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92 posts categorized "French"

17 August 2018

A bumper crop of manuscripts (part 1)

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The summer holidays may be here but we have been busy at the British Library, adding more items to our Digitised Manuscripts site. Here are some of the highlights.

 

The beautiful: a Spanish Book of Hours

This gorgeous Book of Hours, about the size of a modern paperback, contains 10 full-page miniatures — attributed to Juan de Carrion, an artist associated with Toledo — and 14 illuminated initials, with full borders in glorious pinks, blues and greens. They are decorated with an amazing variety of flowers, birds and all manner of creatures. This is one of eight stunning illuminated manuscripts acquired from the collector and philanthropist, Charles William Dyson Perrins (1864–1958) of Lee and Perrins, the makers of Worcester sauce. They include the Gorleston Psalter, the de Brailles Hours and the Hours of Elizabeth the Queen.

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The Circumcision of Christ, from a Book of Hours, Spain, 4th quarter of the 15th century: Add MS 50004, f. 41v

 

The bejewelled: Isocratis de Regno

These two works by Isocrates and Lucian were translated by Johannes Boerius or Giovanni Battista Boerio (d. before 1530), for Prince Henry, the future Henry VIII. Boerio was astrologist and physician to Henry VII, and this copy was made for him in Italy by Pierantonio Sallando. It contains gold borders with jewelled decoration at the beginning of each text. Lucian’s work, usually known as De calumnia, is titled Non facile credendum esse calumniate (‘On not believing rashly in slander’), good advice for a young monarch, but not necessarily followed by Henry VIII later in his reign, particularly with regard to the treatment of his wives.

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The opening page of Lucian, De calumnia, with a border incorporating the arms of Henry VII and Henry VIII, supported by the dragon and greyhound, and in the border, phoenixes and leopards, and numerous all'antica elements such as vases, cornucopia, and jewels with foliate motifs, northern Italy (Bologna), c. 1505: Add MS 19553, f. 19r

 

The fabulous: the Spalding manuscript

This collection of Old French texts contains a rare copy of Le Songe Vert, accompanied by a chanson de geste, two classical romances and the Ordene de Chivalrie, a set of instructions on chivalry allegedly given by Hue de Tabarie to Saladin. Le Songe Vert is a 14th-century allegorical poem, written in the Picard dialect and described by its early editor, Leopold Constans, as a ‘curieux poeme’. At the end of the plague of 1347–48, the author dons a black mourning dress and wanders into an orchard. He is consoled by a vision of love and returns with his dress a bright green. You may wonder why this volume is known as the 'Spalding manuscript': its name refers to a previous owner, Maurice Johnson (1815–1861) of Ayscoughfee Hall, Spalding, in Lincolnshire.

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The opening page of Le Songe Vert, from the Spalding manuscript, France, 14th century: Add MS 34114, f. 227r

 

The weird: Liber Belial

The Liber Belial or Processus Luciferi contra Jesum Christum takes the form of a lawsuit between Lucifer and Jesus Christ, with Solomon presiding. The Devil sues Christ for trespass by descending into Hell. A note on f. 2v states that the text was written on 30 October 1382 at Aversa, near Naples; it is dedicated to Angellus de Castellone of Arezzo, archpriest of Padua.

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The opening page of the Liber Belial, Naples, 1382: Harley MS 3134, f. 3r

 

The boastful: the life and genealogy of Edward IV

For any aspiring medieval ruler intent on vaunting their prowess and legitimate claim to the throne, a connection to biblical antecedents was an absolute must. In this roll five pairs of large coloured miniatures each show an event in the career of King Edward IV on the right, with its biblical type or precedent on the left. It provides an allegorical representation of Edward's success and the fulfilment of the prophecies that he would attain the throne. To crown it all, his genealogical tree below is in the form of a biblical tree of Jesse (traditionally portraying Christ’s descent from King David), and shows Henry III reclining at the bottom, with Edward IV and Henry VI emerging as opponents at the top.

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The life and genealogical tree of King Edward IV, England, 1461–c. 1470: Harley MS 7353, f. 1r

 

The wonderful: Ovide moralise and other French texts

In this French translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses is illustrated the legend of the ill-fated lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe. Here they are shown at their secret meeting place under a mulberry tree. Pyramus, believing Thisbe to have been killed by a lion, has fallen on his sword and lies dead. Thisbe is about to plunge his sword into her throat. As a result, the gods changed the colour of mulberries to red to honour their forbidden love. This manuscript also contains Christine de Pizan's L'Epistre Othea, in which Hector, prince of Troy, is tutored in statecraft and political morality by Othea, the goddess of wisdom.

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Pyramus and Thisbe beside a fountain, from Ovid's Metamorphoses, southern Netherlands, 4th quarter of the 15th century: Royal MS 17 E IV, f. 55r

 

We are adding new content to Digitised Manuscripts every week. A second blogpost will describe some of the other recent additions: keep your eyes pealed!

 

Chantry Westwell

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

29 July 2018

Pilgrimages: medieval summer holidays?

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In Chaucer’s famous opening line to the Canterbury Tales, ‘Aprille with his shoures soote’ (April with its sweet showers) was the time when people longed to set off on their travels. Of course, holidays as we know them were not enjoyed by medieval folk. The word itself comes from ‘Holy Days’ in the Church calendar, when a break from daily routine usually involved praying and fasting, not sunbathing and drinking cocktails on the beach. But people have always enjoyed visiting new places, and so pilgrimages were a popular way of taking a break at the same time as showing piety and atoning for one’s sins — a great all-inclusive package!  

One medieval pilgrim was St Roch, who tended plague victims. He is usually pictured in typical pilgrim’s garb, with the staff, scrip or bag and shell (the symbol of Santiago and all pilgrims) on his hat. When he caught the plague himself, he was healed by a hunting dog who licked his wounds and brought him bread.

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Miniature of Roch, showing a plague-spot on his thigh, with an angel and a dog holding a loaf, from the Prayer-book of Joanna of Ghistelles, Ghent, c. 1516: Egerton MS 2125, f. 209v

Instead of backpacking in Thailand, booking a package holiday to the Costa Brava or braving the traffic jams to the English seaside, medieval pilgrims headed for Palestine, northern Spain or Kent. Some of the leading destinations for English pilgrims were Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela and Canterbury.

 

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

The holy places in Palestine were the ultimate destination for medieval Christian pilgrims, although the journey could be arduous. Margery Kempe, the famous English mystic, travelled from Norfolk to Jerusalem and Rome in 1413–15, as recounted in her autobiography. Even kings could be pilgrims, including Louis IX of France: when on crusade to the Holy Land in 1251, he went on a pilgrimage from Acre to Nazareth on the Feast of the Annunciation.

Travellers to distant places needed maps. This plan of Jerusalem is found in a book of maps and sea charts, produced in Venice. It shows the holy sites including David's Tower, the Holy Sepulchre, Calvary, Pilate's house, St Anne's house and the Temple of Solomon.

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Plan of Jerusalem in Pietro Vesconte’s book of charts, maps and plans, Venice, c. 1331: Add MS 27376*

 

Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

This city in northern Spain is believed to be the resting place of St James, one of the twelve apostles. According to legend, James went to Spain to spread the Gospel before returning to Jerusalem, where he was beheaded. His friends placed his head and body in a boat, which miraculously carried them to the Galician coast. After suffering trials and persecutions at the hands of local pagans, they finally buried his remains on a hill (now the site of the famous cathedral of Santiago), where they lay forgotten for many centuries. The cult of St James was revived in the 7th and 8th centuries when Christianity in Spain was under threat from Muslim expansion. St James allegedly appeared in a dream to Charlemagne, urging him to liberate his tomb from the Moors and showing him the direction to follow by the Milky Way: the name Compostela is believed to derive from the Latin campus stellae (field of stars).

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Charlemagne pointing the way to Spain, from the Chroniques de France, Paris, 1st half of the 14th century: Royal MS 16 G VI, f. 166r

The first known pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela was Gotescalc, bishop of Puy in France, who visited the shrine in 950. The Empress Matilda, granddaughter of William the Conqueror, went on pilgrimage there in 1097. By the 12th century, half a million pilgrims were travelling from as far as Scandinavia, England and southern Italy, and hospitals, hostels, roads and bridges had been built to accommodate them. A pilgrims’ guide, the Liber Sancti Iacobi, was produced, listing the towns along the way, providing useful phrases in Basque to use when travelling through that region, and warning pilgrims against certain local foods and customs.

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St James, in the Liber Sancti Jacobi, Santiago?, 1st half of the 14th century: Add MS 12213, f. 3v 

The Camino de Santiago is now a very popular pilgrimage route, with many walking from St Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenées, a journey of six weeks. Getting there and back is much easier than in the Middle Ages, when most people walked or rode on horseback. The ‘Camino Ingles’ (English Way) has starting points at the ports of La Coruña and Ferrol, where medieval pilgrims arrived by boat from Britain.

 

Pilgrimage to Canterbury

Pilgrims came from all corners of Europe to worship at Canterbury Cathedral, where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered by four knights on the evening of 29 December 1170. In this compilation of Becket’s letters, accompanied by John of Salisbury's account of his life and death, is an image showing the martyrdom in four narrative scenes. The upper two depict Becket at table, being told of the knights' arrival. The lower sections show Becket’s martyrdom in the church and the later veneration of his shrine by four kneeling figures.

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The martyrdom of Thomas Becket, England, 4th quarter of the 12th century: Cotton MS Claudius B II, f. 341r

Chaucer’s pilgrims travelled from Southwark in London to Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. The routes from London and Winchester remain popular with modern pilgrims, passing through the Sussex and Kent countryside.

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Pilgrims on the road to Canterbury, from John Lydgate’s Prologue of the Siege of Thebes, London, c. 1457–1460: Royal MS 18 D II, f. 148r

 

‘Couch’ pilgrimages

Many people like to watch travel programmes on television, seeing places we may never visit. Some people were unable to go on pilgrimage, but they could make a spiritual journey using guides or maps. Numerous medieval versions of the allegorical pilgrimage were written for this purpose, where the pilgrim had to overcome various obstacles to reach the final goal of spiritual fulfilment. In this French text, the pilgrim is guided by the lady Grace-Dieu.

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The pilgrim is given his bag by Grace-Dieu, from Guillaume Deguilleville, Les Trois Pèlerinages, France, c. 1400: Add MS 38120, f. 28r

Matthew Paris’s famous itinerary of the route to Jerusalem is considered to be a guide for a spiritual rather than a real journey from London to the Holy Land, as he does not provide distances or practical details. As far as we know, Matthew never made the journey himself, instead learning of the route from travellers who passed through St Albans Abbey in the 13th century. The first part of his plan shows the journey from London in the lower left-hand column to Dover and then, in the right-hand column, from Boulogne-sur-Mer on the French coast to Beauvais. Each place is one day’s journey from the preceding one.

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Section of an illustrated itinerary to Jerusalem, from London to Beauvais, St Albans, 1250s: Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 2r

 

Animal pilgrims

In the medieval world, animals also went on pilgrimage. Here is an example from the Smithfield Decretals.

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A rabbit shooting at a dog who is dressed as a pilgrim, from the glossed Decretals of Gregory IX  (the 'Smithfield Decretals'), Toulouse?, late 13th or early 14th century: Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 57v

In this collection of animal tales in German, a fox, having grown old and setting off on a pilgrimage, refuses the companionship of the watch-dog, wild ass, bear, lion, peacock, wolf, pig and mule. Instead, he chooses to travel with the panther, ape, lamb, hare, hedgehog, ox, the young hound and the ant (let’s hope someone offers the ant a ride!).

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A fox choosing its companions for a pilgrimage, from Ulrich von Pottenstein, Spiegel der Weisheit, Salzburg, c. 1430: Egerton MS 1121, f. 36r

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Chantry Westwell

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19 July 2018

Leeds in July: The Polonsky Foundation Pre-1200 Project

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For the past twenty-five years, thousands of medievalists from around the world have travelled every July to the Leeds International Medieval Congress. This is the United Kingdom’s largest academic conference and one of the largest global gatherings of medievalists. With nearly 3,000 participants this year, the IMC provided the perfect opportunity for The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project team to showcase their work ahead of its official launch in November.

On the morning of 3 July, the project’s cataloguers, Laura Albiero and Francesco Siri from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and Cristian Ispir from the British Library, presented research on manuscripts in the project, highlighting aspects which have benefitted particularly from the availability of digital images. Thanks to The Polonsky Foundation, everyone will soon be able to access 800 medieval manuscripts online.

Laura’s paper gave examples of the project’s liturgical manuscripts, and discussed how the names of different saints in the calendars help us to trace the origin and movement of individual manuscripts across the Channel. Erasures and additions tell their own tale of changing ownership through analysis of the veneration of particular local saints.

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Laura Albiero discussing a calendar originally from 12th-century Tewkesbury, now Paris, BnF, Latin 9376.

Cristian followed with an overview of author portraits and decorative elements in manuscripts containing Classical Latin texts. Francesco’s presentation focused on diagrams and their use in texts such as philosophical works, and defined the different functions they perform.

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Cristian Ispir and Francesco Siri presenting on the visual content in some of the project manuscripts.

The second session presented by the team gave an overview of the project itself. Tuija Ainonen, The Polonsky Foundation Project Curator at the British Library, drew attention to The Polonsky Foundation and the roles of the two project partners. She highlighted the various goals of the project: the full digitisation of 800 manuscripts (400 from the British Library and 400 from the BnF); the publication of a book highlighting selected manuscripts from the project; and the building of two websites — one hosting all 800 manuscripts, with 260,000 digitised images in total, and another bilingual interpretative site for a wide public audience which will present a selection of manuscripts in the project. Even interoperable image viewers, annotations, and the plan to allow image downloads had their few minutes in the spotlight: see this earlier blogpost for more details.

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The project’s coordinators Tuija Ainonen and Francesco Siri at the discussion and question time.

The audience then saw the different stages in the digitisation of 800 manuscripts and online publication in various forms. In this evening session Francesco Siri discussed the demands and challenges of cataloguing and conservation in digitisation projects. Alison Ray, Curatorial Web Officer at the British Library, discussed the workflow, from photography and image processing through to presentation in various online environments including social media and the bilingual interpretative website that will launch in November. She also reminded the audience that 600 project manuscripts are already fully digitised and available via Digitised Manuscripts for the British Library and Gallica for the BnF.

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Alison Ray discussing the various digital environments for showcasing selected manuscripts.

As the project is ongoing, the IMC presentation was very much a sneak preview of things to come. Our readers will be able to see the full outcomes at our project conference in Paris in 21–23 November 2018. Attendance is free but registration is required.

You will also be able to see some of the project’s manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition that opens at the British Library on 19 October: tickets are available here. To hear more about Manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, you can also attend a conference and early career symposium at the British Library on 13–15 December: please book tickets here.

 

The Polonsky Pre-1200 Project Team

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval (#PolonskyPre1200)

 

Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

In collaboration with

BnF logo

Supported by

The Polonsky Foundation logo

23 June 2018

The European conquest of the Canary Islands

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Europe and the Sea, a new exhibition in Berlin, explores the fundamental role played by the sea in the history and development of Europe. On loan to the exhibition is a British Library manuscript describing an expedition by two French knights, Gadifer La Sale and Jean de Béthencourt, to conquer the Canary Islands in 1402. It contains the Conquête et les conquérants des Iles Canaries, a chronicle of the journey and exploration of the islands, as recorded by Pierre Boutier and Jehan le Verrier, military chaplains to the expedition. There are several surviving accounts, but Egerton MS 2709, dated to before 1420, is believed to be closest to the events, and may have been copied under the supervision of Gadifer himself for an important patron, perhaps the Duke of Burgundy.

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Account of the arrival at La Goumera island, from the Conquête et les Conquérants des Iles Canaries, Paris, c. 1405 (after 1404 and before 1420): Egerton MS 2709, f. 19r

This chronicle describes several clashes with the local inhabitants. On the page shown above, Gadifer sailed around the islands and passed the ‘isle d’Enfer’ (meaning ‘Hell Island’, now called El Hierro), arriving at the ‘isle de la Goumere’ (La Goumera) at night. There the French sailors went ashore in a small boat and captured a man and three women who were making fires on the beach, bringing them back to the ship. The next morning they sent a party to find fresh water and, unsurprisingly, the local people attacked them and forced them to retreat.

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Description of El Hierro Island: Egerton MS 2709, f. 19v

On the next page the adventurers set sail for Palma, but were driven ‘by a great storm’ back to El Hierro, where they stayed for three weeks. They discovered ‘great numbers of pigs, goats and sheep’ and, while the coast was rather barren, the interior was ‘fertile and pleasant’ with ‘more than a hundred thousand pine trees’ and an abundance of quails. By 1405, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and El Hierro had been conquered, although the larger islands like Tenerife put up greater resistance.

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Knights sailing to conquer the Canaries, attributed to the Master of the Cité des Dames and workshop: Egerton MS 2709, f. 2r

On the first page of the manuscript is a striking image of a ship crowded with armed knights, with an elaborate initial and decorative border. The ship, which has been compared to a late Viking vessel in design, has flags at the masthead and at the prow and stern, as well as two shields bearing the arms of Gadifer La Sale, one of the French commanders. The arms of Jean de Béthencourt do not appear, but the arms on one of the flags at the stern have been partially erased, so it is possible that they were his. The illumination has been attributed to the Master of the Cité des Dames, who worked on some of the most beautiful manuscripts in the British Library's collections, including the Bedford Hours (Add MS 18850), a copy of the Bible Historiale made for Charles de Valois (1446–1472), duke of Normandy, now in two volumes (Add MSS 18856 and 18857), a collection of works by Christine de Pizan (Harley MS 4431) and Giovanni Boccaccio, Des Cas des nobles hommes et femmes (Royal MS 20 C IV).

The exhibition, at the German Historical Museum in Berlin from 13 June 2018 to 6 January 2019, views Europe as a maritime continent, showing the sea's fundamental role as a route of conquest, a resource, and a place of imagination and memory for Europeans through the ages.

 

Chantry Westwell

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

21 June 2018

A midsummer milestone

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To mark midsummer, that most magical of days, we have another exciting update from The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project. In a ground-breaking collaboration, the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France have now digitised and published online 600 out of the selected 800 manuscripts. The remaining 200 manuscripts will be made available later this year. To get an idea of the range of manuscripts included so far, we have compiled a list (available in PDF and Excel formats) containing shelfmarks and titles, along with links to view the manuscripts in either Digitised Manuscripts at the BL or Archives et manuscrits at the BnF.

PDF format: Download BL_BnF_600_PolonskyPre1200Project_MSS

Excel format: Download BL_BnF_600_Project_MSS

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St Benedict and monks, in the Eadui Psalter: Arundel MS 155, f. 133r

 

Coming soon:

Our project explores five hundred years of intellectual activity and manuscript production in both France and England. As we move rapidly towards the grand finale in November, here’s a brief recap of what is still to come. In November we launch:

A new joint project viewer to all 800 manuscripts: The project manuscripts will be presented in a new Mirador based viewer being developed by the BnF. The images will be presented in an internationally agreed standard format known as IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework-format). This means that it will be easier to view and share images from different collections. In the new viewer, you will be able to view multiple manuscripts from either library side by side and therefore virtually unite manuscripts from the collections of the two libraries. You will also be able to download an individual image or a pdf of an entire manuscript. 

A new interpretative website, Medieval England and France, 700-1200: We are also developing a new website, hosted by the British Library, which will feature articles and short films about the manuscripts. These will focus on a wide range of themes, such as history, medicine, music and art. We’ll include interviews with leading experts and several short clips on the various stages of illumination, commissioned from a modern artist and calligrapher. This website will be a virtual exhibition area to explore a selection of our collections, and everything will be presented in both English and French.

Medieval Illumination: Manuscript Art from England and France 700-1200: In addition, we are preparing a book that will present some of the most impressive illuminated manuscripts in the project, illustrated with over 70 full-page colour illustrations. In Medieval Illumination we will alternate between manuscripts made in England and in France in order to present the similarities and differences between the art produced in each country. This book too will be translated and published in French. Both versions will be available by the opening of the Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition on 19 October (see below), as a number of project manuscripts will be featured in both the book and the exhibition.

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Rabanus Maurus, De Laudibus sancte crucis: BnF MS latin 11685, f. 5v

 

Other Upcoming Events:

International Medieval Congress 2018, 2–5 July, Leeds: We will be presenting a live update of the project at the Leeds IMC 2018. On Tuesday, 3 July, members of the project teams from both libraries (Laura Albiero, Cristian Ispir and Francesco Siri) will present new research on selected project manuscripts (session 638 at 11:15am). In the evening round table session (with Tuija Ainonen, Alison Ray and Francesco Siri) we will discuss the project itself, the work we do and the different resources we are in the process of creating. This will also be a great opportunity to ask questions or offer comments on this historical collaborative venture (session 938 at 7pm).

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Our readers will also have an opportunity to view some of the original manuscripts in person as a number of them will feature in the upcoming Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition. The exhibition will be open from 19 October 2018 to 19 February 2019 in the PACCAR gallery at the British Library (tickets are available here).

France et Angleterre: manuscrits médiévaux entre 700 et 1200 conference: We’ll also be holding a three-day conference in Paris to celebrate the project launch, and to present more new research on manuscripts included in the project. Mark your calendars for 21–23 November 2018 in Paris at the Auditorium Colbert (2 Rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris). Free but mandatory registration will be available here.

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The entry into Jerusalem and the Last Supper: Arundel MS 157, f. 8v

 

Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms conference, London: To coincide with the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, on 13–14 December 2018, the Library is holding a two-day international conference with papers by leading scholars in the fields of history, literature and art history. This will be followed by a one-day symposium for early career researchers on 15 December 2018. Several of the manuscripts digitised as part of the project will be featured in the conference and symposium papers. Delegates are invited to a reception and private view of the exhibition on 13 December. Registration is available here.

Blogs: We will be continuing to blog about interesting manuscripts in the project on both the Medieval Manuscripts Blog, and on ManuscriptaFor inspiring glimpses of individual manuscripts check out the Project on Twitter (using the hashtag #PolonskyPre1200).

 

The Polonsky Pre-1200 Project Team

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

In collaboration with

BnF logo from BnF website

Supported by

The Polonsky Foundation logo

03 May 2018

Troy ahoy

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Classical legends have an enduring quality that means they have been adapted, translated, read and performed almost continuously from antiquity up to the present day. Such stories certainly captured the medieval imagination, judging by the number of massive, gloriously illuminated copies that were made for those who could afford them — mostly royalty and the nobility — in the 14th and 15th centuries. Medieval aristocrats loved history, particularly when mingled with romance, and the legend of Troy held an extraordinary fascination for them, especially after the crusaders brought back accounts of the exotic lands of the Middle East.

Two British Library manuscripts containing the Troy legend in French have recently been fully digitised and are now available to view on Digitised Manuscripts.

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This is a copy of the Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César or Histoire Universelle, a universal history from the time of Thebes to the reign of Pompey in ancient Rome 60 BC, and combining legend and historical fact. The artist is thought to have been from the Netherlands, but was working in Paris in the mid-to-late 15th century. Following on from the legends of Oedipus, Thebes and Hercules, this dreamlike view of the legendary city of Troy introduces the famous story, and is followed by a series of smaller images depicting the major characters and events, as well as a double-page spread showing the Greek navy attacking from the sea.

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The city of Troy with a ship, from the Histoire Universelle, Paris, 1st quarter of the 15th century: Stowe MS 54, f. 30v

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The celebrations in Troy on the return of Paris with Helen: Stowe MS 54, f. 64r

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Ulysses and Diomedes under the golden pine, arranging a truce with Priam: Stowe MS 54, f. 76r

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The Greeks attack Troy from the sea: Stowe MS 54, ff. 82v–83r

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The Death of Achilles and Antilogus: Stowe MS 54, f. 178r

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The Trojan Horse: Stowe MS 54, f. 201v

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The destruction of Troy: Stowe MS 54, f. 206v

 

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The history of Greece and Troy is given special emphasis in the Chronique de la Bouquechardière, a chronicle that covers the period from Creation to the reign of Caesar. It was compiled by the Norman knight, De Courcy, soon after the Battle of Agincourt (1415), and is named after his estate or fief, Bourg-Achard. His aim was to entertain and instruct his audience, while emphasising the moral lessons to be gained from history, at a time when Normandy was being conquered by the English under Henry V. This image illustrates events leading to the Trojan War, as related in Book II. Here, Paris has abducted Helen from Sparta and they meet his father, Priam, at the gates of Troy. Helen and Paris are dressed in elaborate 15th-century court dress and Priam wears a sumptuous jewelled cloak.

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Paris and Helena meeting Priam outside Troy, at the beginning of book II, Rouen, 3rd quarter of the 15th century: Harley MS 4376, f. 90r

Included in both works is the legend of Alexander the Great, based on the exploits of the great military leader who reigned from 356 to 323 BC, but greatly embroidered with miraculous events from his life and campaigns in the East. This chronicle is divided into 6 books, and this illustration occurs at the beginning of Book 5, relating the history of Macedonia and Alexander's conquests. Here he is seen with Lady Fortune and her wheel, a device often used by medieval artists to show the rise and fall of famous heroes.

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Alexander and the Wheel of Fortune, and the murder of Alexander II of Macedonia before the throne of Eurydice, at the beginning of book V: Harley MS 4376, f. 271r

On the right is shown the murder of Alexander II, short-lived king of Macedon from 371 to 369 BC. Alexander was murdered during a festival, probably in a plot involving his own mother, Eurydice, wife of Amyntas III.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Chantry Westwell

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19 April 2018

A Bible fit for a king

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As regular readers of this Blog will know, the display of the Lindisfarne Gospels follows a conservation programme recommended by an international committee of experts. It is now back in secure storage for a rest period, until the autumn when it will be back on display and featured in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library. 

In its place we have just put out on display in the British Library's Sir John Ritblat Gallery (Royal MS 15 D I and Royal MS 18 D IX) two volumes that have been described as forming the most beautiful Bible in French ever made (Berger, La Bible (1884), p. 389; a companion volume is Royal MS 18 D X). Their large number of images, which illustrate a wide range of Old and New Testament subjects, certainly make the Bible among the most profusely illustrated. Moreover, many of their illustrations treat their biblical subjects with a painterly breadth and spaciousness that distinguish them from other late medieval Bible miniatures. Overall, the Bible is an eloquent witness to why Gabriel Tetzel, a visitor to England, described the court of Edward IV (r. 1461–83) in February 1466 as ‘the most splendid … in all Christendom’ (cited in Charles Ross, Edward IV (London, 1974), p. 259).

These volumes were produced in Bruges, one of the most vibrant commercial and artistic centres in Europe during the second half of the 15th  century. Bruges teemed with book artisans capable of producing high quality manuscripts for wealthy clients.

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As he sits feasting at his table, King Belshazzar is distressed at the sight of a disembodied human hand writing on the wall of his chamber, in the book of Daniel: Royal MS 15 D I, f. 45r

As in many such volumes, the illumination is the result of close collaboration between several artists. All but one of its eleven large miniatures in the volume including the books of Tobit to the Acts of the Apostles (Royal MS 15 D I) were contributed by a principal artist working with a talented assistant. In such images as Belshazzar’s Feast these two illuminators developed striking compositions, the basic simplicity of which is enlivened by the bold application of a lively palette and the introduction of a range of complicated figure poses. Despite their large size, all the illustrations focus almost entirely on one episode each.

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Christ dies on the Cross between the two thieves, as Mary falls into the arms of St John, the other two women look on in grief and the Centurion and soldiers converse, in the Gospel Harmony: Royal MS 15 D I, f. 353r

Additional scenes are relegated to obscure corners of the miniatures and easily overlooked by the viewer. In putting together their paintings, the two miniaturists drew on a stock of patterns of both individual figures and groups. Sources for the impressive Crucifixion, for example, include an earlier Netherlandish engraving of the same subject for the two thieves and a panel painting of the Crucifixion by the celebrated Netherlandish painter Rogier van der Weyden (d. 1464) for the crucified Christ.

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Judith holds the head of the Assyrian general Holofernes whom she has beheaded while in a drunken stupor in his tent outside the besieged city of Bethulia; in the background she carries his head on the point of her sword back to the city, in the book of Judith: Royal MS 15 D I, f. 66v

The only large miniature not painted by these two artists, The Death of Holofernes, was contributed by a painter who worked with a more subdued palette and had greater interest in the depiction of space and the play of light over forms.

Like many of his royal predecessors, Edward IV sought to possess some of the finest books produced on the Continent. As a result he established a remarkable collection of lavish south Netherlandish manuscripts that reflected contemporary aristocratic taste for French instructional and historicising texts enlivened by colourful illuminations. At the beginning of the Tobit to Acts volume, an inscription by the scribe Jan du Ries identifies the date of his manuscript as 1470 and its patron as Edward. However, the volume appears not to have been originally intended for the English king. Edward’s name and titles have clearly been written over an erasure and were not part of du Ries’s original text. Further evidence suggests that the volume was completed for Edward much later.

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Tobit is blinded by bird droppings while he lies asleep in his house; outside Tobit’s son Tobias converses with the angel Raphael disguised as a traveller, at the beginning of the book of Tobit: Royal MS 15 D I, f. 18r

The two companion volumes that make up the remainder of his Bible historiale are dated 1479, a date that conforms to what we now know to have been Edward’s principal period of collecting Netherlandish illuminated manuscripts. Detailed analysis of the heraldry and border decoration, together with an analysis of the costumes of the figures, confirms that the decoration of this volume also formed part of that campaign around 1479.

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God creating the animals: Royal MS 18 D IX, f. 5r

The other volume on display features a magnificent image of God creating the animals, painted in vivid detail. Probably for lack of an earlier patron with sufficient interest and wealth, the high ambition of the planners of this copy of the Bible historiale remained unfulfilled until several years after the writing of the text, when the painting was finally completed for the English king.

 

Further reading

Samuel Berger, La Bible française au Moyen Âge: Étude sur les plus anciennes versions de la Bible écrites en prose de langue d’oïl (Paris, 1884), pp. 389–90.

Thomas Kren and Scot McKendrick, Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe (Los Angeles, 2003), no. 82.

John Lowden, ‘Bible historiale: Tobit to Acts’, in Scot McKendrick, John Lowden and Kathleen Doyle, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination (London, 2011), no. 53.

Scot McKendrick, ‘The Manuscripts of Edward IV: The Documentary Evidence’, in 1000 Years of Royal Books and Manuscripts, ed. by Kathleen Doyle and Scot McKendrick (London, 2013), pp. 149–77.

Scot McKendrick and Kathleen Doyle, The Art of the Bible: Illuminated Manuscripts from the Medieval World (London: Thames & Hudson, 2016), no. 42.

 

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04 April 2018

Reynard the Fox and other curiosities

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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 de Renart

If you need some light relief, who better to provide it than one of literature’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.

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Renard and Tibert the cat, seated with the moon above, from Le Roman de 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.

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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.

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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 abbot’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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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 – flowers of every colour, fruits and birds, although it must be said that not everyone pictured is having much fun.

Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Deeds of Noble Men and Women

The latest upload also includes images of a copy of a French translation of Boccaccio’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.

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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 don’t keep you awake. We have just uploaded images of a manuscript of Guillaume de Deguileville’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.

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The pilgrim asleep in a garden with apple trees and birds; beside him is an old man, in Deguileville’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 ‘mappa mundi’ 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.

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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. 149v–150r

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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. 182v–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, L’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 Thérouanne ('Hours of Charles Le Clerc') 

Add MS 34890: The Grimbald Gospels. The whole manuscript can also be viewed on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

                                                                                                                               

Chantry Westwell

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