Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

Introduction

What do Magna Carta, Beowulf and the world's oldest Bibles have in common? They are all cared for by the British Library's Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Section. This blog publicises our digitisation projects and other activities. Follow us on Twitter: @blmedieval. Read more

25 October 2021

More Harley manuscripts online

Two years ago, we announced that we had started to revise the online descriptions of manuscripts in the British Library's Harley collection. At that point, back in May 2019, relatively few of the Harley manuscripts were included in our Archives and Manuscripts catalogue (searcharchives.bl.uk), and so readers had to rely in most part on the entries in the old published catalogue, printed in 1808–12.

A page from an illuminated manuscript, decorated in blue, yellow, red and other colours, depicting the Tree of Jesse, and with a decorated border including flowers, a bird, and a butterfly

Miniature of the Tree of Jesse at the beginning of Psalm 1 (Rouen, around the 1490s, with additions made in England or the southern Netherlands): Harley MS 1892, f. 31v

Today, we can tell you that more than 3,500 Harley manuscripts, charters and rolls can now be found in our online catalogue, the result of many months of patient research and cataloguing, much of it done under the pressures of lockdown. Given that there are more than 7,600 Harley manuscripts, there is still some way to go, but a significant number of those written before the year 1600 (and many written after that date) now have updated records. You can read more about the Harley collection in our online guide.

A text page written in Irish, in Irish script, with larger letters in black marking the beginning of new paragraphs

A page at the beginning of An Senchas Már (Ireland, c. 1578): Harley MS 432, f. 4r

So which manuscripts have been added to our catalogue most recently? A brief list of their contents will give you some flavour of the range of the Harley collection, and the complexities of providing modern, accurate entries for them. For example, Harley MS 432 contains An Senchas Mára 16th-century legal text written in Irish. We know that its scribe was Gilla na Naem Ó Deoráin, according to an inscription in ogham on f. 14r, and he was writing at Aninsi art Labadrais, possibly Inch Saint Lawrence (Co. Limerick). Harley MS 4775 contains the Gilte Legende, a Middle English prose translation of the Legenda Aurea. Its scribe was 'Ricardus Franciscus', who may have copied the text directly from another manuscript, now Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 372. Harley MS 4313 is a formulary for legal process in the Court of Arches at London, begun in the 1560s, and is typical of the sorts of administrative manuscripts that most interested Robert Harley, Lord High Treasurer under Queen Anne, and his son, Edward. Harley MS 1892, in turn, is a beautiful illuminated Psalter, made in Rouen in the late-15th century for an English patron, and subsequently heavily refurbished.

A decorated page from an illuminated manuscript, with the text arranged in 2 columns and with gold initial introducing different sections of text

A page from the Gilte Legende (London, middle of the 15th century): Harley MS 4775, f. 237r

The credit for cataloguing the pre-1600s Harleys over the past 18 months should go to Clarck, Calum, Ellie, Peter, Kathleen, Seosamh, Chantry and other members of the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts team. Despite the issues brought on by Covid, they were able to produce draft Harley records in many instances, which were then enhanced and completed when they returned to the office. We hope that this in turn will support other people's research and pleasure, and that it leads to us gaining a better understanding of medieval and early modern manuscript culture.

You can search for the Harley manuscripts on our online catalogue, and you can also browse the collection available so far.

 

Julian Harrison

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21 October 2021

Treasures on Tour in Cornwall

The latest leg of the British Library’s Treasures on Tour programme sees the loan of the Bodmin Gospels and Pascon Agan Arluth, a medieval Cornish poem on the Passion of Christ, to a new exhibition in Redruth. These manuscripts are on display from 23 October 2021 until 22 January 2022 at Kresen Kernow (‘Cornwall Centre’), in an exhibition entitled ‘Treasures from Medieval Cornwall’.

The Bodmin Gospels (Add MS 9381) is the earliest surviving manuscript known to have been in use in Cornwall. It was produced in Brittany towards the end of the 9th century, but by the 940s it had been taken to the Cornish priory of St Petroc. The priory was initially in Padstow, but subsequently relocated to Bodmin following Viking attacks.

A page from the Bodmin Gospels, with large decorated initials IN, decorated in red, beginning the word 'Initium' at the start of the Gospel of Mark

The opening of the Gospel of Mark in the Bodmin Gospels: Add MS 9381, f. 50r

From the mid-10th to the 11th centuries, numerous scribes copied documents onto blank pages and into the margins around the text of the Gospels. These documents, known as manumissions, record the freeing of many enslaved individuals whose existence in Cornwall is not noted in any other sources. The text of some of the documents was erased in the past by scraping the ink off the parchment, but in recent years multispectral imaging has made these texts legible again.

The Bodmin Gospels is open at ff. 8v–9r in the exhibition in Redruth, showing a page with four added manumission documents on the left, opposite the first canon table, listing parallel passages in the four Gospels.

A page from the Bodmin Gospels containing the manumissions of four slaves

Copies of four manumission documents in the Bodmin Gospels: Add MS 9381, f. 8v

A decorated page from the Bodmin Gospels containing an arch with three columns, painted in red, and the text of the canon tables

The first canon table in the Bodmin Gospels: Add MS 9381, f. 9r

On display alongside the Bodmin Gospels is Pascon Agan Arluth, a Cornish poem on the Passion of Christ (Harley MS 1782). This manuscript was written in the 15th century, and appears to be a copy of a text originally composed in the previous century, making it the earliest surviving complete Cornish text. It also includes 10 coloured drawings in the lower margins, and is the earliest known illustrated manuscript written in Cornish.

A page from the Cornish Passion Poem with an illustration in the lower margin, showing Herod sitting on the left in a red chair, with 5 figures to his right coloured in red, black and green

Pascon Agan Arluth, a Passion Poem in Cornish, with a coloured drawing of Christ before King Herod: Harley MS 1782, f. 9r

The narrative of the poem, written in 259 8-line stanzas, focuses on the story of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, drawing on the accounts found in the Gospels, with other additional material.

A page from the Cornish Passion Poem with an illustration in the lower margin, showing Christ on the left in a red robe holding the Cross, coloured in yellow, and followed by two figures coloured in black and green

Pascon Agan Arluth, a Passion Poem in Cornish, with a coloured drawing of Christ carrying the Cross: Harley MS 1782, f. 14v

The project to develop Kresen Kernow, where the manuscripts are on display, was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Cornwall Council, to create a new home for Cornwall’s archives and gallery spaces, within the walls of the former Redruth Brewery. It opened in September 2019 and houses over 1.5 million manuscripts, maps and documents from Cornwall Record Office, as well as photographs, books and newspapers from the Cornish Studies Library, and the archaeological records and photographs from the Historic Environment Record.

A photograph of Kresen Kernow

The Kresen Kernow building in Redruth © Phil Boorman

The new exhibition in Redruth includes medieval items from Kresen Kernow’s own collection. It follows on from the display this summer of four early Cornish language play-scripts on loan from the Bodleian Library and the National Library of Wales: the Cornish Ordinalia; the Creation of the World; the Life of St Meriadoc (Bewnans Meriasek); and the Life of St Kea (Bewnans Ke).

‘Treasures from Medieval Cornwall’ opens to the public on Saturday 23 October 2021 and runs until Saturday 22 January 2022. More information on opening times and how to book free tickets is available on the Kresen Kernow website.

The Treasures on Tour programme is generously supported by the Helen Hamlyn Trust. The British Library is working with other libraries, museums and galleries to share our collections across the UK. Last year, as part of this programme, we loaned the Gospels of Máel Brigte to the Ulster Museum, as well as George Eliot’s manuscript of Middlemarch to Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery, and we will be announcing additional loans as part of ‘Treasures on Tour’ over the coming months.

 

Claire Breay

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19 October 2021

Antoine de Lonhy and the Saluces Hours

Long celebrated for its superb illuminations, the Saluces Hours (Add MS 27697) has been described by the art historian John Plummer as ‘one of the finest and most inventive manuscripts illuminated during the 15th century’. Yet it was only in 1989 that the art historian François Avril identified most of its miniatures as the work of Antoine de Lonhy, a prolific, multifaceted and well-travelled artist of the 15th century.

Antoine de Lonhy is the subject of a new exhibition, Il Rinascimento Europeo di Antoine De Lonhy (The European Renaissance of Antoine De Lonhy), which opened at the Palazzo Madama—Museo Civico d’Arte Antica in Turin on 7 October 2021, and will run until 9 January 2022. The Saluces Hours is a focal point of the exhibition, appearing in the first room together with a painting of Lonhy in the collection of the Palazzo Madama. Other works by Lonhy and his contemporaries include manuscripts, panel paintings, stained glass, sculptures and textiles. Visitors to the exhibition will also be able to view other miniatures from the manuscript shown digitally beside it. 

Miniature of the Virgin and Child with an owner portrait of a woman
The Virgin and Child with an owner portrait of a woman, presented by two Franciscan saints, perhaps St Bernardino and St Anthony of Padua, by Antoine de Lonhy: Add MS 27697, f. 19r

The Saluces Hours is a manuscript with a complicated genesis. It was produced in Savoy, which in the 15th century was in independent duchy, and today comprises an area of southeast France and northwest Italy. The manuscript was originally begun around the 1440s, several decades before Lonhy’s involvement in the project. In this first stage, the text was probably completed and the process of illuminating the book begun. Some of the pictures and borders from this phase are attributed to Peronet Lamy (d. before 1453), an artist who worked for the court of Savoy from around 1432 to 1443, whose work is particularly apparent in the miniature of St John the Evangelist (f. 13r).

Miniature of St John the Evangelist
St John the Evangelist writing his Gospel on the island of Patmos, by Peronet Lamy, retouched by Antoine de Lonhy: Add MS 27697, f. 13r

Another contemporary artist, known as the Master of the Hours of Louis of Savoy (after Paris, BnF, MS Lat. 9473) also contributed eight miniatures, as well as the historiated initials which accompany them. He might have done this concurrently with the original campaign of work, or perhaps he took over when Peronet Lamy stopped working on the book.

Miniature of the Wedding at Cana
The Wedding at Cana, by the Master of the Hours of Louis of Savoy, retouched by Antoine de Lonhy: Add MS 27697, f. 49r

But for some reason, the project stalled and for over a decade the beautiful book was left unfinished. Then in around 1460-1470, Antoine de Lonhy took it up and completed it. As well as adding lots of new pictures, he also retouched the earlier artworks to increase the impression of stylistic coherence, and in some cases he may have painted on underdrawings made by the previous artists.

Although the book was originally intended for a male owner, as suggested by the inclusion of prayers which are grammatically phrased for the use of a man, Lonhy seems to have completed the new work for a woman. He painted her in an owner portrait, kneeling before the Virgin and Child and followed by two Franciscan saints, perhaps St Bernardino and St Anthony of Padua. She is gorgeously dressed in a fur-trimmed dress, a weighty gold collar, and a towering conical hat (know as a hennin).

Detail of the Virgin and Child with an owner portrait of a woman
The Virgin and Child with an owner portrait of a woman, presented by two Franciscan saints, by Antoine de Lonhy: Add MS 27697, f. 19r (detail)

Yet the identity of this glamorous owner has proved puzzling. The borders of the manuscript regularly feature the coat of arms of the Saluces family of Piedmont (argent a chief azure), as well as in two places the coat of arms of the d'Urfé family (vair a chief gules). Based on this heraldic evidence, it used to be thought that the owner was Aimée (or Amadée) de Saluces (b. 1420, d. 1473), daughter of Mainfroy de Saluces of Piedmont. Aimée married Guillaume-Armand de Polignac around 1441, and their daughter Catherine married Pierre d'Urfé in 1489.

However, scholars no longer agree with this identification because the manuscript does not contain the Polignac arms, despite dating stylistically from the period after Aimée’s marriage. Further, the coats of arms appear to be later additions to the manuscript, and probably do not refer to the woman who Lonhy worked for at all. It is more likely that both the original and later patrons of the Book of Hours, with its close similarities to the Hours of Louis of Savoy, were members of Savoy's Ducal family. It is now thought that the woman is possibly Yolande of France (b. 1434, d. 1478), wife of Duke Amadeus IX of Savoy. 

Illuminated Arms of Saluces
Arms of Saluces, argent a chief azure: Add MS 27697, f. 19r (detail)

We know more about the artist, Antoine de Lonhy, thanks to the work of art historians who have meticulously identified his works and reconstructed his career, now further elucidated in the exhibition and exhibition catalogue. Apparently French by birth, he seems to have started his career in the Duchy of Burgundy in the 1440s. By the 1450s he was documented working in Toulouse, and in 1460-62 he was working in Barcelona. He seems to have settled in Piedmont around 1462, and he worked on commissions in Savoy and Piedmont in around 1470-90. Dozens of his attributed artworks survive in a surprisingly wide variety of media, including panel paintings, illuminated manuscripts and stained glass.

Despite his wide-ranging travels, Antoine de Lonhy’s style is closely linked to the northern European Gothic art in which he was trained. The ornamental architecture in his pictures is always Gothic rather than Classical, although Classical architecture was flourishing in Italy at the time. His pictures show a depth of space and an interest in sweeping landscapes that suggests he was well versed in the work of great Flemish artists of the first half of the 15th century such as Jan Van Eyck and Roger Van der Weyden. His figures are softly modelled with sensitive faces, draperies that fall into elaborate deep folds, and sometimes strikingly lifelike anatomy, as illustrated in the picture of the naked Adam and Eve in the Saluces Hours.

Miniature of God with Adam and Eve
God speaking to Adam while Eve sleeps: Add MS 27697, f. 213r

To discover more about Antoine de Lonhy and see a great range of his works, visit the exhibition Il Rinascimento Europeo di Antoine De Lonhy at the Palazzo Madama—Museo Civico d’Arte Antica in Turin, from 7 October, 2021 to 9 January, 2022.

You can read more about the subject in exhibition catalogue, Il Rinascimento europeo di Antoine De Lonhy, ed. by Simone Baiocco e Vittorio Natale (Genova: SAGEP, 2021), and you can find further bibliography in our catalogue record. You can also view the Saluces Hours online on our Digitised Manuscripts website. 

Eleanor Jackson

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