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

07 November 2016

Picturing the Sacred: Byzantine Manuscript Illumination

Some of the British Library’s most precious manuscripts are those containing beautiful miniatures from the Byzantine world. The majority of these manuscripts are religious in focus, usually Gospels or Psalters, reflecting the central role played by Christianity in the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine court functioned as a theocracy, in which the Emperor was seen as God’s representative on earth, acting with divine authority. Religion infused every aspect of Byzantine life, including book production.

Although it is difficult (and somewhat artificial) to distinguish between late antique and early Byzantine art, a useful starting-point is the splendid Golden Canon Tables. Created in Constantinople in the 6th or 7th century, the manuscript is covered in gold paint, over which the Canon Tables (used to identify parallel passages between the four Gospels in biblical manuscripts) were written, and adorned with floral decoration and small medallions containing portraits of four men. Although they survive only as fragments, they would originally have formed part of an incredibly lavish copy of the Gospels, a testament to the importance of the Bible for the inhabitants of Constantinople at this time.

A parchment page painted entirely in gold and decorated with canon tables, including a portrait of a male figure.

The Golden Canon Tables. Add MS 5111/1, f. 11r. Constantinople, 6th or 7th century.

The Iconoclastic period (726–842 CE) saw the destruction of many existing works of religious art, and a ban on the production of any new works of art. The prohibition on graven images in the Bible was a source of concern for Christian thinkers in late antiquity and early Byzantium, who worried about the propriety of producing depictions of Jesus and other holy figures. This concern was particularly felt in Byzantium owing to the particular emphasis placed on icons in religious worship there (an emphasis that is still found in the Greek Orthodox tradition today). The impact of iconoclasm has meant that relatively few examples of early Byzantine illumination survive, and those that do, like the Golden Canon Tables, are thus even more precious to us today.

A page from the Theodore Psalter, showing an illustration of Iconoclasts.

Depiction of Iconoclasts in the Theodore Psalter. Add MS 19352, f. 27v. Constantinople, 1066.

After the prohibition on the production of religious art was lifted for the final time in 842, we see the reappearance of illuminated Biblical manuscripts. A number of illuminated Psalters (discussed in more detail in an article by Kalliroe Linardou) actually include images of iconoclasts erasing icons of Jesus. Such images can be found in the Theodore Psalter. On occasion, later owners of the manuscripts have erased the faces of the iconoclasts themselves!

A great emphasis was placed on tradition in Byzantine art. This is why, for instance, there is such great similarity between portraits of the Evangelists in Gospel manuscripts. Yet this stress on tradition also provided an opportunity for artists to distinguish themselves in more subtle ways, and there is clear variation in Byzantine illumination across the Greek-speaking world, as Elisabeth Yota shows in her article on provincial manuscript illumination. Some Greek manuscripts were illuminated by artists from different traditions, as is the case with Harley 5647, in which the portraits were made by a Syriac artist. Comparison of this with, for instance, the portraits in the Guest-Coutts New Testament, show both the strong tradition in terms of how figures are depicted and the room for innovation that was possible. Further examples can be found in Kathleen Maxwell’s article on illuminated Gospel manuscripts.

A page from a manuscript of the Four Gospels, showing an illustration of the Evangelist St Luke.

 The Evangelist Luke, by a Syriac artist. Harley MS 5647, f. 137v. Eastern Mediterranean, 11th century.

A page from the Guest-Coutts New Testament, showing an illustration of the Evangelist St Luke.

The Evangelist Luke, in the Guest-Coutts New Testament. Add MS 28815, f. 76v. Eastern Mediterranean (Constantinople), mid-10th century.

There are more fantastic illuminated Greek manuscripts than we can possibly hope to talk about in a single blog post, so we invite you to explore the collections and articles available on our Greek Manuscripts Project Website, and the many manuscripts available on Digitised Manuscripts!

 Cillian O'Hogan

@BLMedieval/@CillianOHogan

05 November 2016

Showing Off Sailing Ships: The Anthony Roll

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When King Henry VIII (1509–1547) wasn’t looking for a new wife or dissolving a monastery, he was commissioning a new ship. He undertook a massive expansion of the Tudor navy. Anthony Anthony, a military administrator, set about to document and illustrate this, and presented Henry with three splendid rolls in 1546, now available in full through the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site.

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The Antelope, launched in 1546: Add MS 22047.

The British Library holds the second of Anthony’s rolls, Add MS 22047, ‘The second Rolle declaryng the Nombre of the Kynges Maiestys owne Galliasses’. Galleasses were heavily armed three-masted galleys. The most unusual vessel shown on this roll is the Galley Subtle, highly decorated and built by shipwrights imported from Italy.

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The Galley Subtle, the centrepiece of the three rolls: Add MS 22047.

When they were created, the rolls were a fine display of the latest naval technology. They show not only the ships, but name their crews and list their armaments (the text is available on Wikisource, or printed with a commentary). These were of central interest to Anthony, who worked in the ordnance office in the Tower of London. The rolls are a key source for the Tudor navy: after the sunken Mary Rose was salvaged in 1982, the 16th-century depiction was enormously useful in making sense of the archaeological evidence.

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The Lyon and The Dragon: Add MS 22047.

The other two rolls show the navy’s warships, pinnaces and ‘roo baergys’ (row barges). King Charles II (1660–1685) gave them to Samuel Pepys, who had them cut up and bound into a volume, now in the Pepys Library in Magdalene College, Cambridge. Fortunately, the British Library’s roll is still in its original format.

Andrew Dunning
@BLMedieval/@anjdunning

03 November 2016

Collaborative Doctoral Research at the British Library: Pre-1200 Manuscript Culture

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Last year we advertised the opportunity for an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Collaborative Doctoral Partnership on the theme of ‘Understanding the Anglo-Saxons: the English and Continental Manuscript Evidence’. We welcomed Becky Lawton to the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section, who was chosen as the award-holder, working under the supervision of Dr Claire Breay, Head of the section at the British Library, and Joanna Story, Professor of Early Medieval History at the University of Leicester. You may have seen some of Becky’s popular blog posts, including The Great Medieval Bake Off and The Ceolfrith Leaves Are 1300 Years Old.   

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The Eadui Psalter, SE England (Christ Church, Canterbury, 1st half of the 11th century), digitised thanks to a generous grant from The Polonsky Foundation: Arundel MS 155, f. 93r.

This year we are delighted to announce another studentship on the theme of England and France: Manuscripts 700-1200, to be co-supervised by Dr Kathleen Doyle, Lead Curator, Illuminated Manuscripts. This doctoral research project would focus on an aspect of pre-1200 manuscript culture, using manuscripts from the collections of the Library and of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). The research will be facilitated through the work of a related collaborative project with the BnF, England and France: Illuminated Manuscripts 700-1200, which will digitise in full 400 manuscripts from each institution, which we announced on 12 October. This project is funded externally by The Polonsky Foundation.

The AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships scheme has been running for four years and the British Library is now advertising a call for partnership, for a fifth round of awards to begin in October 2017. Researchers of postdoctoral standing at UK universities are invited to submit proposals to serve as the academic supervisor of this studentship. Full details of our research theme for this partnership, and some suggested areas of study and research questions, can be found here.

The concurrent Polonsky-funded England and France project will provide digital coverage of 800 pre-1200 manuscripts, many of which may form part of the student’s research corpus. The student will benefit from the expertise of the curatorial team that will be cataloguing and interpreting these manuscripts for a general and academic audience. The student will have access to these detailed descriptions as well as internal databases, and as a result will be able to focus on (and create) particular areas of interest using the resources already provided. Both the British Library and the BnF have extensive cultural engagement programmes and the PhD student will have opportunities to contribute to this activity. The project also brings opportunities to engage actively with the interpretative website that will be developed for the Polonsky-funded England and France project, including contributing to online articles and blogposts on the relevant manuscripts.

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The Eadui Psalter, SE England (Christ Church, Canterbury, 1st half of the 11th century), digitised thanks to a generous grant from The Polonsky Foundation: Arundel MS 155, f. 53r.

The selected university partner will receive an AHRC training grant to cover the student’s fees and stipend, including a Research Training Support Grant and Student Development Funding (standard RCUK eligibility criteria apply). The Library will provide the students with staff-level access to its collections, expertise and facilities, as well as financial support for research-related costs of up to £1,000 a year. The student will also benefit from the dedicated programme of professional development events delivered by the Library in tandem with the other museums, galleries and heritage organisations affiliated to the CDP scheme.

So, if you are based in a UK Higher Education Institution and would like to co-supervise an AHRC-funded doctoral student on this research theme, or one of the other three themes selected for next year, apply by 25 November 2016. For any queries about how to apply or to find out more about the Library CDP programme, please email Research.Development@bl.uk.

Kathleen Doyle

Lead Curator, Illuminated Manuscripts

@BLMedieval

01 November 2016

A Calendar Page for November 2016

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For more information about the Bedford Hours, please see our post for January 2016; for more on medieval calendars in general, our original calendar post is an excellent guide.

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Calendar page for November from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410–1430,
Add MS 18850, f. 11r

Winter is beginning to close in on the calendar pages for November from the Bedford Hours. 

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Detail of miniatures of a man feeding pigs and the zodiac sign Sagittarius, from the calendar page for November,
Add MS 18850, f. 11r

November saw a pause in the agricultural calendar of the medieval era, and so in this month we often see different sorts of labours.  A common one can be found at the bottom of the first folio for this month; in the miniature on the lower left a man is at work beating acorns from a tree with two sticks. Below him a group of three hogs are feasting on the acorns, a delicacy given to them at this time to fatten them up for winter. To the right is a centaur archer, charmingly dressed in a gorgeous surcoat, for the zodiac sign Sagittarius.

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Detail of a marginal roundel of the Nine Muses, from the calendar page for November,
Add MS 18850, f. 11r

On the middle right of the folio is a miniature of a group of nine women surrounding a stream and pool of water. The banners they carry identify them as the Nine Muses, the Greek goddesses of inspiration for science and the arts that were later adopted into the Greek pantheon. In some versions of their myths they are described as water nymphs, and in one origin story they were born from four sacred rivers which Pegasus caused to spring forth — a possible explanation for the landscape of this miniature. Rubrics at the bottom of the folio tell us that November ‘is attributed to the nine wisdoms’ because of the number nine.

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Calendar page for November,
Add MS 18850, f. 11v

The emphasis on the Muses continues in the following folio. On the middle left an armoured man is mounted on a winged horse that has one foot (somewhat gingerly) in the waters of a fountain or pool. The rubrics tell us that this man is Perseus, and the horse must therefore be Pegasus; we may be seeing a scene of the birth of the Muses. At the bottom of the folio the Muses themselves are in evidence beside their spring, kneeling before a well-dressed lady. This is intended to represent Athena on her visit to ‘the font of wisdom’, although this aristocratic and almost matronly version of the goddess is an unusual one.  


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Detail of marginal roundels of Perseus and Pegasus and Athena and the Muses, from the calendar page for November,
Add MS 18850, f. 11v

Sarah J Biggs

@BLMedieval

31 October 2016

The Devil You Know

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Whether you love it or loathe it, there's no way of avoiding that today is Halloween! Loyal readers of our Blog will have doubtless consulted our informative guide for the perfect costume inspired by illustrations in medieval manuscripts. However, those who favour a more traditional approach may have chosen from popular costumes such as a witch, vampire, ghost or devil. Among these, it is the modern image of the devil which is perhaps most indebted to medieval society. 

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Depiction of Mambres with book contemplating Hell’s torments: from a scientific miscellany, England, mid-11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1,  f. 87v

In the Middle Ages, Jews, Muslims and Christians all acknowledged the existence of the Devil in some form. The Devil was commonly depicted as a beastly figure representing sin, temptation and the embodiment of evil. In western European medieval manuscripts, the Devil was often attributed serpent-like features, such as pointed horns or ears and a long thin tail. These characteristics likely have their roots in the story of the fall of man in the Book of Genesis, and Eve's temptation by a serpent.

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Add 11695, f 40r
Detail of a miniature of Adam and Eve in Paradise from a map of the world: from the Silos Apocalypse, Northern Spain (Santo Domingo de Silos), 1091–1109, Additional MS 11695, f. 40r

When the Devil appears in the New Testament, it is also in the guise of temptation. After his baptism, Christ fasted in the Judaean Desert for 40 days and 40 nights, during which he was tempted by the Devil. Christ managed to refuse each temptation and the Devil was thwarted. This scene is often depicted in illustrated Psalters, such as this 13th-century manuscript. This Devil’s horned head, spiked tail and cloven feet all bear sharp resemblance to features which we associate with devils today. 

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Detail of a miniature of the First Temptation of Christ: from a Psalter, England (Oxford), c. 1200–1225, Arundel MS 157, f. 5v

In medieval manuscripts, the Devil was often accompanied by an entourage of demons who shared a similar appearance to their master. It is possible to see smaller demons following the Devil in the image below, who is being chased away by a monk. The Devil and his demons represent the sin and temptation which the monks were seeking to avoid. Hopefully this aggressive method of resistance was a success for the monk!

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Detail of a bas de page scene: from the Smithfield Decretals, Southern France (Toulouse), c. 1300–1340, Royal 10 E IV, f. 247r

Although these devils share the horned and cloven footed appearance of the Devil in the illustration of the temptation of Christ, they also have marked differences. These devils are clearly brown instead of red, and they lack the fearsome wings and tail of the red devil. The image below depicts another example of this slightly cheeky and light-hearted Devil, who is giving orders to his minions.  

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Royal 19 C I f.33r
Detail of the prince of devils sending out two devils: from a copy of
Matfre Ermengaud's Breviari d'Amor, Southern France (Toulouse), early 14th century, Royal MS 19 C I, f. 33r

In the first part of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Dante and Vergil arrive at the Gates of Hell and are greeted by the Devil. In illustrated manuscripts of the text, this Devil is portrayed in more serious fashion than the previous examples. The spiked wings, horns, tail and staff gave the Devil an extremely evil appearance, and prophesised the horrors which awaited Dante and Vergil as they descended further into Hell.

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Detail of bas-de-page scene of Dante and Virgil entering the Gates of Hell (left); the lukewarm, stung by insects, holding a banner and Dante and Virgil (centre) addressed by Charon, portrayed as a winged Devil (above right); souls going up a gangplank and Dante lying in a faint, (right) from Canto 3 of the Inferno: Add MS 19587, f. 4r

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Bas-de-page scene of Dante and Virgil observing Satan swallowing his victims, with figures of those who betrayed their benefactors, such as Brutus and Judas Iscariot, frozen in ice below, from Canto 34 of the Inferno: Add MS 19587, f. 58r

Just as the devil was depicted in different ways in medieval manuscripts, so too was the entrance to Hell. Equally popular as the Gates of Hell found in Dante’s Divine Comedy was the Hell-mouth. Hell was often shown as a bottomless pit into which sinners were swallowed up through a great jaw. Although classical mythology contains tales of heroes falling into the jaws of monsters and failing to emerge, the significance of this trope in the medieval period lies in Scripture.

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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 Hell-mouth represented the fusion of four main images: Hell as an open pit which swallowed sinners; Satan represented as a lion seeking souls to devour; Satan depicted as a dragon spouting flames; and Leviathan, the great sea beast from the Old Testament. To read and see more about depictions of the Hell-mouth, see our previous blogpost delightfully entitled, Prepare to Meet Your Doom.


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Full page miniature of an angel holding the key of the bottomless pit, and a chain attached to the neck of a Devil in a Hell-mouth (Revelation 20:1-3): from a copy of Apocalypse in German, Germany (Thuringia, possibly Erfurt), c. 1350–1370, Add MS 15243, f. 34r

The Medieval Manuscripts team wishes everyone a Happy Halloween. Hopefully,  these images of terrifying (and sometimes cheeky) devils will inspire everyone to keep their frivolities safe and free of sin, lest you be swallowed up by a beastly Hell-mouth and condemned to an eternity of torments!

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St Peter fends off a devil: from the New Minster Liber Vitae, England (Winchester), c. 1031, Stowe MS 944, f. 7r

 Rebecca Lawton

@BLMedieval/@bbeckyL

29 October 2016

Lindisfarne Gospels: Back on Display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery

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We are delighted to announce that the Lindisfarne Gospels is now back on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery.

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Decorated letters and words at the beginning of Jerome’s preface to the Gospels (Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 3r)

Created around 700 on the island of Lindisfarne, the Lindisfarne Gospels is thought to be the work of a single artist and scribe, perhaps a monk called Eadfrith, who was bishop of Lindisfarne from 698 until his death in 722. In addition to the original Latin, the Lindisfarne Gospels includes the earliest known translation of the Bible in English. The Old English translation was added to the manuscript by a monk named Aldred, provost of the monastic community at Chester-le-Street, near Durham, in the 10th century. Aldred wrote the Old English version in small letters above each word of the original Latin.

On display now is part of a series of prefaces to the Gospels, featuring a letter written by Eusebius of Caesaria (d. 339) explaining the organisational tables he devised for the Gospels. These are known as the ‘Eusebian Canons’, which function as a system of cross-reference within the Gospels, and predate the division of the Bible into chapters. Each of the ten canons lists episodes, identified by section numbers, held in common by all four Gospels, or any combination of three, two and only one. In the Lindisfarne Gospels the word ‘Eusebius’ is highly stylised, with intertwined bird heads, and a crouching dog-like animal in the centre of the ‘E’.

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Initial ‘E’ for ‘Eusebius’ (Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 8r)

Prefatory material — explanations of specific translations, letters between theologians, or commentaries by Biblical scholars discussing religious theories, among others — is found in many medieval Bibles. For example, the Lindisfarne Gospels also includes a letter of St Jerome (c. 347–420) to Pope Damasus I (c. 305–384) describing his new translation of the Bible into Latin, which the pope had requested (see the image above). Jerome’s translation, known as the Vulgate, became the standard Latin version of the Bible and is still in use today as the Catholic Church’s official Latin Bible. Jerome’s letter to Damasus, titled the Novum opus (New Work), is a justification and explanation of his work, and can be found at the very beginning of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

The Lindisfarne Gospels is fully digitised on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site, and you can read more about various aspects of the Lindisfarne Gospels in our other blogposts here and here. For conservation reasons, we change the pages on display on a regular basis; so be sure to check back in three months’ time to read about the new pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels on view.

The Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery is free to enter and open to all members of the public. It is open seven days a week. More information, including current opening hours, can be found here.

Taylor McCall

@BLMedieval/@taylorjmccall

27 October 2016

An African Abbot in Anglo-Saxon England

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To commemorate Black History Month in the United Kingdom, today we remember one of the Africans to live in Anglo-Saxon England. The man in question was Hadrian (d. 709), the abbot of St Peter’s and St Paul’s at Canterbury, who played a pivotal role in the development of church structures in what is now England.

A page from the Tiberius Bede, showing a large decorated initial.
Bede’s description of Hadrian, beginning column 2 line 18, from his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, England (Canterbury?), c. 825: Cotton MS Tiberius C II, f. 94r.

According to Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (completed in 731), Hadrian was ‘vir natione Afir’ (translated as 'a man of African race' by Bertram Colgrave and R.A.B. Mynors), who spoke both Greek and Latin. Some scholars have suggested that Hadrian was Amazigh, and that he came from the area that is now Libya. There are a series of Biblical commentaries (surviving in a manuscript in Milan) that were derived from notes on Hadrian’s teaching at his school at Canterbury, and these include references and vocabulary that were specific to north Africa. For example, there are notes on a beautiful bird called a porphyrio, 'said to be found in Libya' ('in Libia sit'). 

A detail of North Africa from an 11th-century map of the world.
Detail of North Africa, from a world map in a scientific collection, England, mid-11th century: Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, f. 56v.

Hadrian may have been forced to flee the Arab invasions of North Africa. At any rate he arrived in Italy as young man. In Europe, he had a remarkable career as the emperor’s translator, diplomat and abbot of a monastery near Naples. He was then sent by Pope Vitalian to accompany Theodore of Tarsus, the newly-appointed archbishop of Canterbury, to Kent. They arrived in 668. The two men immediately set about touring the archdiocese, restructuring the Church in what is now England by dividing large dioceses into smaller ones, and legislating through regular synods. They also created an internationally renowned school at Canterbury where they may have introduced the study of Greek to Anglo-Saxons.

Among the students of that school was Aldhelm, later bishop of Sherborne, who was considered a pre-eminent scholar by many of his contemporaries. Aldhelm praised the school in his letters, including one to Hadrian himself, in which he described Hadrian as his 'revered father and respected teacher' and himself as a 'humble pupil of your holiness'. In another letter, Aldhelm scolded his young correspondent for going to study in Ireland when Hadrian and Theodore offered better educational opportunities in Kent. Manuscripts of Aldhelm’s letters have recently been digitised by the British Library and are now available online (Royal MS 6 A VI and Cotton MS Domitian A IX).

  A detail from an 11th-century manuscript, showing part of Aldhelm's letter to Hadrian.
Passage from Aldhelm's letter to Heahfrith where he praises Hadrian as 'endowed with ineffably pure urbanity', the moon to Archbishop Theodore's sun, England (Canterbury?), 1st half of the 11th century: Royal MS 6 A VI, f. 8v.

Judging from commentaries from his school and his students' writings, Hadrian can be credited with introducing Anglo-Saxons to a whole range of ideas, from astronomical thought inherited from Plato and Aristotle to the commemoration of Neapolitan saints venerated at his old monastery in Italy. He may even have influenced Anglo-Saxon literature through types of riddles: Aldhelm also wrote a book of riddles explicitly inspired by the North African writer Symphosius, whose enigmas may have been brought by Hadrian to England.

A page from an early 11th-century collection of Aldhelm's Riddles, showing his prologue to the work.
Aldhelm's prologue invoking Symphosius, from Aldhelm's Riddles, England (Canterbury?), c. 1000: Royal MS 12 C XXIII, f. 79v.

One of the earliest books known to have been owned in post-Roman Britain also came from Africa, perhaps from Carthage. This book contains a 4th-century copy of letters by another North African, Cyprian. Although this manuscript is now fragmentary, it was once an impressive codex, in fine uncial script and with the Biblical passages picked out in red. This book had come to England by the 8th century, because someone writing in early English script annotated, expanded and added to some of the words. These letters undoubtedly influenced 8th-century Anglo-Saxon writers, including Bede, who quoted from them. Some scholars have suggested that Hadrian himself may have brought this African manuscript to the British Isles.

A detail from a 4th-century manuscript of the letters of Cyprian.

Detail of one of the earliest books known to have been owned in Anglo-Saxon England, containing the letters of Cyprian, North Africa, 4th century: Add MS 40165 A, f. 2r.

A detail from a 4th-century manuscript of the letters of Cyprian, showing an 8th-century annotation to the text.
Details of the letters ‘vr’ added to the manuscript in England by the 8th century: Add MS 40165 A, f. 2v.

According to Bede, Hadrian had been reluctant to come to Kent, so much so that he turned down an offer to be made archbishop of Canterbury and instead nominated several others for that office, including his eventual companion, Theodore. Nevertheless, Hadrian stayed in England for 41 years, and his influence has lasted much longer. He was remembered in saints' Lives at Canterbury later in the Middle Ages, and he helped to shape religious structures and literary traditions which remain in England today.

The opening of Goscelin's Life of Hadrian, showing a large decorated initial.
Beginning of Goscelin's Life of Hadrian, England (Canterbury), 1st quarter of the 12th century: Cotton MS Vespasian B XX, f. 233r.

Alison Hudson

@BLMedieval

25 October 2016

Wonders of Thread: The V&A’s Opus Anglicanum Exhibition

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Until 5 February 2017, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is providing a unique opportunity to view some of the most incredible survivals of pre-modern art in Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery. If you have even a remote interest in the medieval world, textiles, handicrafts or the rituals of society, you won't be disappointed.

The exhibition includes six manuscripts loaned by the British Library, and also available to view on our Digitised Manuscripts site. The curators have brilliantly displayed these alongside works of embroidery to show how they influenced one another in terms of iconography, historical context, and production techniques.

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An angel with John Grandisson’s arms: Add MS 21926, f. 2r

Among the manuscripts on display is the ‘Grandisson Psalter’, Add MS 21926, owned by John Grandisson. Next to the book, showing the image of an angel added to the front of the book displaying John's coat of arms, are other objects that he owned and commissioned. The exhibition shows how artwork did not simply sit to be admired, but was a part of a process that allowed members of society to communicate with one another and promote coherence as a community.

The interplay between the artistic styles of manuscripts and embroidery between the 12th and 15th centuries is among the most eye-opening aspects of the exhibition. This gives the opportunity to compare at first hand disparate treasures such as the Syon Cope, highlighted online, with the 'Holkham Bible Picture Book', Add MS 47682:

Christ creating Adam and Eve: Add MS 47682, f. 3r

Christ creating Adam and Eve: Add MS 47682, f. 3r

Other British Library manuscripts in the exhibition are 'Sir Thomas Holme's Book of Arms', Harley MS 4205; the 'De Lisle Psalter' in Arundel MS 83; the 13th-century Psalter of Harley MS 5102; and a sketch of John the Baptist in Royal MS 10 B XIV.

Manuscripts were not created in a vacuum, and this is a rare opportunity to compare them not only with needlework but also with panel paintings, metalwork and sculpture. There has not been a major exhibit on its subject since 1963. If you can't make it to London before February, Clare Browne, Glyn Davies and M. A. Michael have produced the book English Medieval Embroidery: Opus Anglicanum, beautifully illustrated and thoroughly researched.

Andrew Dunning

@BLMedieval/@anjdunning