THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

730 posts categorized "Illuminated manuscripts"

19 February 2019

Reconstructing the Otho-Corpus Gospels

Add comment

As our stunning Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition comes to an end, it's time to reflect on recent discoveries that illuminate this fascinating period of early medieval history, and on the new opportunities for learning more about the past. Archaeological discoveries, such as the Staffordshire Hoard, help us to make a direct connection with 7th-century Mercia, even if we cannot be certain to whom these objects belonged or why they were buried. New advances in imaging science, such as that revealing erased manumissions of slaves in the Bodmin Gospels, as reported on this Blog, help us to uncover medieval people whose lives would otherwise be unknown to us.

Cotton_ms_otho_c_v_f027r

The lion of St Mark in the Otho-Corpus Gospels: British Library, Cotton MS Otho C V, f. 27r

One manuscript that has probably not given up all its secrets is the so-called Otho-Corpus Gospels. That name is modern in origin, being derived from the two collections in which its twin halves now reside: the Otho press in the Cotton collection at the British Library, and the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. The two parts of this 8th-century Northumbrian gospel-book had been divided by the 16th century at the latest, with one coming into the hands of Matthew Parker, archbishop of Canterbury (died 1575), and the other being acquired a few decades later by Sir Robert Cotton (died 1631). The easiest way to compare them would be to bring them physically side-by-side, as demonstrated in our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, when the Corpus portion was generously loaned for a short period to the British Library. But the usual separation of the manuscript is only one barrier to properly understanding it, since the Otho part was damaged severely by the Cotton fire in October 1731, leaving its parchment pages shrivelled and charred. Not only is the gospel-book no longer together, but it is no longer intact.

Cotton_ms_otho_c_v_f001r

The first surviving page of the Otho portion: Cotton MS Otho C V, f. 1r

As part of the preparations for Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, Cotton MS Otho C V was digitised in full, thanks to funding provided by The Polonsky Foundation. This complements nicely the digitisation of Corpus Christi MS 197B by our colleagues in Cambridge. Users are now able to study both parts of this gospel-book from the comfort of their own offices or living rooms. But one further feature of this dual digitisation should be mentioned here, and it is that which perhaps offers the greatest potential for furthering our knowledge of this manuscript. The British Library manuscripts digitised for our recent project can now be viewed on a IIIF viewer, and the same is true for those at the Parker Library. This means that researchers can view the images of both portions of the gospel-book side-by-side, hopefully enabling us to make more connections between them.

Cotton_ms_otho_c_v_f021r

Even though the Otho portion is badly damaged, we can still tell that it was finely written and decorated: Cotton MS Otho C V, f. 21r

Why is this important? In the case of the Otho part of the manuscript, we have only 64 leaves remaining, representing the gospels of Matthew and Mark. In the 19th century, its pages were restored at the British Museum and inlaid in paper mounts, with pencil notes added in the margins to notify where the text had been identified. In the case of the Corpus Christi part, containing the gospels of Luke and John, the pages have been rearranged, as was Matthew Parker's frequent practice, which complicates investigation into them. Maybe in time their original organisation will be reconstructed, throwing new light on the manuscript's place of origin and its later use and ownership.

Cotton_ms_otho_c_v_f025v

The preface to the Gospel of Mark: Cotton MS Otho C V, f. 25v

Thanks to The Polonsky Foundation, Cotton MS Otho C V can be seen on the Universal Viewer or on our Digitised Manuscripts site. Thanks to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, their MS 197B can be seen on Parker on the Web, and you can read about it in this accompanying blogpost. We are delighted to be able to share this wonderful manuscript with you, and we hope that in time we will learn more of its secrets. 

 

Julian Harrison

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

17 February 2019

When love comes knockin’ at your door

Add comment

To the joy and relief of some, the magic of Valentine’s Day has now vanished, taking heart-shaped chocolates and romantic cards with it. A different perspective of love is offered by a motif popular in the Classical world: the so-called paraclausithyron.

This term, used by Plutarch (Moralia 753B), refers to a song of lament and despair sung by an ‘excluded lover’ (amator exclusus) at the firmly shut door of their beloved. The lover usually carries a garland and has walked at night by torchlight to reach their beloved’s house, where they plead to be admitted without success.

In Greek literature, the motif occurs in different genres. An illustrious example is found in Theocritus’ Idyll 3, where the lover, a goatherd, begs his mistress Amaryllis to let him come into her cave. He laments in despair:

Just look: there’s such pain in my heart. If only I could turn into a buzzing bee and come into your cave through the ivy and fern that hide you! Now I know what love is: he’s a cruel god. Truly he was suckled by a lioness, and his mother gave birth to him in a thicket: he’s making me smoulder with love and torturing me deep in my bone. (translated by N. Hopkinson)

Add_ms_11885_f012r

The beginning of Theocritus, Idyll 3 (15th century): Add MS 11885, f. 12r

A number of surviving epigrams relate to the scene of the closed door. This one, by the poet Asclepiades of Samos from the 3rd century BC, emphasises the lover's sorrow at not being admitted into the house:

Abide here, my garlands, where I hang ye by this door, nor shake off your leaves in haste, for I have watered you with my tears — rainy are the eyes of lovers. But when the door opens and ye see him, shed my rain on his head, that at least his fair hair may drink my tears. (translated by W. R. Paton)

Another poem by Meleager of Gadara, written roughly 2,100 years ago, contains several elements typical of the motif:

O stars, and Moon, lighting well the way for those disposed to love, and Night, and you, my instrument that accompanies my revels — will I gaze upon my wanton one, still awake on her bed, singed often by her lamp? Or does someone share her bed? I will take off my suppliant garland, douse it with tears, and fix it on her porch, inscribing on it just this: “Cypris, to you Meleager, the initiate in your revels, hung up these spoils of love. (translated by Paton)

Kings 322

Detail of a heart (15th century): King's MS 322, f. 1r

It is not only male lovers who might be excluded. The ‘Alexandrian Erotic Fragment’ (Papyrus 605 verso) relates the lament of an ‘excluded woman’.  The motif of the ‘abandoned woman’ is well-known in Classical mythology: one thinks immediately of poor Ariadne, deserted by Theseus, or Medea who, left by Jason for another woman, killed her own children to punish him.

Harley_ms_1766_f033r

Medea killing her children (c. 1450–1460): Harley MS 1766, f. 33r

The text of this papyrus was copied by Dryton, a cavalry-man, after 10 October 174 BC. His family archive is now dispersed across the world. A small fragment in the Sackler Library, Oxford, supplies a few more words of the second column of the British Library papyrus.

The poem has a complex metrical scheme, although its language is simple. It starts abruptly, with the woman remembering the old promise of love, having Aphrodite as a security (all translations by P. Bing):

Our feelings were mutual, we bound ourselves together. (ll. 1–2)

The tender memories of the past torture her, because her lover has proven to be an ‘inventor of confusion’ (l. 7). An invocation to the stars and night begins her journey to the house:

O beloved starts and lady Night, companions in my desire, take me even now to him. (ll. 11–12)

The trip is lightened not by a torch, but by the fire that enkindles her soul:

My guide is the potent torch that’s ablaze in my soul. (ll. 15–16)

The woman pleads to be admitted in a vortex of feelings, being mad, jealous and ready to submit to her beloved. After all, ‘if you devote yourself to just one, you will just go crazy’ (l. 31), she explains. She has a ‘stubborn temper’ when she gets in a fight (ll. 33–34), yet she now seeks reconciliation. Unfortunately, the second column of the papyrus is fragmentary.

Papyrus_605_f001v

The ‘Alexandrian Erotic Fragment’: Papyrus 605 verso

Ancient authors had different views on these lovers’ practices. Plato considered that imploring one's beloved and sleeping on doorsteps was a form of slavery (Symposium 183A), whereas Plutarch thought that serenading and decorating the beloved’s threshold with garlands might bring some ‘alleviation that is not without charm or grace’ (De cohibenda ira 455B–C).

We should add a word of warning. Should you plan to serenade your lover, make sure that the right person is listening. In Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae, two young lovers exchange love songs. One of them invokes his beloved to open the door, but the person who opens it is not exactly whom the young man was hoping for …

 

Federica Micucci

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

12 February 2019

Picture this: portraits of Anglo-Saxon rulers

Add comment

Only five contemporary manuscript portraits of identifiable Anglo-Saxon rulers survive. Recent visitors to the British Library or to this Blog are probably already familiar with one of them. This is the illuminated miniature featuring King Edgar (959–975) which forms the frontispiece of the New Minster Charter (Cotton MS Vespasian A VIII), confirming the rights of the reformed church at Winchester. It is the 'frontispiece' of our sold-out exhibition Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War, adorning the posters as well as the entrance to the Library.

In this blogpost, we look at some of these Anglo-Saxon ruler portraits, alongside contemporary European examples.

112_cotton_vespasian_a_8_f002v_2

King Edgar with the Virgin Mary, St Peter, Christ in Majesty and angels (New Minster, Winchester, c. 966): Cotton MS Vespasian A VIII, f. 2v

In the New Minster Charter, made in around 966, King Edgar, facing towards the heavens, presents a golden copy of the document to Christ. The Virgin Mary and St Peter look on approvingly. The fact that he is surrounded by saints and handing the charter straight to Christ reminds the viewer of his status as a pious, Christian king, ruling with divine blessing. These themes were all central to the idealised representations of the royal office in the early medieval Christian West.

Depicting the king holding a politically important document, in the shape of a book, is more remarkable in the context of early medieval ruler portraits. This emphasised Edgar as a learned king, to whom the written word was significant, but also visually confirmed his politically motivated patronage of the New Minster. It exemplified the key motifs of the specifically Anglo-Saxon image of kingship and queenship, in which the ruler was shown to be actively involved with learning, patronage of the Church, and the production or use of texts and books. These motifs set the Anglo-Saxon ruler portraits apart from those of their early medieval contemporaries.

The Continental approach to portraying rulers makes this contrast clear. Throughout their mutual history the Anglo-Saxons and their neighbours across the Channel, the Carolingians, were in close contact. The most famous and influential ruler of the Carolingian dynasty (c. 714–877), whose empire covered most of western Continental Europe, was Charlemagne (768–814).

FIG 2 add_ms_37768_f004r

Emperor Lothar I enthroned (the court of the Emperor Lothar, ?Aachen, c. 840–855): Add MS 37768, f. 4r

No contemporary illustrations of Charlemagne have survived, but there is a striking depiction of his oldest legitimate grandson, Lothar I (817–855), in the manuscript known as the Lothar Psalter (Add MS 37768).

Roman imperial portraits were the main source for early medieval ruler portraits. This link became even more important to the Carolingians when Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope in 800. The resulting emphasis on imperial majestic splendour and military authority is clearly seen in Lothar’s portrait. His golden and jewel-encrusted crown is matched by an extravagant cloak of gold, covered in gems. The entire backdrop is a deep purple — the colour associated specifically with emperors since Antiquity because of the exceedingly high value of the pigment. In his hands he holds a long sceptre, recalling the sceptrum Augusti (sceptre of imperial majesty) of the Roman emperors, and the hilt of a sword, drawing visual comparisons to the military status of the imperial role.

The Anglo-Saxon ruler portrait closest in time to that of Lothar is also the earliest surviving. In a manuscript containing Bede's Lives of St Cuthbert, King Æthelstan is depicted presenting the book itself to St Cuthbert (d. 687). Cuthbert was a monk and bishop of Lindisfarne, whose cult became increasingly popular across northern England. The image commemorates Æthelstan’s gift of the manuscript to St Cuthbert’s community, while also associating the king with the patronage of a politically significant religious centre, and the production of a book containing works by an eminent Anglo-Saxon author.

68. Cambridge Corpus Christi 183  f. 1v

King Æthelstan presenting St Cuthbert with the book (South England, c. 934–939): Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 183, f. 1v

Despite Æthelstan’s many diplomatic connections with Continental rulers (not least exemplified by his gifts of books), the Continental focus on the extravagant stateliness and military might of the monarch has not influenced this portrait. He humbly bows his head to the saint; only his crown betrays his grand status.

The surviving Anglo-Saxon ruler portraits also stand apart when it comes to the depiction of queens. Hardly any portraits of Carolingian queens survive, but during the Ottonian dynasty (c. 919–1024) double-ruler portraits of the queens alongside their husbands or sons became popular.

FIG 4 Munich BSB Clm 4452 f. 2r

Christ in Majesty crowning Henry II and his wife Kunigunde, with St Peter on the left and St Paul on the right. Below is the female personification of Rome, with female personifications of Gallia and Germania on either side (Reichenau, c. 1007–1012): Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek, Clm 4452, f. 2r

For instance, the Evangelistary of Henry II (Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek, Clm 4452) contains an extravagant image of the future coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry II (1014–1024), and his wife, Empress Kunigunde of Luxembourg (d. 1040). Christ crowns both Henry and Kunigunde, while St Peter supports Henry on the left, and St Paul supports Kunigunde on the right. Kunigunde is depicted as equal in size to her husband, but it is Henry who stands on the right of Christ, symbolically the place of honour.

In the lower register stands the female personification of Rome, holding a sceptre. Beside her are female personifications of the territories of Gallia and Germania (the primary territories of the king and queen, respectively). Undoubtedly, this represents the joining together of Henry and Kunigunde’s territories into one Holy Roman Empire, underlining the political importance of their union.

Queen Emma, one of the most important political figures in 11th-century England, is depicted in two of the five surviving Anglo-Saxon portraits. In one, the New Minster Liber Vitae, she is depicted next to her second husband, King Cnut, in a manner similar to the double-coronation portrait of Henry and Kunigunde. But in a slightly later manuscript (Add MS 33241) there is a decidedly different portrait of her.

FIG 5 add_ms_33241_f001v

Queen Emma enthroned, with two of her sons in the background, receiving the Encomium Emmae reginae (northern France or England, mid-11th century): Add MS 33241, f. 1v

Emma alone is enthroned and centrally placed in this image, whereas her two sons (both of whom became king) peer slightly awkwardly from behind a pillar. Moreover, she is shown receiving a copy of the manuscript, which contains the Encomium Emmae reginae ('In Praise of Queen Emma'). This is a highly political work, commissioned to portray Emma's past actions in a more favourable light, while smoothing over the current, turbulent political situation. It is entirely appropriate for her to be portrayed as the central character and as a queen in her own right and with her own independent agency.

You can read more about some of the manuscripts featured in this blogpost on the British Library's Anglo-Saxons webspace. Due to incredible demand, all tickets to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition have now been sold.

 

                                                                                     Emilia Henderson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

09 February 2019

Easy as ABC?

Add comment

Do you know your ABC? How about your ᚠ ᚢ ᚦ ᚱ ᚳ ? Or your ᚁ ᚂ ᚃ ?

The inhabitants of the British Isles in the first millennium spoke many different languages and wrote in several alphabets. Variant writing systems identified from early Anglo-Saxon England — some of which can be viewed in our stellar Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition — include runes, ogham and Greek, and even attempts at replicating Hebrew and Arabic letters.

7_Harford Brooch back detail

The back of the Harford Farm Brooch includes a runic inscription which says ‘Luda repaired [or makes reparations by] this brooch’ (England, c. 610–650): Norwich Castle Museum 1994.5.78

Runes were used to represent the earliest Germanic languages, including early forms of Old English and the Scandinavian languages. The earliest surviving examples of these angular letters were incised into metal, stone, wood or ceramics. We know that each of these runes had a name, taken from a noun that started with that rune: for example, (n) was called nyd (need), while (th) was called thorn (thorn), perhaps because the symbol itself looks slightly like a branch with thorn. In the 10th century, someone added the names to a runic alphabet on the back of a copy of the Old English version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

Cotton_ms_domitian_a_ix_f011v

Runes copied in the 10th century, with their names added in the 11th century: Cotton MS Domitian A IX, f. 11v

Even though the Latin alphabet was eventually adapted to write English, runes did not cease to be used in Anglo-Saxon England. Several objects from the 7th to the 11th centuries feature runic inscriptions. Some surviving blades and scabbards feature the names of their early owners in runes or cryptic, talismanic inscriptions.

The Ruthwell Cross features the ‘Dream of the Rood’ poem inscribed in runes around its sides. Even when writing in Latin letters, the Anglo-Saxons used runes to represent sounds in their language which were not present in the Roman alphabet, such as æ, th (represented by þ or the adapted Latin letters Ð, ð), and w (Ƿ). Some of these letters are still used in Icelandic and Faroese spelling to this day.

77_harley_ms_208_f087v

A scribe from 10th-century England practised his alphabet in the margins of this 9th-century copy of Alcuin’s letters: Harley MS 208, f. 117v 

Another non-Latin alphabet known in England in the first millennium was ogham. This writing system is formed of lines carved at different angles around a central line. Examples of ogham inscriptions have been found in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and beyond. On display in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition is a knife inscribed with ogham that was found in South-West Norfolk.

6_OghamKnife__R7J8986

A knife with an ogham inscription, from Norwich Castle Museum

Ogham script was certainly known to Byrhtferth of Ramsey in the late 10th or early 11th century, and by the scribes who copied his work in the 12th century. Ogham occurs in a 12th-century copy of his diagram (in Oxford, St John’s College, MS 17), although not in the version in Harley MS 3667. Perhaps the scribe of the Harley manuscript omitted the symbols because he did not understand them.

Alphabets from other parts of the world were known to certain Anglo-Saxons. Greek letters appear in some early medieval English manuscripts. Knowledge of Greek in Anglo-Saxon England may be associated with the school run by Archbishop Theodore and Abbot Hadrian in Canterbury in the late 7th and early 8th century. Theodore was from the Greek-speaking part of the Mediterranean and became archbishop of Canterbury in 668. Bede used the Greek alphabet in mathematical calculations and recommended it for creating codes. Some early medieval scribes also tried to imitate Hebrew letters, with somewhat less success. 

Harley_ms_5431_f106v

Greek letters, in red, spelling the Latin phrase ‘Deo Gratias’: Harley MS 5431, f. 106v

One incredible survival featured in Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms is a coin of King Offa (d. 796) that imitates the Arabic script on a dinar of Abbasid caliph al-Mansur (AH 136–58/ AD 754–75). The Mercian moneyer who made the coin did not copy the letters correctly and clearly could not read Arabic.

45_BMImages_00031108001_SuperRes

Gold dinar of Offa of Mercia: British Museum, CM 1913,1213.1

You can see many of these alphabets for yourself in the British Library's Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, which is open until 19 February. We recommend that you check availability before you travel as many time-slots are already full.

 

Alison Hudson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

08 February 2019

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms and the BnF

Add comment

One of the many wonderful things about our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition is that roughly half of the manuscripts and objects on display are on loan from other institutions. Six fascinating manuscripts in the show have kindly been loaned by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. This varied group includes a 7th-century calendar, an unusually shaped psalter, and a pontifical that features musical notation …

26_OF-TOL-18003364

The Echternach  Gospels: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 9389, f. 76r

One of these six manuscripts is a beautifully decorated insular gospel book, known as the Echternach Gospels. We know that this gospel book was in Echternach, modern-day Luxembourg, by the first half of the 8th century, but scholars have debated whether the manuscript was produced in Echternach, in Ireland or in Northumbria. Some people have compared its script to the Durham Gospels, which are thought to have been produced in Northumbria. On the other hand, some think the Echternach Gospels were produced in Ireland because the text is close to the 9th-century MacDurnan Gospels from Armagh. The founder of Echternach, a Northumbrian monk Willibrord, is known to have had connections to Ireland. His mission set out from Rath Melsigi, Co. Carlow, in the 690s, and Irish books and scribes likely played an important role in the early development of Echternach.

36_OF-TOL-18008759

The Calendar of Willibrord: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 10837, f. 39v

The founder of Echternach, Willibrord, was one of many Anglo-Saxon missionaries who travelled to the Continent to convert the pagans to Christianity. Manuscripts would have travelled to the Continent along with these missionaries. A manuscript that reflects this movement is the Calendar of Willibrord, also on loan from the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Entries in this calendar reflect Willibrord’s Northumbrian origins and Irish training, as well as additions made during his time on the Continent. This page, for the month of November, has notes in the margin referring to Willibrord’s life, including his journey in 690 ‘across the sea to Francia’.

54_OF-TOL-18003363

A collection of saints' Lives: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 10861, f. 2r

Another manuscript on loan from the Bibliothèque nationale de France is a 9th-century collection of saints' Lives, which contains accounts of the lives of two saints and narrative descriptions of the lives of sixteen early Christian martyrs. The enlarged, decorated ‘P’ on this folio begins Philippus apostolus, which introduces the account of the life of the Apostle Philip. Although the script of this manuscript suggests that it was copied in Canterbury, the parchment appears to have been prepared and arranged in a Continental style. This testifies to the close connections between Canterbury and Continental scriptoria in the early 9th century.

91_OF-TOL-18008758

The Paris Psalter: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 8824, ff. 3v–4r

The Bibliothèque nationale de France has also loaned the Paris Psalter to Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms. The psalms had a central role in liturgy and personal devotion, and were widely known and studied in Anglo-Saxon England. However, the Paris Psalter is unusually tall and thin compared to other, contemporary psalters.

99_IFN-10509613-42

Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 6401, f. 13v

Also on loan is a copy of works by Boethius that illustrates the close links between England the monastery of Fleury (near Orléans, France). The style of script suggests that work began on the manuscript in England in the late 10th century, but the manuscript had reached Fleury by the early 11th century. One text in this manuscript is Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. The full-page painting above is of French workmanship, and shows the seated female figure of Philosophy, holding a snake, surrounded by birds and armed soldiers. The style of armour of these soldiers bears strong similarities to that of the Bayeux Tapestry.

125_OF-TOL-18003360
The Sherborne Pontifical: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 943, f. 10r

Another manuscript loaned by the Bibliothèque nationale de France provides an important insight into the performance of music in Anglo-Saxon England. This manuscript was likely made at Canterbury, but had come to Sherborne by the 990s and is now known as the Sherborne Pontifical. A bishop would read from a pontifical during ceremonies such as the consecration of kings, bishops, churches or relics. Instructions regarding the movement for the ceremony are written in larger black letters, whereas the chants are written in smaller black text, with musical notation added above. 

We are delighted to have been able to partner with the Bibliothèque nationale de France in The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700–1200In turn, we are extremely grateful to the Bibliothèque nationale de France for lending these fascinating manuscripts to our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, where they will be on display until 19 February 2019. Tickets to the exhibition are selling fast, buy them here.

 

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

31 January 2019

The Ascension in Anglo-Saxon England

Add comment

Many fine examples of medieval art can be found in the pages of manuscripts. These illuminated books reflect the huge variety of artistic expression present in England and France during the early Middle Ages, as discussed in more detail on our new Medieval England and France, 700-1200 website. Biblical events provided the inspiration for many illustrations in these manuscripts, but medieval artists often interpreted these scenes in different ways. The Ascension of Christ was one biblical event whose representation changed in the course of the Middle Ages.

According to biblical accounts, Christ ascended to Heaven 40 days after his resurrection, leaving his disciples to continue his work on Earth (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9-11). The event was frequently discussed in the writings of the Church Fathers, most notably St Augustine of Hippo (354–430), St Jerome (347–420) and other early Christian authors. It quickly became a significant feature in the Christian calendar, as one of the major feast-days celebrated in the course of the year, alongside Pentecost, Easter and Christmas. 

(Fig 1) cotton_ms_galba_a_xviii_f120v

The Ascension of Christ, on an added leaf in the Galba Psalter, Reims (France), 1st quarter of the 9th century (additions England, 1st half of the 10th century): Cotton MS Galba A XVIII, f. 120v

Christ’s Ascension was a popular subject in early medieval art. There were at least three different ways of representing the scene in English manuscript illumination by the 11th century. One was to depict Christ in an almond-shaped frame in the sky (also known as a mandorla or aureola), supported by angels who carried him to Heaven. One illustrator adopted this design in an added page in the Galba Psalter, a book of Psalms reputedly given to the Anglo-Saxon King Æthelstan (reigned 924–939). Christ appears with a halo, enthroned in majesty, with angels on either side. He holds a book in one hand, while the other faces outwards to display his open palm and the wound left by the nail of the Crucifixion. The actual moment of Ascension has already taken place. Christ gazes at his disciples on earth, and appears much as in contemporary and later medieval images of the Last Judgement, where the focus is on the glory of his divinity.

Other depictions of the Ascension from the Anglo-Saxon period show a more active Christ, who climbs unaided across the clouds to reach Heaven. An illustration in the lavishly decorated Benedictional of St Æthelwold represents a bearded and radiant Christ in profile, walking through the air. His arm reaches up to the extended hand of the Father that descends from the frame above. The artist even managed to capture the movement in Christ’s clothes as he ascends, his robes fluttering, almost ruffled by the wind.

(Fig-2)add_ms_49598_f064v

The Ascension of Christ from the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, Winchester, c. 971–984: Add MS 49598, f. 64v

Around the turn of the first millennium, a new type of Ascension image developed from these artistic traditions, becoming a standard iconography in the decoration of liturgical and devotional manuscripts in England. Such images attempted to depict the exact moment that Christ vanished from the Earthly realm into the presence of God and to represent only the lower half of his ascending body, at the last moment of his human incarnation. This iconography is sometimes referred to as the ‘Disappearing Christ’.

One example is found in the 11th-century Caligula Troper, recently digitised for the British Library by The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project. The Troper is a liturgical manuscript that contains the text and notation for chants added to the mass on feast days (for the manuscript’s use and unusual provenance, see this earlier blogpost). It also includes a series of illustrations of English saints and the Apostles, and biblical stories such as the naming of John the Baptist and the Ascension itself. In its representation of the Ascension, Christ’s upper body disappears into the clouds and the frame of the image itself. His arms, head and face are hidden from our sight and the gaze of the disciples, with only his legs and bare feet visible.

(Fig-3)-cotton_ms_caligula_a_xiv_f018r

The Disappearing Christ from the Caligula Troper, England (Worcester?), 2nd half of the 11th century: Cotton MS Caligula A XIV, f. 18r

The iconography of the ‘Disappearing Christ’ may have been linked to an earlier exegetical tradition that maintained that Christ did not need help from Heaven in his ascent, but used his own divine power (Gregory the Great, Homilia 29; Bede, Homilia II.15). We notice that the celestial beings that appear on either side of the scene in the Caligula Troper do not carry Christ’s body. Instead, they raise their hands in adoration at his return, their heads craned upwards in much the same way as the watching disciples. The clouds offer Christ no support in his climb. They appear above his feet and he rises through them to Heaven.

The ‘Disappearing Christ’ motif also appears in the Tiberius Psalter, a late Anglo-Saxon manuscript that contains a series of illustrations from the Old and New Testament. In the Psalter’s representation of the Ascension, a notably independent Christ rises to Heaven. The artist has chosen to omit the company of angels, as well as the Hand of God and the mandorla, so that the focus is on Christ and his disciples. The caption at the top of the page is barely legible because of the damage the manuscript sustained in the Cotton library fire in 1731. The Latin reads Hic ascendit Christus ad caelos (Here Christ ascended to Heaven). Meanwhile in the centre, the artist introduces a new detail to the scene: Christ leaves behind a crown and an open book in the hands of his disciples, a signal to them to carry on his work and spread his teachings on earth.

(Fig-4)-cotton_ms_tiberius_c_vi_f015r

The Disappearing Christ from the Tiberius Psalter, Winchester, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 11th century: Cotton MS Tiberius C VI, f. 15r

You can see all four of these manuscripts in person at the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (on until 19 February 2019). Demand is high so we strongly recommend that you book your tickets in advance.

 

Calum Cockburn

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval #PolonskyPre1200

 

 

Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project                                                       

In partnership with

BnF logo

Supported by

The Polonsky Foundation logo

 

29 January 2019

Queen Emma: wife of two kings, mother of two more

Add comment

Emma of Normandy was one of the most significant figures in the turbulent politics of 11th-century England. She was queen to two kings of the English (Æthelred the Unready and Cnut), and mother to two more (Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor) as well as being an influential figure in her own right. We know more about her than other women in Anglo-Saxon England thanks to a variety of charters, illuminated manuscripts and a biography written during Emma's own lifetime.

Stowe_ms_944_f006r
Detail of Emma from the New Minster Liber Vitae (Winchester, c. 1031): Stowe MS 944, f. 6r

Emma was born in Normandy in the early 980s. Her brother, Richard II, duke of Normandy (d. 1026), sent her to marry the English king, Æthelred the Unready, following a dispute regarding Viking forces that were attacking England and Normandy. When in England, Emma was sometimes known by the English name Ælfgifu. With Æthelred, she had at least three children: Edward the Confessor (who ruled England from 1042 to 1066); Alfred; and Godgifu.

When King Æthelred died in 1016, he was succeeded by Cnut, bringing England into an empire that stretched to Denmark, Norway and into the Baltic. Emma married King Cnut sometime in 1017, and they had at least two children: a son, Harthacnut; and a daughter, Gunnhild. The children from her first marriage (Edward, Alfred and Godgifu) went into exile in mainland Europe.

Stowe_ch_38_f001r
Emma persuades Cnut to give land to Archbishop Lyfing (Canterbury, 1018): Stowe Ch 38

Emma seems to have been a crucial figure in Cnut’s government, with surviving documents showing her advising the king. A charter on display in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (at the British Library until 19 February) emphasises that Cnut gave land to the archbishop of Canterbury at Emma’s request. In the early days of Cnut’s reign, Emma may have helped him establish alliances with important English institutions, such as the church at Canterbury.

It is quite fitting that the only surviving manuscript portrait of Cnut also features Emma at his side. This portrait can be found in the Book of Life of the New Minster, Winchester. The couple are shown standing on either side of the altar at that monastery, where they were remembered as major benefactors.

Stowe_ms_944_f006r

Emma and Cnut from the New Minster Liber Vitae: Stowe MS 944, f. 6r

After Cnut’s death in 1035, Harald Harefoot, his son by a previous wife, succeeded to the English throne. In 1036, Emma’s sons from her first marriage, Edward and Alfred, invaded England to challenge Harald, believing that they had their mother's support. Their coup was unsuccessful, and although Edward escaped, Alfred was captured, blinded and killed. Edward never seems to have completely forgiven his mother for what he perceived as her role in Alfred’s death.

When Harald Harefoot died in 1040, Harthacnut, Emma’s son by Cnut, became king of England. However, in 1041, Harthacnut’s half-brother, Edward, became joint ruler of England, perhaps facilitated by Emma.  

Add_ms_33241_f001v
Opening miniature from the Encomium Emmae reginae: Add MS 33241, f. 1v

Around this time was written the text known as Encomium Emmae reginae (In Praise of Queen Emma’). This is the earliest surviving account dedicated to a female political figure from England (excluding saints’ Lives). This work was probably composed for Emma by a monk of Saint-Bertin, in Flanders, who appears to have re-framed history to justify Emma’s actions. Emma’s first husband, Æthelred, is not mentioned in this work, with Cnut being portrayed as the rightful ruler of England.

Emma may have used the Encomium to shape both the present and the future. The earliest surviving manuscript (Add MS 33241) ends with an account of Edward and Harthacnut ruling jointly: ‘here the bond of motherly love and brotherly love is of strength indestructible’. In 1042, Harthacnut died and Edward the Confessor became the sole king of England. At this stage, the author re-wrote the final part of the text. 

Add_ms_33241_f067r
Ending of the earliest surviving copy of the Encomium Emmae reginae: Add MS 33241, f. 67r

In 2008, a later medieval copy of the Encomium emerged at auction. This copy is now held at the Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen. The ending in this manuscript praised King Edward, and suggests that it was written when Edward had become sole king after Harthacnut’s death in 1042. Although Edward’s father, Æthelred the Unready, was not mentioned at all in the earlier version of the text, Edward and his lineage were praised in the new ending.

Edward’s relationship with his mother did not necessarily improve. At the beginning of his reign, Edward deprived Emma of much of her wealth and banished her for a period from his court. She died in 1052 and was buried at Winchester.

Emma’s political influence had far-reaching consequences. She both stabilised Cnut's Anglo-Danish dynasty and provided the man who supplanted it, Edward the Confessor. Later chroniclers even suggested that Emma’s marriage to King Æthelred the Unready led to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, since it gave her great-nephew, William of Normandy, a claim to the English throne.

You can view several of the manuscripts connected with Queen Emma, including the New Minster Liber Vitae and the oldest version of the Encomium Emmae reginae, in the British Library's once-in-a-generation exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War. It's on in London until 19 February 2019, and we strongly advise (due to high demand) that you buy your tickets in advance.

 

Alison Hudson 

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

23 January 2019

Cambridge loans in Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms  

Add comment

What do the St Augustine Gospels, the Eadwine Psalter and the Moore Bede have in common? They have all been kindly loaned to our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition by institutions in Cambridge. On display in the exhibition are a host of manuscripts from Corpus Christi College, Trinity College and the University Library. Read on to find out more about some of these fantastic loans.

8_MS 286  f. 129v (20MB)

The St Augustine Gospels: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 286, f. 129v

The St Augustine Gospels is one of the great treasures on loan from Corpus Christi College. This gospel-book dates from the late-6th to the early-7th century and is thought to have been made in Italy, possibly at Rome. This manuscript likely came to England soon after its creation, perhaps with the mission of Augustine of Canterbury. The St Augustine Gospels is still used today at every inauguration of a new archbishop of Canterbury, travelling from Cambridge for the occasion. This splendid manuscript provides a tangible link to the very early days of the Anglo-Saxon Church.

Archbishop

The Dean of Canterbury holds the “Canterbury Gospels”, as Archbishop Rowan Williams kisses the ancient book (by permission of James Rosenthal/Anglican World)

27_cotton_ms_otho_c_v_f027r

The Otho-Corpus Gospels: Cotton MS Otho C V, f. 27r

28_MS 197B  p. 245 (20MB)

The Cotton-Otho Gospels: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 197B, p. 245

In the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition are displayed two portions of the Otho-Corpus Gospels. One fragment is from the British Library’s own collections, and was badly damaged in the Cotton Library fire in 1731; the other part has been loaned by Corpus Christi College. This is a rare opportunity to view these two portions together and to compare the illustrations of John’s eagle and Mark’s lion.

59_MS 173  f. 13v (20MB)

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, manuscript A: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 173, f. 13v

Another manuscripts on loan from Corpus Christi College is the A-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, otherwise known as the ‘Parker Chronicle’. This is a 9th-century copy of the original compilation of the Chronicle, one of the most important narrative sources for the Anglo-Saxon period, and the earliest surviving witness of this text. Later versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are also on display in the exhibition, namely manuscript B, manuscript C and manuscript D.

60_MS 100  p. 325 (20MB)

Asser’s Life of King Alfred: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 100, p. 325

Corpus Christi has also loaned a 16th-century transcript of Asser’s Life of King Alfred. This is a biography of the 9th-century King Alfred the Great of Wessex, written during the king’s lifetime by the Welsh monk Asser. The only medieval manuscript of the ‘Life of King Alfred’ that survived into modern times was destroyed in the Cotton Library fire in October 1731. Although Alfred is commonly remembered as the Anglo-Saxon king who defeated the Vikings, Asser’s work barely mentions this, instead giving a more personal account of Alfred’s life.

139_R.17.1 f.24r

The Eadwine Psalter: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.17.1, f. 24r

The Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition also features a selection of manuscripts on loan from Trinity College, Cambridge. Among them is the Eadwine Psalter, a mid-12th century manuscript made in England. This Psalter is the second copy made of the 9th-century Utrecht Psalter, which was revolutionary for its inclusion of drawings outside the confines of decorative initials and borders. The Eadwine Psalter is extraordinary because of its elaborate illustrations, and also its inclusion of all three of Jerome’s translations of the Psalms, an Anglo-Norman French translation and a translation into Old English.

134_B.10.4 ff59v-60r

The Trinity Gospels: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS B.10.4, ff. 59v–60r

The Trinity Gospels, also on loan from Trinity College, is one of the most elaborately decorated of all surviving 11th-century gospel-books. This manuscript is notable for containing all four of the full-page decorated ‘incipit’ pages at the beginning of the gospels. They are decorated with gold and painted haloed figures holding books and scrolls.

110_B.16.3 f30v

Hrabanus Maurus, De laudibus sanctae crucis: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS B.16.3, f. 30v

A copy of Hrabanus Maurus’s fascinating text, ‘In Praise of the Holy Cross’, is also on loan to the exhibition from Trinity College. This is one of only two copies of this text to be made in Anglo-Saxon England. Hrabanus Maurus was a renowned Carolingian scholar whose works were popular throughout medieval Europe. This particular work contains poems where both word and metre are embedded into a grid, with concealed phrases revealed only by superimposed images and shapes, in this instance a cross.

9_MS-KK-00005-00016-000-00051

The ‘Moore Bede’: Cambridge University Library MS Kk.5.16, f. 22r

One of the manuscripts on loan from Cambridge University Library is known as the ‘Moore Bede’. This is perhaps the earliest surviving copy of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in 731. This well-known text is the first narrative historical account of the origins of the English. The manuscript is copied in Insular minuscule, which was faster to write than the more elaborate uncial script, allowing scribes to meet the exceptional demand for Bede’s work.

52_MS-LL-00001-00010-000-00117

The Book of Cerne: Cambridge University Library MS Ll.1.10, f. 32r

Finally, Cambridge University Library has loaned us The Book of Cerne, a beautifully decorated 9th-century prayer-book. It contains extracts from the four Gospels, 74 prayers, a selection of Psalms and the earliest surviving liturgical drama in England, the Harrowing of Hell. The illustrations in this manuscript are very sophisticated, with each gospel proceeded by a portrait of the evangelist and his symbol.

We are incredibly grateful to our Cambridge friends for lending these manuscripts to Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms. The exhibition runs until Tuesday, 19 February. Tickets are available here. Hurry… they’re selling fast!

Eleanor Stinson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval