Medieval manuscripts blog

3 posts from December 2010

20 December 2010

Happy Holidays

The British Library's Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section would like to wish you a happy Christmas...

  A page from a medieval manuscript, showing an illustration of the Nativity, with the Virgin Mary and Infant Christ.

Miniature of the Nativity, Harley MS 1892, f. 8v

...a happy Hanukkah...

  A page from a Hebrew Bible, showing an illustration of a Menorah, surrounded by the figures of animals.
Miniature of a Menorah, from a Hebrew Bible, Harley MS 5710, f. 136

... and a very happy New Year!

A page from the Cocharelli Codex, showing an illustration of a scene in a tavern.

Miniature of a scene in a tavern, Add MS 27695, f. 14 

14 December 2010

Royal: Manuscripts of the Kings and Queens of England

 

A detail from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, showing an illustration of John Talbot presenting his book to Queen Margaret and King Henry VI. 

In 1757 King George II presented the approximately 2,000 manuscripts of the royal library to the recently founded British Museum.  These manuscripts, collected by the kings and queens of England from the 9th to the 16th centuries, form the unique collection held by the British Library, known simply as 'Royal.'  The Royal Collection preserves the medieval and Renaissance libraries of the kings and queens of England, and includes within these illuminated manuscripts most of the surviving medieval paintings owned by them.  Yet remarkably, these Royal manuscripts have been little researched, and have never been presented as a group to the public.

The British Library, home of the Royal collection since its creation, has been seeking to change this situation.  Since October of 2008, we have been working on a research project concentrating on this unique group of manuscripts, in collaboration with the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, and supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  Each of the approximately 400 illuminated manuscripts in the Royal collection with significant medieval or Renaissance decoration is being examined individually, to research its patronage, artists, scribes, models, and functions.  These manuscripts have been (and will continue to be) added into the Library's Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, along with thousands of images.

The Royal research project will culminate in an exhibition of a selection of these Royal manuscripts, which will be on display from 11 November 2011 to 11 March 2012 at the British Library. This will be the first time that the riches of 'Royal,' containing paintings by some of the finest artists of the Middle Ages, will be presented in one exhibition.  Together, the exquisite illuminations provide the most vivid surviving source for understanding royal identity, moral and religious beliefs, learning, faith, and international politics.  Through our interpretation of the artistry and symbols contained in the images themselves, we hope to gain a new understanding of history, medieval education, public and private devotion, and also to begin to appreciate the rivalry between England, France, and Burgundy, which helped shape both political and artistic trends.

In addition, the British Library will be hosting an academic conference on the Royal manuscript collection, which will take place on 12-13 December 2011.  A call for papers will be released shortly.

Among the highlights of the Royal exhibition will be the following: 

A page from the Coronation Gospels, showing a portrait of the Evangelist St Mark writing at a desk.

Evangelist portrait of St Mark, from The Coronation Gospels, S. Netherlands, last quarter of the 9th century or first quarter of the 10th century, Cotton Tiberius A II, f. 74v

A page from a 15th-century copy of Boccaccio's De casibus virorum illustrium, showing an illustration of Fortune appearing before Boccaccio.

Miniature of Fortune appearing to Boccaccio, with a border containing the royal arms of Edward IV, De casibus vivorum illustrium in French translation, Bruges, c. 1479-1480, Royal MS 14 E V, f. 291

  A page from a medieval bestiary, showing an illustration of a lion breathing life into one of its cubs.

Miniature of a lion breathing life into its cubs, at the beginning of the entry 'De natura leonis,' Bestiary and various theological texts, England (Durham?), first quarter of the 13th century, Royal 12 C XIX, f. 6

A page from William Parron's Mappa Mundi, showing an illustration of an astrological world map, with the signs of the zodiac and personifications of the wind.

Miniature of an astrological world map with the signs of the zodiac and personifications of winds, from William Parron's Mappa Mundi, England (London), c. 1502 - 1503, Royal MS 12 B VI, f. 1

A page from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, showing an illustration of a genealogical table of the descendants of Louis IX in the form of a fleur-de-lys.

Miniature of the genealogical table of the descendants of Louis IX in the form of a fleur-de-lys, from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, France, c. 1445, Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 3

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07 December 2010

Welcome

Welcome to the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts blog.  In the coming months, the British Library's curators will provide regular updates on our exceptional holdings of ancient and medieval manuscripts.  Keep an eye out for news on our forthcoming major exhibition on the Royal Manuscripts collection, which opens at the British Library in November 2011.

We launched in February 2010 as the Digitised Manuscripts Blog, to publicise the digitisation of our Greek manuscripts.  The scope has now been extended to embrace all the activities of the British Library's Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section.  Our experts specialise in European manuscript production and use from Classical civilisation to the year 1600.  We will continue to provide news here on our medieval manuscripts digitisation projects.

  A page from a medieval bestiary, showing an illustration of a whale, with a ship anchored on its back and sailors lighting a fire.

Miniature of a whale and a sailing boat, from a Bestiary, with extracts from Giraldus Cambrensis, England (Salisbury?). Second quarter of the 13th century, British Library, Harley MS 4751, f. 69.

We are committed to enhancing knowledge of our collections through digitisation and cataloguing, exhibitions and publications.  Here are some of our current exciting projects:

  • We are entering the second phase of our Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, funded generously by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.  This will make a further 250 Greek manuscripts available in full online, in addition to the 284 manuscripts uploaded to the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site in September 2010.
  • The Royal Manuscripts research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, will culminate in an exhibition of some of our most exquisite Royal manuscripts, at the British Library from 11 November 2011 to 11 March 2012.
  • We are creating descriptions of all the illuminated European Hebrew manuscripts at the British Library, which - together with selected images - will be made available in the summer of 2011 as part of our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.
  • A project to catalogue and digitise 150 scientific and medical manuscripts in the British Library's Harley collection will begin in 2011.

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