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11 September 2014

Royal Manuscripts Conference Papers Now Online

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We are pleased to announce that selected papers from the two-day international conference associated with the ‘Royal Manuscripts’ exhibition (11 November 2011 – 13 March 2012) are now available on the Electronic British Library Journal 2014 (articles 4–10). 

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God creating the Heavens and the Earth, from Guyart de Moulins, ‘Bible historiale completée’, Genesis to Psalms, France (Clairfontaine and Paris), 1411,
Royal MS 19 D III, vol. 1, f. 3r

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination showcased over 150 richly decorated manuscripts associated with and collected by English monarchs between the ninth and sixteenth centuries.  Drawn mainly from the Old Royal library given to the nation by George II in 1757, the exhibited manuscripts revealed a magnificent artistic inheritance and provided a vivid insight into the lives and aspirations of those for whom they were made.

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The genealogical descent of Henry VI from St Louis in a book presented by John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, to Henry’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, France (Rouen), 1444-45,
Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 3r

On the 12-13 December 2011, seventeen speakers gathered in the British Library to discuss different aspects of the Royal collection, from the makers and users of these books to content as diverse as genealogy and law, legend and history, and liturgy.  An account of the conference, its speakers and their subjects, can be read here.  Many of the manuscripts displayed in the exhibition can still be seen in seven themed facebook albums (The Christian Monarch 700-1400; The Christian Monarch 1400-1600; Edward IV: Founder of the Royal Library; Instruction: How to be a King; The World’s Knowledge; Royal Identities; and The European Monarch), each featuring between 15 and 25 items.  Previous ‘Royal Manuscripts’ blog posts are listed here and here, and are often richly illustrated with items featured in the exhibition.

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Henry VIII at Psalm 1 (where we would expect an image of David), from the Psalter of Henry VIII, England (London), c. 1540,
Royal MS 2 A XVI, f. 3r

The research for this exhibition was funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  Student bursaries for the conference were generously supported by AMARC.

- Holly James-Maddocks

09 September 2014

The 2014 Panizzi Lectures - The Giant Bibles of Twelfth-Century England

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Why – and how – were very large, elaborately decorated, multi-volume bibles made during the twelfth-century in England?  We are very excited that Dr Christopher de Hamel will be coming to the British Library to consider these and many other questions in the 2014 Panizzi Lectures.  The lectures will take place in the Conference Centre on Monday 27th and Thursday 30th October and Monday 3rd November, 6.15pm-7.30pm.  Entry is free, but the event is not ticketed, and seats will be allocated on a first come, first served basis – so keep the dates free and get here early!

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In each lecture, Dr de Hamel will be taking a closer look at three outstanding examples of this kind of manuscript – the Bury Bible, the Winchester Bible and the Lambeth Bible – using evidence of their decoration, codicology and provenance to explore why these large and incredibly expensive books came into and fell out of fashion within a single century.  Further details about the lectures may be found on the British Library website and on the above leaflet.

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An inhabited initial ‘P’ at the beginning of Judges, from the Rochester Bible, England (Rochester), 2nd quarter of the 12th century, Royal MS 1 C VII, f. 27v

The British Library possesses several examples of giant twelfth-century bibles.  Here are a few to whet your appetite for the forthcoming lectures.  An outstanding example from England is the Rochester Bible. 

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Detail of a historiated initial ‘E’ showing Moses giving the book of the law to Joshua, at the beginning of Joshua, Royal MS 1 C VII, f. 2v

It is remarkable for containing the earliest English Romanesque examples of historiated initials (large letters that incorporate narrative scenes relating to the text), including this rather odd example where the scene has been orientated sideways in order to be accommodated within the letter E.  The manuscript was almost certainly made for Rochester Cathedral during the second quarter of the twelfth century, and it matches the description of a five-volume Bible given in a catalogue of Rochester’s books made in 1202.  One other volume is known to have survived and is now Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, MS W.18.

Harley MS 4772, f. 5r
Large historiated initial ‘I’ showing scenes from Creation, from the Montpellier Bible, S. France (Languedoc), 1st quarter of the 12th century, Harley MS 4772, f. 5r

Our collections also incorporate giant bibles from around Europe; clearly, this was not a phenomenon confined to England.  The two-volume Montpellier Bible (Harley MS 4772 and Harley MS 4773) is an early example, made during the first quarter of the twelfth century in southern France.  Its medieval provenance is unknown, but the manuscript is so named because it was given to the Capuchin monastery at Montpellier in 1621, by François Ranchin (b. 1564, d. 1641), the chancellor of the university there. 

Harley MS 2799, f. 185v
Detail of a historiated initial ‘I’ showing St John the Evangelist, from the Arnstein Bible, W. Germany (Arnstein), c. 1172, Harley MS 2799, f. 185v
 

An example from Germany comes in the form of the Arnstein Bible, made for the monastery of St Mary and St Nicholas, Arnstein, in two volumes, now Harley MS 2798 and Harley MS 2799.  It was copied by a scribe named Lunandus, probably around 1172. 

Harley MS 2799, f. 243r
Pen drawings of the ‘monstrous races’, Harley MS 2799, f. 243r

As well as the ornate, curling, foliate and zoomorphic initials typical of Romanesque illumination, the manuscript also contains some interesting additions on the endleaves, such as maps and diagrams, as well as sketches of ‘monstrous races’ thought at the time to live in faraway lands.

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Detail of a miniature in two registers showing the Crucifixion and an animal sacrifice, from the Floreffe Bible, Belgium (Floreffe), c. 1170, Add MS 17738, f. 187r

The Floreffe Bible was made around the same time, for the Premonstratensian monastery of Floreffe, near Namur in modern-day Belgium.  In the second part of this two-volume manuscript (Add MS 17737 and Add MS 17738), each of the Gospels is preceded by a miniature in two registers that draws allegorical comparisons between events in the Old and New Testaments.

We hope these examples have inspired you to join us for the Panizzi Lectures 2014

- James Freeman

06 September 2014

Forty-four More Greek Manuscripts Online

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We are delighted to announce another forty-four Greek manuscripts have been digitised. As always, we are most grateful to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the A. G. Leventis Foundation, Sam Fogg, the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, the Thriplow Charitable Trust, the Friends of the British Library, and our other generous benefactors for contributing to the digitisation project. Happy exploring!

Add MS 31921, Gospel Lectionary with ekphonetic notation (Gregory-Aland l 336), imperfect, 12th century, with some leaves supplied in the 14th century. Formerly in Blenheim Palace Library.

Add MS 34059, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 939), with ekphonetic neumes. 12th century.,

Add MS 36660, Old Testament lectionary with ekphonetic notation, and fragments from a New Testament lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 1490). 12th century.

Add MS 37320, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 2290). 10th century, with additions from the 16th-17th century.

Add MS 37486/1, Detached binding from Add MS 37486, 18th century.

Add MS 39585, Octateuch (Rahlfs 426), imperfect. 11th century, written by Georgios, a monk, possibly in Constantinople.

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A much defaced miniature of the Psalmist, from a Psalter and Canticles, Eastern Mediterranean, early 11th century, Add MS 39586, f. 1v

Add MS 39586, Psalter and Canticles (Rahlfs 1090), with later additions on extra leaves, original and inserted, at beginning and end, and a much-defaced miniature of the Psalmist. Early 11th century.

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Detail of an illuminated headpiece, from a Gospel book, Greece (?Mount Athos), 12th century, Add MS 39594, f. 1r

Add MS 39594, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 551), with miniatures of the Evangelists. 12th century, with paper additions from the 15th century.

Add MS 39596, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 553). 13th century.

Add MS 39598, New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 910), with Euthalian headings. Completed in February 1009.

Add MS 39601, Revelation (Gregory-Aland 911), imperfect at the end, with a marginal commentary by Andreas of Caesarea, Commentarii in Apocalypsin (TLG 3004.001). Originally part of Add MS 39599 (cut out by the Hegoumenos of the Karakallou Monastery), but the hand of the text (perhaps not that of the commentary) is different and a good deal smaller. 11th century, possibly written at Mount Athos.

Add MS 39604, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 344), with notes of lessons and names of months in Arabic. 12th-14th century.

Add MS 39614, Xenophon, Hellenica. Early 16th century, Venice.

Add MS 39615, Hermogenes, De constitutionibus (Περὶ στάσεων) (TLG 0592.002). Early 16th century, Venice.

Add MS 39616, [Plutarch], De liberis educandis. Early 16th century, Venice.

Add MS 39617, Demosthenes, Orationes, with the hypotheses of Libanius and occasional scholia and interlinear glosses. 15th century, Greece.

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Miniature of Jonah cast forth by the whale, from a Psalter and Canticles, Palestine/Cyprus, 2nd half of the 12th century, Add MS 40753, f. 159v

Add MS 40753, Psalter and Canticles, with twelve full-page miniatures, a member of the ‘2400 family’ of Byzantine illuminated manuscripts. 2nd half of the 12th century, probably created in Palestine or Cyprus.

Arundel MS 531, Diogenes Laertius, Vitae Philosophorum, with illuminated head- and tailpieces on f 1r. 2nd half of the 15th century, Italy.

Arundel MS 547, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 183; Scrivener evst. 257), imperfect, with full-page evangelist portraits, decorated headpieces, and zoomorphic initials. 4th quarter of the 10th century, perhaps Cappadocia or Southern Italy.

Arundel MS 536, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 187). 12th-13th century.

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Miniature of David, from a Psalter, Italy (Florence), end of the 15th century, Burney MS 14, f. 3r

Burney MS 14, Psalter (Rahlfs 1657), with two Italian miniatures and foliate borders. End of the 15th century, Florence.

Burney MS 15, Bilingual psalter (Rahlfs 1658), in Greek and Latin. 1st half of the 16th century.

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Beginning of the poems of Anacreon, from a collection of works by Greek lyric poets, France, 2nd half of the 16th century, Burney MS 61, f. 3r

Burney MS 61, Collection of works by Greek lyric poets, including Anacreon, Alcaeus, Sappho, Stesichorus, and Ibycus. Occasional marginal notes with variants of Henri Estienne and T. Faber. 2nd half of the 16th century, France.

Burney MS 70, Basil of Caesarea, De legendis libris gentilium (TLG 2040.002), and other works. Large initials in colour and gold, partial foliate border on f 1r similar to that in Burney 14. 4th quarter of the 15th century, written by Ioannes Skoutariotes at Florence.

Burney MS 71,Callimachus, Hymns (TLG 0533.015-020). c 1500.

Burney MS 88, Libanius, Epistulae (TLG 2200.001). End of the 15th century, Italy.

Burney MS 89, Lycophron, Alexandra, with the commentary of Ioannes or Isaac Tzetzes, imperfect. 1st half of the 15th century, Greece.

Burney MS 96, Minor Attic Orators. End of the 15th century, Venice.

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Life of Dionysius Periegetes including a note on the 12 winds, with diagram, from a manuscript of Pindar and geographical texts, Eastern Mediterranean, beginning of the 16th century, Burney MS 98, f. 42r

Burney MS 98, Pindar, Olympia (TLG 0033.001), imperfect, with interlinear and marginal scholia; Dionysius Periegetes, Orbis Descriptio (TLG 0084.001), with interlinear glosses and marginal paraphrase; Eustathius Thessalonicensis, Commentarium in Dionysii periegetae orbis descriptionem (TLG 4083.006); Strabo, Geographica (TLG 0099.001), extracts. Beginning of the 16th century.

Burney MS 106, Sophocles, Ajax, Electra, Oedipus Tyrannus, Antigone; [Aeschylus], Prometheus Vinctus; Pindar, Olympia. End of the 15th century.

Burney MS 108, Aelian, Tactica; Leo VI, Tactica; Heron of Alexandria, Pneumatica, De automatis, with numerous diagrams. 1st quarter of the 16th century, possibly written at Venice.

Burney MS 109, Works by Theocritus, Hesiod, Pindar, Pythagoras and Aratus. 2nd half of the 14th century, Italy.

Burney MS 110, Zenobius, Epitome collectionum Luculli Tarrhaei et Didymi (TLG 0098.001). 4th quarter of the 15th century, Italy.

Egerton MS 2390, Sticherarion for the Immovable Feasts with musical notation, from February until 29 August, and of the Feasts of Triodion and Pentekostarion, attributed to Panagiotes the New Chrysaphes. 18th century, Greece.

Egerton MS 2392, The Divine Liturgies and ordination services. Full-page portraits of John Chrysostom, Basil, and Gregory. The manuscript is worm-eaten throughout. Written in Sopoto, Kalavryta, in 1664.

Egerton MS 3125, Nomocanon fragment, comprising two gatherings. 11th century.

Egerton MS 2625, Thucydides, Historiae (TLG 0003.001), with scholia, formerly forming a single manuscript with Add MS 5110. 15th century, possibly written on Crete.

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Text block in cruciform, from a Gospel Lectionary, Eastern Mediterranean, 995, Harley MS 5598, f. 248v

Harley MS 5598, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 150; Scrivener evst. 150) with Menologion and Gospels for some special services. 995, written by Constantine, the same scribe as Add MS 73525, ff 1-2.

Royal MS 16 C IV Part 1 and Part 2, John Tzetzes, Antehomerica, with a translation into Latin by Petrus Morellus. 1560-1603, France (Tours/Loches), in the hand of Petrus Morellus.

Royal MS 16 C VII, Constantine Manasses, Breviarium Chronicum , imperfect. Mid-15th century, Italy? Probably formerly owned by Sir Robert Cotton.

Royal MS 16 C XIV, Apparatus Bellicus, followed by extracts from Byzantine authors. 1584, probably written in Italy.

Royal MS 16 C XIX, Simplicius, Commentarius in Epicteti Enchiridion. 1st half of the 16th century, Italy (Padua?)

Royal MS 16 C XX, Isaac Argyrus, De Metris Poeticis, imperfect, with marginalia by Isaac Casaubon. End of the 16th century, Italy?

- Cillian O'Hogan

04 September 2014

Visions of the Apocalypse: A Heavenly Choir or a Lake of Fire?

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Every year has its share of blockbuster movies where you can watch the human race meeting a sticky end, either from either a ghastly pandemic, forces of evil, whether human, alien or robotic, or a natural cataclysm.  Of course, this is nothing new.  The earliest Christians believed that the end of the world was imminent, and the last book of the Bible, Revelations, contains a vision of the struggle between good and evil leading up to the Final Judgment.  Otherwise known as the Apocalypse of St John the Divine, it is believed to have been completed during the reign of the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), while John was exiled on the island of Patmos.

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Detail of St John on the island of Patmos, from the Abingdon Apocalypse, England (?London), 3rd quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 42555, f. 5r

The poetic imagery of the passages from the Bible, the symbols involving numbers, strange beasts and human and demonic characters, are open to a myriad of interpretations.  Beginning in the Carolingian era, illustrated manuscripts of the Apocalypse were made to help interpret the text.  At the British Library, we have a number of Apocalypse manuscripts with extensive cycles of images.  In this and a series of blog posts we will be looking at how the main themes and images are treated in some of them.

Digitised Apocalypse Manuscripts

Four of our Apocalypse manuscripts are fully digitised, and here is one of our favourite images from each:

The Silos Apocalypse

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The woman clothed with the sun, Revelation 12:1-18, from the Silos Apocalypse, Spain, 1091-1109, Add MS 11695, ff. 147v-148r

The Abingdon Apocalypse

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Detail of a priest blessing the Sacrament on the left and on the right Christ with the slaughtered Lamb, Adam weeping, Noah in the ark, Jonah and the whale, Add MS 42555, f. 10r

The Welles Apocalypse

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Earthquake and kings hiding, with John beside, from the Welles Apocalypse, England, c. 1310, Royal 15 D II, f. 131r

The Queen Mary Apocalypse

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Detail of a dragon, a woman in bed, and her child being caught up to heaven, from the Queen Mary Apocalypse, S.E. England or East Anglia, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal 19 B XV, f. 21r

Visions of Heaven and Hell

The dramatic imagery in Apocalypse manuscripts contrasts the mystical vision of peace in Heaven with the torments in store for wicked men on Earth in the events leading up to the Last Judgement.  For those who believed the end was nigh, these images left no question which side you should be on!

Heaven

The iconography varies from the well-known stairway to Heaven to hosts of angels with black wings to the many-storied New Jerusalem.

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The Lamb and angels and the four living creatures with saints and the chosen of Israel below, Add MS 11695, ff. 112v-113r

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Detail of the revelation of the heavenly Jerusalem to St John, Add MS 42555, f. 79v 

Yates Thompson MS 10, f. 19r

Detail of the Vision of Heaven, from the Yates Thompson Apocalypse, Paris, c. 1370-c. 1390, Yates Thompson MS 10, f. 19r

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Heaven and Earth, and the new Jerusalem, Royal MS 19 B XV, f. 40v

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A door opening to Heaven, Royal MS 15 D II, f. 117v

Hell

Hell on earth is filled with wonderfully ugly beasts, gaping mouths and lakes of fire.

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Detail of the opening of the bottomless pit, Royal MS 19 B XV, f. 15v

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Detail of a hell-mouth with three beasts, a devil and many souls inside; fire falls from above, Add MS 42555, f. 76v

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Detail of the Rider on a pale horse, emerging from a hell-mouth, with John, Royal MS 15 D II, f. 129r

For more images of hell-mouths from our medieval manuscripts, check out our blog post Prepare to Meet Your Doom!

Yates Thompson MS 10, f. 33v

Birds including a peacock, a hawk, a raven, a dove, a cockerel, a pelican, and an owl are called to eat men’s flesh and the false prophet is cast into a lake of fire, Yates Thompson MS 10, f. 33v

- Chantry Westwell

02 September 2014

Dictionaries: More Than Mere Words

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Back in March this year, we announced that we had saved an important fifteenth-century manuscript from export: the only complete copy of the Catholicon Anglicum, one of the earliest Middle English-Latin dictionaries.  Inspired by this fascinating linguistic and lexicographical source, in the intervening months we have been cataloguing other late medieval dictionaries in our collection. 

Add MS 22556, f. 47r
Entries beginning with the letter ‘G’, from the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England (Norfolk), 15th century, Add MS 22556
, f. 47r 

The Promptorium parvulorum (‘The Students’ Storehouse’), like the Catholicon, had its Middle English entries arranged alphabetically, but in two sections: 'nomina' (nouns, but also adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections) coming first, followed by 'verba' (verbs).  The British Library has four copies of this text in the collection: Add MS 22556, Harley MS 221, Harley MS 2274 (a fragment) and Add MS 37789

Add MS 37789, f. 1r
The prologue (‘preambulum’) to the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England (Norfolk), late 15th century, Add MS 37789, f. 1r

The prologue to the Promptorium tells us that its compiler lived as a Dominican friar in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, in 1440.  Two of our copies – Add MS 22556 and Add MS 37789 – can be localised to Norfolk on the basis of linguistic evidence.  The compiler described himself as a recluse, and perhaps lived in an anchorage attached to the order’s house.  Although his name is unknown, the Promptorium is commonly assigned to ‘Geoffrey the Grammarian’ on the basis of an annotation in a printed edition of 1499.    

Add MS 37789, f. 84r
The explicit to the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’ and incipit to the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, with scribal colophon of John Broke, Add MS 37789, f. 84r
 

In the sixteenth century, John Bale attributed the authorship of another late medieval dictionary to Geoffrey: the Medulla grammaticae.  The two texts had a close relationship in both manuscript and print.  In Add MS 37789, they are bound together within the same manuscript.  The title ‘Medulla grammaticae’ is sometimes attached as an alternative in early printed editions of the Promptorium parvulorum.  However, there is ultimately no evidence to support Bale’s attribution, which has proven more confusing than helpful to scholars. 

Harley MS 2257, f. 65r
The end of the list of entries beginning with ‘H’ and beginning of the list of entries beginning with ‘I’, with a pen-flourished initial, from the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, England, mid-15th century, Harley MS 2257, f. 65r
 

The Medulla grammaticae enjoyed a broader circulation than either the Catholicon or the Promptorium.  As its name suggests – Medulla grammaticae means ‘The Core of Grammar’ – its purpose was to aid the understanding of Latin grammar rather than composition, so logically the entries are arranged Latin-Middle English.  We have published detailed catalogue descriptions for each of our Medulla manuscripts, as follows: Add MS 24640, Add MS 33534, Add MS 37789, Add MS 62080, Harley MS 1000, Harley MS 1738, Harley MS 2181, Harley MS 2257, and Harley MS 2270

Add MS 62080, f. 1vb
Front endleaf (the former pastedown) bearing ownership inscriptions (Edward Lyster, Thomas Gayner), with pink-stained leather covering of the medieval binding visible at the edges, from the Medulla grammaticae, England (?Nottingham), Add MS 62080, f. 1v
 

The manuscripts of these dictionaries are functional, unelaborate objects – written for the most part in cursive scripts, usually on paper, with decoration rarely extending beyond plain coloured initials – but they are intriguing nonetheless.  Add MS 62080 (a Medulla), which retains its medieval binding, appears to have passed through several hands in the Nottingham area.

Add MS 62080, f. 2r
Detail of the opening of the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, with a grotesque figure chewing on the cadels of the intertwined letters ‘H’ and ‘A’, Add MS 62080, f. 2r
 

This copy of the Medulla also has some amusing grotesques in its initials. 

Harley MS 2274, f. 61v
Prognostication calendar relating to ‘metalles, quoynes and apparel and other necessaries’, from a composite miscellany containing a fragment of the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England, 2nd half of the 15th century, Harley MS 2274, f. 61v
 

The fragment of the Promptorium at the end of Harley MS 2274 is accompanied by an array of liturgical, devotional, medical and prognostication texts: including a curious zodiac calendar that advised when would be a good or bad time to ‘begynne all fyry workis’ (i.e. involving furnaces), ‘to lende mony to have it a gayne’, ‘to bye woll or woolyn clothe’, or ‘to put on nwe apparel’. 

Harley MS 221, f. 206rb
Detail of a list of ‘holsome herbes for the potte in tempore pestilenciali’, ‘a soverayne medicynne for the swetyng sekenesse’ from Master Walter Hyllum, and another ‘for the frenche pockis’, from an endleaf to the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England, 15th century, Harley MS 221, f. 206r
 

Harley MS 221 (a Promptorium) was one of the manuscripts acquired by Robert Harley from Sir Symonds d’Ewes on 4th October 1705, in the first of several ‘block purchases’ from other manuscript collectors.  It is one of the few dictionary manuscripts on parchment, and is written in a fine Textura script.  The last leaf contains a number of medical recipes for dealing with pestilence, sweating sickness and ‘the french pocks’ (i.e. syphilis). 

Harley MS 1738, f. 81v
Detail of a scribal colophon, from the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, England, late 15th century, Harley MS 1738, f. 81v
 

Some evidence of the production and early provenance of Harley MS 1738 (a Medulla) survives.  It may have been written by a scribe called William Harper, who wrote his name and the following verse upside-down at the bottom of the last page: ‘Si mean penna valet, melior mea littera fiet’ (‘If my pen is strong, my letter will be better’) (f. 81v).  

Harley MS 1738, f. 1r
Detail of an inscription relating to the ordering of paper, Harley MS 1738, f. 1r
 

It seems that at same point in the late fifteenth century someone wished to make a copy of this manuscript, and asked their brother Thomas to acquire the materials for them to do so: ‘Thomas brother I pray yow of halgentylnesse that yow wyl do the labor for to by me ii bokys in lyn papir for wrytyng [...] ad verssus the pralaying bokys and wel that ys callyd Medulla gramatice’ (f. 1r).  It is of particular interest to our study of book production that it was possible in the fifteenth century to purchase not just plain paper, but quires that had been already ruled and lined for writing.

Add MS 33534, f. 1r
Detail of an inscription relating to the binding of the manuscript, from the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, England, mid-15th century, Add MS 33534, f. 1r
 

A similar instruction survives in another Medulla manuscript: Add MS 33534.  This is another copy with a medieval binding, probably of the mid-fifteenth century, that once featured straps and labels on the exterior.  An inscription on f. 1r reads: ‘Brothur William Barkere I pray youe lett thys booke be bound at the utmost by myddyll Lent and my brother shall pay for the byndyng’.  The wording appears to indicate that William Barker was a monk, who perhaps was being given the book by a layman, whose brother in turn would foot the bill for its binding.

Add MS 62080, f. 31vc
Detail of the head of a woman within a pen-flourished initial ‘C’, Add MS 62080, f. 31v
 

These dictionaries are an important reminder that Latin learning was not confined the cloister, cathedral or church.  Laymen too required a functional command of the language in order to conduct business, to read and understand legal documents such as charters and wills.  There is growing evidence as well – that the Catholicon Anglicum, Promptorium parvulorum and Medulla grammaticae together reinforce – that to understand lay reading habits we must go beyond vernacular texts.  The laity did not content themselves with reading in the vernacular, but sought out and consumed popular and broadly circulating historical, literary, and religious texts in Latin for their own entertainment and edification.

- James Freeman

01 September 2014

A Calendar Page for September 2014

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

September marks the beginning of the wine-making season in the northern hemisphere, and this is as true today as it was on the pages of our medieval calendar.  In the opening folio, the process is beginning in earnest, as three women are busy picking grapes in a vineyard, loading them into the basket of a waiting man.  Behind them are several grand buildings, while the oenophilic theme of the month is mirrored by the acanthus vines circling round the page.  The labour continues on the facing folio.  Below the saints’ days for September and a woman holding a balance (for the zodiac sign Libra), a man is bringing a full basket of grapes into a barn.  He is greeted by a fellow worker, who stands in a tub full of grapes, crushing them beneath his feet.

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Calendar page for September, with a roundel miniature of people harvesting grapes, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 9v

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Calendar page for September, with a roundel miniature of a men making wine, with the zodiac sign Libra, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 10r

- Sarah J Biggs

29 August 2014

Don’t Lose Your Head: It’s Just St. John the Baptist’s Day!

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Throughout the year there are two feast days commemorating John the Baptist.  On June 24th, his nativity is celebrated; he and the Virgin Mary are the only saints whose birthdays are commemorated.  The second feast day, August 29th, concerns his martyrdom by being beheaded.

Add MS 71119D
Cutting of an initial 'L' of the martyrdom of St John the Baptist with the executioner holding up the saint’s head, from a choir book, Italy, N. (Bologna), c. 1375-c. 1400,
Add MS 71119D

But let us hold off on such visually disturbing images for a moment and focus on St John’s life.  Most information about his life and work comes from the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the Acts of the Apostles, and the Jewish historian Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (Antiquitates iudaicae).  Based on these sources a pretty detailed biography of St John the Baptist can be established.  He was born in the 1st century BC to Zechariah and Elizabeth, probably a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  As a prophet, he preached about the need for repentance and a righteous life before the arrival of someone mightier than him (there is still a debate whether he meant God himself or a messiah).  

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Detail of a scene of John the Baptist baptising Christ, watched by angels, from Scenes from the Life of John the Baptist, France/Germany (Alsace, Hohenbourg), c. 1175-c. 1200,
Add MS 42497, f. 1r

For St John and his disciples, baptism was considered a symbol of that repentance, although it was not necessary to undergo this rite in order to become accepted into their circle.  As we all know, among the people who were baptized by Saint John was Jesus.

Add_ms_42497_f001v
Detail of a two-part scene showing John the Baptist being pushed into prison and later sitting behind bars,
Add MS 42497, f. 1v

Unfortunately for St John, his opinion on how one should live was not to the liking of Herod, the ruler of Judea under the Roman Empire, or his wife.  He was imprisoned, because apparently he looked disapprovingly upon Herod’s marriage to Herodias, who was Herod’s half-brother’s ex-wife.

  Yates_thompson_ms_13_f106v
Bas-de-page scene of Salome dancing on her hands before the feasting Herod and Herodias, with a caption reading, ‘Cy la fille du roy demau[n]da a sun pere la teste seint iohan’, from the Book of Hours,  England, S. E.? (London?), c. 1325-c. 1350,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 106v

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of Herod and his queen sitting at a table and Salome to the right performing a tumble, from 'The Queen Mary Psalter’, England (London/Westminster or East Anglia?), 1310-1320,
Royal 2 B VII, f. 264v

It all sounds like an overcomplicated soap-opera material, but in fact the outcome was very serious and dramatic. During Herod’s birthday party, Salome (who was the daughter of Herodias from the first marriage) danced so nicely, that he promised her anything she wanted.

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Detail of a miniature of the beheading of John the Baptist, from the Bible historiale, Netherlands, S. (Bruges), c. 1479,
Royal MS 15 D I, f. 297r

After getting sober, he probably regretted his open-endedness, because Salome, at Herodias’ instigation, asked for St John the Baptist’s head.  Herod reluctantly agreed and had the saint decapitated.

Yates_thompson_ms_13_f107v
Bas-de-page scene of Salome presenting the head of John the Baptist in a golden bowl to Herodias, with a caption reading, ‘Cy porte la fille du roy la teste s[eint] ioh[a]n e[n] un esqu[e]le devaunt sa mere’ (‘Here the king’s daughter carries St John’s head on a platter to her mother’),
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 107v. On a side note, do you recognize this image above? You should, because it is the source of one of the images used for our little spoof from 2012.

And so Salome presented her mother with St John the Baptist’s head on a platter (the origin of the famous saying ‘to want somebody’s head on a platter/plate’).

Add MS 39636 f. 52r
Cutting of a historiated initial 'N' with John the Baptist, from a choir book, Italy, N. (Lombardy), c. 1500-c. 1510,
Add MS 39636, f. 52r

St John’s beheading scene is a very popular theme in Christian art.  Sometimes he is also depicted holding a platter (oh, the irony) or a book, with a lamb on it, alongside the description Ecce Agnus Dei.  

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Miniature of Christ in Majesty with John the Baptist and Mary, from the 'Melisende Psalter', Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143,
Egerton MS 1139, f. 12v (more on this manuscript can be found in our post  Twelfth-Century Girl Power)

He is also an important figure in Byzantine and later in Eastern Orthodox art, because he is a part of the Deësis, which is a traditional iconic representation of enthroned Christ, flanked by the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist.

To sum up everything we learnt today about St John the Baptist’s beheading, here is an all-in-one image:

Arundel MS 157 f. 7r
Detail of a miniature of the bringing of the head of St John the Baptist, from a Psalter, England, Central (Oxford), c. 1200-c. 1225,
Arundel MS 157, f. 7r

- Justyna Jadachowska

28 August 2014

A Temporary Farewell

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As I am preparing to head off for a year’s maternity leave, I thought I would take the opportunity to thank you all for the wonderful opportunity it has been to work on this blog.  It has been a great pleasure to be able to share so many of the glories of the British Library over the past 3 or so years, and very gratifying to have such fabulous responses to our work. 

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Detail of Nature at a furnace, forging a baby, from the Roman de la Rose, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1490 – c. 1500, Harley MS 4425, f. 140r

If you happen to be feeling as nostalgic as I am, might I suggest that you cast your eyes back on a few of my favourites?  As you may have noticed, I have a great interest in marginalia and bestiaries, so the list would have to include Weird and Wonderful Creatures of the Bestiary, Monkeys in the Margins, More Gorleston Psalter ‘Virility’: Profane Images in a Sacred Space, Marginali-yeah! The Fantastic Creatures of the Rutland Psalter , and naturally, Knight v Snail and the famous Unicorn Cookbook.

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Detail of a marginal painting of a monkey with a swaddled infant, from the Maastricht Hours, Netherlands (Liège), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Stowe MS 17, f. 189v

Of course my leave-taking isn’t a permanent one; I’ll be returning to the British Library – and to the Medieval Manuscripts blog – in September of 2015.  There will still be a number of posts coming up that I’ve written, and I’m leaving you in the very capable hands of Julian Harrison, Cillian O’Hogan, James Freeman, and the rest of the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts team.  Until we meet again!

- Sarah J Biggs