Medieval manuscripts blog

544 posts categorized "Illuminated manuscripts"

01 July 2014

A Calendar Page for July 2014

Add comment Comments (0)

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

The aristocratic pleasures of April and May have been left far behind in these pages for the month of July.  Set amongst a riot of red flowers (perhaps characteristic of this month) is a roundel in which two peasants are kneeling and harvesting the wheat crop.  Behind them is a peasant’s hut and what may be a cathedral in the background, while overhead, lightning strikes as a summer storm rolls in.   On the next folio, beneath the continuation of saints’ days for June, is a roundel containing a bushy-tailed lion, for the zodiac sign Leo, within a frame of similarly-threatening clouds.  Below him is a shepherd, standing in a rather downcast manner among his flock (he is not as unlucky as our April shepherd, however), which his dog relaxes in the foreground.

Calendar page for July, with a roundel miniature of people working in the fields, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 7v

Calendar page for July, with a roundel miniature of a shepherd with his flock, with the zodiac sign Leo, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 8r

- Sarah J Biggs

28 June 2014

Art and Alchemy

Add comment Comments (0)

Attention all budding alchemists!  Four of the British Library’s ‘Ripley Scrolls’ (Add MS 5025) are the latest additions to our Digitised Manuscripts website. They are currently on loan to the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf as part of an exhibition on ‘Art and Alchemy: The Mystery of Transformation’ until 10 August, starring alongside works by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens and many others.

Detail of a man (?George Ripley) in rustic dress, bearing a staff with a horse’s hoof, from the Ripley Scrolls, late 16th/early 17th century,
Add MS 5025, f. 2r.

Based on The Compound of Alchemy of George Ripley (d. c. 1490) and other pseudo-scientific texts, these scrolls are intriguing, bizarre and perplexing in equal measure.  They date from around the end of the 16th century to the beginning of the seventeenth century, however their origins are unknown.  An inscription on the second scroll records that ‘This long Rolle was Dra[ur]ne for me in Cullers at Lubeck in Germany  Anno 1588’ – however, two other scrolls bear a similar note, so neither the date nor the location may be established with any certainty.

Detail of a hermetic illustrating stages in the alchemical process and the revelation of alchemical wisdom,
Add MS 5025, f. 4r.

The scrolls illustrate stages in the alchemical process of preparing the philosopher’s stone, which was needed to turn base metals into gold.  The scrolls give visual form to the furnaces, flasks and other paraphernalia its practitioners were supposed to use.  They also contain emblematic imagery whose meaning remains obscure to scholars as well as more familiar symbols, such as the zodiac.

Detail of a zodiac diagram enclosing two dragons, a sun and a moon,
Add MS 5025, f. 3r.

Detail of an alchemist, probably Hermes Trismegistus, holding a hermetic flask,
Add MS 5025, f. 2r.

The large figure at the top of the second, third and fourth scrolls probably represents Hermes Trismegistus, the ancient and likely mythical author of hermetic texts that later formed the basis of alchemical experimentation in the medieval and early modern periods. Alchemists (often holding flasks or overseeing experiments) are depicted throughout the scrolls, alongside symbolic figures of unknown significance. Labels on some of these figures suggest they represent the elements that alchemists sought to transpose during their experiments.

Detail of alchemists holding flasks,
Add MS 5025, f. 2r.

Detail of symbolic men and a woman surrounded by flasks, within an enclosure decorated with a dragon vomiting a frog,
Add MS 5025, f. 4r.

Alongside them is an array of fantastical and grotesque anthropomorphic creatures: a woman with the tail of a dragon, a Bird of Hermes (a bird with the head and torso of a human), and a winged dragon with female features (perhaps representing Satan). There are also real and mythical creatures worthy of any medieval bestiary: toads and frogs, dragons aplenty, lions, and a cockatrice.

Detail of a Bird of Hermes,
Add MS 5025, f. 4r.

Detail of a dragon with a cockatrice perched on its head,
Add MS 5025, f. 1r.

George Ripley was an Augustinian canon of Bridlington. He claimed to have studied at the University of Louvain, and there is evidence to indicate connections with Edward IV beyond Ripley’s dedication of The Compound to the king. Another British Library manuscript, Cotton MS Vitellius E X, contains a drawing of Ripley’s tomb at Bridlington, upon which alchemical symbols feature prominently, indicating the integration of alchemy with medieval Christianity.

Detail of an alchemical distillation furnace,
Add MS 5025, f. 3r.

Seventeen other Ripley scrolls are known to survive, scattered across institutional collections in Britain and the United States. Recent studies have concentrated on comparative study of the different designs found on these scrolls. The four that make up Add MS 5025 represent each of the three main designs – and their availability on Digitised Manuscripts constitutes an important scholarly resource for the study of alchemy in the late medieval and early modern periods. There are two further Ripley Scrolls held at the British Library: Add MS 32621 and Sloane MS 2524A.

- James Freeman

26 June 2014

A Well-Travelled Medieval Map

Add comment Comments (0)

In a blog post back in January (An Even Older View of the New World) we mentioned the Map Psalter, one of our manuscripts that had travelled all the way to Australia for an exhibition of maps in Canberra.  The exhibition, Mapping our World: Terra Incognita to Australia, is now over and we are happy to say that the Psalter, Add MS 28681 (and the other manuscripts that went with it) has returned safely to it shelf in the manuscripts storage at the British Library. And it is now fully digitised on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

Psalter World Map, England, c. 1265, Add MS 28681, f. 9r

The Map Psalter gets its name from a very detailed map of the world on the first page, dating from the mid-13th century, one of the most important maps to survive from this period.  The world is represented as a flat circle, with Jerusalem in the middle.  The upper part of the circle is occupied by Asia, and the lower half divided into two quarters for Europe and Africa. Beneath Jerusalem it is quite easy to make out the names Roma, Grecia,  Dalmatia, Burgundia, etc.  The countries of the British Isles are discernable in the lower left quadrant, and despite the very limited space available one can make out rivers such as the Thames and Severn, and London is marked with a gold dot.

So, while the map is not accurate in our sense, it shows the places that were of interest to the people using it, and of course, most importantly, the earth is presided over by Christ and two angels: it is very much God’s creation.

There are indications that this manuscript was made in London and it has been suggested that the map may even be a miniature version of one that is known to have been painted on the wall of King Henry III’s bed-chamber in the Palace of Westminster.

Psalter World Diagram, England, c. 1265, Add MS 28681, f. 9v

On the verso of the world map is this diagram of Christ with angels, holding a globe divided into the three continents containing the names of the principal kingdoms and cities of Asia, Europe, and Africa.

The two diagrams are followed by a table and then the calendar, which allows us to date the manuscript to after 1262, the year in which Richard of Chichester was made a saint, as he appears among the saints in the calendar page for June. Other saints in the calendar, for example the relatively obscure St Erkenwald, a seventh-century Bishop of London, added to the style of the decoration, seem to indicate that the book was probably made in or near that city.

 The Psalms are decorated with historiated initials at the major divisions, including this image of Jonah at the beginning of Psalm 68.  He must have known he was going swimming as he has taken off all his clothes, and yet he clutches vainly at a tree while the whale has him by the foot – poor Jonah!

Jonah and the Whale, England, c. 1265, Add MS 28681, f. 82v

At the beginning of Psalm 97, the initial ‘C’ of ‘Cantate’ contains these three monks, who seem to be singing with great gusto, thoroughly enjoying themselves:

Monks singing, England, c. 1265, Add MS 28681, f. 116v

Following the Psalter-proper are petitions and collects, and then the Psalter of the Virgin or Ave Psalter, preceded by this full page image of the Virgin and Christ enthroned, with the Virgin’s feet resting on a lion. The Christ-child is in a curiously contorted pose, playing with his mother’s hair:

Virgin and Christ enthroned, England, c. 1265, Add MS 28681, f. 190v

There follow a series of prayers to the Cross in Anglo-Norman French (ff. 212-217), whereas the rest of the Psalter is in Latin. At this time French was still the language of the English court.

A series of 6 full page miniatures on a gold background of scenes from the New Testament were added to the front of the Psalter.  They are different in style to the decoration within the Psalter, but date from the same period, or slightly later.  This one shows the Nativity with Christ in a chalice-shaped manger.

The Nativity, England, 1275-1300 Add MS 28681, f. 4r

Welcome back to the Map Psalter!

- Chantry Westwell

21 June 2014

English Fourteenth-Century Illuminated Manuscripts in the British Library: a Conference

Add comment Comments (1)

The British Library is pleased to announce an AMARC conference to celebrate the launch of Lucy Freeman Sandler’s book Illuminators and Patrons in Fourteenth-Century England: The Psalter 'Hours of Humphrey de Bohun and the Manuscripts of the Bohun Family.  Details are as follows:

English Fourteenth-Century Illuminated Manuscripts in the British Library

Monday, 1 December 2014

British Library Conference Centre

Bohun Hours
British Library, Egerton MS 3277, f. 46v (detail)

Speakers:  Paul Binski, Alixe Bovey, Julian Luxford, Nigel Morgan, Kathryn Smith, and Lucy Freeman Sandler 

Evening book launch and reception hosted by Sam Fogg, at the Sam Fogg Gallery 

Registration fees: £20 general, £15 for AMARC members, £10 for students.  Lunch provided.

To register, send a cheque made out to AMARC to Kathleen Doyle, Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB.  Foreign delegates may register and pay on the day.  Places limited to 80.


17 June 2014

Weird and Wonderful Creatures of the Bestiary

Add comment Comments (0)

Those of you who follow our blog regularly will surely have noticed our deep and abiding love for medieval animals and bestiaries; in the past we’ve done posts about dogs, cats, elephants, hedgehogs, beavers, owls, and more.  But today we thought we would have a look at a few of the more fantastic creatures that are featured in medieval bestiaries, many of which are scarcely known today. 

The amphivena

The name of this beast is variously given as anphivena, amphisbaena, amfivena, and many other variations.  But the true spelling of its name is not the least of its mysteries; the exact nature of the amphivena’s form was also a source of considerable uncertainty. 

Harley_ms_3244_f062r detail
Detail of a miniature of an amphivena, from a theological miscellany including a bestiary, England, 1236 – c. 1250, Harley MS 3244, f. 62r

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 138vg70035-21a
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of two amphivenas, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London?), 1310 – 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 138v

The bestiary text tells us that this animal is so called because it has two heads, one in the ‘normal position’ and one at the end of its tail, and that its body forms a round shape.  Isidore of Seville says that the amphivena can ‘move in the direction of either head with a circular motion’, which seems, understandably, to have been confusing to some bestiary artists.  Pliny characterises it as a violent, poisonous beast, which might account for many of the depictions of it in the act of doubly attacking itself.

The manticore

The manticore is a fearsome beast indeed, and one that is also apparently vulnerable to the whims of the various artists attempting to portray it.  Bartholomaeus Angelicus describes this animal by saying that ‘among all the beasts of the earth is none found more cruel, nor of more wonderly shape’.

Harley_ms_3244_f043v detail
Detail of a miniature of a leonine manticore, Harley MS 3244, f. 43v

Royal_ms_12_c_xix_f029v detail
Detail of a miniature of a manticore from a bestiary with theological texts, England, c. 1200 – c. 1210, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 29v

 This wonderly shape is essentially a composite one; the manticore is said to have a lion’s body – ‘blood-red in colour’ - the face of a man, a triple row of teeth, and the tail of a scorpion.  It is extremely swift, can jump great distances, and, according to the bestiary, ‘delights in eating human flesh.’

Royal MS 12 F XIII f. 24v E031715
Detail of a miniature of a manticore from the Rochester Bestiary, England (Rochester?), c. 1230, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 24v

The bonnacon

The bonnacon is reported by the bestiary to be found simply somewhere ‘in Asia’, and has a deceptively normal appearance.  In general, it looks like a bull, but has horns that curl backwards so that if someone were to fall on them, they would be uninjured. 

Royal_ms_12_f_xiii_f016r detail
Detail of a miniature of a bonnacon repelling pursuit, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 16r

Banish any thoughts that the bonnacon is a considerate and gentle animal, however!  This creature’s true claim to fame is its unique defense mechanism; when threatened, we are told, a bonnacon will spray its attacker with poisonous dung.  This excrement ‘produces such a stench over an area of two acres that its heat singes everything it touches’, and needless to say, it is extremely effective at ending a pursuit.  For obvious reasons, bestiary artists were fond of depicting this sort of scene, but some, perhaps moved by delicacy, have declined to illustrate it.

Harley_ms_3244_f041r detail
Detail of miniature of a lioness, a crocote, and a bonnacon, Harley MS 3244, f. 41r

Harley MS 4751 f. 11r E093636a
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

The leucrota

Another composite animal, the leucrota, takes its place in the bestiary just before the section on reptiles. 

Detail of a miniature of a leucrota, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 37v

Royal_ms_12_f_xiii_f023r detail
Detail of a miniature of a leucrota, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 23r

The leucrota is somewhat confusingly described as having the rear parts of a stag, and the chest and legs of a lion, but with cloven hooves.  Its most distinctive characteristic is its charming wide-mouthed grin, which stretches across its head.  Its teeth are single, continuous pieces of bone, and it is capable of imitating the sound of a human voice.

The basilisk

The basilisk is included among the reptiles in the bestiary.  We are told that its alternate name – regulus – is particularly apt, as a basilisk is the ‘king of creeping things’.  A basilisk is an exceedingly dangerous animal, as its scent can annihilate almost anything, and its gaze is terrible enough to cause the death of any man foolish enough to look at it. 

Harley MS 4751 f. 59r E043091
Detail of a basilisk wearing a crown, Harley MS 4751, f. 59r

Royal MS 12 C XIX f. 63r F60101-66a
Detail of a basilisk killing a man with its gaze and being attacked by a weasel, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 63r

It is, however, vulnerable to the weasel, which can pursue the basilisk into its hiding hole and kill it.  In the bestiary text, much is made of the example of the basilisk; the writer takes the opportunity to expound on the nature of evil embodied in this horrible creature.  He assures us that no matter how frightening an animal might be, ‘the creator of all has made nothing for which there is not an antidote’.  So take heart, and keep your weasels close!

We’ll have a look at some more of our bestiary favourites in the months to come (of course we will!), and please send along some of your finds to us on Twitter @BLMedieval.

- Sarah J Biggs

14 June 2014

Tales of Brave Ulysses

Add comment Comments (0)

Every June 16, devotees of James Joyce in Dublin and around the world celebrate the anniversary of the events described in the novel Ulysses. While a book set in 1904 and first published in 1922 is a little bit beyond the scope of Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts, it marks the culmination of the long journey of the Homeric character Odysseus (Ulixes in Latin, hence Ulysses) through many different roles in art and literature. Most medieval depictions of Ulysses do not come in manuscripts of Homer, however, but in accounts of the Trojan war and its aftermath.

In the Iliad, Odysseus is given a prominent supporting role: he is a brave and fearsome warrior, as well as a clever strategist. Here he is with Nestor and Diomedes attempting to persuade Achilles to return to the fray: the Embassy scene told first in Iliad 9, but here accompanying the Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César in the mid-14th-century Royal MS 20 D I:

Royal_ms_20_d_i_f131v detail
Detail of a miniature of Odysseus, Nestor, Diomedes, and Achilles, from the Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César, Italy (Naples), c. 1330 – c. 1340, Royal MS 20 D I, f. 131v

In the Odyssey, he gets top billing, and as the hero, is depicted in a largely positive light. In perhaps his most famous adventure, he blinds the Cyclops: here the illumination is found in Christine de Pizan’s L'Épître Othéa, in a French manuscript of the 1410s:

Harley_ms_4431_f105r detail
Detail of a miniature of Odysseus blinding the Cyclops, from Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the Queen, France (Paris), c. 1410 – c. 1414, Harley MS 4431, f. 105r

Shortly after the Homeric era, however, the Odyssean backlash begins, and he becomes something of a stage villain, before being described in Book Two of Virgil’s Aeneid as scelerumque inuentor (the inventor of wicked deeds) and dirus Ulixes (terrifying Ulysses), who played a key role in the tragic fall of Troy. Here is a picture of the Trojan Horse from a late 15th-century manuscript of Virgil:

Detail of a miniature of the Trojan Horse, from a manuscript of Virgil & Pseudo-Ovid, Italy (Rome), between 1483 and 1485, King’s MS 24, f. 73v

In the medieval era, the figure of Ulysses is largely based on that portrayed in the late antique epitomes of the Trojan saga – the De Excidio Troiae attributed to Dares Phrygius, and the Ephemeris Belli Troiani attributed to Dictys of Crete. In the latter work, in particular, Ulysses is not depicted in a favourable light. Given the fact that these two works were key sources for the medieval tales of Troy, this had an impact on how Ulysses was portrayed.

One addition made by Dictys was the account of a recurring dream had by Ulysses, in which a figure of great beauty keeps appearing to him, before a signum is thrown at him. Here is a depiction of that dream, from a late 15th-century manuscript containing a French version of the Trojan matter (Le recoeil des histoires de Troyes):

Detail of a miniature of Ulysses’ dream, from Raoul Lefèvre’s Le recoeil des histoires de Troyes, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1475 – c. 1483, Royal MS 17 E II, f. 372v

There are of course many other accounts of Ulysses and his adventures to be found in British Library collections. But since we began with Joyce, it is fitting to end with another Irish account of Ulysses (though it is not, sadly, to be found amongst our holdings). The Early Irish tale Merugud Uilix Maicc Leirtis (“The Wanderings of Ulysses son of Laertes”) was found in a Stowe manuscript now in the Royal Irish Academy Library in Dublin. You can read the Irish original on the excellent CELT website. Unlike in many other medieval traditions, here Ulysses is depicted in a positive light, and special prominence is given to his faithful dog Argos (who in the Irish account is female), who joyfully recognises Ulysses and confirms who he is (a scene very different from the Homeric original!) Unfortunately we could not find any pictures of Ulysses and his dog. There is, however, a friendly and rather shaggy-looking dog in this picture, who almost appears to be greeting the Greek soldier climbing out of the Trojan Horse. Perhaps this is a nod to the story of Ulysses and Argos?

Royal_ms_18_d_ii_f075r detail
Detail of the Trojan Horse at the gates of Troy, from John Lydgate’s Troy Book, England (probably London), 1457 – c. 1530, Royal MS 18 D II, f. 75r

- Cillian O'Hogan

10 June 2014

Beyond the Bling

Add comment Comments (0)

It’s like putting a face to a well-known name for the first time.  Often mentioned in scholarship on late medieval English books, but rarely reproduced, the Simeon manuscript is online at last on Digitised Manuscripts.  So what are the first impressions now that Add MS 22283 is available for close-up digital scrutiny?  Bling.  Conspicuous, ostentatious display of gold-leaf on virtually all of its massive pages.  Think of exquisite books of hours such as British Library, Egerton MS 1151, and then imagine the complete opposite.  Although it too is comprised of texts for pious readers, Simeon is no personal devotional pocket book, intricately decorated to draw in the eye of the reader, but a huge tome measuring some 590 x 390 mm whose open pages would have glittered from afar across the medieval hall, chapel, or library.  Folio 90r is typical: illuminated initials mark the start of each verse stanza, and even paragraph marks are decorated with gold:

The beginning of ‘Of a true love clean and derne’, the Love Rune by Thomas of Hales, Add MS 22283, f. 90r

At the bottom of this page two full-length bar borders terminate in elaborate gold-leaf extensions that form the ground for huge, freeform sprays in the generous lower margin:

Sprays on gold-leaf grounds, Add MS 22283
, f. 90r

When one has ceased to be dazzled, however, closer inspection – so much more convenient with the digital format than when consulting the massive volume itself -- reveals many interesting and curious details.  At least one of the artists indulged in expressive exuberance in the interiors and extensions of initials.  A fine example occurs on folio 4v, where a naturalistic – though blue -- dog curls inside a T, the descending stroke of the letter curving up and round like a leash attached to the dog’s collar.  If one imagines the image turned through 90 degrees, the dog sniffs the letter like a hound following a scent:

I Add_ms_22283_f004v_detail
nitial T marking the beginning of the homily of the gospel for the second Sunday after Trinity in the Northern Homily Cycle, Add MS 22283
, f. 4v

Possibly there were originally more zoomorphic initials by this witty and observant artist in the 176 or so folios that have been lost at the beginning of the manuscript.  Initials later in the volume display animal forms of rather more whimsical, less fully-realised character, for example the reptilian creature that materialises from the foliage in the initial A on folio 149r:

Initial A marking the second part of The Form of Living by Richard Rolle, Add MS 22283
, f. 149r

On fol. 21r the serif of a T extends to suggest an elongated creature with an protruding snout:

Initial T marking the beginning of the homily on the gospel for the feast of St Thomas in the Northern Homily Cycle, Add MS 22283
, fol.  21r

On folio 33v two animal heads (dogs again?) spew out sprays at the base of a letter thorn (th): 

Initial thorn marking a new section in the Speculum Vitae, Add MS 22283
, f. 33v

But the extension at the top of this letter is even more interesting,  for here a human face looks pensively at the text:

Add_ms_22283_f033v_detail_2 copy
Human face protruding from an initial, Add MS 22283
, f. 33v

The face serves as a particularly effective nota bene, its expression of concern suggesting the appropriate response from the reader, or from even the artist himself, to the dreadful warning in the text it contemplates:

Passage from the Speculum Vitae, Add MS 22283
, f. 33v

The passage is from the Speculum Vitae, a Middle English commentary on the Pater Noster prayer; here the author comments on the phrase qui es (who art [in heaven]), stating that it should stir dread of punishment at the Last Judgement.  In the original Middle English the passage reads:

Ȝit þis word whon we hit rede

Qui es stureþ vs to haue drede.

For al þauh we god vr fader halde

And we ben here his children calde

He is rihtwis and soþfast

And wol ȝelde vs atte last

Aftur vre dedes and þat is skil

Be þei goode or be þei il.

And þat schal be at þe dom seene

Wel is hym þat þenne is clene

For þenne wol god rewarde sone

To vche mon as he haþ done.

Þerfore we schulde euer ha drede

To don vuel þorwh word or dede.

For we schul ȝelde acountes þat day

Of vche idel word þat we say.

(‘Yet when we read this phrase qui es, it stirs dread in us.  For although we consider God our father and are called his children, he is righteous and truthful and will pay us back for our deeds at the end, according to whether they are good or bad, as makes sense.  And that shall be seen at the Last Judgement; it will be well for anyone then who is clean of sin.  For then God will reward each person according to his deeds.  Therefore we should always dread doing evil by word or deed. For we shall be called to account that day for each idle word that we have said.’)

Other details discovered by close examination are the traces left by early readers of Simeon, readers that pre-date by a long way the only known owner, John Simeon, who sold the manuscript to the British Library in 1858.  One early reader updates the original Middle English  ‘ȝe [ye] may habbe /To ȝoure mest neode [to your most need]’, writing ‘haue yf [if] ye crave’ in a coarse hand.  A later reader remarks sardonically, ‘this read bettre before’ (folio 2v):

Add_ms_22283_f002v_detail copy
Early readers’ responses to the Northern Homily Cycle, Add MS 22283
, f. 2v

One gets a sense of a community of readers through the ages, engaging in different ways with the challenges of the Middle English and with each other.

Annotations in Latin suggest that some early readers of Simeon had received at least a grammar-school education (and were therefore probably male).  One Latin-writing annotator identifies the author of a text as the famous fourteenth-century mystic Walter Hilton in a side-note, ‘tractatus Magistri Walteri de Hilton’ (folio 151v).  This one-off identification suggests that Hilton was of particular interest to this reader.  Another annotator notes the subject of an exemplum, writing ‘of a kene swerd’ (of a keen sword) in a one-off rubric (folio 86v).   Another picks out the names and attributes of certain characters in the Prick of Conscience (folio 77r), for example ‘Absolon the fairest’ and ‘Sampson the strongest’:

A reader’s response to the Prick of Conscience, Add MS 22283
, f. 77r

A  note in the lower margin of folio 38r takes us from the world of readers of the manuscript to that of the scribes who produced books such as these, or used them as exemplars.  This note refers to a certain John Scryveyn and Thomas Heneley and their involvement in book copying:

Note concerning a copying commission by Thomas Heneley for John Scryveyn, Add MS 22283
, f. 38r

H. E. Allen noted long ago (Times Literary Supplement, 8 February 1936, p. 116) that this note relates to another note of similar wording in the famous Vernon manuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Eng. poet. a. 1).  The link between the two notes is one of several pieces of evidence that Simeon was made in association with Vernon.  Another link between Simeon and Vernon is the fact that the main scribe of both books is the same.  The Vernon-Simeon scribe, as we might call him, uses spellings and forms associated with the dialects of the West Midlands and has a careful, unshowy round hand typified by the backwards curl at the bottom of the letter thorn and the relative heights of the ascenders in w (see þat and was in the second line of the image from folio 77r, above).  Evidence like this points intriguingly to the little-understood world of scribal activity and the making and decoration of books in England around 1400 of which the Simeon manuscript is a product.  It is to be hoped that the digitisation of Simeon will help to uncover more of this lost world and shed light on its mysteries.

The Simeon Manuscript Project team at the University of Birmingham, who have collaborated with the British Library  in the digitisation of the Simeon manuscript, is studying some of these problems.   We would be delighted to hear from anyone who thinks they have identified any of the Simeon scribal hands in another manuscript or document or has found comparable decoration.  For information about the research and related projects and to contact the team please visit the project website and of course please upload your comments to this blog.  We will be posting further guest entries about our work on the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts blog as the project develops.

 -  Wendy Scase, University of Birmingham

07 June 2014

Guess the Manuscript XIII

Add comment Comments (0)

Many thanks to all of you who have been playing along with our award-winning game Guess the Manuscript.  Our last installment was handily won by Hal Anderson, ARLIMA, Joyce Coleman, and quite a few of you on Twitter - congratulations to you all!

We've decided to take a turn from the textual to the graphic today (not that kind of graphic), and to issue a further challenge to you - we want to know if you can identify the image below, but also tell us a bit about its history.  By now you know the rules; this image can be found somewhere on our Digitised Manuscripts site, and is a part of our medieval collections.  Please leave your guesses in the comments below, or on Twitter @BLMedieval.  Good luck!



Update:  only one of you managed to crack this one - congratulations to Richard Wragg (@richdwragg) who guessed correctly (well, nearly, as you'll see)!  The answer is a carpet page from an 11th century Gospels from Germany, Harley MS 2821, and is very similar to folio 99v, which was Richard's guess, but this one has a bit of a twist.  It is the carpet page on f. 198v, which was removed from its probable location at the beginning of Luke's Gospel at some unknown time.  It was later rebound in its present location upside-down and reversed recto to verso (see the recto, f. 198r, to see just how upside-down it really is).  Thanks to everyone who played along!

- Sarah J Biggs