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19 April 2014

Lorsch Manuscripts in the British Library

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Seven manuscripts that were compiled in the 9th-century in the scriptorium of the former monastic library of Abbey Lorsch are today held at the British Library.  These codices have now been digitized – together with five further works connected to the Abbey – and included in the Virtual Monastic Library of Lorsch, at Bibliotheca Laureshamensis digital.  Amongst the 70 institutions world-wide that today hold Lorsch manuscripts, the British Library has one of the larger collections, together with the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, the National Austrian Library, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome.

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Miniature of the Evangelist St Mark, at the beginning of a Gospel lectionary (the 'Odalricus Peccator Gospel Lectionary'), Germany (Lorsch), first half of the 11th century, Harley MS 2970, f. 2v

The Abbey of Lorsch –today in a small town in Hesse in Germany – was one of the key centres of knowledge in the medieval period.  During the reign of Charlemagne and his successors it reached the height of its prosperity and created an exceptional library as well as a proficient scriptorium.  Library catalogues from the 9th century testify that the collection comprised nearly 500 manuscripts, an impressive figure.  The medieval library held works on theology, historiography, monasticism and asceticism, grammar as well as school books.  Of the monastic buildings in Lorsch only few have remained, but its heritage and significance are such that it was recognized as a UNESCO-World Heritage site in 1991.

The Abbey and its library were dissolved under the reign of the Elector Palatine Otto-Henry (1556-1559) and integrated into Heidelberg’s Bibliotheca Palatina. From there the largest surviving collection of Lorsch manuscripts was brought to the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. In the later medieval period, several codices were brought to the monastery of Arnstein.  Four of these are now in the British Library.

Lorsch screenshot

Based on the work of two German palaeographers, Bernhard Bischoff (1906-1991) and Hartmut Hoffmann (1930), more than 300 manuscripts from the Abbey can be identified, now in 13 countries.  The online reconstruction of the library collection is a cooperation project by Heidelberg University Library, the Verwaltung der Staatlichen Schlösser und Gärten Hessen and the UNESCO-World Heritage Site Abbey Lorsch. The project Bibliotheca Laureshamensis digital was launched in 2010 and will be completed in 2014, the 1250th anniversary of the foundation of the Abbey (in 764). The aim of the project is to unite virtually all of dispersed manuscripts in one online platform and thereby make this remarkable collection once again accessible and researchable. Alongside the digitization, on the website all of the codices are fully described and can be searched in a separate database.

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Incipit page at the beginning of Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate, De Synodis and Contra arianos, Germany (Lorsch), 1st half of the 9th century, Harley MS 3115, f. 1v

An overview of the manuscripts from the collection of the British Library which have been integrated into the Virtual Monastic Library of Lorsch can be found here.  A PDF file of the manuscript descriptions can also be accessed directly from the corresponding manuscript in the Virtual Library.

All of the British Library’s Lorsch manuscripts are theological texts, including exegetical tractates by Church fathers from late Antiquity, as well as by the Anglo-Saxon Bede, and Theodulf of Orléans. Two other manuscripts were added to the list of Further Manuscripts:  the fragment Arundel MS 501, fol. 13, which was ascribed to Lorsch by Nigel F Palmer, and Cotton MS Vespasian D V, ff. 155r-156r, which contains a poem by Henry of Avranches on Starkenburg castle, which was a property of the abbey in the 13th century.

A full list of the manuscripts recently uploaded is below, along with links to their digital versions on the Bibliotheca Laureshamensis site.  These manuscripts have also been included in the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts portal, and can be found there by searching on the main page.

Add MS 17980:  Bede, In Lucam

Add MS 37328:  Augustine, De opere monachorum, De agone christiano

Arundel MS 37:  Bede, In Ezram et Nehemiam

Arundel MS 386:  Commentary on Psalms 101-150

Arundel MS 501, f. 13:  Hrabanus Maurus, Enarratio super Deuteronomium (ll.xxxvi-xxvii)

Harley MS 2970:  Gospel lectionary

Harley MS 3024:  Theodulf, De spiritu sancto

Harley MS 3032:  Hesychius, In Leviticum

Harley MS 3039:  Augustine, De Genesi contra Manichaeos

Harley MS 3115:  Hilary, De Trinitate; Contra Arianos

Harley MS 5915, ff. 10r-10v:  Justin, Epitoma historiarum Philippicarum

Cotton MS Vespasian D V, ff. 155r-156r:  Poem by Henry of Avranches

 

- Alexandra Büttner, Bibliotheca Laureshamensis - digital Virtuelle Klosterbibliothek Lorsch 

17 April 2014

Internship in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Section

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The British Library is pleased to be able to offer an internship in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section of the History and Classics Department for a doctoral or post-doctoral student in history, history of art, medieval language or other relevant subject.

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Detail of a miniature of a woman reading moral proverbs at the beginning of the

'Proverbes moraux', from Christine de Pizan's Book of the Queen, France (Paris), c. 1410 - c. 1414, Harley MS 4431, f. 259v

The intern will be involved in all aspects of the work of the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section, including responding to enquiries, providing talks for students and patrons, selecting and presenting manuscripts for display in our exhibition gallery, assisting in exhibition preparation, and cataloguing, thereby gaining insight into various curatorial duties and aspects of collection care.  During the internship at the Library, the intern will enjoy privileged access to printed and manuscript research material, and will work alongside specialists with wide-ranging and varied expertise. 

A major focus of the internship will be to enhance the online Digitised Manuscripts and Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts websites by creating and supplementing catalogue entries for medieval manuscripts and accompanying images, working under the supervision of the Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts.  The internship will also provide an opportunity for the student to assist in presenting manuscripts to a general audience in our major Magna Carta anniversary exhibition, exhibitions in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, and to develop research skills in medieval and Renaissance history and art history. 

The programme is only open to students who are engaged actively in research towards, or have recently completed a PhD in a subject area relevant to the study of pre-1600 illuminated or other medieval manuscripts, who have eligibility to work in the UK. 

The term of internship is either full time (36 hours per week) for six months, or part time for twelve months, depending on how many hours the successful candidate can offer.  Applicants are asked to specify which work pattern they would prefer in the application.  The salary is £8.80 per hour. The internship will start in July 2014 after relevant security clearances are obtained.

The selection process will include questions about the date, origin, and decoration of a particular manuscript to be shown at the interview.

For further information about the position, please contact Kathleen Doyle, Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at Kathleen.Doyle@bl.uk.

To apply, please visit www.bl.uk/careers quoting vacancy ref: COL000490 and upload a CV and Cover Letter. The Cover Letter should include answers to the following three questions:

    1.     Please give examples of your experience in cataloguing medieval manuscripts.

    2.     Please provide examples of your experience in writing about your research for a general             audience.

    3.     Please give an example of how you have adapted your own communicating style to deal with             different people and situations.

Closing Date: Thursday 15th May 2014

Interview Date: Monday 2nd June 2014

15 April 2014

The Next Giant List of Digitised Manuscript Hyperlinks

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It's that time of year again, friends - when we inflict our quarterly massive list of manuscript hyperlinks upon an unsuspecting public.  As always, this list contains everything that has been digitised up to this point by the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts department, complete with hyperlinks to each record on our Digitised Manuscripts site.  There will be another updated list here on the blog in three months; you can download the current version here: Download BL Medieval and Earlier Digitised Manuscripts Master List 10.04.13.  Have fun!

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Miniature of Joachim in the fields among the shepherds, rejoicing in joy about our new spreadsheet, from a Book of Hours, Netherlands (Utrecht or Delft), c. 1410 - 1420, Add MS 50005, f. 3v

11 April 2014

On a Roll

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Harley Roll Y 6 – the Guthlac Roll – has been fully digitised, and a new catalogue description and high-resolution images are now available on Digitised Manuscripts.  This newest upload takes place, appropriately, on St Guthlac’s own feast day.  It also coincides with the conclusion of a two-day conference at the University of London, which has marked the beginning of the 1300th year since Guthlac’s death with a series of papers on the saint’s life, his cult, and the surviving sources.  The Guthlac Roll is also on display in the British Library’s newly refurbished Treasures Gallery.

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Drawing of Guthlac being carried to the gates of Hell by demons and being given a scourge by St Bartholomew with which to repel them,
Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 8.  For more Hell-mouths in BL manuscripts, see ‘Prepare to Meet Your Doom’.

The Guthlac Roll was made around the late twelfth or early thirteenth centuries.  It is regrettably incomplete: a fifth piece of parchment, containing perhaps two or three roundels illustrating the earlier stages of his life, has been lost.  What survives is a series of seventeen compelling and skilful pen-drawings in roundels of Guthlac’s life and deeds – including an entertaining trio illustrating his torment by and ultimate vanquishing of demons, aided by St Bartholomew – plus a final roundel illustrating the benefactors of his shrine at Crowland, in present-day Lincolnshire.

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Drawing of Guthlac deciding to devote himself to a life of religion,
Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 1 (incomplete).

Born into the Mercian royal dynasty, Guthlac spent his early adult life as a warrior, leading apparently successful raids and battles against hostile neighbouring tribes.  The roll in its present state opens with half of a roundel that illustrates the sleepless night on which the young Guthlac, surrounded by his slumbering fellow-soldiers, resolved to devote himself to a life of religion.

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Drawing of Guthlac leaving military service,
Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 2.

The roundel scenes are given particular animation by the skill with which the anonymous artist captured facial expressions.  Note the bewilderment of Guthlac’s men as he bade them and the military life farewell.  Stumped by his decision, they turn to one another questioningly; one looks down at the ground, seemingly lost in a moment of doubt.  The soldier at the front appears to be appealing to Guthlac – but too late: his back turned, he is departing with a simple wave.

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Drawing of Guthlac sailing to Crowland with Tatwin,
Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 4.

Having received the tonsure at Repton Abbey, Guthlac set sail for Crowland, at that time an island amidst the Fens.  The roundel shows that his life of contemplation had already begun: with an open book on his lap, his gaze tilted upwards, he is lost in thought, oblivious to the paddling of Tatwin and his helper (who appears to be using a quant pole).

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Drawing of Guthlac exorcising a demon from Ecgga,
Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 10.

In a later roundel, two men look on in wonderment, one open-mouthed, as Guthlac is exorcising a demon from Ecgga.  The scene reinforces Guthlac’s saintliness: that he possessed holy powers that were witnessed by his contemporaries.

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Drawing of Guthlac counselling
Æthelbald, Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 12.

According to Felix of Crowland’s Vita Sancti Guthlaci, the main source for the roll, word of Guthlac’s deeds attracted wide attention.  While in exile, Æthelbald, King of the Mercians, sought Guthlac’s advice.  The artist depicted Æthelbald sitting with his eyes fixed upon Guthlac, listening intently to his teaching, his attentive pose echoed by the rapt gaze of his attendant.

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Drawing of Pega setting sail for Crowland with Beccelm,
Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 15.

After Guthlac’s death, his sister Pega came to Crowland for his burial.  The fifteenth roundel shows her, grief-stricken, being met by Guthlac’s disciple, Beccelm.  Her brow is wrinkled, her eyes downcast; she is holding one hand up to her face mournfully.  Her emotional state is echoed by her unsteady pose: with one foot on land and the other on the boat, she is balanced by Beccelm, who is lending her his hand.

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Drawing of Guthlac’s burial,
Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 16.

The next roundel illustrates Guthlac’s burial.  Observe the care with which one of the monks is holding Guthlac’s legs, how tenderly Pega is cradling the saint’s head in the crook of her arm, as they lower his shrouded body gently into the coffin.  The depiction of Guthlac in silhouette – rather than wrapped in dramatic loops and whorls of drapery as in the earlier death-bed scenes – was a deliberate artistic decision.  It encapsulates the sudden absence of the central figure in this cycle of roundels and the emptiness of his mortal remains following the departure of his soul.

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Drawing of Guthlac’s appearance in a vision to King
Æthelbald during the vigil at his tomb, Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 17.

It also emphasises the miraculousness of Guthlac’s startling reappearance in the next roundel: standing before Æthelbald, who is now looking up in wonder at the newly designated saint.

- James Freeman

10 April 2014

My Kingdom for a Horse

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Recently we had an enquiry about an unusual image that appears in the Rochester Bestiary.  This famous English book of beasts, which dates to the mid-13th century, has featured quite prominently in our ongoing series about medieval animals; have a look at our posts about lions, beavers, dogs, wolves, elephants, and hedgehogs, for example. 

The particular miniature in question can be seen below.  ‘Why,’ asks our slightly tongue-in-cheek correspondent, ‘are those horses having a cuddle?’.

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Detail of a miniature of two horses and two men, from the Rochester Bestiary, England (Rochester?), c. 1230, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 42v

At first glance, it certainly does appear that this is what’s going on here.  We are sad to report, however, that the truth is not quite so full of squee – rather than cuddling, these horses are in fact fighting one another.   An inscription in French intended to guide the illuminator can be found beside the miniature, telling us that it is meant to represent two knights and two horses engaged in combat (see below for a detail of this inscription).

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Detail of an inscription beside the miniature of the two horses and two men, altered to increase legibility, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 42v

This is a fascinating scene, and as far as we can tell, a unique one among bestiary images.  The Rochester Bestiary is notable in that the miniatures illustrating each animal appear at the end of the relevant section, rather than at the beginning (for an example of the latter, see the Royal Bestiary:  Royal MS 12 C XIX).  The Royal Bestiary gives us a much more typical example of the kind of horse to be found in the book of beasts:

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Detail of a miniature of a horse at the beginning of the text about that animal, from a bestiary with theological texts, England, c. 1200 – c. 1210, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 34r

A horse (of course) was an animal that every medieval reader would have been familiar with, and so most bestiaries depict the animal just as they are, with little in the way of drama or exposition in the scene.  The Rochester miniature, of course, is different.  However, there are a few clues – albeit indirect ones – in the text preceding this fascinating scene.

Horses in the early medieval period were largely the possessions of the aristocracy and warrior classes, and the bestiary text reflects their crucial role in battle.  Horses, we are told, rejoice in winning and are disheartened by defeat, and some can become so carried away that they will bite their enemies whilst fighting.  But most importantly, a ‘noble’ horse is loyal to his noble master, will ‘suffer no one except their master to ride them’, and will weep upon the death of its owner.  Amongst many examples of loyal horses, the bestiary text provides us with the story of the horse belonging to the king of the Scythians.  This king was killed in single combat, and when his opponent tried to divest him of his armour, the king’s horse attacked, biting and kicking until he was killed himself.

This is not exactly what is going on in the Rochester scene, but it’s as close as we can come.  We can see here a depiction of a story that is not reflected in any of the canonical bestiary texts – nor any others that we have yet uncovered.  We see here two horses so faithful to their masters that when the warriors are fighting, the horses mirror their aggression and attack one another.  Whether this scene is reflective of a parallel narrative tradition lost to us today or simply an artist’s unique interpretation of the instructions left for him remains to be determined.

- Sarah J Biggs

05 April 2014

Royal Manuscripts Follow-on Project - Completed!

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The Royal Manuscripts project team are pleased to announce that with the publication of 1000 Years of Royal Books and Manuscripts, edited by Kathleen Doyle and Scot McKendrick, published by British Library Publications, the AHRC-funded follow-on to the Royal Manuscripts research project has been successfully concluded. 

Editors
Kathleen Doyle, Scot McKendrick, and 1000 Years of Royal Books and Manuscripts

In February 2012, the AHRC made an additional grant to the Library under the Digital Equipment and Database Enhancement for Impact scheme, to enhance the research undertaken for the original Royal: Illuminated Manuscripts of the Kings and Queens of England project, and its dissemination.  As a digital enhancement project, the principal goal was to augment the resources on Royal manuscripts available to researchers on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website.  Regular readers of the blog will know that we have published regular updates on the project of this digitisation (see the links at the end of this post).

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God the creator, from a Bible Historiale, Royal MS 19 D III, f. 3r

The goal of the follow-on project was to provide freely-accessible full online digital coverage of 24,750 pages from approximately 40-50 manuscripts featured in the Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illuminated exhibition held at the British Library 11 November 2011-13 March 2012.  This objective was met and exceeded with 71 manuscripts now available on the website.  Thanks to all of you who provided ideas for digitisation selection.

Durham workshop

The project had two other objectives.  The first was to convene two workshops to allow students and scholars to build on the existing research undertaken as part of the Royal project by analysing texts and images of these manuscripts in collaboration with other researchers.  One workshop was held at Durham University on 6 June 2012, hosted by Professor Richard Gameson, Department of History.  At the workshop eleven undergraduate students presented papers on manuscripts included in the Royal exhibition, and Roger Middleton, Lecturer Emeritus, Department of French Literature at the University of Nottingham, presented a live display of the new research capabilities of the Digitised Manuscripts website.  The second workshop was designed for post-graduate students, and was held in London on 9 November 2012.  This workshop explored the research possibilities of digitisation in a seminar examining three original manuscripts together with their magnified digital images.

The third output was the publication of the book, which is a collection of ten essays on the development of Royal libraries, enhancing and building on the research completed for the initial Royal project.  Two of the essays (by Richard Gameson and Catherine Reynolds) were drawn from the new research presented at the Frank Davis lecture series held at the Courtauld Institute of Art in autumn 2011.  Four (by Michael Wood, Nicholas Vincent, John Goldfinch, and Jane Roberts) grew out of lectures given as part of the British Library lecture series accompanying the exhibition.  One (by James Carley) is on a royal manuscript that was once a part of the Old Royal Library but was not included in the exhibition, and so his research is presented in the volume for the first time.  The remaining three contributions (by Joanna Fronska, Scot McKendrick, and Kathleen Doyle) build on research that was undertaken for the initial Royal Manuscripts project presented in the exhibition catalogue.  Thanks to the grant provided by the AHRC, the book is extensive illustrated with ninety-four colour illustrations.   

AHRC

Previous Royal Manuscripts blog posts:

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/11/new-additions-to-digitised-manuscripts.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/08/chronicles-lancelot-and-a-journey-to-jerusalem-royal-manuscripts-now-online.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/08/gospels-psalms-and-prayer-rolls-more-royal-devotional-manuscripts-online.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/08/books-of-beasts-adventure-and-two-from-new-minster-new-royal-manuscripts-online.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/08/psalters-bibles-and-the-end-of-days-devotional-texts-from-the-royal-collection-go-online.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/06/books-of-history-war-and-mystery-more-royal-manuscripts-go-online.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/06/crowns-romances-and-chronicles-aplenty-new-royal-manuscripts-online.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/05/the-chosen-royals.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/03/keep-your-royal-suggestions-coming.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/02/which-royal-manuscripts-should-we-digitise.html

- Kathleen Doyle

03 April 2014

Stuck in Limbo: Dante's Purgatorio

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As was the case for the souls condemned to Hell in Dante’s Inferno (described in our previous post No Rest for the Wicked), the punishment for those in Purgatory matches the crime.  But, unlike Hell, the punishments in Purgatory were intended to improve and purify the souls in question, those who could be saved but still needed a little improvement before making their way to Heaven. In one of the first scenes in Purgatory,  the proud bear great stones upon their backs (see below).  

Could the artist of this manuscript know that Dante included among the proud one Oderisi of Gubbio, a famed illustrator of illuminated manuscripts who took a little too much pride in his work!  Is this a warning to all of us who work in the field of manuscripts studies?

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The proud in Purgatory, Italy (Emilia or Padua), late 14th century, Egerton MS 943, f. 82r

In Purgatory, the avaricious and greedy are shown lying face down on the ground.  Dante meets Pope Adrian V here.  Dante certainly wasn’t afraid to take the powerful to task for their misdeed – he even sent another Pope, Boniface VIII, straight to Hell!

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The avaricious,
Egerton MS 943, f. 97v

After passing through much of Purgatory, Dante, Virgil and another poet, Statius, must pass through a wall of fire to be worthy of reaching the Earthly Paradise, or the Garden of Eden, at the summit of Mount Purgatory (see below).

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The wall of fire, Egerton MS 943, f. 112r

Below can be seen the Garden of Eden; Dante (and the capable artist of this manuscript) drew on some unusual biblical imagery to depict the Four Evangelists here as four-headed creatures.  As the three observers in the Garden of Eden look on, a parade of Christian symbols pass them, re-enacting the drama of salvation – much like the parades that would have proceeded through Florence on every holy day.  This parade seems to be building up to something… we sense someone important is on the way, but who could it be?

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The four winged beasts in the Garden of Eden, Egerton MS 943,
f. 116v

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A griffin pulling a chariot, Egerton MS 943, f. 117r

It is Beatrice Portinari, in a chariot drawn by griffins!  Beatrice was Dante’s muse and true love, despite the fact that they only met twice in real life (and those encounters were more or less in passing).  It is here that many begin to feel a certain distance from the poem.  Dante of course wrote in the tradition of courtly love, where the beloved was meant to be entirely unattainable, but it is difficult for the modern reader to be terribly sympathetic about Dante’s deep longing for Beatrice, considering she probably had no idea who he was.  One also can’t help but feel some sympathy for Dante’s poor wife Gemma di Manetto Donati; she never got a single mention in any of his poetry (so it’s no wonder she didn’t accompany him when he was forced out of Florence!).  

Note that Dante seems a little apprehensive in the miniature below.  It almost appears as though he’s being dragged along; could it be that he senses that Beatrice isn’t very pleased to see him?

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Dante is led to Beatrice, Egerton MS 943, f. 121r

Poor Dante.  He has travelled all this way to get to his lady-love and she greets him with anger.  Many consider this to be the funniest bit of the Purgatory – Dante cowering like a hen-pecked husband while Beatrice brutally scolds him for his conduct.  She tells him that was sent by God so that her physical perfection would inspire him to contemplate the beauty of the divine, but instead he got distracted and chased after other girls.  Though she’s presented elsewhere as an idealised and static muse for Dante, our manuscript’s artist perfectly captures something of Beatrice’s fire in this scene.  

This moment really is the dramatic climax of the poem as a whole.  The meeting with Beatrice represents a chance for everything Dante longed for most, forgiveness for his sins, and a final reconciliation with his love.

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Dante and Beatrice meeting, Egerton MS 943, f. 124v

Dante is so contrite (and a little pathetic) that Beatrice eventually forgives him, and takes over from Virgil as his guide into the highest reaches of Purgatory and on to heaven.  Dante’s adoration of Beatrice as they travel in the poem is so touching that we can almost forget the strangeness of their real-life acquaintance.  Their second and final meeting, we are told, took place on a bridge in Florence, when Beatrice passed Dante by chance and smiled at him. That single moment was enough for Dante to make Beatrice’s smile the very image of divine beauty.  Heaven is simply full of smiles and laughter, in the Paradiso, the third and final act of the poem.

Stay tuned for another post about Dante’s Paradiso!

-  Arthur Westwell

01 April 2014

A Calendar Page for April 2014

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Happy April everybody! And what better way to start the month than with some more sensational pages from the stupendous Huth Hours? If you have already been following our blog – and who hasn’t? – you’ll know that our calendar of the year is taken from this beautiful 15th-century manuscript (for more information, please see our post A Calendar Page for January 2014).


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

So what delights does April bring us? The promise of early spring often yields images of very pleasant labours indeed for this month, and these calendar pages from the Huth Hours are no exception. Our first folio gives us a roundel miniature of a well-dressed couple courting while walking along a garden path. The themes of fertility, birth, and rebirth are emphasised by the flowering branch being carried by the ardent young man, and by the small child following the couple (whether he is acting as chaperone or as a sign of things to come remains a bit of a mystery). The saints' days and feasts for April are continued on the following folio, along with a small painting of a bull for the zodiac sign Taurus. In the roundel below is a charming scene of a shepherd surrounded by his flock, playing a recorder for his appreciative dog. A similar musical shepherd can be found on the calendar page for April of 2013; we'll let you know if we encounter any other examples!

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

In the background is one of the earliest representations of the infamous Leaning Tower of Utrecht. Utrecht has often been called the “Pisa of the North”, and historians have long debated how the steeple of the church of St Ignatius the Cripple came to acquire its distinctive kink. Some have attributed the lean to a lightning strike, to subsidence, or to a giant ape climbing the tower. But the image shown here is equally plausible, and seems to confirm the testimony of Lionel the Imbecile, who reported seeing mysterious lights in the sky in 1483. (Lionel was subsequently burnt at the stake by order of the anti-Pope Anacletus III, following a show trial at the Fourth Council of Constance.)

And below is our second scene, featuring the shepherd and his musical dog. Look very closely, and you can also see a startled sheep, caught in the beam of a passing spaceship, and being transported to an uncertain fate. During the 15th century, alien abductions frequently took place during the month of April; and the Huth Hours provides splendid corroboration of that fact. The artist has drawn the alien craft hovering above the trees, with the sheep being captured in a red beam arcing through the sky.


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Calendar page for April, with a roundel miniature of a shepherd playing music for his flock and his dog, with the zodiac sign Taurus, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 5r

Many critics have poured scorn on the veracity of such pictures (you can read a summary in the forthcoming festschrift for Prof. Wim van der Wende, No Pain, No Gain: Controversy and Subversion in Late Medieval Art). But we at the British Library have utter faith in their validity, and are on the hunt for other examples: let us know what you think @BLMedieval.

Add_ms_38126_f005r_detail
Detail of a calendar page for April, with a roundel miniature of a shepherd playing music for his flock and his dog, with the zodiac sign Taurus, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 5r

- Sarah J Biggs & Julian Harrison