Medieval manuscripts blog

512 posts categorized "Medieval"

18 September 2013

Marvellous Manuscripts from the Levant

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Identifying the date and origin of Greek manuscripts can be very tricky. Sometimes, a scribe with an eye to posterity will note the date he completed the manuscript and, if we’re very lucky, the place, too. We might also get a clue based on the location of the manuscript before it was acquired by the British Library, but manuscripts travel, and many Greek manuscripts may have circulated quite widely since the time they were first created. So, how do we figure out where and when a given manuscript was made, if we don’t have any obvious clues?

Two of the Greek manuscripts recently digitised by the British Library share common palaeographic and iconographic features. One, Add MS 37002, contains a colophon on f 253v which gives us a year, 1314-1315, in which the manuscript was likely written (though this is not certain). The other, Add MS 26103, is not quite as helpful - though there are a number of erased inscriptions on the final leaf of the volume, there’s no indication of a date or location.

Add_ms_37002_f253v detail

The colophon recording the writing of this manuscript in 1314-1315: Add MS 37002, f. 253v

However, we can with reasonable confidence assign a general location to both of these manuscripts, and suggest a date in the first half of the 13th century for Add MS 26103, based on some shared features between the two and a larger group of manuscripts now dispersed in libraries around the world.


A headpiece in Add MS 26103, f. 71r

A large group of illuminated manuscripts form what is now referred to as the “decorative style” group. These manuscripts are characterised by similarities of decoration and illustration, for example, the elaborate headpieces that resemble carpets, or the distinctive features of illuminated portraits of the Evangelists – note in particular the elongated face of John the Evangelist in these examples, combined with the distinctive backgrounds. Excitingly, a number of the manuscripts that form part of the decorative style group contain colophons indicating that they were created in Cyprus or Palestine. The scholar Annemarie Weyl Carr, who has studied this group extensively, has also divided the manuscripts into subgroups, such as the “Interregnum subgroup”, which includes Add MS 26103 and which is dates to the first half of the 13th century (to the Byzantine interregnum).


Portrait of St John the Evangelist: Add MS 26103, f. 188v


Portrait of St John the Evangelist: Add MS 37002, f. 193v

Similar conclusions can be reached on palaeographical grounds. Paul Canart identified two distinct, but closely related, styles of Greek minuscule that diverge from the mainstream of Greek bookhands. These styles, which Canart called “rectangular epsilon” (le style epsilon rectangulaire) and “rounded epsilon” (le style epsilon arrondi). Many of the examples of these two hands are to be found in manuscripts of the “decorative style” group, a further way of linking these manuscripts with the broader Palestino-Cypriot region. As you can see from these examples, Add MS 26103 can be assigned to the rectangular epsilon style, while Add MS 37002 is an example of the rounded epsilon style. The two letters are clearly very similar, but the one in Add MS 37002 is a little more rounded.

Add_ms_26103_f003r detail          Add_ms_37002_f009v detail1
The epsilons on (a) Add MS 26103, f. 3r and (b) Add MS 37002, f. 9v

Taken together, these palaeographic and iconographic markers greatly help us to identify the location and date of the creation of these manuscripts.

Other manuscripts in the British Library collection that have been associated with the “decorative style” group include Add MS 11836, Add MS 17982, Add MS 39595, Add MS 40753, and Harley MS 1810.

Cillian O'Hogan

Further reading

P. Canart, ‘Les écritures livresque chypriotes du milieu du IXe siècle au milieu du XIIIe et le style palestino-cypriote “epsilon”’, Scrittura e civiltà 5 (1981), pp. 17–76 [reprinted in idem, Études de paléographie et de codicologie, Vol. I, Vatican City 2008, pp. 677-736.]

A. W. Carr, ‘A group of provincial manuscripts from the twelfth century’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 36 (1982) 39–81.

A. W. Carr, Byzantine illumination, 1150-1250: the study of a provincial tradition. Chicago 1987.

16 September 2013

Dogs: Medieval Man's Best Friend

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Are you interested in dogs? Are you interested in medieval manuscripts? Are you interested in dogs in medieval manuscripts? Who's not?! And you can find out more by reading Kathleen Walker-Meikle's new book, Medieval Dogs, published by the British Library. Here the author kindly picks out for us some of her highlights.


Christine de Pizan and her dog: Harley MS 4431, f. 4r

Dogs abound in medieval sources, whether in the margins of manuscripts or entries for dog collars and ‘bread for the dogs’ in accounts, and they range from the hunting hound to the spoilt lapdog. (According to the 13th-century scholar Albertus Magnus, the latter often died of constipation due to their overly rich diet.) The 15th-century Boke of St Albans enumerates the following types of dog: a greyhound, a bastard, a mongrel, a mastiff, a lymer (a hound that finds the game), a spaniel, raches (a hound that runs the quarry down), kennets (small hunting hounds), terriers, butcher’s hounds, dung-heap dogs, trundle-tails, ‘prick-eared curs’ and small ladies’ puppies ‘that bear away the fleas’ and other small dogs. Assorted working dogs are described in John Caius’s On English Dogges (1570), such as the dog-messenger (who ‘carried letters from place to place wrapped up cunningly in his leather collar’), the water-drawer (who turned well-wheels), the tinker’s cur (which carried the tinker’s buckets), the turnspit (which turned kitchen-spits), and ‘defending dogs’.


A dog attacking its master's killer: Harley MS 3244, f. 45r

Loyalty was the most praised canine attribute in the Middle Ages. The late 14th-century author of Goodman of Paris remarked how ‘a greyhound, mastiff or little dog, whether on the road, or at table, or in bed, always stays close to the person who gives him food and ignores all others, being distant and shy with them. Even if far away, the dog always has his master in his heart. Even if his master whips or throws stones at the dog, the dog will still follow him, wagging his tail and lying down in front of his masters to placate him. The dog will follow the master through rivers, woods, thieves and battles.’


"Bad King John" and one of his hunting dogs Royal MS 20 A II, f. 8v

Dogs were popular pets for those in religious orders, despite numerous injunctions that attempted to limit the practice. William Greenfield, Archbishop of York, remonstrated in the early fourteenth century that bringing little dogs into the choir during divine services would ‘impede the service and hinder the devotion of the nuns’.


 A nun holding her lapdog: Stowe MS 17, f. 100r 

Medieval Dogs by Kathleen Walker-Meikle is available now from British Library Publishing (£10 hardback, ISBN 9780712358927). On a similar theme, Kathleen Walker-Meikle is also author of Medieval Cats (£10, ISBN 9780712358187).

You can read more about medieval dogs in our previous post, Nothin' But A Hound Dog. Meanwhile, many of the manuscripts featured here (and the dogs in them) can be viewed in their entirety on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site.


12 September 2013

The Worms Bible on Display in Mannheim

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The British Library is delighted to have loaned three manuscripts to an major exhibition in Mannheim at the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen.  This exhibition, The Wittelsbachs on the Rhine: The Electoral Palatinate and Europe, will run from 8 September 2013 until 2 March 2014The exhibition corresponds to an important period of history, namely the 800th anniversary of the granting of the County Palatine of the Rhine to the Wittelsbach family, and celebrates the history, arts and culture of the Wittelsbach Counts Palatine and Electors.


In 1214, Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen invested the Wittelsbach Duke Ludwig I with the  County Palatine, formerly under the control of the Welf family.  This established an unbroken Wittelsbach line of Counts Palatine which continued through to Carl Theodor, Count Palatine and Duke of Bavaria (d. 1799).  The Wittelsbachs always referred to themselves as Counts Palatine of the Rhine and Dukes of Bavaria; emphasis was given to the title of Count Palatine because it included the right to serve as one of the seven electors of the king.  This is an exceptional story of the transformation of a rather obscure family into a dynasty that ruled vast territories in the Holy Roman Empire for 800 years.

Miniature of Jerome writing at a desk with a small monk below, and the illuminated initial 'F'(rater) with foliate interlace and bands, at the beginning of Jerome's letter to Ambrose, Germany (Frankenthal), c. 1148, Harley MS 2803, f. 1v

The first volume of the Worms Bible (Harley MS 2803; the manuscript is now in two volumes) appears in the first section of the exhibition, which highlights the importance of the Rhenish Palatine region.  The massive Worms Bible was probably written or illuminated c. 1148 at the Augustinian abbey of Mary Magdalene in Frankenthal, 10 kilometers south of Worms, now a short train ride from Mannheim.  If you are unable to make it to the exhibition, you can view this first volume in its entirely on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website (Harley MS 2803).  We hope to digitize the second volume and make it available on the web in the next several months.

Alongside the history of the Rhenish Palatine region and the Wittelsbach family and its origins, the concept of the 'Electoral Palatinate' will also take centre stage in the exhibition's first section.  The Palatinate was one of the richest and most important regions in the Holy Roman Empire, a domain of innovation and creativity.  Co-curator Viola Skiba comments that this remains true today, noting that ‘it is a common phenomenon that the people call themselves “Kurpfälzer”, meaning “Palatinates”, without knowing what this signifies'. 

Despite the importance of the so-called 'Pfalzgrafschaft' around 1200, there were only few places of renown in the Palatinate, but one of these was Frankenthal and its Augustinian monastery, which developed into a centre of economic and cultural potential with an influence that lasted until the dissolution of the monastery in 1562 and the consequent dispersal of its library.  In commenting on the relative paucity of surviving material from the region, Skiba describes the Worms  Bible as 'the highlight and the key exhibit of this first section dedicated to the region and its cultural and political importance.’

Two other British Library manuscripts feature in the exhibition, both Hebrew illuminated manuscripts.  They are placed in the second section of the exhibition, which addresses the importance of the river Rhine and highlights the different cultural and political aspects of the region.  Part of this is a focus on the rich cultural heritage of the Jewish communities in Rhenish cities, above all the so-called SchUM cities Speyer, Worms and Mainz (SchUM is an acronym derived from the initial letters of the Hebrew names of the cities: Schpira, Warmeisa, Magenza).

Numerous precious manuscripts - now found all over the world - trace their origins to the region along the Rhine. Many of these manuscripts are beautifully illuminated and testify to the high artistic quality of the work done by the scribes and illuminators employed.  

Add MS 22413 f. 3r 077786
Historiated initial-word panel of the Receiving the Law with Moses streching his hands for the tablets and Aaron (shown as a Christian bishop) and the Israelites (divided according to sex) waiting at the foot of the mountain, at the beginning of a liturgical poem for the first day of Shavuot, Germany, c. 1322, Additional MS 22413, f. 3r

The first manuscript, Additional MS 22413, is a festival prayer book for Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) and Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles).  This is one part of the 'Tripartite Mahzor'; the other two volumes are Budapest (Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Science, Kaufmann Collection MS A384), and Oxford (Bodleian Library MS Michael 619).  The prayer book was originally a two-volume codex; in the exhibition the first two parts are reunited and can be viewed side-by-side.  Skiba comments that ‘This alone will be one of the absolute highlights of the exhibition’. 

Add MS 15282 f. 179v a80062-19
Full-page panel inhabited by hybrids and dragons, and four knights holding banners with the symbols of the four tribes camped around the Tabernacle (Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, Dan), and with the initial-word panel Wa-yedabber (and [the Lord] spoke) in its centre, at the beginning of Numbers, Germany, first quarter of the 14th century, Additional MS 15282, f. 179v

The second British Library Hebrew manuscript to be featured is Additional MS 15282, the famous 'Duke of Sussex's German Pentateuch').  This Ashkenazi manuscript, written in Hebrew and Aramaic, was produced in the first quarter of the 14th century by the scribe Hayyim, and contains a number of lavishly decorated word-panels.


Und jetzt in Deutsch!

2013/14 gedenken die Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen in Mannheim gemeinsam mit der Generaldirektion Kulturelles Erbe Rheinland-Pfalz, den Staatlichen Schlössern und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, der Verwaltung der Staatlichen Schlösser und Gärten Hessen, dem Historischen Museum der Pfalz, Speyer, und dem Kurpfälzischen Museum Heidelberg einem bedeutenden historischen Jubiläum. Dann jährt sich die Übertragung der Pfalzgrafschaft bei Rhein an die Familie der Wittelsbacher zum 800. Mal. Mit einer unter dem Titel „Die Wittelsbacher am Rhein. Die Kurpfalz und Europa“ geplanten, großen Doppel-Ausstellung soll an die Geschichte, Kunst und Kultur der wittelsbachischen Pfalzgrafen und Kurfürsten gedacht werden.

1214 übertrug der staufische Kaiser Friedrich II. die vormals welfische Pfalzgrafschaft an Herzog Ludwig I (1174-1231).  Damit wurde eine ununterbrochene wittelsbachische Traditionslinie begründet, die bis hin zu Carl Theodor (1714-1799) reichte. Über alle Landesteilungen und dynastischen Zufälle hinweg bewahrten die Wittelsbacher die Verantwortung für die Einheit von Haus und Herrschaft. Stets nannten sie sich Pfalzgrafen bei Rhein und Herzöge von Bayern. Der Pfalzgrafentitel stand dabei häufig im Vordergrund, denn aus diesem konnten die Wittelsbacher das Vorrecht ableiten, im Kreis der Kurfürsten den König zu wählen und mit ihm gemeinsam die Reichspolitik zu gestalten.

Die British Library unterstützt den Ausstellungsteil, der sich mit dem Mittelalter befasst (um 1200 bis 1504) durch die Leihgabe von drei kostbaren und bedeutenden Handschriften.

Bei der ersten Leihgabe handelt es sich um den ersten Band der „Frankenthaler Bibel“, die auch als „Wormser Bibel“ geführt wird und die im 12. Jahrhundert in Frankenthal entstanden ist. Die großformatig und wunderbar illuminierte Bibel wird im ersten Ausstellungskapitel zu sehen sein, das sich der Bedeutung der rheinischen Pfalzgrafschaft widmet. In dieser Abteilung wird eine außergewöhnliche Erfolgsgeschichte vorgestellt: der Aufstieg einer bis dahin eher unbedeutenden Familie zu großer Macht.  Die Geschichte einer Dynastie, die schließlich für 800 Jahre große Gebiete im Heiligen Römischen Reich beherrschen sollten und zu den mächtigsten Fürsten Europas zählten.

Neben der Familie und ihrer Herkunft wird dabei auch das Gebiet der „Kurpfalz“ in den Mittelpunkt treten. Über die Jahrhunderte war die Pfalzgrafschaft eine der reichsten und bedeutendsten Regionen des Heiligen Römischen Reichs, ein Territorium, das von Innovationen und Kreativität geprägt war und noch immer geprägt ist.  Noch heute begreifen sich die Bewohner dieses historischen Gebiets, das als solches nicht länger existiert als „Kurpfälzer“, auch wenn sie gar nicht wissen, was dies bedeutet. Die Besucher sollen daher dieses besondere historische Territorium, seine Besonderheiten und seine Herrscher kennenlernen.

Trotz der Bedeutung der Pfalzgrafschaft gab es in der Zeit um 1200 nur wenige nennenswerte städtischen oder kulturellen Zentren in diesem Gebiet. Eines war allerdings Frankenthal mit seinem Augustiner-Chorherrenstift, das sich zu einem Zentrum von großem ökonomischen und kulturellen Potential entwickelte und das seinen Einfluss für 400 Jahre geltend machte.  Im Jahre 1562 wurde das Stift im Zuge der Reformation aufgelöst.  Alle Besitztümer und nicht zuletzt die Bibliothek wurden auf Befehl Friedrich III nach Heidelberg verbracht und der von Friedrich III der Universitätsbibliothek hinzugefügt.  Um einen der größten Schätze dieser Zeit, die sog. Wormser Bibel soll die Bedeutung der historischen Region der Rheinischen Pfalzgrafschaft erklärt werden. Tatsächlich war das Gebiet im Laufe der Jahrhunderte so umkämpft, dass unglücklicherweise nur wenig archäologisches Material oder anderes kulturelles Gut die Stürme der Zeit überdauert hat. Daher stellt die kostbare und wunderbar gearbeitete Bibel das Highlight und ein Schlüsselexponat für diese erste, der Region und ihrer Bedeutung gewidmete Sektion dar.

Das zweite Ausstellungskapitel widmet sich der Bedeutung des Rheins und versucht verschiedene kulturelle und politische Aspekte rund um den Strom aufzugreifen. Einer dieser Themenbereiche betrifft die jüdische Kultur im mittleren Rheingebiet und in der Kurpfalz.  Eine ganze Untersektion ist dem reichen kulturellen Erbe der jüdischen Gemeinden mit ihren Zentren in den rheinischen Städten, vor allem den sogenannten SchUM-Städten Speyer, Worms und Mainz gewidmet (SchUM ist ein Akronym, dass sich aus den Anfangsbuchstaben der hebräischen Namen der drei Städte zusammensetzt: Spira, Warmeisa, Magenza).

Da das Judentum essentiell eine auf Schriften basierende Religion ist, bei der die Arbeit mit Texten und Manuskripten zur Religionsausübung gehörte, kam es zu einer besonderen Entwicklung der Buchkultur. Zahlreiche kostbare Manuskripte, die nun über die ganze Welt verstreut sind entstanden entlang des Rheins.

Viele dieser Handschriften weisen wunderbare Illustrationen auf und belegen den hohen künstlerischen Standard der Arbeit der Schreiber und Illuminatoren. Mehrere dieser Manuskripte sind in der Ausstellung zu sehen, darunter zwei Bücher aus der British Library, ein Pentateuch und eine Machsor-Handschrift. Letztere ist Teil eines ursprünglich zweibändigen Werks, das heute in drei Teilen vorliegt und in verschiedenen Bibliotheken aufbewahrt wird. Für die Ausstellung in Mannheim wurden zwei dieser drei Teile wieder vereinigt: der erste Teil des Machsor aus der Bibliothek und Informationszentrum der Ungarischen Akademie der Wissenschaften und der zweite Teil aus der British Library. Das allein wird einen der Höheunkte der Ausstellung „Die Wittelsbacher am Rhein. Die Kurpfalz und Europa“ darstellen.

- Kathleen Doyle and Viola Skiba

09 September 2013

The Quimperlé Detective

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In July we told the story of how the three parchment fragments of the Ely farming memorandum were re-united in the 1920s through a remarkable act of sleuthing by an Anglo-Saxon scholar, Professor Stenton of Reading.  While updating our online catalogues in the British library, we regularly come across remarkable characters who have studied our manuscripts in the past, or who have owned them at some stage during their lifetime.

Here is another example of skilful detective work, this time by a French manuscript scholar, Monsieur Leon Maitre, in the late nineteenth century, who travelled from Brittany to Yorkshire to track down the Quimperlé Cartulary (Egerton MS 2802).

Former binding with label stating that the cartulary  was compiled in the 12th century by the monk Gurheden, Egerton MS 2802, f. i recto

This unprepossessing manuscript with only rudimentary decoration is of great interest to historians of Brittany, as it contains unique historical records of the Abbey of St Croix and environs in the 11th and 12th centuries.  For this reason it has recently been fully digitised, and can be viewed here.

Text from the Cartulary of Quimperlé abbey, compiled by Gurheden in the first half of the 12th century with preface entitled 'Opusculum Gurhedeni monachi', including a summary of the foundation charters and a Bull of Pope Boniface IV. Additions by different scribes in the 2nd half of the 12th century and the 13th century, Egerton MS 2802, f. 52r

Perhaps more interesting than its contents is the story of how it came to the British Library, a tale that could be straight out of the Scarlet Pimpernel!  In his introduction to the edition of 1904, the French scholar Leon le Maitre writes in the rather quaint academic French of the period that he is obliged to re-tell the ‘historique des peregrinations’ (the tale of the wanderings or pilgrimages) of the manuscript.  Apparently when the monastery was the object of ‘la rage destructive des révolutionnaires’ (the destructive rage of the revolutionaries) Brother Davau, one of the monks, escaped with this precious document and a few personal effects.  With no means of support, he fell ill, and was tended by the kindly Dr Le Guillou of Nantes, to whom he bequeathed his only precious possession (‘la seule richesse qui lui restât’) as a sign of his gratitude.  Le Guillou’s son sold it in 1836 to a Paris bookseller which was frequented by an English scholar, a Mr Stapleton. So our cartulary ended up in the collection of Lord Beaumont, nephew of Mr Stapleton, at Carlton Towers in Yorkshire, where it was kept (and mislaid among many old books and documents) during the remodelling and reconstruction of his magnificent new residence.

Text from the Cartulary of Quimperlé abbey, Egerton MS 2802, f. 162r

Fortunately, the pre-eminent French manuscript scholar, M Léopold Delisle of the Bibliotheque Nationale of France, kept his eye ('son oeil vigilant') on important French historical documents and so was aware of the situation.  In 1881 he and the French Ministre d’Instruction Publique sent M le Maitre on an important mission: to find and make a transcript of this lost treasure of the patrimony of Brittany. The most difficult part of the mission was to get an entrée into English high society, which was finally provided by the Marquis de la Ferronays, who by a happy chance was in London at the time as military attaché to the French Embassy. He made the introduction and our French sleuth set off for Yorkshire, where he was once again fortunate to encounter a Monsignor Goldies, the local Catholic priest, whose brother had married a lady from Nantes, and who was therefore well-disposed towards him.  He introduced Monsieur le Maitre to the Dowager Lady Beaumont, who was living alone at Carlton Towers at the time.

Carlton Tower Flickr 3575684098_2608168773_b
Carlton Towers, Yorkshire, as it is today – many rooms to search! Photo by William Thomas, 2009, via Flickr Creative Commons

With ‘bonne grace’ she allowed him the free run of all the many rooms in her home, and he was free to ferret around among all the chests and cases of old books and documents, which were in some disarray.  After eight days of searching, Lady Beaumont decided it was time to intervene, and finally emerged triumphant with a modest, yellowed booklet, untitled and unbound, which she had found in the middle of a pile of newspapers and brochures. It was the Quimperlé Cartulary!  Mr le Maitre was able to make his edition and subsequently the manuscript was bought by the British Museum from Lord Beaumont’s successors.  The funds used were from the bequeathed by Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Early of Bridgewater, and so it is part of the Egerton collection.

Full digitisation of the manuscript means that now French and other scholars will be able to study the contents in detail on our Digitised Manuscript here.

- Chantry Westwell

05 September 2013

A Medieval Menagerie

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Our calendar series for 2012 featured the gorgeous Hours of Joanna the Mad (Add MS 18852), a spectacular Book of Hours that was produced for Joanna of Castile (more frequently, and somewhat unfairly, known as Joanna the Mad) in Bruges between 1496 and 1506.  This Book of Hours was clearly customised for Joanna, who appears in several miniatures (see below); as well as including some unusual texts that were probably chosen by her, the manuscript also contains a stunning programme of illumination. 

Miniature of Joanna of Castile praying, accompanied by John the Evangelist, Hours of Joanna of Castile, Bruges, between 1496 and 1506, Add MS 18852, f. 288

Along with the calendar and other full-page miniatures, nearly every folio of the Hours of Joanna the Mad contains a marginal painting that does not appear to relate directly to the text above.  The marginalia includes paintings of jewels, flowers, and other decorative elements, but the majority of the images are of animals, a wild profusion of life that merits further investigation.  Here are a few of our favourites.

Some of these animals are familiar:

Detail of a squirrel eating a nut, Add MS 18852, f. 88v

Detail of a duck, Add MS 18852, f. 120r

 Detail of a sheep, Add MS 18852, f. 284v

Detail of a grasshopper, Add MS 18852, f. 30r

Detail of a rather downcast dog, Add MS 18852, f. 41v


Some are rather less familiar:

Detail of a a goat-chicken, Add MS 18852, f. 67r

Detail of a hybrid knight in armour, Add MS 18852, f. 117v

Detail of a... well, some kind of animal with a peacock's tail and wings, Add MS 18852, f. 128r

Detail of a bat? or a beaver with wings?, Add MS 18852, f. 150r

Detail of a fish with legs, Add MS 18852, f. 252r


And some are just plain odd:

Detail of a rather elderly be-hatted cherub carrying a flower, Add MS 18852, f. 87r

Detail of a female Green Man (or she-Hulk) looking into a mirror, Add MS 18852, f. 98v

Detail of an unlikely pair of friends, Add MS 18852, f. 108v

Detail of a winged siren (with a fetching hat) grinding colours, Add MS 18852, f. 291r

Detail of a rather disquieting musical instrument (bagpipes?), Add MS 18852, f. 98r

Please have a look at the rest of the Hours of Joanna the Mad, and be sure to let us know your favourites!  As always, you can follow us on Twitter for more updates @BLMedieval.

- Sarah J Biggs

03 September 2013

The Bounty of Byzantium

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The British Library is delighted to announce the digitisation of eleven new Greek manuscripts, all of which are now available on our Digitised Manuscripts site.  This project was generously funded by Sam Fogg.  The manuscripts range in date from the tenth century to the sixteenth century, and include a number of Gospels and related texts as well as two works of Byzantine poetry.

We are very excited to make these newly-digitised manuscripts widely available; they contain many stunning images, and several have original or near-contemporary bindings.  Keep an eye out for future blog posts which will describe some of the  individual manuscripts in more detail, but for now, enjoy exploring some of the treasures of our Greek collections!

The eleven manuscripts now on Digitised Manuscripts are:

Burney MS 19:  Gospels, second half of the 10th century, with illuminated headpieces and initials. Illuminated portraits of the four evangelists were added in the twelfth century.

Burney MS 20:  Gospels, 1285, with illuminated headpieces and portraits of the evanglists.

Evangelist portrait of Luke, Burney MS 20, f. 142v

Burney MS 97:  Manuel Philes, De animalium proprietate, a series of poems on different animals, with accompanying illustrations. Written by the noted Cretan scribe Angelos Vergekios in the second quarter of the sixteenth century.

Additional MS 26103:  Gospels, probably 12th century, containing illuminated headpieces and initials, and a portrait of St John the Evangelist and his scribe Prochoros.

Additional MS 28819:  Psalter, 16th century, with an illuminated portrait of David and illuminated headpieces.

Decorated headpiece at the beginning of Psalms, Add MS 28819, f. 2r

Additional MS 28820:  Divine Liturgies, 1695-1709, with illuminated portraits of John Chrysostom, Basil, and Gregory.

Portrait of John Chrysostom and angels, Add MS 28820, f. 2v

Additional MS 35030:  Gospels, 13th century, with illuminated headpieces and portraits of the evangelists, and decorated canon tables.

Additional MS 37002:  Gospels, 1314-1315, with illuminated headpieces and portraits of the evangelists, and decorated canon tables.

Additional MS 39591:  formerly Parham MS 9):  Gospels, mid-12th century, with illuminated headpieces and portraits of the evangelists (one of which is a nineteenth-century addition).

Additional MS 39603 (formerly Parham MS 21):  a cruciform Lectionary, 12th century, with illuminated initials and finial ornaments. In a binding of wooden boards covered with blue velvet.

Front binding, Add MS 39603

Additional MS 40724:  Georgios Choumnos, Metrical Paraphrase of Genesis and Exodus, 15th-16th centuries, with coloured illustrations throughout.

Add MS 40724, f. 66r

-  Cillian O'Hogan

01 September 2013

A Calendar Page for September 2013

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For more details on calendar pages or the Golf Book, please see the post for January 2013.

The important end-of-the-summer work in the fields continues in these calendar pages for September.  In the opening miniature, men are ploughing with teams of horses, while another man sows grain from a bulging sack.  Behind them can be seen a modest farmhouse, and to the right, a man knocking acorns from the trees to feed the pigs that have gathered around him, in a labour more usually associated with November or December.  In the bas-de-page, a group of white-clad men are playing at marbles, while another is trying his luck on a pair of stilts.  On the following page, below the saints' days for September and a roundel of a scorpion for Scorpio, is a scene of men playing a game that closely resembles golf (hence the name given to this manuscript, the Golf Book); for more details on this unique depiction, please see our post A Good Walk Spoiled.

Calendar page for September with a miniature of labourers ploughing and sowing grain, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1540, Additional MS 24098, f. 26v

Calendar page for September with a bas-de-page scene of a men playing a golf-type game, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1540, Additional MS 24098, f. 27r

30 August 2013

Guess the Manuscript VI

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In honour of our recent uploads to Digitised Manuscripts, the latest installment of our universally-acclaimed Guess the Manuscript series is going Greek.  There's your first and only clue; as always, the manuscript is part of our medieval collections, and can be found somewhere on the Digitised Manuscripts site.  Happy hunting!


If you haven't already had a go at this engrossing game, please check out our previous posts, Guess the Manuscript I, II, III, IV and V.

You can leave your guesses here in the comments, or send them to us via Twitter @BLMedieval.

Update:  and the winner is... Peter, at @chesswoodseats ! Peter was the only one who came up with the correct answer; this is a folio from Add MS 15581, a Greek copy of the Gospels from the 11th-12th centuries.  Thanks for playing along, and look out for a new Guess the Manuscript soon!