THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

672 posts categorized "Illuminated manuscripts"

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

 

14 August 2018

A costume fit for a centaur

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Among the many intricate designs compiled in the 15th-century sketchbook of an unknown Italian engineer (Add MS 34113), a centaur costume has an irresistible appeal. It is amusing to think that someone devoted their technical and artistic skills to designing something so wonderfully impractical. Yet, while we may smile wryly at it today, the centaur costume reflects a Renaissance passion for artistic creativity, scientific enquiry and classical antiquity.

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Design for a centaur costume (Siena?, 2nd half of the 15th century): Add MS 34113, f. 176v

The design for the centaur costume consists of a replica of the back and hindquarters of a horse that fastens around the wearer’s waist. Inside, an articulated structure with straps attaching to the wearer’s legs is intended to make the rear legs of the horse ‘walk’ with him. The man wearing the costume holds a rod that apparently connects to the internal structure, perhaps designed to help him manipulate the rear legs. Platform shoes imitating the appearance of hooves complete the look. We sense that the design lacks enough joints and linkages to work in practice, but it demonstrates experimentation with the challenge of mechanically transmitting movement.

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Leonardo da Vinci’s designs for diving apparatus (Italy, 1st quarter of the 16th century): Arundel MS 263, f. 24v

The manuscript occupies an important place in 15th-century developments in mechanical engineering. Some of its designs for hoists seem to be indebted to Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446), the engineer who famously solved the challenge of building the colossal dome of Florence Cathedral. Others seem to have roused the interest of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), whose designs for diving equipment and parachutes appear to be improved versions of those contained here. The manuscript reveals a culture in which engineers were compiling textbooks, sharing mechanical designs and modifying each other’s ideas in a more systematic and scholarly way than ever before.

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Design for diving equipment: Add MS 34113, f. 180v

Like Brunelleschi and Leonardo, the creator of this manuscript was an accomplished engineer as well as an artist. The manuscript’s elegant drawing style reveals a draftsman versed in quattrocento artistic developments. In the centaur design, the technical challenge of replicating movement is linked inextricably to the artistic challenge of representing a creature both naturalistically and gracefully. Such aesthetic and practical skills were necessary in an age when creative individuals were commissioned to produce everything that their elite patrons required — from paintings and sculptures, to props and banners for festivities, to works of engineering and architecture.

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Dante and Vergil encounter centaurs in the Inferno (Siena?, 1st half of the 15th century): Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 21v

The theoretical approach that transformed the arts and sciences in this period was informed by an enthusiasm for classical learning. As a fantastical creature from classical mythology, the centaur fits easily into this context. In art and literature, centaurs symbolise the bestial and irrational side of Antique culture, characterised as wild and dangerous. For example, in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the centaurs that patrol the first ring of the circle of violence represent the psychology of madness, with their physical duality reflecting a split mind (Inferno, Canto 12). In Botticelli’s painting Pallas and the Centaur (c. 1482), the woman subduing the centaur is an allegory for the triumph of rationality over chaos.

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Botticelli, Pallas and the Centaur (Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

These elements of sophisticated engineering, artistic achievement and classical imagery all came together in the spectacle of public entertainments, which provide the most likely motivation for the design of the articulated centaur costume. The most celebrated artists and engineers of the age were employed to construct awe-inspiring devices for such events. The biographer and art historian Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) tells us that, for the 1439 Annunciation festival at the Church of San Felice in Florence, Brunelleschi created a mechanical paradise that was ‘truly marvellous and demonstrated the talent and skill of the man who invented it, for on high a Heaven full of living and moving figures could be seen, as well as countless lights, flashing on and off like lightning’.

From the mid-15th century, the entertainments at tournaments and pageants began to incorporate classical imagery, sometimes including centaurs. For example, at a tournament held in 1481, centaurs, the Cyclops, Ganymede, Vulcan, Neptune, Hercules, Mars and Jupiter rode through Treviso on triumphal cars. During his stay in Trent in January 1549, King Philip II of Spain was entertained by a mock battle with pyrotechnics between an army of men bearing the badge of Hercules and an army of centaurs, giants and ‘Turks’. It is tempting to suppose that the centaur costume was intended as a theatrical device for just such an event.

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The constellation Centaurus (Rome, c. 1480): Egerton MS 1050, f. 41v

Despite its apparent eccentricity, the design for a centaur costume is a fitting testament to the ideals of its age, in which science, art, classicism and entertainment were inseparably connected.

 

Eleanor Jackson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

09 August 2018

Silos manuscripts in our Treasures Gallery

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Take a summer holiday to 11th/12th century Spain with our two manuscripts from the abbey of Silos. You can stop by the British Library to see these manuscripts in person in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, or you can follow the links below to admire them online.

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The Silos Apocalypse: Add MS 11695, f. 21r.

In 1041 the Abbey of San Sebastián de Silos in northern Spain, near Burgos, gained a charismatic new abbot. St Domingo of Silos, as he would later become, transformed the abbey into one of Spain’s principal centres for learning and monastic reform. Among his achievements was the establishment of a library and scriptorium at the abbey. In the decades following his death, on 20 December 1073, the newly renamed Abbey of Santo Domingo produced an impressive number of manuscripts, many of which still survive.

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The Silos Apocalypse: Add MS 11695, ff. 145v–146r.

The most spectacular of these books is undoubtedly the Silos Apocalypse (Add MS 11695). With its vivid colours and striking designs, this manuscript belongs to a distinctive Spanish tradition of illuminated copies of Beatus of Liébana’s commentary on the Book of Revelation — the final book of the Christian Bible, foretelling the end of the world.

In this opening currently on display in our Treasures Gallery, the seventh angel sounds a trumpet on the left-hand page, which causes the Temple of God in heaven to open on the right-hand page, revealing the Ark of the Covenant inside (interpreted by Beatus as a symbol of Christ). Meanwhile, the beast (interpreted as the Antichrist) has risen from the abyss to persecute the saints. The interaction of the images across the two pages, along with the incorporation of marginal images and the use of different scripts and inks to articulate the text, demonstrates the manuscript’s sophisticated graphic design.

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The Silos Antiphonary: Add MS 30850, ff. 92v–93r.

Alongside the Silos Apocalypse you can see another manuscript made at the Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos in the 11th/12th century (Add MS 30850). This manuscript is an Antiphonary, containing the music that was sung as part of the daily devotions at the Abbey. The page displayed includes the song for the evening office on Palm Sunday, with a Spanish form of musical notation written above the words.

The manuscript’s decorated initial letters share some of the bold linear style and vibrant colour palette of the Apocalypse manuscript beside it. Here, the opening monogram ‘VPR’ for Vespertinum (the chant for the evening office) is so highly abstracted that the letter forms are barely decipherable. It functions more as a finding aid and decoration for the text than as a word to be read.

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A decorated initial in the Silos Antiphonary: Add MS 30850, f. 101r.

To find out more about the Silos Apocalypse, we'd highly recommend our blogpost It's the end of the world as we know it, and Scot McKendrick & Kathleen Doyle, Bible Manuscripts: 1400 Years of Scribes and Scripture (London: The British Library, 2007), pp. 72–73. 

Eleanor Jackson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval 

01 August 2018

Anglo-Saxon manuscripts postgraduate internship

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The British Library is pleased to be able to offer an internship for a postgraduate or recent post-doctoral student in history, art history or another relevant subject, to support work on the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition. The internship is a six-month position based in the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section of the Western Heritage Collections department in London.

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The foundation charter of the New Minster, Winchester, c. 966: Cotton MS Vespasian A VIII, f. 2v

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms is a landmark exhibition on the history, art, literature and culture of Anglo-Saxon England (19 October 2018–19 February 2019. It will feature outstanding manuscripts from the Library’s own collections alongside a number of exceptional loans from other institutions.

The intern will use their specialist knowledge of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, history and culture to carry out a variety of duties, including: supporting delivery of the ‘Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms’ international conference and early career symposium linked to the exhibition, scheduled for 13–15 December 2018; blogging about the exhibition; supporting the promotion of the exhibition by the Library’s Press team; responding to visitor enquiries; giving talks and leading tours of the exhibition; and enhancing catalogue entries records. The successful candidate will enjoy privileged access to manuscripts at the British Library and will work alongside specialists with varied research interests.

This internship will provide an opportunity to develop writing and presentation skills, to engage with a variety of audiences, and to gain experience of curatorial duties. Previous interns have given feedback that they felt a valued member of the team, gained professional confidence and developed their career.

This position is only open to students who are engaged actively in research towards, or have recently completed, a PhD in a subject area relevant to the study of medieval manuscripts and who have a right to work in the UK full time.

The term of internship is full time (36 hours per week over 5 days) for 6 months. The salary is £10.20 per hour, which is the current London Living Wage. The internship will start on 1 October 2018 or as soon as relevant security checks have been completed.

To apply, please visit www.bl.uk/careers. Full details of this internship (reference 02102) can be found here.

Closing Date: 14 August 2018

Interviews will be held on 29 August 2018.

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

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

26 July 2018

The Arnstein Bible: a grand monastic Bible

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In addition to their size and legibility, Romanesque giant Bibles sometimes indicate that they are great monastic books, by including all three of St Jerome’s translations of the Psalms in parallel columns. In the Arnstein Bible, for example, the Gallicanum of the Vulgate appears first, but is accompanied by the Romanum and the Hebraicum, the last a translation made directly from the Hebrew that was never used liturgically. Moreover, each of these three versions is illustrated. This virtuoso display of learning is found in Giant Bibles made in the Mosan and Rhenish regions in particular, although two English examples also survive. These features constitute important material evidence of the status and wealth of the monasteries that commissioned and produced these Bibles: as C. M. Kauffmann stated, they are ‘symbols of monastic corporate authority’ (Biblical Imagery in Medieval England 700-1550 (London, 2003), p. 149).

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The beginning of the Psalms in the Arnstein Bible: Harley MS 2799, f. 5r.

A splendid example of this occurs in the Arnstein Bible, now on display in the British Library’s Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. The Psalms occur in the second volume, and are set out in three parallel columns of text, beginning with a large initial ‘B’(eatus) (blessed) created by elaborated foliate forms, clasps, and to the right, intertwined dogs or other quadrupeds. 

In the initials for the beginning of Psalm 101, ‘D’(omine) features different figures in the bowl of the letter: Christ blessing, the Virgin and Child, and a bishop.

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Christ blessing, the Virgin and Child, and a bishop, at the beginning of Psalm 101: Harley 2799, f. 40r (detail).

The Arnstein Bible was produced at the Premonstratensian abbey of St Mary and St Nicholas, Arnstein, in Germany. This abbey was founded in 1139 by Ludwig III (d. 1185), the last count of Arnstein, who became a lay brother and donated his castle to the new Order, established at Prémontré in northern France in 1120. Ludwig’s wife, Guda, became a hermit living in the abbey grounds. Originally, annals recording important events relating to the abbey were part of the Bible (now preserved in Darmstadt, Hessische Landesbibliothek, MS 4128). The entry for 1172 states that the book (liber iste) was written in that year by a brother called Lunandus, and asks that whoever reads it should pray that he rest in peace: ‘Qui ergo legit, dicat: Anima eius requiescat in pace’

The manuscript is also available in full on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website: volume 1 (Harley MS 2798) and volume 2 (Harley MS 2799).

 

Kathleen Doyle

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

21 July 2018

Medieval Love Island

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British television has been swept off its feet this summer by a certain reality contest in which a group of singletons compete to find romance on an exotic island. Love it or loathe it, society has always been infatuated with dating and finding true love, especially during the Middle Ages. This is shown in many medieval romance tales and guides to love.

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The Castle of Love under the siege of romantic knights as maidens defend themselves with flowers, from the Luttrell Psalter, Add MS 42130, f. 75v

In place of the modern island, the medieval castle was used in art and literature to set the scene for love. The ‘Castle of Love’ popularly appeared in literature as a figurative representation of the Virgin Mary, such as in Robert Grosseteste’s religious poem in Anglo-Norman French, Le Chasteau d’Amour. The castle of this poem is a spiritual tower of strength and its architecture symbolises Mary's characteristics, with the turrets representing her virtues and the baileys her chastity, maidenhood and marriage.

The Castle of Love soon became a secular and more light-hearted image, as depicted in the 14th-century Luttrell Psalter (Add MS 42130). Knights can be seen clamouring with weapons to reach the maidens inside a model castle, who are defending themselves playfully with flowers. The illustration is placed in the margin of a passage from Psalm 37, with King David stating his enemies ‘that render evil for good, have detracted me, because I follow goodness. Forsake me not, O my Lord’ (Ps 37:20–21). The maidens most likely symbolise virtue and the knights the temptations of vice.

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How you doing? A young man addresses three women at the gate of the Castle of Love, from Royal MS 16 F II, f. 188r

The Castle of Love again features in a late 15th-century illuminated manuscript (Royal MS 16 F II) containing a guide to love, Les demands en amours. Opening with the chastel d’amours, the text contains a list of 18 questions in verse and 87 in prose on how to find a suitable lover. Similar to relationship columns today, the text advises the reader to declare his love wisely, to live joyously, dress well, be pleasant socially and to sustain his love through the exercise of ‘courtoysie’.

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Love may be sustained through the exercise of ‘courtoysie’ (line 21), from Royal MS 16 F II, f. 188v

This manuscript was made for an aristocratic reader. It may have been first intended for King Edward IV of England but was left unfinished after his death in 1483; it may then have been completed by 1500 for King Henry VII and his family.

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The Castle of Jealousy where Fair Welcome is Imprisoned, from Harley MS 4425, f. 39r

Medieval writers were also aware of the darker side of courting. The Castle of Jealousy appears in a late 15th-century Flemish copy of Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose, a popular tale in which a lover dreams of a rose held captive in a castle, shown above. Here the lover waits outside the outermost wall of the castle, unable to get past Danger (Dangier) holding the keys to the gate and the many soldiers who guard the tower of Jealousy (Jalousie) to reach the beautiful rose represented by a woman. The course of true love never did run smooth!

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The king of love sits in a tree with two musicians, aiming his arrows at a couple sitting below, from the Maastricht Hours, Stowe MS 17, f. 273r

 

Alison Ray

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

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

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Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

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