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489 posts categorized "Illuminated manuscripts"

28 March 2016

Updated List of Digitised Manuscripts’ Hyperlinks

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What are these Easter bunnies (or hares) hurrying towards?

Detail add_ms_31840_f003r
Detail of hares, from Roman de la Rose, France, c. 1325-1375, Add MS 31840, f. 3

 An updated list of all the early and medieval manuscripts digitised in full by the British Library! Every quarter, we try to publish a list of all the medieval manuscripts uploaded to the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. The most recent list can be found here: Download List of Digitised BL AMEMM Manuscripts by Shelfmark, March 2016. And, by special request from our friends on Twitter, a list of manuscripts with the most recent digitisations at the end can be found here: Download List of Digitised BL AMEMM Manuscripts with More Recent Uploads at the End, March 2016.

  Detail royal_ms_12_c_xxiii_f100v
Riddle about an elephant, from Aldhelm’s Riddles, England (Canterbury?), c. 970-1020, Royal MS 12 C XXIII, f. 100v

Particular highlights uploaded in the past three months include:

5 illustrated copies of the book of Apocalypse (or Revelation)

All 4 of the British Library’s copies of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

More than 3 manuscripts of the Roman de la Rose

2 collections of material related to the cult of St Cuthbert

One 1,000-year-old collection of riddles (Royal MS 12 C XXIII).

The one and only copy of the Dialogue de la Duchesse (Add MS 7970)

 

Add_ms_7970_f001v
Miniature of Christ appearing to Margaret of York, from the Dialogue de la Duchesse, Low Countries (Brussels), c. 1468-1477, Add MS 7970, f. 1v

With several different digitisation projects under way, new manuscripts are regularly uploaded to Digitised Manuscripts. In order to get the latest news about our digitisation, please consult our Twitter page, www.twitter.com/blmedieval, where we announce the most recent uploads to Digitised Manuscripts.

Happy Viewing!

Related Content:

Previous List of Hyperlinks

Anglo-Saxon Digitisation Project Now Underway

New Digitisation Project and Positions

More information on Apocalypse Manuscripts

25 March 2016

Kassia: A Bold and Beautiful Byzantine Poet

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by Mary Wellesley & Peter Toth

It’s Women’s History Month and to celebrate we are running a series of posts about medieval women. Today’s focus is an enigmatic poet who lived in 9th-century Constantinople. Kassia (b. 805/810, d. 843x867) was courageous, highly educated and beautiful. She was so beautiful, in fact, that the Emperor of Constantinople - Emperor Theophilus (d. 842AD) - wanted her as his wife. Not taken with the idea of becoming Empress, Kassia rejected his advances and chose instead to become an abbess and poet.

Kassia came from a noble family and was well-educated. In a letter to her, Theodore the Studite (d. 826) - one of the most important theologians of the 9th century - wrote that he was ‘astonished’ by her erudition, especially in one so young. He went on, ‘the fair form of your discourse has far more beauty than a mere specious prettiness’.

Thoedore. PNG

Theodore the Studite (right) from the Theodore Pslater, Eastern Mediterranean, 1066, Add MS 19352, f. 27v

Yet it was her prettiness that caught the eye of the Emperor in the year 830 CE. In this year, according to a number of Byzantine chroniclers, Kassia appeared in a ‘Bride Show’. These were events in which commissioners were sent throughout the empire to find possible wives for the Emperor and would bring them back to Constantinople to be displayed (some historians dispute whether they actually happened). According to the chroniclers, at one such show, Theophilus saw Kassia and, struck by her beauty, remarked ‘Ach, what a flood of base things come through woman’. Kassia, surefooted, replied, ‘but also from woman better things spring’. Her response – both witty and candid – espouses the Christian idea that through the Virgin Mary, Jesus brought redemption to mankind.

After rejecting the hand of the Emperor, Kassia became a nun at a convent in Xerolophos, Constantinople’s seventh hill. There she became a prolific poet and composer. Of the hundreds of hymn composers from the Eastern Church, only four women can be positively identified and only one of these – Kassia -- had her works incorporated into official service books for use in church worship. She also wrote secular works. The British Library holds a collection of her epigrams. In it she displays her sharp mind and sharp wit. She speaks disparagingly of thoughtlessness, writing, ‘There is absolutely no cure for stupidity.’ She went on, ‘knowledge in a stupid person is a bell on a pig’s snout’.

Epigrams

Kassia's Epigrams from Works of Demetrius Cydones and others, Eastern Mediterranean, 16th Century, Add MS 10072, f.94r 

Kassia was also courageous. 9th-century Constantinople was rocked by fierce debate over the legitimacy of religious images, but just as she was unafraid to reject the advances of the Emperor, so too Kassia stood up to defend the veneration of the icons. In one of her verses she writes, ‘I hate silence when it is time to speak’. And her courage was not only demonstrated in her writing, but in her actions too. In another of his letters to her, Theodore thanks Kassia for helping one of his disciples who has been imprisoned by the authorities for his defence of icon-worship.

Iconoclasm

An image of the destruction of icons from the Theodore Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean, 1066, Add MS 19352, f. 88r 

Kassia’s best known and most popular work is a hymn for Holy Wednesday, in which she gives voice to a nameless woman from the gospels. The woman appears in an episode in the gospels, whereby Christ, dining in the house of a wealthy man, is anointed by a woman (Matthew 26: 6-13; Mark 14: 3-9), whom Luke describes as having led a sinful life (Luke 7: 36-50).

Annoint

The anointing of Christ's feet from Xanthopulus and Ephraem the Syrian, Eastern Mediterranean, 4th quarter of the 14th Century, Egerton MS 3157, f. 45v

A fine copy of Kassia’s poem survives in a 16th-century manuscript held by the British Library, where Kassia imagines the woman’s lament.

Kassia poem

Kassia's Hymn for Holy Wednesday, from a collection of Hymns and Canons, Eastern Mediterranean, 16th century, Add MS 39618, f. 8v

The text reads as follows:

"Woe is me, for the love of adultery surrounded me with darkness:

A lightless night of sin.

Accept the springs of my tears,

As you who disperse the waters of the sea From the clouds.

Bow down to the sighs of my heart,

As you bent the heavens, by your inapprehensible incarnation.

I kiss your purest feet and wipe them with my own tresses.

I kiss your feet whose tread Eve heard in Paradise

Where, frightened, she hid herself in fear.

Who can count the multitude of my sin and the depths of your judgment?

Wherefore, O my Saviour and the Redeemer of my soul

Do not turn away from your handmaiden, as your mercy is boundless."

(Translation modified and adapted from Anne M. Silvas, cited below.)

You can hear what Kassia’s poem probably sounded like here. Happy Women’s History Month!

@marywellesley

 

Further Reading:

Anna M. Silvas, ‘Kassia the Nun c.810-865: an Appreciation’, in Byzantine Women: Varieties of Experience 800-1200, ed. Lynda Garland (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), pp. 17-39.

Also In Our Series: 

Justifying Women Writers: A Medieval Poet Speaks Out

Heloise

Related:

The Books of Remarkable Women

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01 March 2016

A Calendar Page for March 2016

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For more information about the Bedford Hours, please see our post for January 2016; for more on medieval calendars in general, our original calendar post is an excellent guide.

Add_ms_18850_f003r
Calendar page for March from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410-1430, Add MS 18850, f. 3r

March sees the beginning of springtime proper, and these folios from the Bedford Hours reflect all the contradictions of the new season.

Add_ms_18850_f003r_detail1
Detail of miniatures of a man cutting vines and the zodiac sign Aries, from the calendar page for March, Add MS 18850, f. 3r

At the bottom of the first folio is a miniature of a man hard at work trimming vines with an unusual-looking tool; he appears to be working in the dead of night, under a starry sky.  Next to him is a rather jaunty-looking ram, for the zodiac sign Aries.

Add_ms_18850_f003r_detail2
Detail of a marginal roundel of Mars, from the calendar page for March, Add MS 18850, f. 3r

The roundel in the middle right margin depicts an armoured warrior with a forked beard, holding a sword and a pike.  This (literally) martial gentleman is intended to represent Mars, for as the rubric explains, ‘the pagans called the month of march after their god of war’. 

Add_ms_18850_f003v
Calendar page for March, Add MS 18850, f. 3v

The beauty of spring is reflected in the decoration of the March calendar pages, adorned as they are with bluebells, roses, and less realistically, golden leaves.  The roundels illustrate the season further, depicting, as the rubrics tell us, how in March ‘everything becomes green’, and below, ‘how in March thunder and storms are born’. 

Add_ms_18850_f003v_detail1
Add_ms_18850_f003v_detail2
Detail of marginal roundels of a two scenes of March weather, from the calendar page for March, Add MS 18850, f. 3v

-  Sarah J Biggs

26 February 2016

Caption Competition Number 4

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Sometimes we come across images that are just perfect for creative captions.  Here is one from an Apocalypse manuscript which has recently been fully digitised, Harley MS 4972.  It is filled with great images, including some weird hybrid concoctions.  So, over to you, dear, witty readers: how would you caption this image? The winner will be announced on the blog early next week.

Harley_ms_4972_f014r
Detail from Apocalypse in Prose, South-east France (Lorraine), 4th quarter of 13th century- 1st quarter of the 14th century, Harley MS 4972, f. 14r

 

Update 26 February 2016

Thank you for all of your entries. We are delighted to announce our Caption Competition Winner! 

That winner (of eternal fame in the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts section) is M. Mitchell Marmel: "H'm. Wonder if St. Brigid can turn this into bacon?" Honorary mentions also go to those who sent us unconventional styles of captions, such as sound files.

Didn't get the joke? Read our previous post about St. Brigid's magical, alchemical abilities

Brigid

Brigid’s fire, from a manuscript of Gerald of Wales’ 'Topographia Hiberniae', Royal MS 13 B VIII, f.23v

 

20 February 2016

Fashion Goes Medieval

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Are you sure

King Priam of Troy sends his son, Paris, to Greece. Grand Chroniques de France, Paris, c. 1320-30, Royal MS 16 G VI, vol. 1, f. 4v

 

London Fashion Week has begun and to celebrate we at the British Library have decided to offer some historically informed opinions on what we’d like to see for A/W ’16.

Fashion is not immune to the charms of the medieval world. Fashionistas will recall the Byzantine-inspired textures and tinctures of Dolce & Gabbana’s Fall ’13 Ready to Wear show. We feel there is great potential in the marriage of fashion and medieval culture. 

Here’s a run-down of some looks we want to see next season.

  1. The Wimple

It hasn’t been on-trend since c.1550, but we think it’s time it made a come-back. Team with killer heels for maximum impact.

Wimple 2

Detail from La Somme le roy, France, late 13th century, Add MS 28162, f. 9v

A scalloped hem will give your wimple a more relaxed feel. Perfect for a first date.

  Scallop

Detail from a historiated initial, Israelites consulting the Lord, from a Bible, England, ?London, c. 1400-25, Royal 1 E IX, f. 56v  

 

  1. Statement Headpieces

The fascinator has had its day. Millinery needs to get theatrical.

   Statement head

Detail of the queen of Macedon and her ladies from ‘Histoire d’Alexandre le Grande', Paris, late 1420s, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 7r

Experiment with diaphanous fabrics for an improbable, wind-defying look.

Hats

Jean de Courcy is led form the Forest of Temptation by the Seven Virtues from 'Chemin de vaillance', Bruges, Master of the White Inscriptions, late 1470s, Royal MS 14 E II, f. 194r

Offset a linear silhouette with head-wear more suited to bee-keeping. 

  Beekeeping

Lady out hunting, Alphonso Psalter, England, c. 1281-4, Add MS 24686, f. 13v

Even a monochrome outfit can be made to stand out with some serious underpinning.   

Christine louis

Detail of Christine de Pizan presenting her work to Louis of Orléans from 'The Collected Works of Christine de Pizan', Paris c. 1415, Harley MS 4431, f.95r

    3. Upsized Outfits

Outfits? The attire of one person? It’s starting to look at bit dated. We want to see clothing put together with an eye for a person’s surroundings. For example, stockings should be matched to the robes of nearby bishops.

Outfits

The Coronation Book of Charles V of France, Master of the Coronation Book of Charles V, Paris, 1365, Cotton Tiberius B VIII f. 48r

Or your horse.

Luttrell

Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, mounted, being assisted by his wife and daughter-in-law, The Luttrell Psalter, Northern England (Diocese of Lincoln), c. 1325-50, Add MS 42130, f. 202v


   
 4. The Bocking

We’re calling it the Bocking. It’s the stocking-boot. The shoe-boot (shoot) was big on the high street last year, but this year we want it to be all about the continuous sharp-toed stocking-boot.

The longer the toe, the better. Preferably so long, your shoe extends into the personal space of people nearby or over the lip of an image frame. 

     Bocking
    

                                 Bocking 3   

(Left) Le Songe du vergier, Paris , Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy, c. 1378, Royal MS 19C IV, f 1v

(Right) Detail, Philippe de Mézières presenting his treatise to Richard II of England. Philippe de Mézières, 'Epistre au roi Richart', France, 1395-6, Royal MS 20 B VI, f.2

 

5. Beards: Bigstyle.

The hipster beard is big right now, but it can be bigger. Think beard meets onesie.

 

Woodwose

A Wildman (Wodewose) from the Genealogy of the Infante Dom Fernando of Portugal, Lisbon and Bruges, Antonio de Holanda and Simon Bening, 1530-4, Add MS 12531 f. 1

~ Mary Wellesley

 

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11 February 2016

The Earliest English Poet

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 Today is the feast day of Caedmon, the first known English poet. As well as being the first named poet in the English literary tradition, he is also a significant figure in the history of people who hate singing in public, people who develop new talents later in life, and of cowherds.

 Caedmon’s work and the story of his life are described in the Ecclesiastical History of English People written by the eighth-century monk, Bede. An eighth-century manuscript of this work-- which was possibly even copied at Bede’s own monastery of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow-- has recently been uploaded to our Digitised Manuscripts website as part of our Anglo-Saxon digitisation project. Sadly, it was damaged in the Ashburnham House fire in 1731, but it is still somewhat legible. In it, Bede gives us some biographical detail about Caedmon. Although we might imagine that English’s first poet would have been a highly educated individual, Caedmon was, in fact, a cowherd at the monastery of Whitby who did not take religious orders ‘until he was well advanced in years’. In this sense, Caedmon is a remarkable figure in Bede’s history, as he is one of the few non-elite figures to get a mention.


Cotton_ms_tiberius_a_xiv_f025r
Detail of initials from Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, England (Wearmouth-Jarrow?), mid-8th-early 9th century, Cotton Tiberius A XIV, ff. 25r

Little in Caedmon’s early life suggested that he might become one of the greatest poets of his age. Ever the retiring type, he was so shy about singing or speaking in public that, according to Bede, when people began singing at parties, he would leave ‘as soon as he saw the harp approaching him’ (Bede, Ecclesiastical History, iv.24).

Cotton_ms_tiberius_a_xiv_f144r
Page containing Bede’s account of Caedmon, from Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, England (Wearmouth-Jarrow?), mid-8th-early 9th century, Cotton Tiberius A XIV, ff. 144r

It was only later in life that he began to write verse and compose song. Bede recounts how one night, when he was sleeping in the cowshed, Caedmon had a vision. When he woke, he remembered the song he had sung in his dream, and astounded everyone at the abbey with his beautiful poetry. Later on, he would impress the monastery’s leaders, including the abbess St Hilda, with his capacity to compose verse on complex theological topics which the monks and nuns discussed with him. (Caedmon might make a suitable patron saint for interdisciplinary work.)

Unfortunately all but one of Caedmon’s poems are lost. The sole surviving example is known as Caedmon’s Hymn and survives in manuscripts of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. Some manuscripts provide a Latin translation, while others give a Latin translation and an Old English version. The different Old English versions use various regional dialects, including Northumbrian and West Saxon. One of the manuscripts containing the West Saxon version of this very precious literary fragment is British Library Cotton MS Otho B XI. The manuscript was unfortunately also damaged in the fire of 1731, but an early modern transcript of it survives (British Library Additional MS 43703). In Old and Middle English c. 890-c.1450, Elaine Treharne translates Caedmon's hymn into modern English as:

'Now we ought to praise the Guardian of the heavenly kingdom,

The might of the Creator and his conception,

The work of the glorious Father, as he of each of the wonders,

Eternal Lord, established the beginning.

He first created for the sons of men [children of earth in West Saxon version]

Heaven as a roof, holy Creator;

Then the middle-earth, the Guardian of mankind,

The eternal Lord, afterwards made

The earth for men, the Lord almighty.'

The hymn is a work in praise of God. It grabs the reader from its opening word ‘Nu’, meaning ‘Now’, making the poem feel immediate.  From there it proceeds to celebrate all of creation in a mere nine lines. Like all Old English verse, it uses musical alliteration. It closes, powerfully, with the word ‘allmectig’, ‘Almighty’, in praise of God.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_a_xiv_f079v


Detail of an initial from Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, England (Wearmouth-Jarrow?), mid-8th-early 9th century, Cotton Tiberius A XIV, ff. 79v

Bede’s point, in his story about Caedmon, is that poetry is transformational, mystical and god-given. For, according to Bede, ‘no other English poets could compare’ with Caedmon, the humble late-comer not trained by human teachers, whose poetry in turn transformed and inspired those who read it in the Anglo-Saxon period and beyond.

~ Mary Wellesley and Alison Hudson

 

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01 February 2016

Exploding Eyes, Beer from Bath-Water and Butter from Nettles: the Extraordinary Life of Brigid of Kildare

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Today, February 1st, is the feast day of saint Brigid of Kildare (d. c. 524).  Brigid or ‘Brigit’ or ‘Bride’ was a virgin and abbess, and is the patron saint of dairymaids, poets, blacksmiths and healers. She is one of the most popular medieval Irish saints, with numerous churches and shrines dedicated to her both in Ireland and elsewhere. Her iconographical emblem is the cow.

There are multiple versions of the life of Brigid in both Old Irish and Latin. The earliest, written in Latin, dates from around a century after her death. All the versions are hazy in their biographical detail, but what they lack in biography, they more than make up for with colourful miracle stories.

A lot of the stories about Brigid, in each of the versions of her life, or ‘hagiography’, revolve around food – we find miracles associated with milk, butter, bacon and also beer. The library holds a very early manuscript of one of the Latin versions of Brigid’s life, Additional MS 34124. It dates from 850 and comes from Benediktbeuren in Germany. There is a story in this manuscript about how one night Brigid was expecting guests and realised she was short of food. Fearing that the evening’s feast would be ruined, she was able to change nettles into butter and tree bark into ‘the richest and most delicious bacon’. (Chapter 119)

Many of these miracle stories mirror stories from the Gospels. In John 2:2-12, we find the story of how Christ turns water into wine at the Supper at Cana. In the earliest Latin life of Brigid, by Cogitosus, we find a similar story in which Brigid realises she has no beer to give to her guests, whereupon ‘with the power of her faith’ was able to turn bath-water into beer. (Chapter 8)

Alongside the miracles associated with food and beer, there are also miracles involving amorous misadventures. A story from the earliest Irish life, from a manuscript in the Bodleian library in Oxford (MS Rawlinson B. 512) describes how a man came to Brigid’s house and asked for her hand in marriage. Having sworn a vow of virginity, Brigid was not taken with the idea. She declined the offer, but - ever magnanimous – offered her suitor an alternative. The text relates how she instructed him to go to a wood to the west of his house. In the wood, she tells him, he will find a house in which there is a beautiful maiden – he will know her because she will be washing her father’s head. Perhaps fearing that the suitor’s charms might be lost on this maiden, Brigid tells him ‘I shall bless your face and your speech so that they shall take pleasure in whatever you will say’. (Chapter 15) Brigid might make a suitable patron saint for first dates as well.

One of the Latin lives has a different version of this story. In this version Brigid is encouraged to take the hand of her suitor by her father and brothers. Reluctant to do this, she prays to God to be afflicted with a bodily deformity, whereupon, the life describes how ‘one of her eyes burst and liquefied in her head’. (Chapter 19)

A much later writer, Gerald of Wales (d. c. 1220) in his topographical guide to Ireland, dedicated to Henry II, has extensive descriptions of Brigid’s abbey and shrine. He describes a fire kept burning at the shrine, which is tended by a small group of nuns. The fire never goes out, and despite burning for centuries, it never produces any ash. It is surrounded by a hedge, which no man is allowed to enter. Only women are allowed to tend to the fire and to blow on it. Gerald relates a story about how an archer lept over the hedge and blew on the fire. On jumping back over the hedge, the archer began to lose his senses and blow into the faces of everyone he met. Then, consumed by thirst, he begged his friends to take him to some nearby water, where he drank so much that he burst. (Chapter 77)

You can see an image of Brigid’s fire, from a manuscript of Gerald of Wales’ Topographia Hiberniae (Royal MS 13 B VIII, f.23v) held at the library here. In the right of the image we can see the archer ill-advisedly blowing on the fire and then subsequently attempting to sate his thirst at a river.

Brigid's fire

Here you can see two of calendar pages from Books of Hours (prayer-books) for the month of February. In them, you can see saint Brigid’s name at the start, next to February 1st. This one (Additional MS 21114, f. 1v), produced in Northern France in the thirteenth century, shows a man cutting branches. The word ‘brigide’ is visible in the third line.  

Brigid calendar

In this one (Egerton MS 2076, f. 2r) produced in Germany in the early sixteenth century, the words ‘Brigide virginis’ are visible in the second line.   

Calendar page brigid

 

Mary Wellesley, Feast of Saint Brigid, 2016.

Further Reading:

For a translation of the earliest life of Brigid in Latin, by Cogitosus, see S. Connolly and J.M. Picard, ‘Cogitosus: Life of Saint Brigit’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 117 (1987), 5-27.

A translation of the earliest Old Irish life of Brigid can be found in M. A. O’Brien, ‘The Old Irish Life of Saint Brigit’, Irish Historical Studies, I (1938-9), 121-34.

A translation of another version of the Latin life, from a manuscript found in the library’s collection can be read in S. Connolly, ‘Vita Sanctae Brigitae: Background and Historical Value’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 118 (1988), 5-49.

A translation of Gerald of Wales’ Topographia Hibernica can be read in Gerald of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland, ed. and trans. by John J. O’Meara (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982).

A Calendar Post for February 2016

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For more information about the Bedford Hours, please see our post for January 2016; for more on medieval calendars in general, our original calendar post is an excellent guide.

Add_ms_18850_f002r
Calendar page for February from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410-1430, Add MS 18850, f. 2r

The calendar pages for February are just as lavishly decorated as those for January, filled with coloured initials and gold foliage.  At the bottom of the first folio is a miniature of another pleasant winter labour, that of warming oneself before a fire.  The gentleman in this scene has just removed one of his boots and is extending his foot towards a roaring fire, presumably after coming in from the cold.

Add_ms_18850_f002r_detail2
Detail of the miniatures for warming oneself and the zodiac sign Pisces, from the calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2r

Alongside is a miniature of two fish connected by a single line, hovering above an ocean and below a star-studded sky – this for the zodiac sign, Pisces.

Add_ms_18850_f002r_detail1
Detail of a marginal roundel with Februa and flowers, from the calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2r

Above in a roundel is an elegantly-dressed lady in a red dress trimmed with ermine; she is holding a bunch of flowers close to her face.  This unusual scene is explained by the rubrics at the bottom of the folio, which describe how this month is named after a woman called ‘Februa’, who ‘according to the poets’ was the mother of Mars, the god of war.  Rather unusually, she is said to have conceived her son by ‘kissing and adoring a flower’.

Add_ms_18850_f002v
Calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2v

The remaining saints’ days are laid out in the following folio, with a bit of space left blank because of the shortness of the month.  The roundels once again illustrate the bottom verses, which describe a procession around the city and the annual February Festival of Fools.

Add_ms_18850_f002v_detail1
Add_ms_18850_f002v_detail2
Detail of a marginal roundels of a city procession and the Festival of Fools, from the calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2v

-  Sarah J Biggs