Medieval manuscripts blog

547 posts categorized "Medieval"

20 December 2015

Medieval Festive Survival Guide

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To help you negotiate the festive season, medieval writers, illustrators and patrons had some useful tips …

1. Ensure the prompt delivery of your Christmas greetings by hiring a messenger.

Detail of a messenger from Guillaume de Lorris’s and Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose, Low Countries (Bruges), c 1490-c 1500, Harley MS 4425, f. 137v

2. If you’re stuck for gift ideas, books always make great presents. The Bedford Hours was once a Christmas gift.

The Wise Men offering Christ gifts, from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410-1430, Add MS 18850, f. 75r

3. On the subject of gifts, if you can’t find a partridge for your pear tree, a king will do…

King Mark Pear Tree
Image of King Mark in a pear tree, from a series of drawings illustrating the Tristan romance, England (London?), 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 11619, f. 8r

4. At Christmas parties, don’t get caught out under the mistletoe: timing is everything!

Royal 20 A XVII Pygmalion
Detail of Pygmalion kissing the statue, from Roman de la Rose, Northern France (Artois or Picardy), c. 1340, Royal MS 20 A XVII , f. 171r   

5. Know when you have had enough to drink.

Royal 6 E VII K042592
Ebrietas (Drunkenness) from Omne Bonum (Ebrietas-Humanus), England (London), c. 1360-c. 1375,
Royal MS 6 E VII , f. 1r

6. If you discover you have a headache, though, try tying some crosswort to your head with a red cloth or smearing your temples with pennyroyal boiled in oil or butter or placing ‘stones’ from three young sparrows on your head. This allegedly also works for nightmares, temptations and ‘evil enchantments by song’ (for an edition and translation, see Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England, ed. by T. O. Cockayne, Rolls Series, 3 vols (London: Longmans, 1864-66), vol II (1864), pp. 304-07).

Remedies of headaches, from Bald’s Leechbook, England (Winchester?), mid-10th century, Royal MS 12 D XVII, f. 111r

7. Enjoy Christmas dinner.

Add 15268 Feasting c13842-19a
Detail of feasting from Histoire Universelle, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Acre), c. 1275-91, Add MS 15268, f. 242v

8. Enjoy some seasonal music.

Part of the liturgy for Christmas, from the Leofric Collectar, England (Exeter), c. 1050-c. 1072, Harley MS 2961, f. 12v

9. And remember, a dog is for life not just for Christmas.

Margaret of York dog
Miniature of the resurrected Christ with Margaret of York and a dog, from
Nicolas Finet, Dialogue de la duchesse de Bourgogne, Low Countries (Brussels), c. 1468, Add MS 7970, f. 1v

Dogs Royal MS 20 A II, f 8v
Detail of King John with a hunting dog, from a collection of drawings with various inscriptions and poems, Northern England, c. 1307-1327, Royal MS 20 A II, f. 8v

15 December 2015

Help Us Choose our 2016 Calendar

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It has long been a tradition on our blog, hailing back to the distant days of 2011, to highlight pages from a medieval calendar throughout the year.  We have been privileged to bring you the Isabella Breviary, the Hours of Joanna of Castile (or if you prefer, the Hours of Joanna the Mad), the Golf Book, the Huth Hours, and most recently, the London Rothschild Hours

For 2016, we’d like to do something a little different – we’d like for you to help us decide which calendar to feature.  We have selected 4 potential manuscripts, all listed below.  Please let us know which one you’d like to see throughout 2016!  You can leave your favourite in the comments below, or tell us on Twitter @BLMedieval.  Without any further ado, here are the contenders:

Add MS 18850:  The Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410 – 1430 (this manuscript was also included in Turn the Pages)

Calendar page for January from the Bedford Hours, Add MS 18850, f. 1r

Add MS 36684:  The St Omer Hours, France (Saint-Omer or Therouanne), c. 1320 (for more on this fabulous manuscript, see our posts Apes Pulling Shapes and Something for Everyone)

Calendar page for February from the St Omer Hours, Add MS 36684, f. 2v

Egerton MS 1070: The Hours of René of Anjou, France (Paris), 15th century

Calendar page for March from The Hours of René of Anjou, Egerton MS 1070, f. 8r

Cotton MS Galba A XVII:  The Athelstan Psalter (or Galba Psalter), northeast France, 1st half of the 9th century (more on this one: King Athelstan’s Books and Athelstan Psalter Online)

Calendar page from the Athelstan Psalter, Cotton MS Galba A XVII, f. 3r

- Sarah J Biggs

12 December 2015

Almanacs Online!

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In the 15th century, a significant number of portable almanacs were produced in England, and the British Library holds a considerable number of those that survive. No fewer than 10 of these almanacs, and several related items, have now been published on our Digitised Manuscripts site.    


Parchment forming outer cover of a folded almanac with cord, N. England, (1469), Cotton Ch VIII 26

Portable almanacs were most probably made to be used by physicians and those with an interest in astronomy, astrology and prognostication. They were small, consisting usually of 6 to 8 parchment leaves folded in half and then into 4 or 6 oblong sections, sewn together at one edge with a tab that could be fastened to the girdle with a piece of cord. On the outside of each section were often titles for easy reference so that the correct page could be selected.


Green fabric cover of a folded almanac, England, c. 1431, Add MS 17358

The contents vary, but usually include a calendar, together with tables and diagrams for calculating the movements of the heavenly bodies and their influences on the human body.

From Carolingian times, liturgical calendars were produced. They were used to calculate the days and dates of fixed and movable Christian feasts such as Easter and Christmas for any given year, sometimes including astrological and astronomical tables. An example of a folded calendar is this one made in Italy in c. 1381 which has a folio for each month with the title on the reverse, and calendar tables. It is very small, about the size of a credit card when folded.


Calendar page for June from a folded calendar, Italy, c. 1381, Add MS 30034, f. 10r

The calendar was one of the components of the almanac, containing useful information such as the time of sunrise and sunset for each day of the month; decorated initials and the use of colour made the data easier to interpret.   


Calendar pages with gold initials, from an almanac, England, c. 1463, Add MS 28725, f. 4v

This manuscript was featured in ‘Guess the manuscript’ a while ago.


Open calendar page with gold initials, N. England, c. 1430, Harley MS 937, f. 4v

To the calendar are added more complex scientific and medical tables and diagrams, to make up the type of almanac produced from the late 14th century onwards. A popular version was the Kalendarium of John Somer which provided all the necessary information to calculate solar, lunar and planetary movements.


Diagram of solar and lunar eclipses, England, c. 1444, Sloane MS 807, f. 9v


Diagram of solar and lunar eclipses, England, after 1415, Sloane MS 2250, f. 15r

For the use of medieval physicians, diagrams of Zodiac man and Vein man were included. Zodiac man has the signs of the Zodiac represented on different parts of the body in which they have influence, for example Pisces is at the feet. Some of these diagrams are highly decorative, and were no doubt treasured possessions as well as works of reference.

There are some interesting male hairstyles: this zodiac man looks rather 1970s!


Diagram of Zodiac man with long hair, England, c. 1463, Add MS 28725, f. 7v

The prize for originality:  a headband with neat curls - and a ram on top!


Diagram of Zodiac man with animals, England, after 1415, Sloane MS 2250, f. 12r


Homo venarum and tabula lunae, England, N (1469), Cotton Ch VIII 26, f. 12r

This one could be a barrister, or the Prince Regent in Blackadder III.


Diagram of blood-letting man, England, c. 1406, Harley MS 5311, f. 10v

Finally, this colourful image of urine flasks describes the complaints associated with each colour and the text on the side gives instructions for treating the various illnesses.


Diagrams of the sphere of Apuleius with canon on the nature of those born under different planets and a chart of urine flasks, England, c. 1406, Harley MS 5311, f. 2v

- Chantry Westwell

08 December 2015

New Images of the Book of the Queen

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The Book of the Queen is one of the most treasured manuscripts held by the British Library. This beautifully illuminated collection of works by Christine de Pizan was made for Isabel (Isabeau) of Bavaria (b. 1371, d. 1435), queen consort of Charles VI of France. It is believed that Christine herself supervised the assembly of the book and may have even been involved in copying passages of text. You can find out more about Christine and this wonderful book here.

Harley MS 4431_f.3r

Detail of a miniature of Christine de Pizan presenting her manuscript to Queen Isabel of Bavaria, from the Book of the Queen, France (Paris), c. 1410 – c. 1414, Harley MS 4431, f. 3r

Queen Isabel was not the only medieval female reader to enjoy this copy of Christine’s works. Later in the 15th century, the manuscript was owned by Jacquetta of Luxembourg (b. c. 1416, d. 1472), wife of John [of  Lancaster], Duke of Bedford (b. 1389, d. 1435). Jacquetta was not shy about leaving her trace on this highly prized manuscript, writing her name and her motto, ‘sur tous autres’ [over/above all others], on multiple folios.


Inscription of ‘Jaquete’ in the outer margin of Christine’s Epistre au Dieu d'Amours, Harley MS 4431, f. 52v

Thanks to the work of our fantastic Imaging Scientist, Dr Christina Duffy, we have new images of the ownership marks left by Jacquetta. By comparing the inscription of her motto on f. 387r with the damaged inscription above her name on f. 1r, Christina has helped to establish with more certainty that Jacquetta’s motto was also written on f. 1r.

Harley 4431 motto

Comparison of the damaged inscription on f. 1r with the motto on f. 387r. Images processed at the British Library by Dr Christina Duffy. Copyright of the British Library Board.

Christina has also rendered Jacquetta’s most unusual inscription more legible. It occurs in a miniature on f. 115v, which depicts Aurora bringing the dawn, and below her, a peasant, fastening his trousers and entering a hen house.


Detail of a miniature of Aurora bringing the dawn, with a peasant, fastening his trousers and entering a hen house, from the Epistre Othéa, Harley MS 4431, f. 115v

0000017725_XYZ_Y(norm_w_2pct,equalized,8-bit)_full (1)-2

Inscription up the right side of the hen house in the miniature on f. 115v. Image processed at the British Library by Dr Christina Duffy. Copyright of the British Library Board.

Of all the dramatic scenes that illustrate the Epistre Othéa, why did Jacquetta choose this one? Did she identify with the resplendent beauty of Aurora? Was she a morning person? Did this half-dressed fellow take her fancy? Share your thoughts with @BLMedieval!

For information on Jacquetta’s marks of ownership see:

Christine de Pizan: The Making of the Queen's Manuscript (London, British Library, Harley MS 4431)

Sandra Hindman, 'The Composition of the Manuscript of Christine de Pizan's Collected Works in the British Library: A Reassessment', British Library Journal, 9 (1983), 93-123.

You can discover more about Christina’s work by following her on Twitter and by checking out the Collection Care blog, which discusses the activities of the British Library’s scientists and conservators. Christina’s most important collaborations with the Section of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts include the creation of a CT scan of the St Cuthbert Gospel and her ground-breaking multispectral imaging work on the British Library’s burnt copy of Magna Carta 1215 .

- Hannah Morcos

03 December 2015

Postgraduate Open Day on our Pre-1600 Collections

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Booking has opened for the British Library’s first open day dedicated to postgraduates working on our pre-1600 western heritage collections. The open day will be held on Monday 1st February 2016 and is aimed at first year PhD students who are new to the Library. You can reserve a place on our website now at

Papyrus deed of sale of a slave boy (P. Lond. I 229), with original seals, Syria, 24 May 166, Papyrus 229

The open day will introduce our very wide ranging manuscript and early printed collections to students working on history, literature, the history of art, religion, and the history of science and medicine. The day will help students to understand the practicalities of using our collections in their research and to find out about our catalogues and other online resources. In the afternoon there will be an opportunity to meet several curators who work with pre-1600 manuscripts and printed books, and to have a look at some collection items. There will also be sessions led by reading room staff and by one of the Library’s digital curators.

Map of the known world, from the Map Psalter, England, 1262-1300, Add Ms 28681, f. 9r

The pre-1600 day is part of an annual series of open days covering different Library collections. The other open days available in 2016 are:

Asian & African Collections – 18 January 2016
News & Media – 25 January 2016 
Music – 05 February 2016
Social Sciences – 12 February 2016
17th & 18th Century Collections – 19 February 2016
19th Century Collections – 22 February 2016
20th & 21st Century Collections – 26 February 2016

Page of music from Magister Sampson, Benedictus de Opitiis and others, Motets, Antwerp, 1516, Royal MS 11 E XI, f. 4r

To make the most of the day, you may wish to register for a free Reader Pass in advance if you don’t already have one. Each open day costs £5 and includes lunch and refreshments. Booking in advance is essential as a limited number of places is available. We are looking forward to meeting lots of new postgraduate students on 1st February.

Prologue with woodcut from 2nd edition of Caxton's Chaucer, G.11586, f. 3v

-   Claire Breay, Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts

01 December 2015

A Calendar Page for December 2015

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To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015.

Add_ms_35313_f007r copy
Calendar page for December, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500, Add MS 35313, f. 7r

Winter has fully descended in this calendar page for December.  Against a snowy landscape, a peasant is kneeling atop a pig that he has just slaughtered, bracing himself for the arduous task ahead.  Beside him crouches a woman, holding out a pan to catch the pig's blood.  Behind them a distant figure is crossing a bridge over a frozen river, while to the left two women are at work in an open-sided building.  The only hint of welcome warmth comes from the fire blazing in the hearth.  

Add_ms_35313_f007r_detail copy
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants slaughtering a pig and working in a snowy landscape,  Add MS 35313, f. 7r

December, naturally enough, includes a number of major feast days - so many, in fact, that the illuminators of this manuscript have had to be creative in order to include them all.  On the lower right, beneath a depiction of the Nativity of Christ for Christmas, are four roundels containing scenes commemorating St Stephen, St John, the Holy Innocents, and St Thomas a Becket, archbishop of Canterbury (for more on images of St Thomas, see our post Erasing Becket).   

Add_ms_35313_f007r_nativity copy
Detail of a roundels of the Nativity, and the martyrdoms of SS Stephen, John, Thomas and the Holy Innocents,  Add MS 35313, f. 7r


24 November 2015

Beware the Sybil's Prophecy!

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The Prophecy of the Tenth Sibyl, a medieval best-seller, surviving in over 100 manuscripts from the 11th to the 16th century, predicts, among other things, the reign of evil despots, the return of the Antichrist and the sun turning to blood.

This, and our earlier two posts on Ward’s Catalogue of Romances in the Department of Manuscripts, focus on the tales that Ward classified as ‘CLASSICAL ROMANCES’. He lists 11 manuscripts of the Sibyl’s prophecy in our collections, but there are 15 in all.

Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl, Book of Hours, use of Rome, Master of James IV of Scotland, Bruges or Ghent, circa 1510, Add MS 35313, f. 90r

The Text

The Tenth or Tiburtine Sibyl was a pagan prophetess perhaps of Etruscan origin. To quote Lactantus in his general account of the ten sibyls in the introduction, ‘The Tiburtine Sibyl, by name Albunea, is worshiped at Tibur as a goddess, near the banks of the Anio in which stream her image is said to have been found, holding a book in her hand’. (Tibur is the modern Tivoli: at the Villa d'Este, built in the 16th century, murals depict her prophesying the birth of Christ to the classical world.)

The work interprets the Sibyl’s dream in which she foresees the downfall and apocalyptic end of the world; 9 suns appear in the sky, each one more ugly and bloodstained than the last, representing the 9 generations of mankind and ending with Judgment Day. The original Greek version dates from the end of the 4th century and the earliest surviving manuscript in Latin is dated 1047 (Madrid, Escorial ms &.1.3). There are a small number of vernacular manuscripts, including an Anglo-Norman version by Philippe de Thaon (BnF fr. 25407). The Tiburtine Sibyl is often depicted with Emperor Augustus, who asks her if he should be worshipped as a god. This image from the margins of a Dutch prayerbook is an example:

Harley MS 2943, ff. 17v-18r E093635
Augustus kneeling, with the Tiburtine Sibyl prophesying, in the lower right border (f. 18r); a miniature of the Annunciation; historiated initial 'H'(ere) with Virgin and Child shown as the woman of the Apocalypse; John on Patmos in the border (f. 17v), at the beginning of the Hours of the Virgin, Netherlands, N. (Haarlem? or Beverwijk?), 1486, Harley MS 2943, ff. 17v - 18r.

Early English transmission of the prophecy is often linked to the larger monastic houses such as Rochester and Canterbury, where political prophecies such as the Prophecies of Merlin were popular works. Included in the text is a list of the succession of Roman emperors, and medieval scribes added to this and inserted significant political events from their own times into the prophecy. It is a short text of 3 or 4 folios, usually found in collections of chronicles and historical material, sometimes incorporated into other historical works, including those of Godfrey of Viterbo (12th century) and Matthew Paris (13th century). The emphasis on role of the emperors and kings in the history of the world made this an ideal tool of political propaganda and this may have accounted for its popularity.

The Latin text was often attributed to Bede, and was first printed among his works in Basel in 1563, and later among the works of Pseudo-Bede in Migne’s Patrologia Latina (PL 90, 1181B-1186C).

The Manuscripts

Ward lists the following manuscripts:

Royal MS 15 A XXII from Rochester Cathedral Priory and Cotton MS Vespasian B XXV from Christ Church, Canterbury, for which the former was the exemplar, are the earliest manuscripts in our collections, copied in the first quarter of the 12th century. Both also contain Solinus Collectanea and Dares Phrygius Historia Troianorum:

Initial 'P'(eleus) at the beginning of the introductory epistle of Dares Phrygius, England, S.E. (Rochester) 1st quarter of the 12th century, Royal MS 15 A XXII, f. 73v

Royal MS 15 B XI (12/13C), closely related to the Royal and Cotton manuscripts above, and is again from Rochester Cathedral Priory.

Zoomorphic initial 'Q'(uo) with outline drawing of a dragon and foliate decoration from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, which follow the Prophecy in this manuscript, England, S.E., 4th quarter of the 12th century or 1st quarter of the 13th century, Royal MS 15 B XI, f. 70v

Royal MS 13 A XIV, an Irish volume from the late 13th or early 14th century that formerly belonged to the Dominican Friary at Limerick and contains a version of the Topographia Hibernica of Giraldus Cambrensis.

Puzzle initial 'O'(mnibus), at the beginning of the Historia Mongalorum, Ireland, last quarter of the 13th century, or 1st quarter of the 14th century Royal MS 13 A XIV, f. 198r

Arundel MS 326: This historical and theological miscellany includes the annals of Abingdon and the Historia Regum Britanniae and is thought to be from Abingdon Abbey. For some reason Ward describes this manuscript in a later section dealing with the English chronicles, but does not include it in the list for the present text.

Egerton MS 810, from Germany in the late 12th or early 13th century and includes Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne

Text page with a decorated initial from the beginning of the Life of Charlemagne, Germany, W. 1125-1174, Egerton MS 810, f. 94r.

Cotton MS Titus D III, a 13th-century copy in a collection with the Pantheon of Godfrey of Viterbo and Apollonius of Tyre.

Cotton MS Claudius B VII, a 13th-century Litchfield manuscript that again includes Dares Phrygius, along with Turpin’s Chronicle and the Prophecies of Merlin.

Cotton MS Vespasian E IV, a 13th-century collection of chronicles and genealogies including Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia regum Britannie

Cotton MS Caligula A X, an early 14th century manuscript containing a Chronicle of Worcester Cathedral Priory up to 1377 and other material relating to Worcester .

Cotton MS Domitian A XIII, a composite manuscript in which a version of the prophecy from the 13th century (ff. 104-107) is bound with a later 14th century copy (ff. 132v-134v).

Manuscripts not in Ward’s catalogue:

In her study, The Sibyl and Her Scribe, Anke Holdenried lists further copies of the text, now in the British Library, that were either not known to Ward or were acquired after his catalogue was published:

Add MS 50003

Add MS 50003_f. 220v
The tripartite prologue to the Prophecy of the Tenth Sibyl, with a historiated initial ‘I’(heronimus) at the beginning, from the Poncii Bible, Spain, Catalonia (Vich?), 1273, Additional MS 50003, f. 220v

This manuscript was one of seven manuscripts bequeathed to the British Museum by Charles William Dyson Perrins, collector and bibliophile (1914-1958). An illuminated Bible from Spain, copied by Johannes Poncii, canon of Vich in Catalonia in 1273, it provides one of the most fascinating contexts for the text and images of the Tiburtine Sibyl. The prophecy has been inserted into the biblical text in between the Book of Psalms and the Book of Proverbs.

Add MS 50003_f.221r
Historiated initial ‘F’(uit) depicting the Tiburtine Sibyl, with the words ‘Decima tiburtina Grece’ in the lines above, from the Poncii Bible, Spain, Catalonia (Vich?), 1273, Additional MS 50003, f. 221r.

Add MS 38665

In this early 15th-century collection, including Aesop’s fables, in the hand of John Streech, canon of the Augustinian Priory of Kenilworth, Warwickshire, the prophecy follows an excerpt of Honorius Augustodunensis’ Ymago Mundi.

Sloane MS 156, a 15th-century miscellany and Sloane MS 289, a direct copy from Arundel MS 326.

Other images of the Sibyl

The collections of chronicles and prophecies in which the Prophecy of the Tenth Sibyl is often found tended to be for practical use and therefore are not lavishly illustrated, but images of Tiburtina and her fellow sibyls appear in other contexts where their prophecies are alluded to.

This is an opportunity to display an image from the fabulous Harley MS 4431, produced by Christine de Pizan for Queen Isabeau of Bavaria (b. 1371, d. 1435) and illuminated by two of the leading Parisian artists of the early 15th century. Included in this collection of Christine’s works is L'Épître Othéa (The Epistle of Othea to Hector), in which the goddess teaches Hector the art of chivalry, providing examples from characters in mythology, including the Tiburtine Sibyl.

Miniature of the Tiburtine Sibyl revealing to Caesar Augustus a vision of the Virgin and Child, in 'L'Épître Othéa', France (Paris), 1410-1440, Harley MS 4431, f. 141r.

Finally, a search for ‘sibyl’ in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts gives a number of results, including this French image of the Erithrean Sibyl, who presided over the Apollonian oracle at Erythrae in Ionia. It is from a copy of a French translation of Boccaccio’s work, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomées:

Detail of a miniature of the Erithrean Sibyl writing, with a partial border and a foliate initial 'E'(rithire), at the beginning of chapter XXI, France, N. (Rouen), c. 1440, Royal MS 16 G V, f. 23.

Footnote: The Tiburtine Sibyl makes an appearance in the National Gallery’s current Botticini exhibition, ‘Visions of Paradise’, which we featured in a recent post.  There is an engraving of her, attributed to Baldini, which is compared to the Sibyl represented in Botticini’s painting. The catalogue points to the distinctive headdress of the Sibyls in both images, not dissimilar from the one in our image from a Flemish Book of Hours, shown above (Harley 2943, f. 1).

Further reading

L. D. Ward , Catalogue of Romances in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum, 3 vols (London: British Museum, 1883-1910), I (1883), pp. 190-95.

Anke Holdenried, The Sibyl and Her Scribes: Manuscripts and Interpretation of the Latin ‘Sibylla Tiburtina c.1050-1500 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006).

- Chantry Westwell

21 November 2015

New to the Treasures Gallery

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As frequent visitors to the British Library will know, we regularly make changes to the items displayed to the public in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, also known as our Treasures Gallery.  We are pleased to announce that the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section has placed a number of new manuscripts on display.  Most of these manuscripts are fully digitised and can be found online at Digitised Manuscripts, so if you’re not able to make it to the Gallery here in London, there’ s no need for you to miss out!

Painting of Mont Saint Michel burning,
from 'Li Romanz du Mont Saint-Michel', France (Normandy), 1375-1400, Add MS 10289, f. 45v

The ‘Literature’ section sees the addition of Add MS 10289, 'Li Romanz du Mont Saint-Michel' (the Romance of Mont Saint-Michel), a late 13th century miscellany of romances, moralistic and religious texts, and medical recipes written in Anglo-Norman.   The folio displayed shows the burning of the monastery in the year 922; much more about this fabulous manuscript can be found in our post The Romance of Mont Saint-Michel.

Miniature of Geoffrey Chaucer, from Thomas Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes, England (London or Westminster), c. 1411 – c. 1420, Harley MS 4866, f. 88r

Also in this section is one of the earliest copies of Thomas Hoccleve’s The Regiment of Princes, which was created c. 1411 – c. 1420, possibly under the supervision of Hoccleve himself.  This manuscript (Harley MS 4866) includes the famous portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer, holding a rosary and wearing a pen-case on a string around his neck

Miniature of Homer in a landscape listening to his Muse, from a copy of Homer’s Iliad, Italy (Florence), 1466, Harley MS 5600, f. 15v

Three manuscripts featuring the works of classical authors have been added to the ‘Art of the Book’ section.  A 15th century Greek manuscript, copied in Florence in 1466 by Ioannes Rhosos of Crete, contains a gorgeous miniature of Homer surrounded by Muses, in a typical Florentine style (Harley MS 5600).  This Homer is joined by the works of two more Roman authors who were also hugely popular in Renaissance Italy: a late 15th century copy of the works of Cicero (Burney MS 157), and a Virgil copied in Rome between 1483 and 1485 (Kings MS 24).

Drawing of a ‘stout woman’ from a notebook by Albrecht
Dürer, Germany, c. 1500, Add MS 5231, f. 5r

Manuscripts in another section contain material from two of the great artists of the Renaissance: Albrecht Dürer and Michaelangelo.  Dürer’s interest in anatomy are reflected in four sketchbooks now owned by the British Library, one of which includes a sketch of a ‘stout woman’ accompanied by detailed notes on how to correctly construct a human figure (Add MS 5231).  Alongside Dürer’s volume is one composed of a series of letters exchanged by Michaelangelo Buonarroti and his family.  On display is a letter Michaelangelo wrote to his nephew from Rome in 1550, offering some genial advice on the best way to select a wife (Add MS 23142).

Text page with musical neumes, Spain (Silos), c. 1050, Add MS 30845, f. 13r

We have also updated the ‘Early Music’ section with two of our best-known musical manuscripts.  Dating from c. 1050, Add MS 30845 is a liturgical manuscript with musical notation, created in the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos in northern Spain.  This notation consists of graphic signs that indicate the direction of the melody; as the pitch is lacking, however, the original melody is now impossible to recover.  Accompanying the Silos manuscript is one containing perhaps the most famous piece of English secular medieval music, ‘Sumer is Icumen in’, which is known only from this manuscript. 

Page with ‘Sumer is Icumen in’, from a miscellany, England (Reading Abbey), c. 1260, Harley MS 978, f. 11v

If you’re interested in more information on this wonderful piece of music (from Harley MS 978), please see our post Sumer is Icumen In.  And whether your visit is in person here in St Pancras, or virtual amongst our digitised manuscripts, we hope you enjoy yourselves!

-  Sarah J Biggs