Reynard the Fox and other curiosities
We sincerely hope that spring has sprung, and to mark that occasion we have recently uploaded a number of manuscripts to the British Library's Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. Among them are translations of Boccaccio, a glorious missal and a collection of crusader's maps ...
Le Roman du Renart
If you need some light relief, who better to provide it than one of literatureâ€™s most endearing and enduring tricksters, Reynard the Fox? This 14th-century copy in French contains fourteen of the Renart or Reynard tales, in which the wily fox outwits his fellow creatures and humans; this vast collection of allegorical works circulated in medieval Europe, satirising courtly literature, the powerful and the Church.
In one of the tales, Reynard tries to fool Tibert the cat, but of course he comes off second best.
Renard and Tibert the cat, seated with the moon above, from Le Roman du Renart: France or England, 14th century, Add MS 15229, f. 53r
In another tale, Reynard is stuck at the bottom of a well. He fools Isengrin (or Ysengrim), the greedy, dull-witted wolf, into lowering himself in the other bucket so that he will rise. Isengrin is often depicted as a cleric to make fun of the religious orders.
Reynard in a bucket being lowered into a well by a cleric in a white robe: Add MS 15229, f. 42r
The Missal of Augier de Cogeux
The Missal of Augier de Cogeux is a glorious missal from Grasse in Provence, whose pages contain an array of illuminated initials and borders, among them angels playing a variety of musical instruments, prophets, monks, lions, dogs and rabbits, and a menagerie of weird and wonderful creatures.
A historiated initial 'V'(ultum) at the beginning of an introit from Psalm 44, of a tonsured cleric in a black robe holding a crozier; a lion-rabbit hybrid creature in the upper margin and zoomorphic initials with hybrid creatures including one with a spotted body and two human heads and a lion-like creature wearing a mitre: France, S. (Provence, between Toulouse and Narbonne), 4th quarter of the 13th century or 1st quarter of the 14th century, Add MS 17006, f. 197v
This Missal, or book of liturgical texts for celebrating the Mass throughout the year, was made at the end of the 13th century for a chapel constructed in the abbotâ€™s palace of the abbey of Sainte Marie de Lagrasse in Provence. It is sprinkled with the coats of arms of Augier of Cogeux, the abbot at this time.
Opening page of the Breviary, with the Offices for the first Sunday in Advent, with a historiated initial 'A'(d) of the two elders lifting a child representing 'anima' (the soul) to God above an altar, and a full border including a knight on horesback holding a shield and standard depicting the Virgin and Child (right). Angels with musical instruments: a trumpet, organ, lute, bagpipes and tabor, psaltery and rebec (below) and hunting scenes with animals, including a lion holding a shield with the arms of Augier de Cogeux, partially cropped (above): Add MS 17006, f. 8r
A Book of Hours from Paris
The cold weather in March may have been hard to endure, but there is always somebody who is worse off. A Book of Hours from Paris depicts some poor folks in Hell who are having a really bad time, but even for them there is a golden and floral lining. If they can only escape into the border, there is a beautiful meadow with an abundance of colourful birds, butterflies and flowers, though a few devils are lurking in the upper margins to catch unsuspecting souls who climb too high.
Miniature on two levels, of souls being brought in carts, pursued and thrown into holes in the earth by devils; below, in Hell they are subjected to various tortures, from a Book of Hours: France, Central (Paris), between 1406 and 1407, Add MS 29433, f. 89r
If the worst comes to the worst, one can always go fishing (in an orange hat, if necessary!). Here comes the Sun at last.
A calendar page for February with a miniature of a man in a hat fishing with a pole: Add MS 29433, f. 2r
The butterflies in this border are exquisite, and making a garland is fun, but the question is whose neck to put it on?
George and the Dragon: Add MS 29433, f. 207r
So, summer is on its way and it will soon be strawberry season! The borders of this manuscript are filled with more delights â€“ flowers of every colour, fruits and birds, although it must be said that not everyone pictured is having much fun.
Giovanni Boccaccioâ€™s The Deeds of Noble Men and Women
The latest upload also includes images of a copy of a French translation of Boccaccioâ€™s The Deeds of Noble Men and Women. In the early 15th century, the original Latin work by Boccaccio was translated into French by the humanist scholar, Laurent de Premierfait, as Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes. It takes numerous examples from the lives of famous people throughout Biblical, classical and medieval history, describing their misfortunes with an ostensibly moral aim, but with a certain amount of undisguised relish and sanctimoniousness.
A framed miniature preceding Book 5 showing Boccaccio standing with a group of figures, pointing to a man in a barrel outside, two swans in a pool (lower right) and, in the background, a naked man is tied to a stake, having his eyes put out, from Des cas de nobles hommes et femmes, Add MS 11696, f. 136v
Les Trois Pelerinages (The Three Pilgrimages)
As Chaucer famously wrote, spring is a good time for going on a pilgrimage, and if you need to rest on the way, what better place than a garden with umbrella-shaped trees, as long as the birds donâ€™t keep you awake. We have just uploaded images of a manuscript of Guillaume de Deguilevilleâ€™s allegorical journey, containing over 140 images to illustrate the text. This work spawned a wide tradition of Christian allegorical literature and was extremely popular in the 14th century.
The pilgrim asleep in a garden with apple trees and birds; beside him is an old man, in Deguilevilleâ€™s, Les Trois Pelerinages France, c. 1400: Add MS 38120, f. 199r
The Book of Secrets of the Faithful of the Cross, with maps and portolan charts by Pietro Vesconte
This treatise was written by the Venetian, Marino Sanudo, for Pope John XXII, to promote a crusade to the Levant in 1321. The manuscript has images of the journey and the deeds of the crusaders in the lower margins. The text is accompanied by a set of maps consisting of a â€˜mappa mundiâ€™ or world map drawn in the style of a sea chart, five portolan sea charts of the coasts of Europe and North Africa, and a map of the Holy Land.
Knights on horseback jousting (f. 149v) and knights on foot fighting with lances and crossbows in a rocky landscape (f. 150r) and a historiated initial of a figure in a white headdress addressing robed figures seated on the ground, in the Liber secretorum fidelium cruces: Italy, N. (Venice); c. 1331 (after 1327), Add MS 27376, ff. 149vâ€“150r
A portolan chart of the northern Red Sea (above) and the eastern Mediterranean (below), showing, Arabia, the coasts of Egypt and Syria, with Cyprus, the Nile (lower right), and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (upper left): Add MS 27376, ff. 182vâ€“183r
Here is a list of other manuscripts that have now been added to the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts:
Add MS 10015: La Disme de Penitanche and Gossuin de Metz, Lâ€™image du monde
Add MS 10341: Le Livre de Boece de Consolacion
Add MS 22660: Acts of investiture of the territories of Orciano and Torre
Add MS 18144: A 13th-century Psalter from Saxony or Thuringia
Add MS 19416: A Book of Hours of the Use of ThÃ©rouanne ('Hours of Charles Le Clerc')
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