned in the Old Testament, in the first of Daniel’s apocalyptic visions (Daniel 7:4). Their relevance to this particular part of the Book of Revelation, and the reasons for the artist’s choice, are unclear, however, as are the reasons for the artist’s deviation from the text. 

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Full-page illuminated miniature depicting the Woman and the Beast,
Add MS 15243, f. 19r 

The complexity of John’s visions, and the obscurity of the language in which they are expressed, presented obvious challenges to the manuscript illuminator. Here, the artist has included certain elements from the text: the moon being under the Woman’s feet, her bringing forth a child that is delivered up to God, and the Beast with seven heads and crowns that drew stars from the heavens and cast them down to earth. Others he has abandoned: the ten horns on the Beast (Rev. 12:3) and the Woman being ‘clothed with the sun’ (Rev. 12:1). According to the text, the Woman is also ‘crowned with twelve stars’ (Rev. 12:1), which the artist has interpreted as ‘crowned, with twelve stars’, placing the twelve stars around her head like a nimbus or halo. That three are meant to be hidden behind the child is cleverly indicated by the twelfth star emerging from behind his back as the Woman lifts him up to God.

Download Add MS 15243 collation

The collation of this manuscript is highly irregular. Each of these illustrations, as well as two leaves of text, are on single leaves of parchment that have then been inserted into the manuscript. The order in which they have been stitched in is unusual in places, and to add to the complexity in a few instances parchment strips have been added to reinforce the leaves against the sewing. We have provided a detailed description of the collation in the record, but this seems an instance where a visual aid might be helpful!  

- James Freeman

19 January 2015

Surviving the Winter: Medieval-Style

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There is a Middle English aphorism that says, ‘Winter all eats / That summer begets’. Living alongside 24-hour supermarkets, it is easy to forget the once vital preoccupation with preserving the autumn harvest and stocking our larders to the brim. As we approach the sign of Aquarius, long nights and short days will persist until mid-March when the sun enters Aries, and we spare a thought for our medieval forebears in the most barren and cold of seasons. Depictions of wintry concerns and activities from the medieval era are frequently featured in the calendars which preface many Books of Hours and Psalters (for a discussion of calendars, see the post from January 2011).

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Detail from an October calendar showing the fattening of hogs, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1497,  
Add MS 18851, f. 6r

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A February calendar with a bas-de-page scene of men chopping wood and a woman gathering it, from a Book of Hours, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1500,
King’s MS 9, f. 3v

Surviving a medieval winter was the result of forethought and hard labour. The calendar page for October shows two men knocking acorns from trees to fatten their hogs in readiness for winter, while the calendar page for February depicts two men with curved knives cutting wood to be gathered and bundled, in this case, by a woman.

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Detail from a February calendar of a man drying his shoe by the fire, from a Psalter, France (Paris), c. 1250,
Royal MS 2 B II, f. 1v

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A February calendar with roundels showing of a man warming his feet by the fire (top) and the sign of Pisces (below), from a Psalter, England (Oxford), c. 1200–c. 1225,
Arundel MS 157, f. 13v

Little agrarian activity could take place in winter and miniatures of Labours of the Month for December, January and February show mostly indoor scenes. The practical discomforts of winter are illustrated in the February calendars of two contemporary Psalters, one made in Oxford and the other in Paris, both showing a man attempting to dry his shoe or warm his feet over the fire.

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Detail from a January calendar of warming by the fire and feasting, from a Book of Hours (the ‘Hours of Joanna I of Castile’), Southern Netherlands (Bruges), 1486–1506,
Add MS 18852, f. 1v

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A January calendar with a bas-de-page scene of feasting by an open fire, from
King’s MS 9, f. 2v

The standard activity featured in the January calendar is one of feasting and warming oneself by the fire. These miniatures were produced in Bruges around 1500, and both show men sitting to a rich feast attended by a woman. The dominant ‘humour’ of the winter season was thought to be phlegm, and one contemporary text, the Secretum Secretorum, recommended combatting its injurious effects through a modification of the diet. It prescribes figs, grapes, ‘fine red wine’ and ‘hot meats’ such as mutton or pigeon, while warning that the somewhat odd assortment of laxatives, bloodletting and lovemaking are to be avoided. Overindulgence in general is very bad, according to our source, but better to do so in the winter season when the body’s natural heat is drawn inwards, resulting in good digestion. This is good to know in the season which includes Christmas.

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Detail of activities on a frozen river, from
Add MS 18852, f. 2r

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Detail from a November calendar of a boar being snared, from a Book of Hours, Germany (?Worms), c. 1475–c. 1485, from
Egerton MS 1146, f. 12v

Snow sports of many varieties are another feature of January calendars, such as the skating, sledging and ball games taking place on the frozen river above. An activity which combined sport and the acquisition of food was boar-hunting, the principal quarry of noblemen in the winter. Above, a boar is chased through a gallows-like-structure in a snowy landscape, becoming ensnared in the noose and speared by a knight. Another good ‘hot meat’ to combat the phlegm.

- Holly James-Maddocks

03 January 2015

Cicero's Map to the Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harley MS 647, f 19r. Solar System.

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

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Harley MS 647, f 3v. Pisces.

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

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Harley MS 2506, f 36v. Pisces.

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

- Cillian O’Hogan

01 January 2015

A Calendar Page for January 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Sarah J Biggs

31 December 2014

The Top Ten Blog Posts of 2014

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Before 2014 is out, we’d like to say a big thank-you to all our readers for your support of the BL Medieval blog and your interest in the work that we do.

Back in April, we were honoured to receive a National UK Blog Award (Arts & Culture category), beating off stiff competition from the Tate, Horror Cult Films and other organisations. The award was made after an online ballot in which 16,000 votes were cast – so we literally couldn’t have done it without you!

In the course of the year, we’ve also passed another major milestone: the blog has now received over 1.5 million hits! Can we break the 2 million barrier in 2015? 

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Detail of a knight fighting a snail, from the Gorleston Psalter, England (Suffolk), 1310-1324, Add MS 49622, f. 193v
 

So which posts have helped us to achieve this fantastic result? Two in particular, written in previous years, remain at the top of the tree: our ‘discovery’ of the Unicorn Cookbook, and our study of the those bitter enemies who slug it out (no pun intended) in the margins, Knight vs Snail. For 2014, however, here is the top ten, in reverse order: 

10. The Burden of Writing: Scribes in Medieval Manuscripts 

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Detail of a miniature of the constellation ‘Draco’, from an astrological compilation with political prophecies, England (London?), 1490,
Arundel MS 66, f. 33v 

Here are some depictions of scribes hard at work from the pages of British Library manuscripts: pen in hand, eyes fixed in concentration over the page, labouring over desks and lecterns. 

9. A Calendar Page for April 2015 

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Calendar page for April, with a roundel miniature of an aristocratic couple courting, followed by a small child, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480,
Add MS 38126, f. 4v 

Manuscript miniatures offer wonderful insights into the medieval world...but there’s just something a bit odd about these ones. 

8. A Medieval Comic Strip 

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Detail of a miniature of the building of the Tower of Babel, from the Egerton Genesis Picture Book, England (Norwich or Durham?), 3rd quarter of the 14th century,
Egerton MS 1894, f. 5v 

Inspired by the British Library’s exhibition Comics Unmasked, this post takes a closer look at the Egerton Genesis Picture Book, which contains 149 illustrations of the Book of Genesis, from Creation to the story of Joseph, with captions from the Historia scholastica. 

7. How to be a Hedgehog 

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Hedgehogs rolling on the ground to collect grapes for their young, as illustrated in the Rochester Bestiary (England, c. 1230): London, British Library,
Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 45r 

We love it when people are inspired by British Library manuscripts to make things: here’s an animation about a hedgehog’s life, according to one of our bestiaries (Royal MS 12 F XIII). 

6. Sex and Death in the Roman de la Rose 

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Detail of a miniature of the Lover being beaten by Honte (‘Shame’), Peur (‘Fear’) and Dangier (‘Danger’), from the Roman de la Rose, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1490-c. 1500,
Harley MS 4425, f. 131v 

Beatings, murder, mutilation, suicide – oh, and handholding, dancing, music and polite courtship – in the miniatures of a beautiful 15th-century copy of Guillaume de Lorris’s staple of medieval romance literature, the Roman de la Rose. 

5. Weird and Wonderful Creatures of the Bestiary 

Harley MS 4751, f. 11r
Detail of a miniature of hunters pursuing a bonnacon with a very long lance and strategic shield, from a bestiary, with extracts from Giraldus Cambrensis on Irish birds, England (Salisbury), 2nd quarter of the 13th century,
Harley MS 4751, f. 11r 

We’ve found our animal posts are always popular, but we think you’d struggle to find the bonnacon cute – and don’t make eye contact with the basilisk! 

4. Anatomy of a Dragon 

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Detail of a miniature of a dragon attacking and suffocating an elephant, from a bestiary with theological texts, England, c. 1200 – c. 1210,
Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 62r 

We all know about St George – but what about his reptilian foe? Here’s a look at dragons across a range of medieval manuscripts, from bestiaries (apparently they prey on elephants) to astrological texts and apocalypses. 

3. The Three Living and the Three Dead 

Harley MS 2917, f. 119r
Detail of a miniature of the Three Living (a pope, an emperor, and a king) and the Three Dead (wearing matching crowns), at the beginning of thee Office of the Dead, from a Book of Hours, France (Paris), c. 1480-c. 1490,
Harley MS 2917, f. 119r 

Need a sober reminder of man’s mortality and the inevitability of his demise? Look no further! 

2. An Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love 

Egerton MS 881, f. 141v
Detail of a miniature of Mars and Venus being discovered in bed by Vulcan, from the ‘Roman de la Rose’, France (Paris?), c. 1380,
Egerton MS 881, f. 141v 

There still time to prepare for Valentine’s Day next year, singletons, so don’t despair: read our handy guide to the do’s and don’ts of courtship. 

1. Bugs in Books 

Royal MS 20 A IV, f. 3v
Detail of a grasshopper, from a copy of Martin de Brion's Description of the Holy Land, France (?Paris), c. 1540, Royal MS 20 A IV
, f. 3v 

Not actual bugs – goodness, no! – but the butterflies, caterpillars, beetles, spiders and other creepy crawlies that are found to populate the decorative borders of British Library manuscripts. 

- James Freeman

27 December 2014

Saved for the Nation: New Acquisitions in 2014

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During 2014, the British Library has made several new acquisitions. Thanks to such schemes as Acceptance in Lieu, as well as generous funding provided by the Arts Council, the Friends of the British Library and a range of private benefactors, we have been able to save these books for the nation. Each has been conserved and fully digitised, the images being published on Digitised Manuscripts, and so are now available for all to enjoy and study. Just in case you missed them the first time round, let’s take a closer look at each of them:

Catholicon Anglicum 

Add_ms_89074_f002r
Opening page, beginning with the exclamation ‘Aaa’, from the Catholicon Anglicum, England (Yorkshire), 1483,
Add MS 89074, f. 2r 

This is the only complete copy of one of the earliest English-Latin dictionaries ever made, and the first such dictionary in which all the words were placed in alphabetical order. From the dialect of some of the words, it appears to have been written in Yorkshire. Last seen in the late nineteenth century when the text was edited, and thought lost to scholarship forever, it had lain hidden in a private collection in Lincolnshire. The Catholicon Anglicum is of outstanding importance for our study both of the English language and English lexicography (which goes back much further than Dr Johnson!). It has been exhibited in the Treasures Gallery since June, as part of a small display about ‘Languages in Medieval Britain’

Mystère de la Vengeance de Nostre Seigneur Iesu Crist 

Add_ms_89066!2_f079r
Detail of a miniature of the murder of Emperor Galba by Otho and his rebels, from the Mystère de la Vengeance de Nostre Seigneur Iesu Crist, southern Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1465,
Add MS 89066/2, f. 79r 

Probably the finest illuminated drama manuscript to survive from the medieval period, this manuscript in two volumes (Add MS 89066/1 and Add MS 89066/2) was acquired from the collection of the Dukes of Devonshire at Chatsworth. It is the most complete copy of the mystery play, Le Mystère de la Vengeance de Nostre Seigneur Iesu Crist, which was written by a Benedictine monk, Eustache Marcadé, in the early fifteenth century. This manuscript ticks all the boxes: it is beautifully decorated and handsomely written; there are surviving records of exactly how much it cost and who made it; and there is an almost unbroken chain of provenance evidence, from its original owner Philip the Good of Burgundy to the present day. It too is on display in the Treasures Gallery; don’t miss your chance to see it! 

John Ponet’s copy of a treatise against clerical marriage 

Add_ms_89067_f001r
Frontispiece to John Ponet’s copy of Thomas Martin’s ‘Traictise’, containing Ponet’s annotations and an old library stamp from the Law Society’s Mendham Collection, printed in London, 1554,
Add MS 89067, f. 1r 

This book is a fascinating witness to one of the major doctrinal disputes of the Reformation, and to the personal rivalry between the Catholics Stephen Gardiner and his acolyte Thomas Martin on one hand, and the Protestant John Ponet on the other. Upon Mary I’s accession, Ponet went into exile, settling in Strasbourg. He acquired this book while on the continent, had it interleaved with blank sheets, and then began a point-by-point (and often ad hominem) refutation of Gardner/Martin’s argument. Many of these densely written notes were later printed – but crucially not all of them – affording us an insight into how contemporaries engaged with one another’s arguments and composed their responses during a febrile period in English religious history. 

And finally, our most recent acquisition, which arrived earlier this month: 

Rental of the lands of Worcester Cathedral Priory

The British Library possesses the largest collection of medieval cartularies in Britain. The newest addition to our holdings is a rental that was made for Worcester Cathedral Priory. Dating to 1240 (with some later additions), it contains records of the possessions of this major monastic foundation and the revenues to which it was entitled. It formed the exemplar for the ‘Registrum Prioratus’, dating to the early 14th century, which remains at Worcester Cathedral, as Muniments, A.2. More details of this exciting new acquisition will be coming in the New Year...

 

- James Freeman

25 December 2014

Merry Christmas Everyone!

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Everyone at the British Library's Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

Or perhaps that should be ‘¡Feliz Navidad y próspero Año Nuevo!’, since our Guess the Manuscript Christmas Special was taken from a Spanish manuscript: Add MS 28962, the Prayerbook of Alphonso V of Aragon. 

Add_ms_28962_f337v
Miniature of the Nativity, from the Prayerbook of Alphonso V of Aragon, Spain (Valencia), 1436-1443,
Add MS 28962, f. 337v 

This miniature marks the beginning of the Second Joy of the Virgin Mary. In this Book of Hours, there are seven such joys – beginning with the Annunciation (f. 336v), and continuing after the Nativity with the Adoration of the Magi (f. 338v), the Resurrection (f. 339v), Christ’s Ascension (f. 340v), and the Pentecost (f. 341v), and ending with the Dormition and Mary’s Coronation in Heaven (f. 342v). 

Add_ms_28962_f338v
Miniature of the Adoration of the Magi,
Add MS 28962, f. 338v 

The Joys of the Virgin Mary – often paralleled, as here, by a series of Sorrows of the Virgin Mary – was the most popular of the various ‘secondary’ texts that could comprise part of a Book of Hours. The number of Joys is known to have varied between five and fifteen, with such events as the Visitation of Our Lady, the Conception of Christ, the Presentation and Purification in the Temple, Christ among the Doctors and others included in the series. Popularized in thirteenth century Italy and later adopted especially by the Franciscans, the Joys of the Virgin Mary were depicted very widely in manuscripts and other forms of medieval art, such as wall and panel paintings. Mary’s Five Joys are also cited in Gawain and the Green Knight (Cotton MS Nero A X, art. 3) as the source from which the eponymous hero derives his fortitude (‘forsnes’). They were even used by Robert Fabyan (d. 1513) to divide his chronicle into seven parts (the manuscript copy of which survives in two volumes: the first is Holkham Hall, MS 671, the second Cotton MS Nero C XI). 

Add_ms_28962_f312r
Miniature of Alphonso V of Aragon at prayer, with his arms contained within a coloured initial below,
Add MS 28962, f. 312r 

The present Book of Hours was originally commissioned in 1436 by Juan de Casanova (b. 1387, d. 1436), a Dominican monk, for Alphonso V of Aragon, whom he served as confessor. It was taken on by the workshop of Domingo Crespí and his son in Valencia, but repeated delays meant that the book was not finished until 1443. Its intended destination is obvious, however: the manuscript contains a miniature of Alphonso V on horseback and several of him at prayer, in addition to his coat of arms in numerous places.

 - James Freeman