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408 posts categorized "Illuminated manuscripts"

05 March 2015

Collaboration and Customisation: The Evolution of a Royal Book

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As we draw to the end of Paris fashion week, let us turn to a manuscript that exudes the best of Parisian style. The haute couture of book illumination, this glorious Book of Hours showcases the work of the French capital’s most in-demand fifteenth-century illuminators. 

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Miniature of the Visitation by the Egerton Master, from ‘The Hours of René of Anjou’, France (Paris), 15th century, Egerton MS 1070, f. 29v

It is the eponymous manuscript of the Egerton Master, whose mastery is elsewhere illustrated in the stunning two-volume Bible historiale that starred in our exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination. The Egerton Master collaborated on several occasions with other fashion­able painters of the day. These included the Mazarine Master, who helped to complete the miniatures and decoration towards the end of this lavish manuscript, along with two lesser-known Parisian artists.

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Detail of a miniature of The Last Supper by the Mazarine Master, Egerton MS 1070, f. 113r

One of the more unusual characteristics of Egerton MS 1070 is the unique border decoration. Angels carry freshly unearthed branches of acanthus, roots intact, which extend up the vertical margins.

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Miniatures of Saint Denis and his companions, and Saint George, with border decoration of angels carrying branches of acanthus by the Egerton Master, Egerton MS 1070, f. 90v

A book fit for a king? Well, it was actually owned by several…

Following the original commission, this exceptional Book of Hours passed into the hands of a number of monarchs, including Henry VII, before entering the British Library’s collection (via a short residency at a Jesuit College in Krakow). Today the manuscript is identified by the name of one of its fifteenth-century owners, René of Anjou. ‘Le bon roi René’ (‘good king René’) was an influential European leader, patron of the arts and occasional author, whose many titles included duke of Anjou, duke of Lorraine and Bar, and count of Provence, as well as king of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem.

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Full-page miniature of René’s coat of arms, Egerton MS 1070, f. 4v

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Full-page miniature of Jerusalem with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock, Egerton MS 1070, f. 5r

When the book came into René’s possession, it was carefully customised to suit its new owner and assert his status. This is evident from the beginning of the book: two full-page miniatures depict firstly René’s coat of arms and, on the facing page, Jerusalem, the capital of his kingdom in the Holy Land. Painted by Netherlandish artist Barthélemy d'Eyck, they reflect the early stages of the close relationship between this artist and his patron.

Texts were also added to personalise the manuscript for René’s own private devotion, such as the prayer below which incorporates his name.  

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Detail of added prayer including René’s name [Renatum], Egerton MS 1070, f. 43v

The additions also permeate into the borders: many of the angels find the burden of their flight eased by billowing sails, which carry René’s motto 'En Dieu en soit' (‘in accordance with God’s will’). As well as furthering his devotional appropriation of the book, they function as a graffiti artist’s tag, stamping René’s ownership in his own distinctive manner.

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Detail of border decoration including the addition of René’s motto
'En Dieu en soit', Egerton MS 1070, f. 16r

Why not delve deeper into this fascinating codex by exploring it in full on our Digitised Manuscripts website.

- Hannah Morcos

01 March 2015

A Calendar Page for March 2015

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To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

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Calendar page for March, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, architectural column and suspended roundel, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 2v 

In this month’s border decoration, a roundel for the Feast of the Annunciation is suspended from a perpendicular gothic column. This elaborate architectural design itself encloses a scene showing the Mass of St Gregory, who died on 12th March 604. According to Paul the Deacon’s 8th-century biography of Gregory, the Man of Sorrows appeared as Gregory celebrated mass as Pope, in response to his prayers to convince someone of the doctrine of transubstantiation – that is, Christ’s physical presence in the consecrated host. 

At the top of the page, there is the Zodiac sign for March: Aries the Ram. At the bottom, there is another scene of agricultural industriousness. Three peasants labour in a fenced-off garden: the men digging and planting fruit trees, the woman pulling up weeds. They are overseen by a gentlewoman, who is holding a small lapdog in her arms, and her female attendant. A large and imposing building, presumably the woman’s residence, stands in the background. 

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants labouring in a garden,
Add MS 35313, f. 2v 

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Detail of an architectural column enclosing the scene of the Mass of St Gregory,
Add MS 35313, f. 2v 

- James Freeman

17 February 2015

Re-use of images on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

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Many of our readers will already be familiar with our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, a resource which enables you to search by shelfmark, keyword, or date, as well as by more advanced fields such as language and provenance. We thought it was about time to give a reminder that all images on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts are available for download and re-use under a Creative Commons licence. Please respect our terms and conditions. A cause for much rejoicing, we’re sure you’ll agree, and to celebrate, here are some triumphant trumpeters, all found through the search function on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts!

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Harley MS 2433, f 82r. Detail of a lion playing a trumpet, from the right margin of the folio. Netherlands, S. (Ghent-Tournai area), 2nd quarter of the 15th century.

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Add MS 26933, f 45v.    Detail of an initial-word panel with penwork decoration and pen-flourishing, accompanied with a bearded hybrid blowing a trumpet and carrying a shield with a fleur-de-lis, in the outer margin. Spain or Italy, 15th century.

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Royal MS 2 A XVI, f 98v. Detail of a miniature of musicians with a tabor, three-hole pipe, trumpet, harp and dulcimer, at the beginning of Psalm 80. England, S. E. (London), c. 1540-1541.

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Royal MS 2 B VII, f 194r. Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a donkey playing a trumpet and a cat beating a tabor. England (London/Westminster or East Anglia?), between 1310 and 1320.

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Royal MS 3 D VI, f 234r. Detail of a miniature of a rabbit with a trumpet, from the border of the folio. England, S. (London?), between 1283 and 1300.

- Cillian O'Hogan

05 February 2015

The Legend of Troy in Medieval Manuscripts

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Currently on display in the Treasures Gallery at the British Library are two superb images of the legend of Troy in medieval manuscripts from our collections – Stowe MS 54 and Harley MS 4376 – both shown below. We thought this would be a good opportunity to re-discover how the familiar stories of the Greek and Trojan wars, the abduction of Helen by Paris, the Trojan horse and the Odyssey were viewed in the Middle Ages.

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The Greeks attacking Troy from the Sea, with the Greek and Trojan soldiers equipped as medieval chivalric knights from the ‘Histoire Ancienne jusqu’à César’, France (Paris), 1st quarter of the 15th century, Stowe MS 54, ff. 82v-83r

History mingled with chivalric romance was a very popular subject with medieval aristocrats, and they were fascinated by accounts of the heroes of ancient world, some of whom were real, like Alexander the Great, some fictional, like Oedipus and Ulysses. Fact and legend became entangled in works such as the Histoire Ancienne jusqu’à César, an account of the history of the ancient world from Genesis to the Roman empire, including the stories of Jason and the Golden Fleece, tales of Thebes and the adventures of Aeneas.

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Paris and Helen meeting Priam outside Troy from the ‘Chronique d’Histoire Ancienne’, France, N. W. (Normandy, Rouen),
3rd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 4376, f. 90r

The later Chronique d’Histoire Ancienne or Chronique de la Bouquechardière was written by the Norman knight Jean de Courcy just after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. His aim was to entertain and instruct his audience, while emphasising the moral lessons to be gained from history, at a time when Normandy was being conquered by the English under Henry V.

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Theseus and Hercules jousting against the two sisters of Queen Antiope, from the ‘Histoire Ancienne jusqu’à César’, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Acre), before 1291, Add MS 15268, f. 103r

The British Library has nine out of a total of almost forty surviving manuscripts of the different versions of  the Histoire Ancienne jusqu’à César. The work was first compiled and adapted from Latin into French in the early thirteenth century. One of the earliest copies in our collections was made in the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem, perhaps for Henry II de Lusignan as a gift for his coronation in 1286. Medieval knights far from home in the Holy Land must have identified with these ancient heroes and studied the accounts of their military campaigns. This glorious image on a gold background shows Theseus and Hercules jousting against women. Yes, two of our most illustrious ancient heroes took on Queen Antiope and the Amazon women in order to seize the royal girdle. They arrived with nine warships and captured two of Antiope’s sisters, Melanippe and Hippolyte, along with the girdle.

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Detail of a column miniature of the Greeks attacking Troy, with the rubric 'Ci commance la vraie hystoire de troies' from the ‘Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César’, France (Paris), 1340-1350, Add MS 12029, f. 22v

A version of the text omitting Genesis and beginning with the history of King Ninus and Queen Semiramis of Persia was copied in Paris about 50 years later, and contains 46 framed miniatures by four different artists. This image is at the beginning of the Troy legend, and shows the Greeks attacking Troy for the first time.

Add MSS 15268 and Add MS 12029 have recently been catalogued and are now online with a selection of the images in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

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Detail of a four-part miniature of (1) the death of Hector, (2) Achilles and Polyxena on Hector's grave, (3) Achilles with Hecuba in the temple, and (4) the death of Achilles, from the ‘Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César’, France, N., 1250-1275, Add MS 19669, f. 84r

The earliest French Histoire Ancienne manuscript in our collections – Add MS 19669 – was made in Northern France in the mid-thirteenth century. It contains a series of miniatures in three or four parts, including this one of the deaths of Hector and Achilles. In the first scene (top left), Hector, the Trojan prince, is killed by the Greek hero Achilles as he bends to retrieve a jewelled helmet from a fallen knight; in the second (bottom left), Achilles visits Hector's grave, catches sight of Hector’s sister, Polyxena, and falls in love; in the third (top right), Hecuba tricks Achilles into coming to the Trojan temple to marry Polyxena; finally (bottom right), he is killed by Paris, Hector’s brother.

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Miniature of the Sack of Troy, from the ‘Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César’, Naples, 1330-1340, Royal MS 20 D I, f. 169r

Different scenes from the Iliad and the Odyssey are portrayed in a series of tinted drawings and illuminations in a copy of a later version of the text of the Histoire ancienneRoyal MS 20 D I – produced by Italian artists for the French monarchs of the house of Anjou, who ruled Naples from 1266-1435. The Trojan Horse is shown in this extravagant full-page depiction of the sack of Troy, reminiscent of a large wall-painting. The 297 images are all available online in Digitised Manuscripts.

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Detail of a bas-de-page miniature of Ulysses in Crete, from the ‘Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César’, Naples, 1330-1340, Royal MS 20 D I, f.181v

Here, Ulysses is shown arriving in Crete on his homeward journey from Troy, as related in the accompanying text, though this is not in the original version of the Odyssey.

Do you have any favourite scenes from these manuscripts?  Let us know on Twitter @BLMedieval!

- Chantry Westwell

01 February 2015

A Calendar Page for February 2015

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To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

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Calendar page for February, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, four roundels and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 2r 

For this month, the bas-de-page scene is an appropriately wintry and barren one. In the foreground, two ruddy-faced labourers prune back vines, while another carries off the trimmings for firewood in a bundle on his back (note how he is wearing medieval mittens against the cold!). A female figure is following in his footsteps in the background, and to the right a team of oxen draw a plough through a frosty field. The Zodiac sign for this month is Pisces, shown at the top of the page. The border contains four roundels for the key religious festivals of the month, which are picked out in red in the calendar.  These are the feast days of the Purification of the Virgin Mary (also known as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, or Candlemas), Saints Vedastus and Amandus (two bishops from northern France/Belgium, close to where the manuscript originated), the Chair of St Peter, and St Matthias. 

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of men pruning vines and gathering firewood,
Add MS 35313, f. 2r 

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Detail of a roundel illustrating the Purification of the Virgin Mary,
Add MS 35313, f. 2r 

- James Freeman

29 January 2015

Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project: Another 30 Manuscripts Go Online!

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In our penultimate Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project update, we are very glad to announce that another 30 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.

Royal 2 b ii f_1v
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

Arundel ms 157 f_13v
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.

Add_ms_18852_f001v - detail
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

Kings ms 9 f_2v
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.

Add_ms_18852_f002r - detail
Detail of activities on a frozen river, from
Add MS 18852, f. 2r

Egerton ms 1146 f_12v
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