Medieval manuscripts blog

13 posts categorized "Music"

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

18 August 2015

Medieval Music Mash-Up

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Every year there is always that one song (you either love or hate) that seems to take over the summer months. Friday night’s episode of The One Show featured the earliest known English song of the summer, which is found in one very special manuscript from the British Library’s collection. Harley MS 978 includes the only witness of Sumer Is Icumen In, the most famous piece of English secular medieval music. Copied in the 1260s, the manuscript is associated with Reading Abbey, and has been linked to one of its monks, William of Winchester.

BBC_The One Show_Harley MS 978

Close-up of Sumer Is Icumen In, Harley MS 978

Four main voices are intended to sing the round, plus two further parts are written at the bottom of the page.


The text inset to the right of the page gives instruction in Latin for the performance of the round, Sumer Is Icumen In, England, 3rd quarter of the 13th century, Harley MS 978, f. 11v

Featuring Dr Nicolas Bell, the British Library’s Curator of Musical Manuscripts, the episode brings this famous medieval song from the 13th century into the 21st century. Musician and TV presenter, Richard Mainwaring even performs a modernised version at Latitude Festival, with a backing track provided by 2013’s summer classic, Get Lucky by Daft Punk (featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers).

BBC_The One Show_Harley MS 978_N.Bell and presenter

Dr Nicolas Bell, the British Library’s Curator of Musical Manuscripts, discusses Harley MS 978

For anyone who missed it, the episode is available on BBC’s iPlayer (UK only, approximately 12 minutes in).

This TV appearance also coincides with the return of Harley MS 978 to the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery. The lyrics of Sumer Is Icumen In and a translation into modern English can also be found on our blog.

- Hannah Morcos

31 July 2015

Happy Uncommon Musical Instrument Appreciation Day!

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As we are sure you are all aware, today is Uncommon Musical Instrument Appreciation Day, the day on which we are urged to take time to think about the rare and unusual instruments that have gone obsolete, or are otherwise beyond our ken.  We would like to offer a number of examples in the spirit of this momentous occasion - the familiar, the forgotten and the simply odd.  Please be sure to send any other gems you might encounter to us on Twitter @BLMedieval.  Without any further ado:

Add MS 47683 f. 1v G70059-77
Folio with musical instruments, from a leaf from a giant Bible, Italy, 11th-12th century, Add MS 47683, f. 1v

Harley MS 4951, f. 299v E123871
Detail of a man with bells among musical neumes, from the Gradual of Saint-Etienne of Toulouse, France (Toulouse), last quarter of the 11th-first quarter of the 12th century, Harley MS 4951, f. 299v

Harley MS 2804 f. 3vE102183c
Detail of two musicians playing the vielle and a harp or psaltery, from the Worms
Bible, Germany (Frankenthal), 2nd-3rd quarter of the 12th century, Harley MS 2804, f. 3v

Add MS 62925 f. 54r copy copy
Detail of a miniature of a rabbit playing a bell-like instrument, from the Rutland Psalter, England (London?), c. 1260, Add MS 62925, f. 54r

Stowe_ms_17_f061v copy
Detail of two monkeys playing trumpets in an unusual manner, from the Maastricht Hours, Liège, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Stowe MS 17, f. 61v

Add_ms_49622_f106v copy
Detail of a marginal painting of a rabbit and a dog playing a portative organ, from the Gorleston Psalter, England (Suffolk?), 1310-1324, Add MS 49622, f. 106v

Royal MS 14 E III f. 89r c13827-54c
Detail of a marginal painting of a man playing a rabbit-trumpet (despite distractions), from La Queste del Saint Graal, France, c. 1315 - c. 1325, Royal MS 14 E III, f. 89r

 Harley MS 6563 f. 40r E123884
Detail of a cat playing a vielle, from a fragmentary Book of Hours, England (London), c. 1320 - c. 1330, Harley MS 6563, f. 40r

Add_ms_18851_f419v copy
Detail of a marginal painting of a monkey playing bagpipes, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Bruges, c. 1497, Add MS 18851, f. 419v

Add MS 18852, f. 98r copy copy
Detail of a marginal painting of bagpipes (?), from the Hours of Joanna the Mad, Bruges, 1486-1506, Add MS 18852, f. 98r

Arundel_ms_263_f136r and f. 137v
Leonardo da Vinci's drawings, including a mechanical organ and timpani/drums, from the Codex Arundel, Italy (Florence, Milan, and Rome), 1478-1518, Arundel MS 263, f. 136r and 137v

- Sarah J Biggs

31 May 2014

Scraped Away Songs

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As you may have already seen if you follow @BLMedieval on Twitter, we have just uploaded images of one of the British Library's smallest but most important medieval music manuscripts onto Digitised Manuscripts.

Ave gloriosa virginum regina, from a musical miscellany in French and Latin, Egerton MS 274, f. 3r

Egerton MS 274 is a fascinating and unusual collection of secular songs and liturgical music in French and Latin, written in northern France in the thirteenth century. The pages measure 15 x 10 cm, making this a perfect pocket-book for an individual singer. Some of the pieces are set for two different voices, though, which would have needed careful handling. You can read more about the contents at Trouvère Songs Online.

A two-part conductus 'Mundus a mundicia', from a musical miscellany in French and Latin, Egerton MS 274, f. 41r

The manuscript is one of the major sources of French chansons of the Trouvères, but frustratingly most of the first stanzas of the songs – as well as quite a number of the melodies – have been scraped away by a fourteenth-century scribe and replaced by Latin plainchant.

The words and music of a French song scraped away and replaced by a Latin responsory chant, from a musical miscellany in French and Latin, Egerton MS 274, f. 102r

The book started life probably in the 1260s as a seamless collection of songs of divine praise and songs of courtly love, presumably intended for a noble patron who was as much involved at church as at court. A later owner in the fourteenth century evidently had less time for courtly love, and changed the function of the book, making a much more ecclesiastical compilation in the process.

Detail of a miniature of a monkey at work, from a musical miscellany in French and Latin, Egerton MS 274, f. 37r

The manuscript contains a number of interesting miniatures throughout, including our favourite above, of a monkey at work - perhaps literally 'aping' the carpenter next to him.

We'll be adding some more medieval music manuscripts to the website over the next few months: keep an eye on this blog and our colleagues’ excellent Music Blog for more information.

-  Nicolas Bell

01 April 2014

A Calendar Page for April 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Sarah J Biggs & Julian Harrison

22 February 2014

Prepare to Meet Your Doom

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Followers of this blog may harbour a suspicion that we possess an unhealthy interest in scenes of violence and torture in medieval manuscripts.  The following should remove any doubt on the matter!

Detail of a miniature showing the punishment of cardinal sinners in Hell, from the ‘Divine Comedy’ by Dante Alighieri, Italy (Tuscany), 1444-c. 1450, 
Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 9r

Last week, the Getty Museum (@GettyMuseum) tweeted this image from our Digitised Manuscripts site to highlight that 13th February was marked in some medieval calendars as the day on which Hell was created (to which anyone who has forgotten to buy a Valentine’s Day present can surely attest).

This has inspired us at the British Library Medieval Manuscripts Blog to explore depictions of Hell, past and present.

Aficionados of 1990s video games will likely have fond memories of Doom, id Software’s seminal first-person shooter.  The plot follows the typical ‘scientific experiment gone awry’ trajectory.  While experimenting with teleportation technology on Mars, some scientists inadvertently open a portal to Hell – whoops!  (Guess this is why we have risk assessments…).  You, the sole survivor, must fight your way back to Earth, with just an assorted array of guns and a chainsaw (yes, really) at your disposal to fight off the assembled hordes of demons.

Full-page miniature showing the fall of the rebel angels, from the Old English Hexateuch, England, second quarter of the 11th century,
Cotton MS Claudius B IV, f. 2r

The portal to Hell in Doom has an obvious antecedent in medieval art: the Hell-mouth, a representation of Hell as a gaping, often flaming, animalistic maw.  The fall of the rebellious angels from Heaven, illustrated here in the Old English Hexateuch, foreshadows the later fall of man.  The unusual depiction of a Hell-mouth as a serpent reinforces this narrative connection as well as Lucifer’s agency in both events.

The rather horrifying motif of the Hell-mouth was not confined to medieval manuscripts.  It appears – most commonly as a hairy, fanged beast – in stained glass windows and wall- and panel-paintings as well.  It was therefore visible to ordinary medieval people, for whom owning an illuminated manuscript was an unimaginable luxury, and the prospect of suffering an eternity in Hell an imminent possibility.  St John’s visions of the end of the world and the Last Judgement were frequently depicted in ‘Doom paintings’ on the walls and rood-screens of medieval churches.  Though mostly destroyed at the Reformation, examples have survived, particularly in East Anglia, some of them ironically protected and preserved by the very whitewash that was meant to obliterate them.

Detail of a miniature showing the Last Judgment, from the ‘Abingdon Apocalypse’, England, third quarter of the 13th century,
Add MS 42555, f. 77v.

Hell-mouths were commonly depicted in illuminated Apocalypse manuscripts, swallowing up the souls of the damned, while God, the angels and the souls of the saved look on from the safety of Heaven.

Detail of a miniature showing the Last Judgement, from the ‘Queen Mary Apocalypse’, England (London or East Anglia), first quarter of the 14th century,
Royal MS 19 B XV, f. 40r

A personal favourite of ours comes not from an Apocalypse manuscript but from a Book of Hours.  Along the bottom of the pages, a procession of demons escorts the souls of the sinful to Hell.

Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing a demon carrying souls to Hell in a wheelbarrow, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’, England (London?), second quarter of the 14th century,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 139v.

Demons are showing carrying souls in shoulder-baskets and other contrivances, or just dragging them along the floor with a rope.

Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing a lecherous woman, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 141v.

In this example, demons torment the soul of a lecherous woman as punishment for her sins: she is being ridden by one demon while the other prods her in the buttocks with a grapple and shouts ‘Avaunt, leccheur, avant’ (‘Forward, lecher, forward!’).

Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing the casting of souls into Hell, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 142r.

The procession culminates in the demons slinging the souls into the flames, to a little trumpet-fanfare provided by a demon perched on the Hell-mouth’s snout.

Contemporary critics of Doom’s violence, gore and satanic iconography (which still give us the shivers) ultimately missed the point that the storyline was inspired by Christian mythology.  After the eponymous character ‘Doomguy’ defeated the demons on Mars, he ventured into Hell itself to quash them on their home turf, and thereby re-enacted Christ’s Harrowing of Hell.

Detail showing Christ spearing and trampling a demon and rescuing souls in the Harrowing of Hell, from the Monte Cassino Exultet Roll, southern Italy (Monte Cassino), c. 1075-c. 1080,
Add MS 30337, membrane 7 (inverted)

Detail showing Christ rescuing souls in the Harrowing of Hell, with demons with trumpets and grapples and another rendering souls in a cauldron above a Hell-mouth, from the ‘Holkham Bible Picture Book’,
Add MS 47682, f. 34r

Alas, this was ultimately unsuccessful: upon Doomguy’s return to Earth, he finds that the hordes of Hell have overrun the planet (which rather neatly lay the ground for a sequel, Doom II: Hell on Earth).

Let us know if you have any favourite video games that deserve special treatment by the Medieval Manuscripts Blog!  Tweet us on @BLMedieval.

- James Freeman

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

23 January 2014

Sex and Death in the Roman de la Rose

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Where can one go to witness the pursuit of the opposite sex, music and dancing, violence and beatings, and gratuitous nudity?  No, not a British town centre on a Friday night, but in the Roman de la Rose, obviously!

An exquisite copy of this important medieval verse romance – Harley MS 4425 – has now been digitised and is available for you to browse in its entirety on the BL’s Digitised Manuscripts website.  The Roman de la Rose was written in Old French by Guillaume de Lorris from the late 1220s up until his death in 1278, and completed some forty years later by Jean de Meun.  This manuscript was made for Count Engelbert of Nassau (1451-1504), a wealthy courtier and leader of the Duke of Burgundy’s Privy Council.  The artist to whom the decoration is attributed is known as the Master of the Prayer Books, and he and his studio were active around 1500.  He portrayed the author in one of the column miniatures: he is shown sat at a writing desk with his book before him, in the act of composition (see below for an image which will be familiar to those of you who follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval).  Note how the artist has set out the text in the author’s book in two columns, with spaces left for illustrations, exactly resembling this manuscript in a conceit that emphasises the figure’s status as author. 

Detail of a miniature of Jean de Meun writing his book, from the Roman de la Rose, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1490 – c. 1500, Harley MS 4425, f. 133r

The Roman de la Rose is an allegorical poem about courtship, love and a gentleman’s pursuit of ideal love (represented by the rose), experienced in a dream by the narrator.  However, just in case you thought it was all ‘paddling palms and pinching fingers’, the miniatures that accompany the text reveal some darker elements to the story.

Running alongside all the displays of sophisticated, wealthy, aristocratic life, are rather more violent images, relating to stories and events in the text.  For example, there is quite a lot of fighting in the Roman de la Rose – a virtual panoply of brawls and murders (and it isn’t just the men slugging it out!):

Detail of a miniature of Franchise fighting Danger, Harley MS 4425, f. 134v

Detail of a miniature of a jealous husband beating his wife, while neighbours look on, Harley MS 4425, f. 85r

Detail of a miniature of Beaute (‘Beauty’) and Laideur (‘Ugliness’) beating Chastete (‘Chastity’), now sadly damaged, Harley MS 4425, f. 81v

Detail of a miniature of the Lover being beaten by Honte (‘Shame’), Peur (‘Fear’) and Dangier (‘Danger’), Harley MS 4425, f. 131v

Below we can see two characters, Abstinence Contrainte (‘Forced Abstinence’) and Faux Semblant (‘False Seeming’) travelling in disguise: one as a Beguine nun (medieval cross-dressing!) and the other as a Franciscan friar.

Detail of a miniature of Abstinence Contrainte (‘Forced Abstinence’) and Faux Semblant (‘False Seeming’) travelling in disguise, Harley MS 4425, f. 108r

Detail of a miniature of Abstinence Contrainte (‘Forced Abstinence’) and Faux Semblant (‘False Seeming’) killing Malebouche (Evil Tongue), and cutting out his tongue, Harley MS 4425, f. 111r

These two are on a mission to kill off Malebouche (‘Evil Tongue’, literally ‘Bad Mouth’) and, appropriately, cutting out his tongue before slitting his throat (above).

Detail of a miniature of Virginius beheading his daughter Virginia, Harley MS 4425, f. 54v

In another scene (above), we see a story relating to Appius Claudius Crassus, a member of the decemviri (a council of ten men established to institute new laws) of the Roman Republic around 451 BC.  In a tale originally related by Livy, Appius lusted after Virginia.  However, since the girl was thoroughly repulsed by his lechery, Appius had one of his men claim that she was his slave, in the very court over which Appius himself presided.  Predictably, Appius upheld the claims (which would allow him to then buy the girl and have his wicked way with her) – but her father, to defend her liberty and protect her from this sorry fate, decided it would be better to kill her, and so chopped off her head without further ado…which all seems a bit rough for poor, young Virginia!

Detail of a miniature of Nero watching while his mother Agrippina is dissected, Harley MS 4425, f. 59r

Elsewhere, we see the grisly fate of Agrippina the Younger.  Having failed to murder his mother by means of a ship deliberately designed to sink, Nero pursued his matricidal ambitions by ordering Anicetus (Nero’s boyhood tutor and commander of the fleet at Misenum) and his men to murder her in person.  According to Tacitus, before she was stabbed to death, and realising her son was responsible, Agrippina cried, ‘Smite my womb!’.  The image here shows Anicetus or one of the others rummaging around in Agrippina’s viscera, while Nero looks on.  Tacitus noted that some accounts related that Nero wished to see the place where he had been conceived, and also looked upon his mother after her death and praised her beauty.  Those Roman emperors didn’t really go in for filial devotion.

Detail of a miniature of Seneca committing suicide as Nero watches, Harley MS 4425, f. 59v

The verso of this folio depicts Seneca’s suicide (above).  Having charged Seneca with involvement in the Pisonian plot to assassinate him, Nero ordered Seneca to kill himself, which he did by opening his veins whilst in a bath.  The inclusion of Nero in the image may be derived from the account of his presence at Seneca’s death in the Golden Legend.

Other suicides – people literally falling on their swords – are shown as well:

Detail of a miniature of Nero committing suicide, Harley MS 4425, f. 61r

Detail of a miniature of Lucretia committing suicide in front of her family (and an attentive dog), Harley MS 4425, f. 79r

Detail of a miniature of Dido committing suicide as Aeneas sails away, Harley MS 4425, f. 117v

There’s also some nudity thrown in for good measure:

Detail of a miniature the painter Zeuxis painting nude models, Harley MS 4425, f. 142r

Detail of a miniature of Pygmalion and the statue, Harley MS 4425, f. 177v

Perhaps after the reading the Roman de la Rose – what with all the courting and wooing, birds and bees, flowers and fruit trees, and the like – you find yourself with a few questions about the procreative act.  Well, the Medieval Manuscripts Blog brings you Sex Education, Medieval-Style. 

Q. How are babies made? 

A. By Nature, with a hammer, on an anvil. 

Detail of a miniature of Nature forging a baby, Harley MS 4425, f. 140r [see our post Royal Babies and Celebrated Infants for more on this miniature]

And there’s another depiction of people being created elsewhere in the manuscript…can you find it?

This manuscript also contains a number of extraordinary images of medieval dress and clothing styles, as well as a variety of depictions of the social classes.  Check out the blog next Tuesday for a post on these subjects, and still more from the magnificent Roman de la Rose.

- James Freeman

27 May 2013

Rejoice Now!

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Our newest upload to the Digitised Manuscripts site is a gorgeous example of a rare early medieval liturgical document known as an Exultet roll.  Exultet rolls contain the hymns and prayers said during the blessing of the Easter (or Paschal) candle; their name comes from the opening exhortation: Exultet iam angelica turba caelum ('Rejoice now, all you heavenly choirs of angels'; see below).

Detail of a decorated initial 'E'(xultet) at the beginning of the prayer for the lighting of the Paschal candle, Italy (Monte Cassino), c. 1075-1080, Add MS 30337, membrane 2

Our Exultet roll, Add MS 30337, comes from the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino in southern Italy. This region of Italy was strongly influenced by Byzantine practice, and by the 11th century had developed a distinct style for the Easter vigil, continuing to use liturgical rolls in the ceremony; such rolls had largely fallen out of favour elsewhere in Europe.

Exultet rolls were read aloud from an ambo, or elevated pulpit, which faced the congregation.  As the deacon chanted the words, he would allow each finished section to hang over the edge of the ambo so that the gathered people could see the accompanying pictures.  This courtesy to the audience required, of course, that the images be painted upside-down on the roll.  We have published the online version of Add MS 30337 with the 'correct' orientation so that the text can be easily read, but as a courtesy to all of you, please see the images in all their splendour (and right-side-up) below.

Detail of Christ enthroned between two angels, Add MS 30337, membrane 1

Detail of four angels ('Angelica turba caelorum'), Add MS 30337, membrane 2

Detail of Tellus, the personification of Mother Earth, with a cow and a serpent suckling her breasts, and in the lower register, a personification of Ecclesia between a group of lay people and a group of clerics, Add MS 30337, membrane 3

Detail of a deacon reading and unrolling the Exultet roll from the ambo and the Paschal candle being lit, Add MS 30337, membrane 4

Detail of the Crucifixion, Add MS 30337, membrane 6

Detail of the Crossing of the Red Sea, and Christ's Harrowing of Hell, Add MS 30337, membrane 7

Detail of the Noli me tangere, and below, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Add MS 30337, membrane 8

Detail of the Paschal candle being censed inside a church, Add MS 30337, membrane 9

Detail of bees gathering nectar, and a bee-keeper collecting wax to create the Paschal candle, Add MS 30337, membrane 10

Detail of the Virgin Mary enthroned, with two figures excised on either side, Add MS 30337, membrane 11

You can check out the fully digitised roll here, and don't forget to follow us on Twitter @blmedieval.

- Sarah J Biggs