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18 October 2018

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: a once-in-a-generation exhibition

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Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War, the largest ever exhibition on the history, literature and culture of Anglo-Saxon England, opens at the British Library on 19 October.

We are delighted to give you a brief glimpse here of some of the stunning exhibits that will be on show. They range from outstanding archaeological objects to unique literary texts, alongside intricately illuminated manuscripts, some of which are returning to England for the first time. The exhibition highlights the key role manuscripts played in the transmission of ideas, literature and art across political and geographical boundaries, spanning all six centuries from the eclipse of Roman Britain to the Norman Conquest.

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The Utrecht Psalter, on loan from Universiteitsbibliotheek, Utrecht

 

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Spong Man, on loan from Norwich Museums Service

 

The exhibition presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to encounter original evidence from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, a time when the English language was used and written for the first time and the foundations of the kingdom of England were laid down.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms is on display at the British Library in London from 19 October 2018 to 19 February 2019. You can buy your tickets here. A book accompanying the exhibition, edited by Lead Curator Dr Claire Breay (The British Library) and Professor Joanna Story (University of Leicester), is available to buy from the Library's online shop.

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Don't forget that the British Library has made its outstanding collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts and charters available online in full, allowing people around the world to explore them in detail, and to support future research in the field.

Regular stories about the exhibition will be published on the Medieval Manuscripts Blog. You can also follow us on Twitter, @BLMedieval, using the hashtag #BLAngloSaxons. We'd love you to tell us which is your favourite exhibit, from the selection published here. 

 

Codex Amiatinus, the earliest surviving complete Bible in Latin, was made at the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow in the north-east of England in the early 8th century and taken to Italy in 716 as a gift for the Pope. It has returned to England for the first time in more than 1300 years, on loan from the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence.

Codex Amiatinus  MS MAD Amiatino  f.1v (c) Firenze  Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana

Codex Amiatinus, on loan from Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence

 

Here is a small selection of some of the outstanding illuminated manuscripts on display. They include the St Augustine Gospels, the Book of Durrow, the Echternach Gospels, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Durham Cassiodorus, the Codex Aureus, the MacDurnan Gospels and the Boulogne Gospels.

St Augustine Gospels (c) The Parker Library  Corpus Christi College  Cambridge

 The St Augustine Gospels, on loan from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Book of Durrow (Ms.57  ff.85v-86r) (c) The Board of Trinity College  Dublin

The Book of Durrow, on loan from Trinity College Dublin

 

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The Echternach Gospels, on loan from Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

 

Lindisfarne Gospels p.2 (c) British Library Board

The Lindisfarne Gospels (The British Library)

 

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The Durham Cassiodorus, on loan from Durham Cathedral Library

 

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The Codex Aureus, on loan from Kungliga Biblioteket, Stockholm

 

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The MacDurnan Gospels, on loan from Lambeth Palace Library

 

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The Boulogne Gospels, on loan from Bibliothèque municipale, Boulogne-sur-mer

 

The exhibition also presents an opportunity to compare side-by-side the Utrecht Psalter with its later descendants, the Harley Psalter and the Eadwine Psalter. 

Utrecht Psalter (MS 32  ff. 8r) (c) Universiteitsbibliothek  Utrech

The Utrecht Psalter, on loan from Universiteitsbibliotheek, Utrecht

 

Harley Psalter (Harley MS 603  f. 7v) (c) British Library Board

The Harley Psalter (The British Library)

 

Eadwine Psalter (MS R.17.1  ff. 24r) (c) the Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge

The Eadwine Psalter, on loan from Trinity College, Cambridge

 

Also on display is the magnificent treasure binding on the Judith of Flanders Gospels.

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The Judith of Flanders Gospels, on loan from The Morgan Library, New York

 

The four principal manuscripts of Old English poetry are on display together for the first time. The British Library’s unique manuscript of Beowulf is on show alongside the Vercelli Book, returning to England for the first time from the Biblioteca Capitolare in Vercelli; the Exeter Book, on loan from Exeter Cathedral Library; and the Junius Manuscript, on loan from the Bodleian Library.

Beowulf (c) British Library Board

Beowulf (The British Library)

 

Exeter Book ff. 112v (c) University of Exeter  Digital Humanities and the Dean & Chapter  Exeter Cathedral

The Exeter Book, on loan from Exeter Cathedral Library

 

Vercelli Book (c) Biblioteca Capitolare de Vercelli (Italy)

The Vercelli Book, on loan from Biblioteca e Archivio Capitolare, Vercelli

 

Junius Manuscript p.35 (c) The Bodleian Library  Unviersity of Oxford

The Junius Manuscript, on loan from the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford

 

Domesday Book, the most famous book in English history and earliest surviving public record, is on loan from The National Archives. It provides unrivalled evidence for the landscape and administration of late Anglo-Saxon England.

Domesday (c) The National Archives

Domesday Book, on loan from The National Archives

 

Also on display are a number of recently discovered archaeological objects including the Binham Hoard, the largest collection of gold from 6th century Britain, on loan from the Norfolk Museums Service; the Lichfield Angel, which has never been displayed outside of Lichfield since it was excavated in 2003, on loan from Lichfield Cathedral; and key objects from the Staffordshire Hoard, discovered in 2009, the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found, on loan from Birmingham Museums Trust and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.

Binham Hoard (c) Norwich Castle Museum

The Binham Hoard, on loan from Norwich Museum Service

 

Lichfield Angel (c) Lichfield Cathedral

The Lichfield Angel, on loan from Lichfield Cathedral

 

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The Staffordshire Hoard, on loan from Birmingham Museums Trust and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent

 

Other objects on display (did we say that this is a once-in-a-generation exhibition?) include the Sutton Hoo gold buckle on loan from the British Museum, and the Alfred Jewel, on loan from the Ashmolean Museum.

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The Sutton Hoo gold buckle, on loan from the British Museum

 

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The Alfred Jewel, on loan from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

 

The River Erne horn, a wooden trumpet from the 8th century discovered in the river in the 1950s, is displayed for the first time alongside the Vespasian Psalter, which includes the oldest translation of part of the Bible into English and depicts two musicians playing very similar instruments.

River Erne horn © National Museum NI

The River Erne Horn, on loan from National Museums Northern Ireland

 

Vespasian Psalter (c) British Library Board

The Vespasian Psalter (The British Library)

 

A number of important documents are on display in Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms. They include the earliest surviving English charter, issued in 679 and granting land to the Abbot of Reculver; the oldest original letter written in England, from the Bishop of London to the Archbishop of Canterbury, dating from early 8th century; and the earliest surviving letter in English, the Fonthill letter, from the early 10th century on loan from Canterbury Cathedral.

Earliest surviving English charter (c) British Library Board

The earliest surviving charter (The British Library)

 

Earliest surviving original letter from England (c) British Library Board

The oldest letter written in England (The British Library)

 

Fonthill letter  earliest surviving letter in English (c) Reproduced courtesy of the Chapter  Canterbury Cathedral

The Fonthill Letter, on loan from Canterbury Cathedral Archives

 

The St Cuthbert Gospel, the oldest intact European book with its original binding, was made at the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow in the north-east of England in the early 8th century. It was acquired by the British Library in 2012 following the Library’s most ambitious and successful fundraising campaign for an acquisition.

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The St Cuthbert Gospel (The British Library)

 

Last, and certainly not least, the exhibition has on display a number of significant historical manuscripts from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, such as the Moore Bede, Textus Roffensis, the New Minster Liber Vitae, and the will of Wynflæd, a 10th-century English noblewoman.

 

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The Moore Bede, on loan from Cambridge University Library

  

 

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Textus Roffensis, on loan from Rochester Cathedral

 

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The New Minster Liber Vitae (The British Library)

Wynflaed Will (c) British Library Board

 Wynflæd's will (The British Library)

 

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War

The British Library, London

19 October 2018–19 February 2019

 

 

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

16 October 2018

A missal not to be missed

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One of the British Library's illuminated manuscripts is now on display, with a selection of other stunning objects, at a new exhibition exploring the life and times of the powerful bibliophile duchess, Mary of Guelders (1378–1427). You can visit the exhibition, I, Mary of Guelders: The Duchess and her extraordinary prayer book, at the Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen, from now until 6 January 2019. Our manuscript, Egerton MS 3018, reveals the cosmopolitan connections and rich book culture of the Lower Rhine area in Mary’s day.

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The opening of the Canon of the Mass, facing a miniature of the Virgin and Child with a patron portrait: Egerton MS 3018, ff. 23v–24r

The manuscript on loan from the Library is a missal, a service book containing the texts needed for the performance of the Mass. A close look through its pages reveals a fascinating meeting of scribal cultures. The main part of the manuscript was written and illustrated in the late 14th century by a scribe working in an Italian style, using the rounded script and smooth white parchment that were common in Italian manuscripts. It could have been made in Italy, or by Italian artisans working in the Lower Rhine area.

In the year 1400, a different scribe added a calendar focusing on saints related to Cologne, featuring ‘red letter days’ for the Three Kings (their deaths on 11 January and their translation on 23 July), the 11,000 Virgins (21 October), and St Severin, archbishop of Cologne (23 October), all of whom had their major shrines in Cologne. They also added an office for St Severin and a Mass dedicated to all angels. This scribe used thicker parchment, wrote in a pointed gothic script typical of northern Europe, and decorated their initial letters with a Dutch type of penwork.

At a similar time or perhaps slightly later, an artist added seven Rhenish-style full-page miniatures depicting various saints. With their full-length figures, flat backgrounds and minimal narrative, these miniatures closely resemble the types of devotional panel paintings commonly displayed in churches at this time. They were probably added at the request of a new owner, probably the man pictured in the image above, praying before the Virgin and Child at the opening of the Canon of the Mass.

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Probably St Severin of Cologne: Egerton MS 3018, f. 7r

Some of the saints included were widely venerated while others were local to the Lower Rhine area. This miniature shows a saint holding a church, identified as a bishop by his mitre and crosier. He is probably intended to represent St Severin, the 4th-century bishop of Cologne whose feast day is prominently marked in the manuscript’s calendar and commemorated with an office in the manuscript’s sanctorale section. The church he carries most likely represents his foundation and shrine site, the Basilica of St Severin in Cologne. It was the city’s second major cult focus after the Shrine of the Three Kings at the Cathedral.

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St Cornelius and St Cyprian: Egerton MS 3018, f. 92r

The saints portrayed in this miniature also point to a connection with the Basilica of St Severin in Cologne. They are St Cornelius and St Cyprian, a pope and a bishop who were martyred together in the 3rd century. St Cornelius is identified by his papal tiara and horn, while St Cyprian wears a bishop’s mitre and carries a crosier and book. When St Severin first founded his Basilica, he dedicated it to Cornelius and Cyprian. Severin was later added to the dedication and the Basilica was re-named in his honour. Nevertheless, devotion to Cornelius and Cyprian continued, and a relic known as the Horn of St Cornelius has been one of the principal treasures housed at the Basilica since c. 1500. The miniatures of Saints Severin, Cornelius and Cyprian, three unusual subjects who were all patron saints of the Basilica of St Severin in Cologne, suggests that the manuscript’s owner had close ties with this church.

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The Ten Thousand Martyrs: Egerton MS 3018, f. 43r

Another unusual image in this manuscript depicts the Ten Thousand Martyrs, said to have been a group of Roman soldiers led by St Achatius, and who were impaled to death by a pagan army. This relatively obscure cult is particularly associated with Switzerland and Germany, and relics were claimed by Cologne, Prague and other towns. According to legend, whoever venerated their memory would enjoy health of mind and body. Perhaps to emphasise their powers over bodily health, this gruesome miniature focuses on the martyrs’ bodily suffering, showing them as a mass of contorted naked bodies, violently impaled and pouring with blood.

We are delighted to be a lender to the Mary of Guelders exhibition, which is on in Nijmegen from 13 October 2018 to 6 January 2019. 

 

Eleanor Jackson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

13 October 2018

The last Anglo-Saxon kings

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This weekend marks two important anniversaries. 13 October is the feast-day of King Edward the Confessor, who ruled England from 1042 until his death in January 1066. His successor, King Harold II, was killed 952 years ago at the Battle of Hastings, on 14 October 1066. In the week that our major exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, opens at the British Library, here is some of the manuscript evidence for these last kings of Anglo-Saxon England.

Hastings is often cited as ‘the end of Anglo-Saxon England’. But how ‘English’ were these last Anglo-Saxon kings? Harold had a Norse name, and his parents were closely linked to King Cnut, who ruled England and Scandinavia; while Edward the Confessor spent most of his formative years in exile in Normandy.

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Seal of Edward the Confessor: LFC Ch XXI 5

Although Edward the Confessor died in January 1066, his saint’s day was eventually set for 13 October: the last day England was ruled by an ‘English’ king, as opposed to a Norman. (A handy tip: you can enter Westminster Abbey for free on this day, since Edward’s shrine is there.) But Edward had many close connections to Normandy. His parents were Æthelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy, the daughter of Richard I, duke of Normandy. During Edward’s childhood, England was repeatedly attacked by Scandinavian forces.When he was about 10, he fled to Normandy wih his mother, his brother Alfred and his sister Godgifu. After Æthelred died, Emma returned to England to marry the conquering King Cnut, but Edward and his siblings remained in Normandy, probably living with their relatives.

When King Cnut died in 1035, Alfred and Edward, now in his 30s, invaded England in order to claim the throne. They were probably supported by Norman forces and possibly encouraged by Emma. After being defeated, Edward escaped but Alfred was captured, blinded and killed by Cnut’s son, Harald Harefoot. Edward seems never to have forgiven his mother for marrying Cnut or for her role in their failed coup.

Harald Harefoot died in 1040 and Emma’s son by Cnut, Harthacnut, succeeded to the throne. Harthacnut and Emma had trouble retaining power, so Emma invited Edward to return from Normandy and rule as king alongside Harthacnut. Harthacnut choked at a wedding feast and died, and Edward was crowned as sole king of England in 1043, when he was around 40 years old. Up to that point, he had spent three-quarters of his life outside England.

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Portrait of Emma being presented with the Encomium Emmae Reginae, while Harthacnut and Edward look on, c. 1041: Add MS 33241, f. 1v

One of Edward’s first actions within a few months of becoming king was to deprive Emma of her property. He still had many Continental connections. His inner circle included his relative Ralph of Mantes, who stationed troops in England. Edward also promoted the interests of the Norman abbot Robert of Jumièges, who was eventually made archbishop of Canterbury. He also promoted Leofric, a Cornishman educated in Liège, to be his bishop of St Germans and Crediton (Exeter). In 1051, Edward even hosted a visit from his cousin, William, duke of Normandy.

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The only record of William the Conqueror visiting England before the Conquest, from Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D: Cotton MS Tiberius B IV, f. 74r

Another close advisor to Edward was his father-in-law, Earl Godwine. Godwine was an English noble, but he had risen through the ranks of Cnut’s regime and had married a Scandinavian woman. A sign of these connections is the Norse names he gave some of his sons: Swein (Sven), Tostig and Harold. While Harold may not have grown up outside England, he still travelled widely and his family relied on the support of Continental powers.

In 1051, after Earl Godwine had a dispute with Eustace of Boulogne and Edward's other Continental advisors, his family fled to Bruges. His sons travelled to Flanders and Scandinavia to raise a fleet to force Edward to allow them to return, and Harold travelled to Ireland, also seeking support. The family succeeded in being reinstated. Harold also travelled much further afield, to Flanders, the German lands and Rome, where he collected relics.

Further evidence of connections on both sides of the English Channel, even before the Norman Conquest, is that Harold had probably stayed at the court of William of Normandy. In 1064, two years before they faced off across the battlefield at Hastings, William and Harold may have even fought together during William’s campaigns in Brittany. Later Norman sources made much of this meeting, claiming that Harold swore on relics to allow William to succeed Edward as king of England. These claims seem slightly too convenient in light of the later Norman Conquest. However, The Life of King Edward commissioned by Harold’s sister mentioned that ‘Harold had a tendency to be too generous with his promises. Alas!’

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Opening page from the Vita Ædwardi Regis: Harley MS 526, f. 38r

Whatever happened between Harold and William, when Edward died in 1066, Harold was swiftly elected king by the English nobility, who claimed that Edward has nominated Harold on his deathbed. Harold’s 10-month reign was dominated by warfare, first with the Welsh kings and then with challengers for his own throne. England was attacked from the sea by the Scandinavian leader Harald Hardrada, who was supported by Harold Godwinson’s own brother, Tostig. Harold defeated Harald Hardrada and Tostig was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September 1066. The English king then immediately marched South, since William of Normandy had landed on the coast and was devastating the surrounding countryside.

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Account of Harold Hardrada's and Tostig’s attacks, from Anglo-Saxon Chronicle C: Cotton MS Tiberius B I, f. 162v

On 13 October 1066, as Harold marched to confront William's invading forces, few could have predicted the sweeping changes that would occur when William won the Battle of Hastings. English government, the aristocracy, architecture and the English language would undergo radical change in the following decades. But some things did not change. English rulers, nobles and tradespeople had close links to the Continent before the Norman Conquest, and there was already cultural and artistic exchange between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and the wider world.

You can discover more about these connections in the British Library's Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (19 October 2018–19 February 2019).

Alison Hudson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

12 October 2018

Harry Potter: A History of Magic at the New York Historical Society

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Many of you will remember the British Library’s blockbuster exhibition, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, which explored the history, mythology and folklore behind the Harry Potter stories. Our North American readers may be excited to know that, like the self-renewing phoenix on the poster, the exhibition has been born again in New York. The new exhibition is now open at the New-York Historical Society, featuring rare books and manuscripts on loan from the British Library.

Here’s a selection of magical manuscripts that you can see in the show. All of these should be on the reading list of any aspiring student of witchcraft and wizardry.

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An alchemist: Harley MS 3469, f. 4r

Harry Potter fans will know that the plot of the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, centres on the use of alchemy. This beautifully illustrated manuscript, known as Splendor Solis (Splendour of the Sun), was made in Germany in 1582. This image shows an alchemist holding a flask filled with a golden liquid. A scroll fluttering from the flask bears the mystical inscription, ‘Eamus quesitum quatuor elementorum naturas’ (Let us ask the four elements of nature), which reflects the Classical idea that all earthly substances are made up of four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Alchemists attempted to imitate the creative processes of nature to transform matter and even to restore life.

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A centaur with the plant centaury: Harley MS 5294, f. 22r

Students at Hogwarts School take classes in Herbology to learn about which plants are most useful for potions and medicine. The manuscript shown above is a 12th-century herbal, describing different kinds of plants and their medicinal properties. This page describes the plant centauria minor, the lesser centaury, named after the wise centaur Chiron from Greek mythology. In the picture, Chiron hands some centaury plants to his pupil and foster son Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. The inscription below the snake explains that, ground to a powder or mixed in wine, centaury is a potent remedy against snake bites.

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Harvesting a mandrake: Harley MS 3736, f. 59r

One of the most notorious plants listed in medieval herbals was the mandrake. The plant’s roots often resemble miniature humans, which were said to shriek when they were pulled out of the ground. According to ancient and medieval folklore, mandrakes could cure headaches, earaches, gout and insanity, but anyone who heard the mandrake’s scream would die. To harvest the mandrake without succumbing to its fatal shrieking, some herbals recommended a handy trick, as illustrated in this herbal made in the late 15th or early 16th century. You can read more about this process in our blogpost How to harvest a mandrake.

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A phoenix rising from the ashes: Harley MS 4751, f. 45r

In the Harry Potter universe, witches and wizards learn about magical creatures by consulting the book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander. Medieval people learned about marvellous creatures by reading a bestiary, or book of beasts. This page in a 13th-century English bestiary describes and illustrates the phoenix. The text explains that this remarkable bird has the ability to resurrect itself in old age. It creates its own funeral pyre from branches and plants, then fans the flames with its own wings until it is consumed by the fire. After the ninth day, the phoenix rises again from the ashes.

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The constellation Canis Major: Cotton MS Tiberius C I, f. 28r

The names of many characters in the Harry Potter books, such as Sirius Black and Draco Malfoy, were inspired by stars in the night sky. Medieval people also placed great importance on the stars, which they used for navigation, calculating dates and predicting the future. This 12th-century English manuscript contains a copy of Cicero’s Aratea, a Roman book about the stars. The page above shows the constellation Canis Major (the Greater Dog), in which is found Sirius, the 'dog star', the brightest star in the night sky.

The writing inside the dog’s body gives further information about the constellation, including its origin story from ancient Greek mythology. According to the tale, there was once a hound so swift that no prey could escape it, and also a fox so swift that it could never be caught. When the huntsman Cephalus sent the hound to catch the fox, it created such a paradox that the god Zeus had to turn them both to stone. Zeus then placed the hound in the sky where it became Canis Major.

To learn more about these manuscripts, please visit the Harry Potter exhibition at the New-York Historical Society, from 5 October 2018 until 27 January 2019. All the manuscripts described above are also featured on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site. There are lots of other ways to learn more about Harry Potter: A History of Magic, including the exhibition book, television documentary and our own pages hosted by Google Arts and Culture.

 

Eleanor Jackson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

02 October 2018

The Harley Bible moralisée on display in New York

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During the reigns of Louis VIII (1223–1226), his formidable wife Blanche of Castile (d. 1252) and their son, Louis IX (1226–1270), Paris was the artistic centre of Europe. Among the most spectacular artistic creations of their reigns were moralized picture Bibles known as Bibles moralisées. Each contains literally thousands of richly painted and gilded images, designed (in the words of Professor John Lowden) to ‘create an impression of unsurpassed magnificence’.

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The One seated on the throne, in Revelation 4:6–5:8: Harley 1527, f. 120v

These books are known as moralized Bibles because biblical scenes in roundels are paired with their symbolic or theological interpretation or ‘moralizations’ below, with a short biblical extract or explanatory moralisation added next to each picture. Each was made as a royal commission for a member of the French royal family or a close relative. 

Two of the manuscripts include an image of a king and queen, or a king, as well as an artist at work on a book with roundels like those in the Bibles moralisées. It has been suggested that the first two copies, now both in Vienna, were made for Blanche and Louis’s own use (one in French, and the second latinized from French).

(i) Vienna, Ã–sterreichische Nationalbibliothek, MS 1179

(ii) Vienna, Ã–sterreichische Nationalbibliothek, MS 2554

The other two early copies, one now split between Oxford, Paris and the Harley collection at the British Library, and its twin, now in Toledo (with a small portion in New York), are even more ambitious undertakings. They were perhaps commissioned by Blanche as wedding presents for her son, Louis IX, and his bride Margaret of Provence (1221–1295) on their marriage in 1234.

(iii) Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 270B + Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 11560 + London, British Library Harley MS 1527

(iv) Toledo, Tesoro del Catedral + New York, The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.240

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The book of Seven Seals with the four living creatures and the twenty-four Elders with moralisations, in Revelation 4:6–5:8: Harley 1527, f. 121r

These moralized Bibles are indeed extraordinary creations in every way. Their production in a workshop in Paris must have been a massive and extremely expensive undertaking, as the books appear to have been made in rapid succession, within a period of about ten years, from around 1225 to 1235. Each illustrated page has eight roundels, and faces another page with the same layout, so that the viewer is confronted with sixteen images on each illustrated opening. The astonishing complexity of the images, their moralisations and the accompanying texts suggests that the royal recipients of the Bibles moralisées would have viewed and/or read them in the company of their personal chaplains or priests.

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The Wise and Foolish Virgins: Harley MS 1527, f. 46r

One volume of the British Library's Harley Bible moralisée is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, as part of the Armenia! exhibition, which opened on 22 September. The exhibition is the first to examine the remarkable artistic contribution of the Armenians in a global context.

An important aspect of the exhibition is the exploration of the connections between the arts of the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia and the court of Louis IX. The Franciscan friar William of Rubruck (Willem van Ruysbroeck) (c. 1210–c. 1270) took illuminated manuscripts with him on his mission to the Mongols in 1253, including a Bible given to him by Louis IX and a Psalter given by Queen Margaret of Provence (d. 1295). It may be that these manuscripts influenced the style and compositions of one of the most accomplished of Armenian painters, T‘oros Roslin (active 1256–1268).

To see the Harley manuscript in New York, visit the Armenia! Exhibition, open until 13 January 2019. To view it online, please visit the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site. We also discussed this manuscript in a previous blogpost.

 

Kathleen Doyle

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

Further Reading

John Lowden, The Making of the Bibles Moralisées, 2 vols (University Park, Pennsylvania, 2000), I, The Manuscripts, esp. pp. 139–87.

John Lowden, ‘The Apocalypse in the Early-Thirteenth-Century Bibles Moralisées: A Re-Assessment’, in Prophecy, Apocalypse and the Day of Doom, Proceedings of the 2000 Harlaxton Symposium, ed. by Nigel Morgan, Harlaxton Medieval Studies, 12 (Donington, 2004), pp. 195–217 (pp. 198, 207–212, 216, pls 20, 26–28, 31).

Scot McKendrick & Kathleen Doyle, The Art of the Bible: Illuminated Manuscripts from the Medieval World (London: Thames & Hudson, 2016), no. 26.  

Armenia: Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages, ed. by Helen C. Evans (New York, 2018).

01 October 2018

A calendar page for October 2018

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It's October! That means it is only 19 days until the British Library's Â­Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition opens. Visitors will see a treasure trove of manuscripts, from spectacular art to early examples of English literature. Book your tickets now!

You’ll also be able to see this calendar, made in England over 1000 years ago. Of course, the makers of this manuscript did not anticipate that — a millennium later — the opening of an exhibition in London would be important, and so they didn’t mention ‘exhibition viewing’ as the ultimate October activity. Instead, hawking and falconry are depicted on the page for October.

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A calendar page for October, made in England in the mid-11th century: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7v

Falconry was a popular pastime throughout the Middle Ages, and has been illustrated in most of the previous calendars featured on this blog, albeit at different months. 11th-century English noblemen who enjoyed hawking may have included King Harold II, who was depicted with a hawk on the Bayeux Tapestry. After the Norman Conquest, Earl Hugh of Chester may have arranged his entire property portfolio around hawking: records of his lands in Domesday Book include an above-average number of hawks and deer parks. (Did we mention that Domesday Book will also be on display in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition?)

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Detail of a man with a bird, Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7v

A striking feature of the hawking scene in Cotton MS Julius A VI is how recognisable the birds are to a modern eye. While the artist(s) of this calendar depicted plants and trees in a highly stylized manner, the birds in these images look very similar to ducks and cranes today. This parallels are even clearer in the colourful image of the same scene found in another illustrated 11th-century calendar, Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1.

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Detail of men hawking on foot and on horseback, from a calendar in a scientific miscellany from 11th-century England: Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, f. 7v

The rest of the calendar contains the usual astronomical, astrological and time-keeping information. Libra is portrayed as a man wearing a cloak and holding scales in a roundel at the top of the page. There is only one feast-day marked out with a gold cross: the feast of St Simon and St Jude on 28 October. Today these saints are considered to be the patrons of lost causes.

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Alfred mentioned in the calendar (first line in the image) that was added to a Psalter in England in the early 10th century: Cotton MS Galba A XVIII, f. 12v

There is someone missing from this calendar and its poem that describes every day of the year. The earliest surviving manuscript of this poem commemorates the death of King Alfred of Wessex (871–899) on 26 October. The calendar in Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, which was made in the 11th century, also commemorates Alfred. But the mid-11th century Julius Work Calendar does not, nor does it commemorate the death of Alfred’s wife, Ealhswith, on December 5.

There are several possible explanations for this omission. First, the scribe of this calendar could have been copying an earlier version of the poem, perhaps composed before Alfred and Ealhswith died. Alternatively, Alfred and Ealhswith could have been replaced in later versions of the poem. While Alfred the Great is arguably the best known Anglo-Saxon king today, he was not necessarily so well remembered in the centuries after his death. In the mid-11th century, his grandson Æthelstan and his great-grandson Edgar were the kings who were fondly remembered in speeches and chronicles. Moreover, these calendars were probably made at monasteries, and specific monasteries took different views of Alfred. While Alfred and his wife were well-remembered in the history of the New Minster, Winchester (where they were buried), the monks of Abingdon in Oxfordshire believed that he had stolen from them.

Instead of Alfred, on 26 October this calendar commemorates the deaths of Maximian and St Amand (Amandus). Amand (d. 675) was a bishop who founded monasteries in Ghent and elsewhere in Flanders, and these churches had close links to English houses in the 10th and 11th centuries. Amand is also remembered today as the patron saint of beer, brewers and bartenders.

To learn more about all these people — and to see some of the books associated with Alfred, Ealhswith and Æthelstan â€” please come to the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition between 19 October and 19 February. It promises to be a once-in-1302-years experience.

 

Alison Hudson 

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20 September 2018

The Book of Durrow to be displayed at the British Library

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It is now less than one month until the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition opens at the British Library on 19 October. Today, we are delighted to announce that the Book of Durrow will be on display in the exhibition, on loan from the Library of Trinity College Dublin. This manuscript, dated to the late 7th or turn of the 8th century, is believed to be the earliest fully decorated gospel-book to survive from Ireland or Britain.

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Elaborated initial at the opening of the gospel of Mark

The carpet page and opening of the Gospel of Mark, in the Book of Durrow (Trinity College Library, Dublin, MS 57, ff. 85v–86r). © The Board of Trinity College, Dublin.

The date and origin of the manuscript have long been debated. Strong parallels with early Anglo-Saxon metalwork, including objects from the Sutton Hoo ship burial, encouraged former attributions to Northumbria. A sword pommel from the Staffordshire Hoard, discovered in 2009, also closely resembles some aspects of the decoration in the Book of Durrow and will be on display in the exhibition. However these similarities seem to reflect the dispersal and durability of Anglo-Saxon metalwork, and the strong cultural and artistic connections between Ireland and the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The Book of Durrow is now generally considered to have been produced in the monastery of Durrow, Co. Offaly, or to have arrived there from Iona.

Our forthcoming exhibition will be the first opportunity to see the Book of Durrow in Britain since it was displayed at the Royal Academy in the ‘Treasures of Trinity College Dublin’ exhibition in 1961. The only loan to that exhibition was the Lindisfarne Gospels. Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms will be the first occasion on which the two manuscripts have been exhibited together for nearly 60 years. As we announced in November last year, the exhibition will also include Codex Amiatinus, which was made in Northumbria in the early 8th century and is returning to Britain for the first time since it was taken to Italy in 716.

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The opening of the Gospel of Matthew, in the Lindisfarne Gospels (British Library Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 27r).

The Book of Durrow contains the text of the four Gospels, adorned with spectacular decoration. Its artists drew inspiration from Ireland, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Pictland and as far away as the Mediterranean. Its designs are outstanding for their precise geometry, harmonious compositions and bold style of drawing. One of the most striking features of the manuscript is its ‘carpet pages’, so-called because they are completely covered with complex geometric designs. Putting abstract ornament centre stage was new to manuscript illumination, and went on to play an important role in Anglo-Saxon gospel-books such as the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Page showing twisted anmals of Anglo-Saxon or germanic influence

The carpet page preceding the Gospel of John, in the Book of Durrow (Trinity College Library, Dublin, MS 57, f. 192v). © The Board of Trinity College, Dublin.

 Other important elements of the manuscript’s artwork are the images of the evangelist symbols, the creatures that symbolise the gospel-writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Early Christian writers assigned the evangelists the symbols of the man, the lion, the ox/calf and the eagle based on the visions of Ezekiel and John the Evangelist in the Bible. The Book of Durrow is the first surviving manuscript in which each Gospel opens with a picture of the evangelist symbol instead of a portrait of the human evangelist. It is also the first surviving instance of a ‘four-symbols page’ in a manuscript, an image of all four evangelist symbols arranged in a cross shape. The linear style and flat blocks of colour suggest that the creatures were inspired by metalwork objects.

Eagle symbol at teh start of the gospel of Mark

The eagle, acting as the evangelist symbol of St Mark, in the Book of Durrow (Trinity College Library, Dublin, MS 57, f. 84v). © The Board of Trinity College, Dublin.

The Book of Durrow is one of the most spectacular surviving works of early medieval art and we are very grateful to Trinity College Dublin for loaning this manuscript to the exhibition. If you haven’t already booked tickets to see the Book of Durrow — along with the earliest surviving complete Latin Bible, Old English poetry, Domesday Book and more early art — you can book them here. The Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition runs from 19 October 2018 to 19 February 2019.

 

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01 September 2018

A calendar page for September 2018

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Spears to the ready! It’s time to go on a hunt. So says a calendar page for September, made over one thousand years ago. You can read more about this calendar in the first of our series of posts about it this year, and soon you can come to see it in person at our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.

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Detail of a scene with hunters and pigs: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7r

This calendar is one of only two calendars from Anglo-Saxon England that are illustrated with scenes of daily life (the other is in Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1). For the preceding months these scenes have tended to focus on agriculture, but for September the artist has drawn a hunting scene. Two men with spears, a hunting horn and a dog follow a group of boars or possibly domestic pigs into a forest of sinuous trees. The oblivious pigs, meanwhile, munch on items hanging near the base of the trees. This scene nicely matches a description in an Old English riddle from the Exeter Book on Creation/the World/the Universe:

‘I am bigger and fatter than a fattened swine,
a swarthy boar, who lived joyfully
bellowing in a beech-wood, rooting away …’ (translated by Megan Cavell)

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Calendar page for September: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7r

This page is also notable for containing the only depiction of a woman to feature in this calendar. She represents the astrological sign Virgo and appears in a roundel at the top of the page. She is shown holding a plant. Her dress seems to be that of an 11th-century English woman: she wears a veil on her head and has flowing sleeves.

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Detail of a roundel depicting Virgo: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7r

The absence of women elsewhere in the calendar is puzzling, since women would have participated in many agricultural activities. For example, notes on farming equipment, produce and workers from early 11th-century Ely mention dairymaids and other women working on farms. Women also attended feasts, such as the one depicted in the calendar page for April. Even the poem Beowulf â€” not noted for its gender representation — mentioned women attending a feast, including Queen Wealhtheow and her maidens.

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Farm records mentioning female agricultural workers: Add MS 61735

The absence of women elsewhere in the calendar is perhaps puzzling. The only other surviving calendar from Anglo-Saxon England that is illustrated with agricultural and pastoral scenes (Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1) does not include women, either. Perhaps these artists were working from models that did not feature women. Additionally, it is tempting to speculate that these images conveyed a spiritual meaning as much as depicting contemporary activities: scenes of ploughing and harvesting were well-known Biblical metaphors. It is therefore possible that female figures were excluded not because women did not play a role in 11th-century agriculture, but because women’s participation in preaching and spiritual teaching was being curtailed in some circles by the 11th century.

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Detail of a verse on the feast of Michael the Archangel: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7r

In addition to the artwork, this calendar features tables for calculating the day of the month, the day of the week, and lunar cycles, along with a poem with a verse for every day. Three major feast days have been marked out with gold crosses in the margin: the Virgin Mary’s birthday (8 September); the feast of St Matthew the Evangelist (21 September); and the feast of the Archangel Michael, or Michaelmas (29 September). Michaelmas continued to be an important feast throughout the Middle Ages, and its date still affects several institutions that originated in the medieval period. For example, law courts in England and Ireland and several universities in England, Wales and Scotland use Michaelmas as the start date for their terms.


Alison Hudson

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