THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

54 posts categorized "Religion"

04 November 2016

Jerusalem 1000-1400: Four Gospels in Arabic

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In a recent post in our Medieval Manuscripts blog (Every People Under Heaven), Cillian O'Hogan wrote about the early 13th century Harley Greek Gospels and the 12th century Melisende Psalter and its ivories which are currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a stunning exhibition Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven. With some 200 exhibits from 60 lenders from all over the world, the exhibition tells the story of Jerusalem, a polyglot city and cultural centre during the Crusades, the rule of the Ayyubids and the Mamluk Empire. In this post I will highlight one of our Arabic loans, Add.MS.11856, a translation of the four Gospels, copied in Palestine in 1336.

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Double page opening to the Gospel of St. Matthew. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, ff. 1v-2r)
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Portrait of St. Matthew followed by the translator's prayer and introduction to the Gospel of St. Matthew. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, ff. 2v-3r)
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Although the Bible may have been translated into Arabic as early as the late seventh century, it was during the eighth and especially the ninth centuries that translations were made under Christian patronage. These were produced in the multilingual monastic communities of Palestine. The earliest surviving dated manuscript of the Gospels in Arabic is dated 859 and is in the library of the Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai (Griffith, p. 113). In his 'Abridged List of the Arabic Gospel Manuscripts' Hikmat Kashouh (below, pp. 55-8) lists 18 copies in the British Library collections of which the oldest, Add.MS.14467, dates from the 10th century. Add.MS.11856 is a copy of what became known as the Arabic Vulgate version which, translated from Greek, Syriac and Coptic, developed by the 13th century and remained the standard Arabic version until modern times.

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Opening to the Gospel of St. Mark. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 59r)
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Portrait of St. Mark. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 59v)
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Our manuscript, Add.MS.11856, was completed on 20 Jumada I AH 737 (25 Dec. 1336) and includes four portraits of the evangelists, a double page illuminated heading at the beginning and three single page headings at the start of the following Gospels. The copyist was Yūsuf ibn Walī al-Dawlah Mīkhāʼīl ibn Faḍl Allāh, the Treasury scribe (kātib al-khizānah). Originating in Palestine, the manuscript had various owners, one being the early Albanian writer and national hero Peter Bogdani (ca. 1630-89), Archbishop of Skopje and alumnus of the Collegio di Propaganda Fide, Rome, to which he subsequently presented it. It was acquired in 1841 by the British Museum as part of the collection of Samuel Butler (1774-1839), Bishop of Lichfield.

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Opening to the Gospel of St. Luke. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 95r)
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Portrait of St. Luke. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 95v)
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Perhaps the most striking feature of this manuscript is its illumination and decoration which clearly demonstrate the cosmopolitan nature of the community in which it was written. Each Gospel is introduced by a portrait of its author holding a copy of the book, but whereas these portraits are based on Byzantine models, the opening and the introductory leaves to each Gospel are richly decorated in a carpet page design - so called because of its close resemblance to intricately woven carpets - which is in keeping with Qur'ans dating from the Mamluk period. The opening of each Gospel consists of two illuminated bands containing the title above and below while the central panel is filled with an abstract geometrical pattern. Decorative rosettes in the margins complete the design.

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Opening to the Gospel of St. John. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 157r)
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Portrait of St. John. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 157v)
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The exhibition Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven is open at the Met. until 8 January 2017. If you don't have the opportunity to go in person, there is a detailed catalogue available by the exhibition curators Barbara Drake Boehm and Melanie Holcomb.

This manuscript has now been digitised and will shortly be available on our Digitised Manuscripts site, so watch this space for more details!


Further reading

W. Cureton and C. Rieu, Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum orientalium qui in Museo Britannico asservantur. Pars secunda, codices arabicos amplectens. London: British Museum, 1846-71, pp. 11-13.
Barbara Drake Boehm and Melanie Holcomb, Jerusalem, 1000-1400 : every people under heaven. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016.
Hikmat Kashouh, The Arabic Versions of the Gospels: the Manuscripts and their Families, Berlin: De Gruyter, c2012.
Sidney H. Griffith, The Bible in Arabic: the Scriptures of the "People of the Book" in the Language of Islam. Princeton: Princeton University Press, c2013.


Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies, with thanks, for help, to Colin Baker
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25 July 2016

Jainism in the early 19th Century: Drawings from the Mackenzie Collection

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The British Library holds over a thousand Jain manuscripts, most of which were collected in the 19th Century, by Indologists and East India Company officials. In a recent blog, Pasquale Manzo, the British Library’s Sanskrit curator, gives an overview of these manuscripts, and news that 33 of them have been digitised.

One of the collectors mentioned in this previous blog is Colin Mackenzie, the first Surveyor General of India. There are 21 Jain manuscripts, 18 of which are palm leaf manuscripts from Karnataka’s Digambara tradition, in the British Library’s Mackenzie Collection.

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The outer ‘patli’ wooden boards of this manuscript are decorated with a blue and gold border, and with pink flowers and green leaves. A red silk cord runs through a hole in the palm leaves, which holds the manuscript together. When closed, the manuscript was secured by the cord, which was wrapped around the patli boards. The label recording the manuscript's despatch to London in 1825 is attached. (BL Mackensie XII.14 cover and label)  noc

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Illustrated folios from the Navagrahakundalaksana, in an 18th Century palm leaf manuscript from the Digambara tradition, collected by Colin Mackenzie in Karnataka in the early 19th Century (BL Mackenzie XII.14, ff. 2-3)  noc

Palm leaf Digambara manuscripts like this are extremely rare, but what makes the Mackenzie Collection’s Jain holdings even more amazing is the other materials, such as drawings and transcribed oral accounts, which were gathered in Karnataka at the same time, between 1799 and 1810, when Mackenzie was conducting the Survey of Mysore.

Armed with a team of military draftsmen and Indian translators, Mackenzie’s attempts to learn about Jainism went beyond the standard Orientalist practice of collecting manuscripts. The draftsmen made drawings of a broad range of subjects, and the translators interviewed important members of the Jain community. Below are some drawings that were collected contemporaneously to the manuscripts and oral accounts.

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North view of Vindyagiri Hill, Sravana Belgola (Karnataka), 17 August, 1806 (BL WD576)  noc

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Sculptures at Sravana Belgola (Karnataka), 1801 (WD1065, folio 57)  noc

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A Jain from Tumkur (Karnataka), May 1800 (BL WD1069, f.24)  noc

The drawings relating to Jainism in the British Library’s Mackenzie Collection are unique because they were gathered alongside such a wide variety of other materials at the same time and in the same region of India. Together, they provide a fascinating record of Jainism in Karnataka over 200 years ago.

Further Reading:
Balbir, Nalini...[et al], Catalogue of the Jain Manuscripts in the British Library: including the holdings of the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: British Library and Institute of Jainology, 2006.
Boriah, Kavali Venkata. “Account of the Jains: Collected from a Priest of this Sect, at Midgeri: Translated by Cavelly Boria, Brahmen for Major C. Mackenzie.” Asiatick Researches, 9 (1809): 244-256
Howes, Jennifer. “Illustrated Jaina Collections in the British Library.” In Hegewald, J. Jaina Painting and Manuscript Culture, Berlin: EB Verlag, 2015: 245-66

 

Jennifer Howes, Independent Art Historian
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22 October 2015

Marking the Aftermath of the Massacre at Karbala: New manuscripts of the Mukhtarnamah

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Muḥarram is the first month of the Islamic lunar Hijrī calendar and considered, along with Ramaz̤ān (the ninth month) and others, to be one of the sacred months marked for pious observances. Culminating with the day of ʿāshūrāʾ (literally, the ‘tenth’ day – this year falling on Friday, 23 October 2015), the first ten days of Muḥarram hold particular significance. This period coincides with remembrances of the military confrontation between two rival factions claiming legitimacy over the political succession and moral leadership of the early Islamic community.

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Muharram festival. Gouache on mica. Benares or Patna style, 1830-40 (British Library Add.Or.401)
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Two important figures in the Arabian peninsula, 1) Imām Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī, the grandson of the Prophet Muḥammad, and 2) ʿAbd Allāh ibn al-Zubayr (d. 73/692), a distant relative, refused to submit to the authority of Yazīd ibn Muʿāviyah (d. 64/683), the newly succeeding Umayyad caliph ruling in Damascus. Angered by this, Yazīd dispatched southward a large force to eliminate all rebels. Invited to take power in Kufa in place of Yazīd’s appointed governor, Ḥusayn, his extended family, and a small military contingent departed Medina via Mecca, but were confronted en route at Karbala, then a desolate and arid desert location. On the tenth day of Muḥarram or ʿāshūrāʾ, Ḥusayn and his companions were massacred (10 Muḥarram 61/10 October 680), leaving only a few survivors.

Celebrating the exploits of Amīr Abū Isḥāq Mukhtār ibn Abū ʿUbaydah ibn Masʿūd al-Thaqafī (d. 67/687), an early rebel leader of the southern Iraqi city of Kufa, a previously unknown version of the Mukhtārnāmah has recently come to light. Read for its narrative of events connecting to ʿāshūrāʾ commemorations, the Mukhtārnāmah’s importance extends beyond pure biography to encompass political, religious, and ethical themes of perennial interest to Muslim communities across the world.

The Mukhtārnāmah records how, learning of the atrocities while in Kufa, Mukhtār joined the wave of revulsion reverberating through the region. He later came to challenge competing Umayyad and Zubayrid claims for the caliphate by ruling Kufa and other parts of Iraq as an independent emirate, while pursuing revenge against the named perpetrators of atrocities against Ḥusayn and his family. Although his rebellion did not last long, Mukhtār’s doomed stand against tyranny and reverence for the Prophet Muḥammad’s family were admired by contemporaries and preserved in various literary forms for later generations to honour as part of annual ʿāshūrāʾ commemorations.

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Opening page from the recently discovered Mukhtārnāmah  dating from the early nineteenth century. Though decorated with an illuminated headpiece and interlinear gilding, the slightly awkward scribal quality of the nastaʿlīq hand continues throughout (British Library IO Islamic 3716, f. 1v)
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The recently discovered manuscript of the Mukhtārnāmah (IO Islamic 3716) is an anonymous version in simple prose, completed by Aṣghar ʿAlī Bayg known as Sangī Bayg for Mirzā Khudā Bakhsh Bayg Khān, 19 Muḥarram 1228/22 January 1813. Though it lacks a preface or introduction, the narrative is arranged into several majālis or gatherings, which help contextualise the work’s recitation in ʿāshūrāʾ-related gatherings in mosques and imāmbārahs.

The British Library holds another older copy (Or.10948), also in prose, dated 1[0]96/1684-5, the text of which is similarly arranged into majālis. Crucially, its narrative differs from IO Islamic 3716 in style and occasionally in points of detail, as well as unsatisfactorily beginning without the first complete majlis (singular of majālis). The later Mukhtārnāmah (IO Islamic 3716) presents a more complete narrative and deserves to be studied closely.

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Opening from the earlier Mukhtārnāmah , showing the original late-seventeenth-century illuminated text transcribed in naskh on the left (f. 2r), and a simpler near-contemporary replacement folio, also in naskh, on the right (f. 1v). Though both versions are in prose, the content of this version differs from the recently discovered Mukhtārnāmah (above) (British Library Or.10948, ff. 1v-2r)
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Sâqib Bâburî, Asian and African Studies
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31 March 2015

What to give the English king who has everything?

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Today's post is by one of our readers, Dr. Shamma Boyarin, Assistant Teaching Professor in Religious Studies, Medieval Studies, and English at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. He specializes in medieval Hebrew and Arabic literatures, with focus on philosophical and astronomical texts and cross-cultural influences between Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities.

Last summer I had the chance to work with some Hebrew manuscripts at the British Library. While I had a few specific items I wanted to examine, I also took the opportunity to look at a variety of books beyond my specific expertise (medieval Hebrew romances and philosophical and astronomical texts). I wanted both to acquire broader exposure to Hebrew scripts of various centuries, regions, and manuscript types, and to see what I might discover by accident as it were. It is one of these “extra” manuscripts I will discuss here: MS Royal 16 A II, a Hebrew book made for King Henry VIII.

One might imagine a book for a king to be big, or lavishly ornamented with many illustrations, or to feature use of gold leaf and other expensive pigments, perhaps to include a depiction of the king’s arms or other decorative elements tying the codex to its royal owner. But this is not at all the case with Royal 16 A II, which is comparatively small (102mm x 66mm, with only 49 paper folios) and contains no images or adornment. It appears to be a rather humble gift for a king.

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Spine and eighteenth century binding with British Museum stamp (Museum Britannicum) of MS Royal 16 A II
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Two things make this little book very special, however. The first is a long Latin encomium of its recipient King Henry VIII (running from folio 2r-22r), and the second is the book’s gift to the king: Hebrew translations of two short books of the New Testament, the Epistle of St James (running from folio 23r-43v) and the Epistle of St Jude (folios 44r-49v).

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“The Epistle of James [Yaakov] the Apostle” (f. 23r) and “The Epistle of Jude [Yehudah] the Apostle” (f. 44r)
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The codex, which reads right to left, begins with a Latin dedication page (folio 1v), which translated reads:

To the most invincible King of England and France, Lord of Ireland, Defender of the Catholic Faith, and in Earth Supreme Head, Henry, eighth of his name, John Shepreve wishes lasting happiness.

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Dedication to Henry VIII (f. 1v)
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Henry was given the title fidei defensor by Pope Leo X in 1521, after his composition Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martinum Lutherum (“Declaration of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther”), and it was officially removed by Pope Paul III in 1535, after Henry broke with the Catholic Church. Although later, in 1544, Parliament restored the title as an expression of the king’s role in the Church of England, this was after John Schepreve (our author and translator) died. We also know that the title “Supreme Head of the Church of England” was used commonly only after the 1534 Act of Supremacy, and that the Latin in terra supremum caput Anglicanae ecclesiae does not seem to appear in the style of the sovereign until 1534. (See J. Frank Henderson’s “Sovereign and Pope in English Bidding Prayers,” especially the “Appendix: Titles of Henry VIII,” collated from David Wilkins, Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae, vol. 3, London, 1737). The presence of the fidei defensor title, the odd use of the in terra supremum caput title without the Anglicanae ecclesiae qualification, and what we know of the author and translator’s biography, suggests a date for this manuscript, then, very close to 1534.

As the dedication indicates, the man who wrote the Latin encomium and translated the New Testament epistles into Hebrew was Johannes Scheprevus, that is, John Shepreve. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Shepreve was Professor of Hebrew at Corpus Christi College, Oxford by 1538. He also had an authoritative command of Greek (having read in Greek at Corpus Christi from 1528), and of course Latin. J. Andreas Löwe’s assessment in the DNB is that, while Shepreve had deep ties to the Roman Catholic Church (his nephew William Shepreve was a Roman Catholic priest), and later in his life  “described pre-Reformation religious practice with … affection” and doubtless remained religiously “conservative,” he nevertheless “probably subscribed to the royal supremacy.” Shepreve died in July 1542.

Shepreve’s Hebrew script in Royal 16 A II is very clear and easily readable, and he vowels words for pronunciation throughout. He does have one interesting characteristic that I have not seen before (perhaps common amongst Christian Hebraists of the time?): he adopts a final form of the letter ל, which traditionally does not have a distinct final form. See here:

Regular ל   Untitled  and “final”  ל   Untitled.

While most of the time Shepreve’s translation is understandable, sometimes it is not, or seems awkward, mainly due to incorrect (though never random) usage. So, for example he uses the word  23v  (f. 23v, in James 1:3-4), tikvah, which means “hope,” where the Douay-Rheims has “patience” (Vulgate patientia) and, likewise, a modern Hebrew translation has “סַבְלָנוּת” (savlanut, straightforwardly meaning “patience”). This suggests, perhaps, that Shepreve is working exclusively from the Greek, where the equivalent (hupomonē), as I understand it, connotes hopefulness as well as patience.

In one case, Shepreve seemingly misses an obvious biblical reference in translating a quotation from Leviticus 19:18 (“love thy neighbor as thyself” in James 2:8) semantically correctly (leaving out “as thyself”), but failing to use the actual corresponding phrase found in the  Hebrew Bible וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵֶעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ (this even though later on the same page he correctly identifies the references to the Ten Commandments in James 2:11):

29v “love thy neighbour” (29v).

However, occasionally he manages a poetic turn in Hebrew that is quite beautiful, such as, on f. 24r:
24r

That is, “A double minded man is inconstant in all his ways” (James 1:8). Shepreve’s Hebrew version rhymes the two clauses of the sentence, and his formulation of nod yanud, literally “wanders,” has a peculiarly biblical lilt (though this specific formulation does not actually appear in the Hebrew Bible). A more contemporary Hebrew translation reads:  בִּהְיוֹתוֹ אִישׁ הַפּוֹסֵחַ עַל שְׁתֵּי הַסְּעִפִּים הֲפַכְפַּךְ בְּכָל דְּרָכָיו (the modern Hebrew translation I am using for comparison can be found here).

Occasionally Shepreve’s translations make sense, but only if you know the original (presumably the Greek) source, for example (f. 47r):
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This word, ahavoteychem, means “your loves” or “your beloved things,” from Jude 1:12, and is rendered as “your feasts of charity” in the King James Version. It is, for Shepreve and for the King James translators, from Gk. agapē, which can mean “love” or “charity” but in this context “love-feasts.” Needless to say, the Hebrew word Shepreve chooses does not elsewhere denote feasting or fellowship.

Shepreve has a habit of writing to the end of the line, regardless of space available, but he will start a word over on the next line if he cannot fit it in. These incomplete words are never voweled, as illustrated, for example, by the unvowelled letters at the end of lines on folio 47r:

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Unvowelled letters at the end (on the left) of lines on folio 47r
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But Shepreve is clearly very careful about his work: on occasion, he skips a word and goes back to add it upon realizing the omission or checking his work, as here (f. 44v):
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It seems likely that further examination of this little codex will prove fruitful to both scholars of Henry VIII and scholars of Christian Hebraism in the sixteenth century, a time when Jewish scholars (still under the 1290 edict of expulsion) were almost certainly absent from England. What exactly was Shepreve translating from? Are the idiosyncrasies of his script and translation common among Christian Hebraicists of the era, or are they particular to English practice? Would Henry VIII have requested Hebrew translation of New Testament books? Why these two epistles, and could the king have used this book, or might he have wanted to learn, to pronounce Hebrew himself? Henry VIII established the Regius Professorship of Hebrew at Oxford in 1546 (four years after Shepreve’s death), so it is not impossible that the he held a longstanding intellectual and religious interest in the language. Perhaps John Shepreve and his book had a part in shaping that interest.

Because of current academic disciplinary divides and archival practices (for example, the separation of reading rooms for western manuscripts and manuscripts in “Asian and African” languages), experts on Henry VIII and the Reformation may not easily share or glean knowledge from experts in Hebrew (or Greek) manuscripts or scripts. Exploration of books like this, however, reminds me that pooling our expertise is often necessary in manuscript studies—and such scholarly collaboration will no doubt yield dividends for understanding this fascinating little gift, fit for an English king.

A fully digitized copy of MS Royal 16 A II can be explored here.

Those interested in Christian Hebraism might also like to peruse Sloane MS 237, a seventeenth-century translation into Hebrew of a small portion of the Book of Revelation; Harley MS 5239, a seventeenth-century Hebrew Book of Genesis with interlinear French translation; or Add MS 11659, an early-nineteenth-century translation of the gospels into Hebrew.

 

Shamma Boyarin,  University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada
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My thanks to Adrienne Williams Boyarin and Justine Semmens Ash for their help with Latin and with dating issues. 

08 December 2014

William Beckford's albums on Hindu mythology

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The English novelist and noted bibliophile William Beckford is highlighted in the British Library’s current exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: the Gothic Imagination’. Exhibition curators (Greg Buzwell, Tanya Kirk and Tim Pye) feature Beckford’s Gothic novel Vathek as one of the earliest examples in this style. Beckford’s masterpiece expressed the ‘orientalist vision of hell’ and Beckford achieved this by combining ‘the fantastical, the perverse and the demonic to produce a remarkable Gothic novel’.

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William Beckford by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Oil on canvas, 1782. National Portrait Gallery, NPG 5340
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Visitors to the exhibition and readers of this blog may be interested to learn that Beckford (1760-1844) was an avid collector of prints, drawings, paintings and travel accounts relating to the Indian subcontinent and China. In fact, after Beckford’s first edition of Vathek was printed in 1786, he acquired an extensive collection of albums of Indian miniature paintings from the collection of the Swiss mercenary Antoine-Louis Henri Polier (1741-95), who was employed by the East India Company. Allegedly, the acquisition was arranged through the artist Vincent Brandoin, a friend to both Beckford and Polier, possibly around the time of Polier’s death. Lucian Harris, who researched the history of Beckford’s collection of Indian paintings, suggests that Beckford’s ‘albums of Indian miniatures probably constituted the largest body of such material in private ownership in Britain in the early nineteenth century’ and by 1819 ‘he owned about twenty-three or twenty-four albums of Indian material’.

Reputed to be one of the wealthiest men in England after inheriting a fortune at the age of ten, he amassed one of the greatest collections of art and books. Due to financial difficulties relating to his plantations in Jamaica, a major part of his library at Fonthill Abbey was disposed at auction between the years 1807-1823.  At the sale of 6 May 1817, the highest price paid for a single lot was obtained for the two volumes of miniatures ‘representing the system of Indian Mythology’, from the personal collection of Colonel A. L. H. de Polier, £267.15s0d’ (Gemmett 1972, p. 52). These albums changed hands several times, purchased by Beckford’s solicitor Mr. White in 1817 and later sold by a Mr. G. Baumgartner in 1894 to the British Museum (see Losty 1982, p. 150).

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An opening from Volume 1 on Hindu mythology showing Varaha the boar avatar, bearing on the tip of his tusk the Earth depicted as a cone containing mountains and sky with the goddess within it, the demon Hiranyaksa lying supine below, his arms cut off. Lucknow, c. 1780. British Library, Or.4769, f. 11  noc

Antoine Polier is one of the most significant patrons of late Mughal painting in the 18th century in northern India. In 1773, Polier was assigned by the Company to the court of Navab Shuja al-Daula of Avadh serving as the chief engineer and architect. In the town of Faizabad, Polier established a small studio of artists who worked at his residence. According to Polier’s letters at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the studio was led by the painter Mihr Chand and supported by two other junior artists, whose names have yet to be corroborated with artistic evidence. Mihr Chand and his colleagues were commissioned to paint portraits of the provincial governor Navab Shuja al-Daula, portraits of Mughal emperors, topographical views of Agra, Kashmir and Delhi, as well as copies of seventheenth century Mughal and Deccani paintings acquired by the French mercenary and Faizabad resident Jean-Baptiste Gentil. Between 1773-86, the studio assembled at least fifteen albums of paintings featuring early Mughal and Deccani paintings purchased by Polier and the new commissions. An example of Mihr Chand's style is featured below.
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Portrait of Asaf al-Daula, Navab of Avadh by Mihr Chand, 1773-75. British Library, Add.Or.4390 noc

Antoine Polier also commissioned the two volumes on Hindu mythology (mentioned above) between 1773-86. Each volume (British Library Or.4769 and Or.4770) contains 32 folios with miniature paintings surrounded by decorative floral borders. The floral borders are consistent with other albums prepared for Polier. Inside the first volume (Or.4769), there are 9 pages of text by Polier describing each of the paintings and entitled ‘Explanation of the drawings of Hindu Mythology’. These two volumes have significant art historical value as they cast light on Polier’s personal interest in the subject and his role as patron. None of the other albums that were commissioned by Polier include such detailed notes on the individual works. Nor is such information included in Polier's correspondence.

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Polier's notes inside the first volume on Hindu mythology, British Library, Or.4679.  noc

In viewing the paintings in the Hindu mythology volumes, it is immediately evident that these are incongruous to the style of paintings by Mihr Chand included in Polier’s albums. While the subject matter and delineation of the figures are traditional, the background landscapes are more simplistic; pale washes of colour are used to represent the sky or ground. Additionally, a formulaic approach is taken to casting shadows; thin dark shadows are drawn projecting behind figures. The overall compositional format is suggestive of European intervention. Although none of the paintings are signed and are by at least two different artists, they are stylistically similar to other paintings produced in Lucknow in the 1780s (see works commissioned by Richard Johnson).

Or.4769, f.2
Karma, standing four armed, haloed, bearing conch, discus, lotus and club, purple in colour with yellow dhoti and gold ornaments.  Lucknow, c. 1780. British Library, Or.4769, f.2.  noc

It is rather curious that William Beckford opted to sell these two volumes on Hindu mythology in 1817 while keeping many of the others. Although the contents of Beckford's library at Fonthill Abbey were up for sale over the years, the finest albums he acquired through Polier's collection were never sold. After his death in 1844, the albums were transferred to his daughter Susan, the Duchess of Hamilton, and kept at Hamilton Palace Library (Scotland). In 1882, the twelfth Duke of Hamilton privately sold twenty albums of Indian miniatures (along with other contents of the library) to the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin. Today, the Polier-Beckford-Hamilton albums can be viewed in the Museum for Islamic Art in Berlin. The two Polier-Beckford albums on Hindu mythology are kept in the British Library.

On a side note, William Beckford's Gothic revival country house Fontill Abbey which was demolished in 1846, is now featured in a video game - which allows gamers to explore the country house through an underwater journey. Perhaps this may be of interest to readers and Beckford fans.

Further reading:

Alam, M. and Alavi, S. (ed). A European Experience of the Mughal Orient: The I'jaz-i Arsalani (Persian Letters, 1773-1779) of Antoine-Louis-Henri Polier, Oxford University Press, Oxford & New Delhi, 2001.

Gemmett, R.J. (ed). Sale Catalogues of Emminent Persons, Volume 3, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London, 1972.

Gemmett, R. J. (ed). The Consummate Collector: William Beckford's Letters to His Bookseller, Michael Russell Publishing, Norwich, 2000.

Harris, L. 'Archibald Swinton: A New Source of Albums of Indian Miniatures in William Beckford's Collection, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 143, No. 1179, (June 2001), pp. 360-366.

Harris, L.  British collecting of Indian art and artifacts in the 18th and early 19th centuries (University of Sussex, 2002)

Losty, J.P., The Art of the Book in India, British Library, London, 1982.

Roy, M., "Origins of the late Mughal painting tradition in Awadh" in Markel and Gude, India's Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow, Prestel, 2010.

Roy, M., 'Some Unexpected Sources for the Paintings by the Artist Mihr Chand, son of Ganga Ram', South Asian Studies, Vol. 26: 1 (2010) pp. 21 — 29.

 

Malini Roy
Visual Arts Curator 

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20 November 2014

The beauty of palm leaf manuscripts (1): Central Thailand

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Palm leaves have been a popular writing support in South and Southeast Asia for about two thousand years. In Thailand, palm leaf manuscripts were produced mostly for religious, literary and historical texts, but also for works relating to astronomy and astrology, law, history, and traditional and Buddhist medicine.

Palmleaf1 Or5107
A royal court version of the Samantapāsādika-atthakathā-yojanā, British Library, Or 5107.  noc

Both the palmyra and talipot palms were used for the production of manuscripts in Thailand. The palm leaves, which were first boiled and then dried and sometimes smoked or baked in a kiln before being written on, are robust and can last for as long as 600 years even in the humid, tropical climate of South and Southeast Asia. Each leaf contains between 3 to 5 lines of writing, but occasionally we also find miniature illustrations or gilt ornaments decorating the text. In central Thailand, the text was mostly written either in Thai or in Khom script, which is a variant of Khmer script used in Cambodia. The writing was usually incised with a hard wood or metal stylus, after which soot or lampblack mixed with oil was wiped onto the leaves and then wiped off again, leaving the black pigment only in the incisions. In rare cases, black ink was used to write the text on to the palm leaves with a bamboo pen or a brush.

A bundle of leaves, called phūk in Thai, was usually fastened together with two cotton cords, which were threaded through two holes pierced through the leaves of the entire manuscript. Title indicators made from wood, bamboo or ivory, with the title or a very brief description of the contents of the manuscript, were sometimes tied to a palm-leaf manuscript in order to identify the text(s) contained within.

Valuable manuscripts or important Buddhist works were protected from physical damage with wooden boards, which could be beautifully carved, gilded, lacquered, or decorated with mother-of-pearl inlay. Sometimes, palm leaf manuscripts were wrapped in cotton or silk cloth, or were kept in custom-made gilt and lacquered wooden cases to protect them from damage by rodents, insects or water.

Shown at the top of this page is a manuscript consisting of fifteen bundles of palm leaves that contains part of a commentary on the Vinaya-pitaka. The manuscript is in Pali language, but written in Khom (Khmer) script, and dates back to the nineteenth century, between 1824 and 1851 A.D. Each section of this important Buddhist work has magnificent title leaves with gilt and black lacquer decorations showing celestial figures (devata) and flowery patterns.

Palmleaf2 Or 5701 detail
Detail of the front leaf of the third bundle of British Library, Or 5107.  noc

The wooden covers of this manuscript are lacquered black, with patterns of leaves and flowers in mother-of-pearl inlay. The manuscript is stored in a red silk and cotton wrapper of Indian origin with a gold thread pattern, made to order for the Thai royal court. This manuscript is of the same high standard as manuscripts given to Wat Chetuphon in Bangkok by King Mongkut (Rama IV).

Palmleaf3 Or_16753_f001r
Idyllic scenes from the heavenly Himavanta forest to accompany extracts from the Sutta-pitaka, painted on palm leaf. British Library, Or 16753.  noc

This fragmented manuscript shown above dates back to the early nineteenth century. The Pāli text is written with black ink in Khom (Khmer) script which was used in central Thailand mainly for Buddhist texts in Pali or in Thai language. Painted illustrations on palm leaves are very rare. Their production required special skills and experiences which only painters working for the royal court were able to acquire, hence the outstanding quality of these miniature-sized paintings.

Palmleaf4 coverOR_12524_fblefr
Covers belonging to a Paññāsa Jātaka manuscript, British Library, Or 12524. The wooden covers are decorated with black lacquer and gilt plant ornaments.  noc

Extra-canonical birth tales of the Buddha, known as Paññāsa Jātaka are popular all over mainland Southeast Asia.  This 19th century manuscript consists of 469 palm leaves with gilt edges, in ten bundles. The text is written in Khom (Khmer) script.

Palmleaf5 OR_12524_f001v
Detail of the second leaf of the first bundle of British Library, Or 12524, showing a heavenly crown.  noc

The manuscript has gilded front and back leaves for every bundle. Each leaf following a front leaf has two oval illustrations; one on the left showing a heavenly vihāra, and one on the right showing a heavenly crown in between two parasols.

Palmleaf6 Rylands
An ivory title indicator with a hand-woven title band for a Buddhist palm leaf manuscript containing an extract from the Patimokkha, the basic code of monastic discipline. John Rylands Library (Manchester), Pali MS 82.

This title indicator from the mid-nineteenth century is inscribed in Khom (Khmer) script, giving the title and number of palm-leaf bundles contained in the manuscript. It has a carved flowery design and a hole at one end to attach it to a rope that is wrapped around the manuscript. To the manuscript also belongs a piece of silk and cotton cloth similar to the one shown above in British Library Or 5107. The title band contains the same information as the ivory indicator. It has some similarities with Burmese sazigyo or woven title bands, but it is much shorter and attached to the same rope as the title indicator.

Title indicators and bands were important means of identifying manuscripts when these were stored together in huge wooden cabinets, often lavishly decorated with black or red lacquer, gilt, mother-of-pearl inlay or mirror glass inlay.

CaseOr_16820B
A wooden case from the 19th century with gilt and lacquer relief decorations showing heavenly deva figures (see detail below) and floral designs. The case was custom-made for one Buddhist palm-leaf manuscript, British Library Or.16820/B.  noc

CaseOr_16820Bdetail
Detail from the wooden case above, showing a guardian figure or deva on a flowery background made from metal wire, lacquer and very thin gold leaf. The metal wire circles used to be decorated with mirror glass inlay which has been lost. British Library Or.16820/B.  noc

There are three types of traditional manuscript storage caskets in Central Thailand: the single manuscript case, the chest and the cabinet. All three are usually made from wood, often beautifully carved or decorated with lacquer and gilt, or sometimes with intricate mother-of-pearl inlay. Cases for single manuscripts were specially made for valuable Buddhist works, such as manuscripts sponsored by members of the royal family or manuscripts that were produced for a special occasion like a monk’s ordination.

Further reading

Guy, John. Palm-leaf and paper, illustrated manuscripts of India and Southeast Asia. With an essay by O.P. Agrawal. Melbourne : National Gallery of Victoria, 1982

Kō̜ngkǣo Wīrapračhak. Khamphī bai lān chabap lūang nai samai Rattanakōsin. Bangkok: Krom Sinlapākō'n, 2527 [1987]

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian

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17 November 2014

Digital Hebrew treasures from the British Library collections

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In an earlier communication we informed our readers about a far-reaching 3-year project funded by the Polonsky Foundation, which aims to digitise 1250 Hebrew manuscripts held at the British Library, making them available to a global audience (Opening up the Hebrew collection).
The first 45 Hebrew manuscripts that went live on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site last April (45 Hebrew manuscripts go digital) included chiefly Hebrew Bibles, such as the supremely significant London Codex dating from c. 9th century (Or 4445), and the elegant Golden Haggadah a medieval Passover liturgy sumptuously illuminated in Catalonia in the 14th century (Add MS 27210).

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Detail of a miniature of the second plague, of frogs from the 'Golden Haggadah', Spain, 2nd quarter of the 14th century (British Library Add Ms 27210, f 12v)
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Our devoted followers will be pleased to learn that our recent upload broadens the scope for discovery and research even further with over 300 Hebrew  manuscripts now online. The manuscripts included in the latest ingest present a wider diversity of subjects, thus, apart from Bibles and biblical commentaries, one will find liturgies, manuscripts of the Talmud (large corpus of Jewish law and tradition; includes the Mishnah and the Gemara), Talmudic commentaries, midrash (rabbinic commentary on the Hebrew scriptural text) and halakhah (the legal component of Talmudic literature).

There is additionally a greater variation of languages. Though a fair number were written in Hebrew, languages such as Aramaic, Arabic and Judeo-Arabic (Arabic in Hebrew characters) are well represented. A good example of a Judeo-Arabic manuscript is Or 2220, a commentary on the Mishnaic order Mo’ed (Festivals) by the illustrious Jewish sage Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) which was penned in the 15th century in Yemen. Noteworthy too are the handwriting styles employed in these handwritten books, with square, semi-cursive and cursive Hebrew scripts peculiar to the geographic areas the scribes originated from. Add MS 26992, Tikune ha-Ri”f, a legal work by Abraham ben Shabbatai Del Vechio (d. 1654) written apparently during his lifetime, provides a fine example of an Italian cursive type of Hebrew writing. A Sephardi semi-cursive Hebrew hand can be identified in Harley MS 5719, a 15th century manuscript copy of the Mishneh Torah (Repetition of the Law), the legal code Maimonides composed between 1068 and 1078 while living in Fustat (Old Cairo), Egypt. Or 2220 mentioned earlier provides a good specimen of a semi-cursive Yemenite hand.

Among the uploaded manuscripts there are significant Karaite biblical commentaries and Karaite works dealing with religious legal matters that will form the subject of a future blog. For a full list of the manuscripts that are now online, please follow this link (Hebrew digitised mss_November 2014). Note that if the hyperlinks don't appear to work, you should refresh your browser.

The present upload features a considerable number of decorated and illuminated pieces representing all the schools of Hebrew manuscript painting that thrived in Europe between the 13th and 15th centuries. A beautiful two-volume Bible with subtly coloured illuminations is a telling example of Hebrew manuscript art that developed in Italy in the last quarter of the 13th century.
Harley5710_f136r
Menorah (Temple Candelabrum) flanked by foliate scrolls inhabited by animals and hybrids. Italy (Rome or Bologna?)  (British Library Harley MS 5710, f.136r)
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A splendid example of the art that developed particularly in Southern Germany in the Lake Constance area during the 14th century is found in the Tripartite Mahzor, a festival prayer book for Shavu’ot (Festival of Weeks) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). This is in fact the second volume of a three-volume manuscript. Volumes one and three are kept respectively in the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest (Kaufmann Collection MS A384) and in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (MS Michael 619).

Add22413_f3r
Historiated word panel depicting Moses, at left, receiving the Tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai, with Aron and the Israelites standing in prayer. Trumpets and rams’ horns pierce through the clouds, marking the occasion. The gilded word Adon in the centre of the panel opens the liturgical poem ‘The Lord has taken care of me’ which is recited during Shavu’ot, a festival celebrating the giving of the Torah to the Israelites. Germany, c.1322 (British Library Add MS 22413, f. 3r)
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Decorated word panel showing a man with a pitcher and a cup at the opening of a liturgical poem. Germany, c. 1322. (British Library Add MS 22413, f. 148r)
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An additional specimen from the German school of Hebrew illumination is the beautifully executed Coburg Pentateuch which was produced c. 1396. Beside the Five Books of Moses (the Torah) it comprises the Five Scrolls, Haftarot (weekly readings from the Prophets) and grammatical treatises. The text of the Pentateuch was penned in an Ashkenazi square script by a master scribe named Simhah Levi, while the vocalization was done by Samuel bar Abraham of Molerstadt. The other textual parts in the codex were penned and vocalised by other scribes.

AddMS19776_54v
King Solomon, famed for his justice and wisdom is depicted seating on a throne shaped like the roof of a building. At his feet there are several animals, most likely hinting at his ability to converse with the animal kingdom. Coburg, Germany, c. 1396 (British Library Add MS 19776, f. 54v)
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A magnificently illuminated codex crafted in France in the 13th century is the North French Hebrew Miscellany. It was written by Benjamin the Scribe, whose name appears four times in the manuscript. The absence of a colophon has led scholars to assume that the scribe wrote the manuscript for his personal use. This was common practice among medieval educated Jews who often copied important Hebrew texts for their own libraries. There are eighty-four different groups of texts in this codex including dozens of poems, the liturgy of the entire year, calendars, and the earliest complete Hebrew version of Tobit. According to scholarly research the 49 full-page miniatures depicting biblical characters and narratives were executed by Christian artists attached to three major contemporary Parisian ateliers.

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David and Goliath. France, 1278-1298. (British Library Add MS 11639, f. 523v)
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Add_ms_11639_f114r
Aaron the Priest pouring oil in the Candelabrum. France, 1278-1298 (British Library Add MS 11639, f. 114r)
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From the Portuguese school of Hebrew manuscript painting comes the Lisbon Bible, a three volume manuscript which was copied by Samuel ben Samuel Ibn Musa for Joseph ben Judah called Elhakim in 1482. The finely painted illuminations enhanced by gold leaf were executed by a team of skilled craftsmen in a Lisbon workshop which was active for the three decades preceding the expulsion of the Portuguese Jewry in 1497. The manuscript was sold to the British Museum in 1882, but nothing is known about its location and owners after 1482 until the year it was purchased by the British Museum.  
Or_2626_f023v
Beginning of the Book of Genesis with foliate motifs and Masoretic notation outlined in micrography. Lisbon, 1482 (British Library Or 2626, f. 23v)
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The uploading process is on-going and by the end of this month users and researchers everywhere will be able to access digitally 400 out of the 1250 manuscripts included in the project. Please watch this space for details of the next batch of Hebrew handwritten books due to go live in the next few weeks!

Ilana Tahan
Lead Curator Hebrew and Christian Orient Studies 
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01 September 2014

A new catalogue of Malay and Indonesian manuscripts in British collections

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British libraries and museums hold some of the oldest and most important manuscripts in Malay and other Indonesian languages in the world. Although small by comparison with manuscript holdings in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Netherlands, British collections are especially notable for their antiquity and, in some cases, contain unique copies of important texts.  

Sampul Final
New Edition of Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain (Jakarta, 2014), the front cover design based on the wadana (illuminated frame) from the Javanese manuscript Serat Jayalengkara Wulang shown below.

Mss_jav_24_ff111v-112r
Serat Jayalengkara Wulang, Javanese manuscript copied at the court of Yogyakarta in 1803. One of the many Indonesian manuscripts described in Ricklefs and Voorhoeve (1977: 61), and which has just been digitised. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff.111v-112r.  noc

The publication in 1977 of Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections, by M.C. Ricklefs & P. Voorhoeve (Oxford University Press), was a landmark event. Merle Ricklefs, whose main interest was in Javanese, was at the time Lecturer in the History of Southeast Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Petrus Voorhoeve (1899-1995) was formerly Keeper of Oriental Manuscripts at Leiden University Library, and a great expert on the languages of Sumatra – ranging from Acehnese and the various Batak dialects in the north to Lampung and Rejang in the south – as well as on Malay and Arabic. The catalogue listed over 1,200 manuscripts in the indigenous languages of Indonesia (except Papua), Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and the Philippines, including those in Cham and Malagasy, found in British public collections. Catalogue entries included names of authors, scribes, owners and collectors, dates and places of writing, watermarks and paper. The 1977 volume was soon followed by an Addenda et corrigenda, published in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1982, listing a further 92 manuscripts.

When I joined the British Library in 1986, I very soon became aware of how difficult my task as Curator for Maritime Southeast Asia would have been without the helping hand of ‘Ricklefs & Voorhoeve’.  As the indispensible guide to the British Library’s own collection of nearly five hundred manuscripts in Malay, Javanese, Balinese, Batak, Bugis, Makasarese, Old Javanese, I found myself consulting the book on a daily basis in order to answer enquiries about the British Library collections, and to select and describe manuscripts for exhibition, and, more recently, for digitisation.

Scan0002
Front cover of Ricklefs & Voorhoeve (1977).

While ‘Ricklefs & Voorhoeve’ continued to be of enormous value to scholars of the languages, literatures, cultures and history of maritime Southeast Asia, it became increasingly difficult to find a copy in bookshops. And so in March 2013, Arlo Griffiths, director of the Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient in Jakarta, agreed to republish the catalogue in the EFEO’s valuable series Naskah dan Dokumen Nusantara (Manuscripts and documents from maritime Southeast Asia). The New Edition, which was published in Jakarta last month by EFEO in collaboration with Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, and with the support of the National Library of the Republic of Indonesia and the British Library, presents facsimiles of the original 1977 catalogue and the Addenda et corrigenda of 1982, together with a new supplement of 2014 describing 155 manuscripts not included in the previous editions.

The 155 additional manuscripts cover the following languages: Balinese (15), Batak (11), Bugis (2), Cham (1), Javanese (31), Maguindanao (1), Malay (86), Minangkabau (2), Old Javanese (5) and Tausug (1).  Nearly three-quarters of the total (114) are held in the British Library, and include both long-held but newly-documented manuscripts in Austronesian languages - such as the treaties in Tausug and Malay signed with the sultanate of Sulu in the 1760s, and vocabulary lists in various Indonesian languages collected by servants of the East India Company - and recent acquisitions, such as two Malay manuscripts of Sejarah Melayu and Hikayat Hang Tuah transferred to the British Library from the University of Lampeter in Wales in 2003. Notable finds in other institutions include four Batak manuscripts acquired by the University of Hull from the estate of Dr Harry Parkin - author of Batak fruit of Hindu thought (1978) - and now held in the Hull History Centre; six Malay and one Balinese manuscript formerly belonging to Sir Harold Bailey and now in the Ancient India and Iran Trust in Cambridge; and a Malay manuscript of Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah in the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. Shown below are some of the newly-described manuscripts.

Or.16802, f.4r (RH)

Illustrated Balinese manuscript on palm leaf with scenes from Ādiparwa, with the (unusual) use of red pigment in addition to black ink. Acquired in Bali in late 1938 by George and Ethel Fasal and donated by their daughter Jenny Fasal in 2010. British Library, Or.16802, f.4r (detail).  noc

Or.15026, ff.188v-189r

Panji romance, Javanese manuscript with 39 coloured drawings, dated 7 May 1861. British Library, Or.15026, ff.188v-189r.  noc

P1020346

Genealogical chart in the form of a tree of the rulers of Java, from Adam to Pakuwana IV (of Surakarta) and Mataram IV (Hamengkubuwana IV of Yogykarta), in a Javanese manuscript, Papakem Pawukon, said to have come from Kyai Suradimanggala, Bupati sepuh of Demak, 1814/5. Formerly from the India Office Library collection. British Library, Or.15932, f.72r.  noc

Or.14808, f.a 27

Pustaha, Batak manuscript of Simalungun provenance, written on folded treebark, containing Poda ni suman-suman ma inon, instructions on the art of controlling forces by invoking the supernatural. British Library, Or.14808, f.a 27.  noc

AIIT Malay 1 (4)

Malay manuscript of Sejarah Melayu, 'Malay Annals', with an ownership note of D.F.A. Hervey, 1 May 1876. Ancient India and Iran Trust, Malay 1.  noc

References:

M.C.Ricklefs & P.Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

M.C.Ricklefs & P.Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: addenda et corrigenda.  Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 1982, Vol.XLV, Part 2, pp.300-322.

M.C.Ricklefs, P.Voorhoeve† & Annabel Teh Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, 2014.  (Naskah dan Dokumen Nusantara; XXXIII). ISBN France 978-2-85539-189-2.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

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