Medieval manuscripts blog

5 posts from May 2011

25 May 2011

More Greek Manuscripts Digitised by the British Library

Phase two of the British Library’s project to digitise all of its ca. 1,000 Greek manuscripts is now well under way. This phase — also generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation) — will digitise and make publicly available a further 250 manuscripts, adding to the 284 manuscripts digitised in phase one. We are currently about half way through this second phase and plan to publish the digitised manuscripts in batches during the rest of this year on our Digitised Manuscripts viewer.

A page from a 6th-century copy of the Four Gospels in Ancient Greek, showing a portrait of the Evangelist St Matthew writing at a desk.

Portrait of St Matthew the Evangelist, Add MS 5111, f. 12r. 

A new batch of manuscripts has now been published online, and contains 24 manuscripts ranging in date from the tenth to the nineteenth centuries. They include a group of illustrated medieval manuscripts of the gospels, formerly owned by the celebrated English physician and book collector Anthony Askew (fl. 1699–1774), acquired by the British Museum in 1775. Also included is a tenth-century parchment manuscript of Old Testament fragments (Add MS 20002), acquired in parts from Sinai by Constantin von Tischendorf (1815–1874) during his second journey to the East in 1853, which came to the British Museum in 1854. Another part of this manuscript is housed in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (Bodleian Auct. T. infr. ii. 1). A further highlight is an eleventh-century manuscript of Symeon Metaphrastes’s Saints’ Lives for December (Add MS 11870), which bears ownership marks of Cardinal Salviati (d. 1553) and Pope Pius VI (1775–1779).

A page from an 11th-century collection of saints' lives, showing the opening of the Life of St John the Theologian, marked by an illustration of the saint.

Opening of the Life of St John the Theologian, Add MS 11870, f. 197v. 

Further batches of manuscripts published on Digitised Manuscripts will be announced on this blog.

James Clements (Project Manager)

19 May 2011

The coronation of Charles I: a salutary tale

One manuscript featured in the British Library's Royal exhibition (11 November 2011-11 March 2012) is the so-called "Coronation Gospels". This book has a chequered history, not least of which is the part it played in the coronation of King Charles I (1625-1649).

The "Coronation Gospels" was made in Francia (in what was probably modern-day Belgium) around the year 900, and arrived in England soon afterwards. It came into the hands of King Æthelstan (924-939), who presented this manuscript to the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, in the 930s.

A page from the Coronation Gospels, showing the beginning of the Gospel of St John, marked by a large decorated initial.

The beginning of the Gospel of St John in the "Coronation Gospels" (Cotton MS Tiberius A II, f. 162r). The manuscript was damaged by fire in 1731, the parchment leaves subsequently being mounted in paper frames.

In the 17th century, the "Coronation Gospels" was acquired by the Parliamentarian and antiquarian scholar Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631), owner of an impressive collection of manuscripts that included the Lindisfarne Gospels and two copies of Magna Carta. Cotton assumed, incorrectly as it happened, that the Anglo-Saxon kings had sworn their coronation oaths on Æthelstan's gospel-book; and so he determined that Charles I should do the same at his own coronation service in February 1626. The story is taken up in a letter written by Sir Simonds D'Ewes (d. 1650):

"About eight of the clocke his Majestie was expected to have landed at Sir Robart Cotton's staires, my Lord Marshall having himselfe given orders for carpets to be laied. Sir Robart stood readie ther to receave him with a booke of Athelstan's, being the fower Evangelists in Latin, that Kings Saxon epistle praefixed, upon which for divers hundred yeares together the Kings of England had solemnlie taken ther coronation oath. But the roiall barge bawked those stepps soe fitlie accomodated, and being put forward was run on ground at the Parliament staires."

A portrait of Sir Robert Cotton, reading the Cotton Genesis. 

Portrait of Sir Robert Cotton, attributed to Cornelius Johnson (d. 1661).

Cotton lived in a grand house at Westminster, on the bank of the River Thames, and adjacent to the Houses of Parliament. On that fateful day he stood on the red carpet, waiting expectantly for the king to arrive. But Charles snubbed Sir Robert Cotton, and ordered the royal barge to land further upstream. It would seem that Cotton played no further rôle in the coronation ceremony. He never regained the king's favour, to the extent that Charles I ordered Cotton's library to be closed in 1629, on the grounds that it allegedly contained seditious material.

Charles may have been correct that there was no historical basis for swearing his own oath on the "Coronation Gospels". But this was an unpropitious start to the new king's reign, which culminated in civil war and his own trial and execution at Whitehall in 1649.

A portrait of the Evangelist St Luke writing at a desk, from the Coronation Gospels.

Evangelist portrait of St Luke in the "Coronation Gospels" (Cotton MS Tiberius A II, f. 112v).

10 May 2011

Student Bursaries for Royal Conference

A banner advertising a conference on the British Library's collection of Royal Manuscripts 

We have recently sent out a call for papers for our upcoming conference on the Royal collection of manuscripts at the British Library, which will take place in December 2011 (for more details and the call for papers, see our previous blogpost).   We are now pleased to announce that we have a bursary fund available, granted to us by AMARC (the Association for Manuscripts and Archives in Research Collections), to help defray expenses for travel and accommodation for student participants in the conference.  Any students interested in contributing to the Royal conference are requested to send a short abstract and a concise CV by 31 May 2011 to Dr Kathleen Doyle, Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts, [email protected], or The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB.

05 May 2011

Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts Go Digital

A page from a Hebrew Bible, showing an illustration of a Menorah, surrounded by figures of animals and hybrid creatures.

Full-page miniature of the Menorah, surrounded by foliate scrolls inhabited by hybrids, at the end of the Pentateuch, from a Bible with masorah and parva, Italy (Rome?), first half of the 13th century, Harley MS 5710, f. 136

You can now read more about this project in our post Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts Online.

A significant nine-month externally-funded project involving the cataloguing and partial digitisation of 109 beautifully illuminated and decorated manuscripts from the British Library's Hebrew collection is nearing completion, and will soon be incorporated in the Library's Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.  The majority of these splendid medieval Hebrew manuscripts were created in Europe (in such countries as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal) before 1500.  Also included in the project are twelve medieval manuscripts originating from Islamic lands, such as Iraq and Yemen, as well as two 18th century finely illustrated Passover liturgies.

The online catalogue entries for these Hebrew illuminated manuscripts will include detailed bibliographic records and will be accompanied by hundreds of digital images.  This update will go live on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts on June 28th of this year.

It is anticipated that three very important medieval Passover liturgies - the Sister Haggadot, Brother Haggodot, and Hispano-Moresque Haggadot - may be fully digitised as well.

Ilana Tahan, M.Phil. OBE, Lead Curator of Hebrew and Christian Orient Studies, British Library

A page from a Hebrew manuscript, showing a decorated initial-word panel, with an illustration of a man lighting the Hanukkah lamp.

Decorated initial-word panel with a marginal illumination of a man lighting the Hanukkah lamp, from the Decisions of Isaiah of Trani the Younger (Pisqei Rabbi Yesha'yah Aharon), Italy (Perugia), 1374, Or 5024, f. 19

01 May 2011

A Calendar Page for May

For a further discussion of medieval calendars, as well as the Isabella Breviary itself, please see the post for January.

  A page from the Isabella Breviary, showing the calendar page for May, with illustrated scenes of courting and romance in a Spring landscape.

The calendar page for May, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Add MS 18851, f. 3v

This page, from the calendar for May, includes the zodiac sign for Gemini in the upper left of the folio, depicted as a nude man and woman embracing.  A common theme for May miniatures is that of courting and romance, and the lower miniature on this folio is a classic example.  It shows a similar landscape as was depicted in April, with couples walking through a vibrant landscape, and enjoying a ride on a river.