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591 posts categorized "Medieval"

03 May 2014

A Medieval Word Search

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Here is a puzzle for our readers, but be warned – it is not for the faint of heart!  This is not the simple type of word search we are used to, but a very complex puzzle involving the date of Easter.  

Add MS 21114 f. 7r c12404-03
A table with decorated frame for calculating the date of Easter in the years 1140 to 1672 from a Psalter, Liège, 1255-1265, Add MS 21114, f. 7r

Here are your clues:  this puzzle comes from a Psalter in our collection and dates from the 13th century.  The table contains 35 two-letter symbols, which, if put in the correct order, make up a verse of two and a half hexameter lines, revealing the name of a well-known cleric with whom the book was closely associated.  This cleric may have commissioned it or devised this puzzle himself.  And those are the only clues we are giving!

Add MS 21114 f. 11 c12404-04
Historiated initial 'D'(ixit) at the beginning of Psalm 109 with God holding Christ on the cross, from a Psalter, Add MS 21114, f. 11r

Apart from the Psalms, this smallish book contains two verses in a Northern French dialect, prayers and liturgical material added in the latter part of the 14th century and a number of 15th-century additions in Catalan.

This manuscript is not yet in our online Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts but will be published at the next upload, later this year, so you will not find any help there.  We know it’s possible to solve the puzzle; a French scholar had it all worked out in the late 19th century.  Let’s see if you can do it!  You can leave your guesses in the comments below, or on Twitter @BLMedieval.  We'll be revealing the solution on Tuesday, so stay tuned!  

- Chantry Westwell

01 May 2014

A Calendar Page for May 2014

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

The themes of courting and pleasurable outdoor pursuits continue in these calendar pages for the month of May.  On the first folio is the beginning of the listing of saints' days and feasts for May, amongst a backdrop of flowers.  In the roundel below can be found a roundel miniature of an aristocratic young couple on horseback, setting off to go hawking (it is perhaps, but not definitely, the couple found on the opening folio for April).  On the next folio is a small painting of a nude couple for the zodiac sign Gemini.  Beneath is a well-dressed lady sitting in a flowering garden, engaged in a somewhat mysterious activity.  Curators in our department have variously theorised that she is holding a tambourine, an embroidery hoop, or a skein of yarn; please do let us know what you think!

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Calendar page for May, with a roundel miniature of a couple going hawking, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 5v

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Calendar page for May, with a roundel miniature of a lady in a pleasure garden, with the zodiac sign Gemini, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 6r

- Sarah J Biggs

29 April 2014

UK Arts and Culture Blog of the Year 2014

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UK Blog Awards Winner Logo
We are still recovering from having been named Arts and Culture Blog of the Year in the inaugural UK Blog Awards. This blog started in 2010 as the Digitised Manuscripts Blog. Among our highlights have been blogging about the Royal manuscripts exhibition, including the opening by HM Queen Elizabeth II; our announcement of the acquisition of the St Cuthbert Gospel; the weekend when some of our newly-digitised manuscripts were featured in the Financial Times; and the day when our blog received in excess of 36,000 hits for the post Knight v Snail. Winning this award is a huge honour for us. We never really realised how much impact we were making until we saw our viewing statistics and discovered that we had readers in Antarctica!

Here are some more photographs from the awards ceremony. (Warning: some photos may contain flash photography.)

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26 April 2014

Medieval Manuscripts at the UK Blog Awards

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Last night we attended the inaugural ceremony of the National UK Blog Awards, held in London. We were very excited to be nominated in the Arts and Culture category, but we faced some stiff competition, from the likes of Global Metal Apocalypse, Me Firi Ghana Blog, and the Tate (no, we haven't heard of them either -- only joking!).

And the winner was ..... you'll have to wait for the end of this post. But here are some of the stories that have made us famous (please note: our obsession with medieval animals is purely coincidental).

Lolcats of the Middle Ages: they're cute, they're cats, they're medieval cats, and one of them is in a submarine. What's not to like?!

Cats

Knight v Snail: you've often wondered, who would win a fight between a knight and a snail, haven't you? Here's the answer you've all been waiting for.

Snail

Unicorn Cookbook Found at the British Library: probably the most astonishing discovery in the history of astonishing discoveries (bettered perhaps only by that old episode of Scooby Doo, in which the gang of pesky kids finds out that the "ghost" is really the dastardly fairground owner). This post, we're reliably informed, is pinned to the kitchen wall of Chocolat author Joanne Harris. Enough said.

Cookbook

And so, without more ado, we can proudly announce that the winner of the National UK Blog Award 2014 for Arts and Culture was ... the MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPTS BLOG!!!

Thank you so much everyone for following us online, and everyone who has supported us -- we promise to do our best to keep up the good work!

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Julian Harrison & Sarah J Biggs

 

23 April 2014

The Anatomy of a Dragon

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Happy St George’s Day, everyone!   For some images of this patron saint of England, Portugal, Russia, and many other nations, please see our post from last year.  Today, though, we thought we would turn our attention to St George’s famous opponent, the dragon.

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Detail of a miniature of St George and the dragon, from the Beaufort/Beauchamp Hours, England (London) and Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1401, Royal MS 2 A XVIII, f. 5v

Dragons are near-ubiquitious in medieval manuscripts.  They take pride of place in bestiaries and herbals, books of history and legend, and Apocalypse texts, to name a few.  They serve as symbols, heraldic devices, and even as ‘just’ decoration, and their physical characteristics can vary widely. Cinematic and literary depictions of dragons today are fairly consistent; they are almost always shown as reptilian, winged, fire-breathing creatures (in a word, Smaug).  But this was by no means constant in the medieval period.

Let’s have a look at a very common medieval trope – of the dragon as the nemesis of a saint or angel.  Below we can see dragons facing off against St George (again), St Margaret, and the Archangel Michael.  All these examples are drawn from late 15th century manuscripts, but their dragons are very different, and range from a lizard-y animal with duck-like feet to a winged leonine creature and a demon.

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Miniature of St George and a lizard-like dragon, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands, c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 139v

Harley MS 2985 f. 37v C12569-03_detail
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the side of a lion-like dragon, from a Book of Hours, Use of Sarum, Netherlands, 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 2985, f. 37v

Sloane MS 3049, f. 115r c5473-03a
Detail of a miniature of the Archangel Michael fighting a demon-like dragon, from Francisco de Ximenez’s Livre des anges, France (Tours), c. 1480, Sloane MS 3049, f. 115r

Even within a single manuscript it is possible to find a multiplicity of dragon sub-species.  One notable example is a French copy of the Life of Alexander the Great, in which this famous king is squaring off against three different kinds of dragon (our favourite, of course is the last).

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Detail of a miniature of Alexander the Great battling against winged dragons with emeralds in their foreheads, from Le livre et la vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre, France (Paris), c. 1420 – c. 1425, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 73r

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Detail of a miniature of Alexander the Great battling against winged horned dragons, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 78v

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Detail of a miniature of Alexander the Great battling against two-headed, eight-legged, crowned dragons with multiple eyes along their torsos, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 78v

The idea of the dragon as a fearsome foe for all godly and righteous beings stretches back to the late-antique source material that later developed into the 12th and 13th century text of the bestiary.  The book of beasts tells us that the dragon is a variety of serpent, is ‘larger than all other animals in the world’, lives in caves, and possesses great strength in its tail.  Nothing, ‘not even the elephant’, is safe from the dragon, which lies in wait and then suffocates the captured elephant within its coils.  The ominously-curled tail of the dragon is often shown to great advantage in the miniatures illustrating this passage (see particularly the first image below).

Royal MS 12 C XIX f. 62r F60101-65a
Detail of a miniature of a dragon attacking and suffocating an elephant, from a bestiary with theological texts, England, c. 1200 – c. 1210, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 62r

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 118v G70035-41a
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a mother elephant giving birth in water to avoid the dragon circling overhead, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London?), 1310 – 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 188v

The bestiary text also makes explicit the connection between the dragon and the devil, aligning the fantastical creature with evil, deception, ‘vainglory and human pleasures’.  We see this connection repeated again and again in medieval manuscripts, particularly those concerned with describing and explaining evil. 

Add MS 38842 f. 5r c7835-03_detail
Detail of a miniature of men worshipping a dragon and the beast of the Apocalypse, from an Apocalypse with commentary in French prose, England (London?), c. 1325 – 1330, Additional MS 38842, f. 5r

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Detail of a miniature of the Woman and the seven-headed, ten-horned dragon-beast of the Apocalypse, from the Welles Apocalypse, England, c. 1310, Royal MS 15 D II, f. 153r

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Detail of a miniature of a human-headed satanic dragon, representing the papacy of Urban VI whose election was contested and resulted in the appointment of the anti-pope Clement VII, from Joachim de Fiore’s Vaticinia de Pontificibus, Italy (Florence), 2nd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 1340, f. 8r

It would be too simplistic, though, to claim that dragons were universally objects of horror and loathing.  They were not even always enemies.  Dragons make appearances in discussions of astronomy and natural history, as elements of decoration, and even within the Tudor coat of arms.

Arundel MS 66 f. 33v G70017-79a
Detail of a miniature of the constellation ‘Draco’, from an astrological compilation with political prophecies, England (London?), 1490, Arundel MS 66, f. 33v

Add MS 16577 f. 44v d40053-81a
Detail of a dragon with its tail circling a caption, from a Hebrew festival prayer book, Italian rite, Italy, 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Add MS 16577, f. 44v

Add MS 39636 f. 28 c13835-71
Detail of a historiated initial ‘S’ of the Pentecost, with the body of the initial formed by two intertwining dragons, Italy (Lombardy), 3rd quarter of the 15th century,  Add MS 39636, f. 28r

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Detail of an allegorical miniature about the Tudor rose with a red dragon, lion, and white greyhound, from Magister Sampson’s Motets for Henry VIII, Netherlands (Antwerp), 1516, Royal MS 11 E XI, f. 2r

We’ll be tweeting more fabulous British Library dragons over the next day or so; as always, please let us know your favourites.  And have a wonderful St George’s Day!

- Sarah J Biggs

21 April 2014

Magna Carta in England's Hall of Fame

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A poll conducted recently by Visit England has chosen the four original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta for inclusion in England's Hall of Fame. Members of the public were asked to nominate their favourite English things, and then a panel of experts made the official selections across six categories. The British Library's two copies of Magna Carta, together with those held by Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals, have been awarded Bronze in the History & Heritage category, behind the gardens of Capability Brown at Kirkhale Lake and Courtyard, Northumberland (Silver), and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (Gold).

Magna Carta

We're delighted to have been chosen for this accolade. The competition was undoubtedly fierce, and other award-holders include the Sandwich (winner in the Food & Drink category), The Beatles (winner in Culture & Entertainment), and Banksy (Bronze in The Great, the Good and the Notorious).

Here at the British Library we are planning our celebrations in 2015 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, issued by King John at Runnymede on 15 June 2015. Our events will include the three-day unification of the four originals in February 2015, in partnership with our friends at Lincoln and Salisbury, and a major Magna Carta exhibition to be held at the British Library from March until September 2015. We will be posting more information about that exhibition on this blog in due course.

Meanwhile, there will be a free open-air exhibition about England's Hall of Fame on London's Southbank from St George's Day, 23 April, until 30 April 2014.

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