THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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4 posts categorized "Visual arts"

25 September 2017

Drop dead gorgeous

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At the beginning of the Office for the Dead in a 15th-century Book of Hours at the British Library, an initial was decorated with an image of a richly-attired skeleton admiring herself in a mirror.  This image may already be familiar to readers of this blog. What we haven't previously mentioned, however, is this manuscript's connection to a powerful duchess, the Renaissance artist Titian and a real skeleton. 

Yates Thompson 7   f. 174
Detail of an initial in the Office for the Dead, from the Hours of Dionora of Urbino, Central Italy, c. 1480–1520, Yates Thompson MS 7, f. 174r 

The stylish skeleton appears in a Book of Hours owned by Eleanora (also called Dionora) Gonzaga della Rovere, duchess of Urbino. She was an important patron of the arts and a political figure. We know that this book was owned by Eleanora because it is inscribed with her name and because her family's arms and her husband's arms appear throughout the decoration. The scribe, who signed his work, was Matteo Contugi de Volterra, who worked around the year 1480. The illumination, completed later, may be the work of one of the most notable illuminators from Renaissance Italy, Matteo da Milano. 

Yates Thompson 7   f. 14
Detail of a border with the inscription 'Diva Dio(nora) Duci(ssa) Ur(bini)' and with the arms of Della Rova impaling Gonzaga, Yates Thompson MS 7, f. 14r

Eleanora was a great patron of other artists, too. She supported writers such as Baldassare Castiglioni and the poet, Torquato Tasso. Today, she is particularly associated with Titian, who painted her portrait and that of her husband. Some people have even argued that Titian used Eleanora's face as a model for other paintings, namely La Bella, Girl in a Fur Cloak and the Venus of Urbino, although this is now disputed. That is probably just as well: the Venus of Urbino was bought by Eleanora's son Guidobaldo, possibly as a gift for his wife, so it might have been a bit odd if Titian had used the eventual recipient's mother-in-law as one of the models!

Yates Thompson 7   f. 174    Eleanora gonzaga titian

Tiziano-venere-urbino

Spot the difference! Yates Thompson MS 7, Titian's portrait of Eleanora (now in the Uffizi Gallery) and the Venus of Urbino (now also in the Uffizi Gallery)

Eleanora Gonzaga della Rovere died in 1570 and she was buried in the church of Santa Chiara in Urbino. All that now remains of Eleanora , former owner of the British Library's Book of Hours, is a skeleton. Indeed, the skeleton believed to be hers was exhumed and analysed in 2005, with the study using craniofacial superimposition to compare its skull with Titian's portrait of Eleonora. The analysis concluded that 'the face of Eleonora [in the painting] matches the skull fairly closely except for the length of the nose'. Titian may have portrayed her with a smaller nose to exaggerate her beauty. If that was the case, it is an interesting coda to the story of the duchess who owned this Book of Hours, with its famous image of a skeleton warning against vanity!

Yates Thompson 7   f. 42v
Detail of a border and an initial 'D' inscribed with the words 'Dionara Gonzaga Duc(issa) Urbini et cet[era]' , Yates Thompson MS 7, f. 42v

 

Alison Hudson

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26 February 2016

Caption Competition Number 4

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Sometimes we come across images that are just perfect for creative captions.  Here is one from an Apocalypse manuscript which has recently been fully digitised, Harley MS 4972.  It is filled with great images, including some weird hybrid concoctions.  So, over to you, dear, witty readers: how would you caption this image? The winner will be announced on the blog early next week.

Harley_ms_4972_f014r
Detail from Apocalypse in Prose, South-east France (Lorraine), 4th quarter of 13th century- 1st quarter of the 14th century, Harley MS 4972, f. 14r

 

Update 26 February 2016

Thank you for all of your entries. We are delighted to announce our Caption Competition Winner! 

That winner (of eternal fame in the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts section) is M. Mitchell Marmel: "H'm. Wonder if St. Brigid can turn this into bacon?" Honorary mentions also go to those who sent us unconventional styles of captions, such as sound files.

Didn't get the joke? Read our previous post about St. Brigid's magical, alchemical abilities

Brigid

Brigid’s fire, from a manuscript of Gerald of Wales’ 'Topographia Hiberniae', Royal MS 13 B VIII, f.23v

 

14 February 2016

The Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love, Part II

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Walking down your local high street over the past few weeks, you might have noticed some peculiar changes. Card shops have transformed into love-heart themed grottos filled with fluffy bears and pink gift wrap. Florists have been whipping themselves up into a rose-petal and ribbon-induced frenzy. Chocolatiers have been running on overtime, filling heart-shaped box, after heart-shaped box, with chocolate delights.

Yep, you guessed it, it’s Valentine’s Day.

Long-standing followers of this blog may remember our Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love Part I. Now the manuscripts are back, with even more tips to aid your romantic (mis)adventures this Valentine's Day. 

1. When choosing the appropriate spot for a clandestine tryst, try and avoid places overrun with imps or gargoyles. They can be quite the mood killer.

Gargoyles E086286c
Detail of temptation by lechery, from Matfre Ermengaud, Breviari d'Amor, Southern France (Toulouse?), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal MS 19 C 1, f. 33r

 

2. Dragons can also have a nasty habit of interfering with your romantic moment.

Royal 20 A V f 7 dragon E124219
Detail of a miniature of Nectanebus in the form of a dragon, kissing Olympias while she is at the table with Philip, from Roman d'Alexandre en Prose, Northern France or Southern Netherlands, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal MS 20 A V, f. 7r

 

3. If someone offers you the key to their heart, try not to take the phrase too literally. Things could get messy.

Add 42133 f 15 key c02249-01
Detail of a framed miniature of the God of Love locking the Lover's heart with a large gold key, from Guillaume de Lorris, continued by Jean de Meun, Roman de la Rose, France (Paris), 4th quarter of the 14th century, Additional MS 42133, f. 15r

 

4. There's only one thing better than a nightcap with a handsome man, and that's a nightcap on a handsome man. 

  Lovers

Detail of lovers in bed, Aldobrandino of Siena, Le RĂ©gime du corps, Northern France, Details of an item from the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts 3rd quarter of 13th century (perhaps c. 1285), Sloane MS 2435, f. 9v. 

 

5. But if the impulse strikes, why not go ahead and 'put a ring on' your special someone. Beyoncé would be proud!

Royal 6 E VI ring
Detail of couple exchanging a ring, from James le Palmer, Omne Bonum, South-eastern England (London?), c. 1360-c. 1375, Royal 6 E VI, f. 104r

 

6. When partaking in romantic activities such as getting married, at least try to get into the spirit and look enthusiastic about it.

Royal 6 E VI marriage
Detail of a historiated initial 'C'(oniugium) of a priest joining hands of a man and a woman, from Royal 6 E VI, f. 375r

 

 7. If your love is unrequited this Valentine’s Day, why not channel your inner teenager and doodle your feelings away?


King's 322 1 heart rain c0430-02
Historiated initial 'A'(more) of a kneeling lover presenting a book to a lady, identified in the text as Mirabel Zucharia, with borders and a shield, the original arms of which have been overpainted with two hearts burning in a fire, and in the right margin is the device of a heart on a bonfire, being quenched by the rain, from 49 love sonnets, Northern Italy (Milan?), 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, King's MS 322, f. 1r

 

8. And, if rejection comes your way this Valentine's Day, have no fear!

Royal 6 E VI rejection E015129
Detail of an historiated initial 'C'(onsciencia) of two men in discussion, from Royal 6 E VI, f. 341r


 There are plenty of fish in the sea (and in the sky). Like these… 

Fish 9th century E021999
Pisces, from Cicero, Aratea, with extracts from Hyginus's Astronomica in the constellation figures, Northern France (diocese of Reims), 9th century, Harley MS 647, f. 3v

Or even these…

Fish 25542_2
Detail of Pisces, from Cicero, Aratea, Northern France (Fleury), c. 990-c.1000, Harley MS 2506, f. 36v

~Becky Lawton

20 January 2016

New Arrivals for the New Year on Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

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A new year brings a new update to the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts – a host of new images and new manuscripts are now available online.  As many users of this catalogue will know, it complements our Digitised Manuscripts website, where complete manuscripts are digitised. CIM (our pet name for it) focuses on the illuminations, providing a selection of images with each catalogue entry, and the in-depth image descriptions are designed to allow searches for details within the images. For instance, the Advanced Search allows users to search for an image of a horse in a French manuscript of the 14th century. 13 horses of all shapes and sizes appear, from manuscripts as diverse as the Roman de Brut and the Queen Mary Psalter, including this one from the Chroniques de France:

K137598
Detail of a miniature of Brunhilda being dragged by hands and hair behind a horse, France, Central (Paris), 1332-1350,  Royal 16 G VI, f. 87

All images in the catalogue are in the public domain, so they are free to download and use.  See http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/reuse.asp for guidelines. For this reason we continue to add manuscripts that are already fully digitised, in some cases.

Once again, we have mostly worked on French manuscripts in the Additionals collection. Here is a selection of new additions.

Illuminated Apocalypses: a gift from the team in Medieval manuscripts to cheer up a bleak January day (or not !): 9 new manuscripts have been added, including the usual weird/horrific images:

Add MS 19896

K138430
A two-part miniature of the Devil, the Beast the False Prophet and all the Wicked in the lake of fire and brimstone (above); God in a mandorla judging the Dead, with books opened (below), Germany, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Add MS 19896, f. 22

Add MS 17333

K151518
Half-page framed miniature of the angel showing John the heavenly city with a decorated initial and foliate partial border, France, N. W. (Normandy), c.1320-1330, Add MS 17333, f. 45v

Add MS 22493

059384
Framed miniature of the Rider on the Pale Horse, depicted as a skeleton with the two mouths of hell behind him, France, N.E. (Lorraine: Metz or Verdun), 4th quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 22493, f. 3v

Images from these three Apocalypses, together with Add MSS 17399, Add MS 19896, Add MS 38118 and Add MS 38121 appear online for the first time. Add MS 11695 (the amazing Silos Apocalypse), Add MS 35166 and Add MS 15243 are already in Digitised Manuscripts, but have been added to the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts with a selection of images and detailed descriptions.

Further horrors are on view in this manuscript of Dante’s Divine Comedy, added to the 7 already in the catalogue:

B20133-15
Bas-de page scene of the sowers of discord displaying their wounds (left); Bertrand de Born depicted twice, showing Dante and Virgil his severed head, from Canto 28 of the Inferno, Italy, S. (Naples), c. 1370, Add MS 19587, f. 47v

3 manuscripts of the Roman de la Rose have been added to the 11 already in the catalogue. Here are images from two of them:

Add MS 31840

B20153-25
Framed miniature of the Lover asleep at the beginning of the Roman de la Rose, with full foliate border and hounds chasing rabbits in the lower section, France, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 14th century, Add MS 31840, f. 3

Add 42133

C02249-01
Framed miniature of the God of Love locking the Lover's heart with a large gold key, from the Roman de la Rose, France (Paris),  4th quarter of the 14th century, Add MS 42133, f. 15

 

A magnificent Bible Historiale in 2 volumes. Here is an image from volume 2:

A80139-84
The beginning of the Book of Matthew with a half-page framed miniature of the Trinity and the four Evangelists with the coat of arms of England and France, illuminated initial and a full foliate border, France, C. (Paris), c. 1420, Add MS 18857, f. 148

Add MS 10628

­The Kalendarium of John Somer.  The contents are related to the series of physicians’ folding almanacs we recently published in Digitised Manuscripts, as described in a recent blogpost, Almanacs Online

 011ADD000010628U00025000

Diagram of Zodiac Man with symbols and labels of the signs of the zodiac, England, S.W., c.1383-1384, Add MS 10628, f. 25

Montecassino Exultet Roll

Lastly a manuscript that is also available on Digitised Manuscripts but worth including in CIM for its unusual format and beautiful early images from Montecassino. It includes the Exultet, a hymn sung by a deacon during the consecration of the Paschal candle, during the Easter Vigil. See our blog post from 2013, which explains why the images are upside down!

 C0889-07

A miniature of the Crossing of the Red Sea and a miniature of the Harrowing of Hell, Italy, S. (Monte Cassino), c. 1075, Add MS 30337, membrane 7

Other new additions are

Add MS 16441, Roman d’Athis et Porfilias

Add MS 18856, Bible Historiale, vol 1

Add MS 36673, Guiron le Courtois

Add MS 72707: A leaf from the Hungerford Hours. Other leaves from this manuscript in the British Library are:

Add MS 61887 

And Add 62106 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Chantry Westwell