Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

14 posts from May 2012

11 May 2012

The Chosen Royals

K90030-59 Royal 1 D. x f. 1vDetail of miniatures from the prefatory cycle of the Nativity: in the upper register,  the Virgin suckling the Christ Child and Joseph adjusting her pillow, and in the lower register, the Annunciation to the Shepherds, from a Psalter, England (Oxford), 1st quarter of the 13th century, before 1220, Royal 1 D. x, f. 1v

We would like to thank everyone who answered our call for ideas about which Royal manuscripts should be included in our upcoming digitisation programme, sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  A group of manuscripts was initially selected by our project group (see the list here), but as you'll recall, we asked you to supplement this with other manuscripts featured in our recent exhibition Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination.  We are happy to announce that the following nine manuscripts have been chosen, based on your suggestions:

Royal 1 D. x

Psalter, England (Oxford), 1st quarter of the 13th century, before 1220

Royal 6 C. i

Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae, England, last quarter of the 11th century

Royal 12 C. xix

Bestiary, with various theological tracts, England, 1st quarter of the 13th century

Royal 12 F. xiii

The Rochester Bestiary & Lapidary, England (possibly Rochester), 2nd quarter of the 13th century

Royal 15 D. ii

The Welles Apocalypse, England, 1st quarter of the 14th century

Royal 19 B. xv

The Queen Mary Apocalypse, England (London, or East Anglia), 1st quarter of the 14th century

Royal 19 D. i

La vraie ystoire dou bon roi Alixandre, and other romances, France (Paris), c. 1340, after 1333

Royal 19 E. v

Romuléon, Netherlands (Bruges), 1480

Royal 20 B. xx

Le Livre et le vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre, France (Paris), c. 1420

Digitisation is currently in progress for the project, and we plan to begin loading the finished manuscripts onto the Digitised Manuscripts site shortly.  We will announce all of the uploads on the blog, so keep watching this space!

K90052-34 Royal 15 D. ii f. 117vFull-page miniature of Christ enthroned with 24 Elders and, in the lower register, the door opened in Heaven, illustrating Revelation 4:2-9, from the Welles Apocalypse, England, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal 15 D. ii, f. 117v

08 May 2012

Illuminated Manuscripts and Their Users: Workshop at Durham

As part of the project to digitise some of the outstanding illuminated manuscripts in the British Library's Royal collection, you are warmly invited to attend a workshop at Durham University on Wednesday, 6 June 2012 (beginning at 14.00).


Illuminated Manuscripts and Their Users: The British Library's Royal Collection

Workshop at Durham University, 6 June 2012: Call for Participation

The first session will focus on the use of digital resources in manuscript research, with a presentation by Dr Joanna Fronska (The British Library), ‘Behind the scenes process of digitisation’, followed by a roundtable discussion of the use and value of online digital resources.

The second session will consist of short panel presentations/discussion on illuminated manuscripts in the Royal collection, addressing one of the following questions:

  • How were the illuminated manuscripts in the royal library used and received by their owners? 
  • What are the characteristics of illustrated manuscripts collected by English monarchs?
  • How did monastic manuscripts enter the royal collection, or what was their function within the library?
  • How representative is what survives of the royal library, and why is there a relative lack of liturgical or private devotional books in the royal collection?

The content of the presentations (to be no more than 500 words) will be circulated before the workshop to enable participants to formulate questions/responses in advance. 

If you would like to be considered as a presenter, please submit a 500-word essay to Professor Richard Gameson ([email protected]) by Friday, 25 May 2012. A summary of the discussions will be published on the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Blog, and papers may be offered to the Electronic British Library Journal for publication.

07 May 2012

Beneath the Surface

C7795-05IN monogram at the beginning of Genesis, with Christ in Majesty, Netherlands (Belgium, near Leuven), 1148, Additional 14788, f. 6v

If you happen to be heading to the 47th International Congress on Medieval Studies this week in Kalamazoo, Michigan (10-13 May 2012), please consider stopping by the sessions sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence (see as well the group's Facebook page).  

I'll be taking part in the Saturday session at 1:30 pm, along with Jacob Thaisen of the University of Stavanger and Sean M Winslow from the University of Toronto's Centre for Medieval Studies.  The session's theme is 'Material and Craft Aspects of Manuscript Production', and I'll be speaking about my ongoing research on the Parc Abbey Bible (British Library Additional 14788-14790).

The Parc Abbey Bible is a monumental three-volume Bible dated to c. 1148 which is associated with a Premonstratensian abbey outside Leuven (the abbey of Ste Marie at Parc, as it happens).  It is a beautiful example of Romanesque Bible illumination - see the gorgeous incipit page above - but the manuscript is one with a difficult and complicated production history.  Its very complications, though, have made it an excellent subject for scientific analysis, and I have been fortunate enough to examine it in the British Library's Centre for Conservation.

My paper is titled 'Pigments, Painters and the Parc Abbey Bible:  A Multispectral Imaging Study' and it will be no surprise that I will be therefore concentrating on the imaging research I undertook on the Bible, using the British Library's MuSIS system (a multispectral system also used during the Codex Sinaiticus project). 

Multispectral imaging can be a powerful tool for manuscript researchers.  The system requires a specialised camera, which is used to take a series of images at 30 different wavelengths of light across the ultraviolet, visible, and infrared spectra (ranging from 420 nm to 1000 nm).  These images, and the analytic software included with the system, can allow an investigator to literally peer beneath the surface of a manuscript.  The data can be used to clarify questions about the production practices of individual artists, to identify the pigments used in illuminations, and even to examine erased text or the original drawings beneath a now-finished miniature. Images taken at the higher end of the spectrum (the infrared range) can be particularly helpful in the latter kinds of investigations.

One brief example may be useful. The first image below is a detail of a large historiated initial from the Parc Abbey Bible's third volume (Additional 14790).  In this charming initial the prophet Ezechiel is literally surrounded by the opening words of his book - 'Et' (factum)' - and he is shown rather cheekily sitting on the crossbar of the initial 'T'.  But the second image, taken at a wavelength of 1000 nm, shows that Ezechiel was originally meant to be sitting on a rather Byzantine-style stool (you can perhaps see the cushions of the stool extending to either side of him).  It is not clear at what point in the design process it was decided to change this, but it was evidently fairly far along, as a portion of this scroll was originally painted (and overpainted again beneath the Prophet).

Add 14790 f. 80 colourDetail of an historiated initial 'ET'(factum) at the beginning of Ezechiel, Additional 14790, f. 80

Add 14790 f 80 1000 nmDetail of an historiated initial 'ET'(factum) at the beginning of Ezechiel, taken at 1000 nm to reveal the underdrawing, Additional 14790, f. 80

I will be talking about these results and more, and the manuscript sessions promise to be inspiring.  I hope to see you all in Kalamazoo!

- Sarah J Biggs

05 May 2012

The St Cuthbert Gospel: The Story of a Book

The St Cuthbert Gospel has featured much in the news recently, following its acquisition by the British Library. This pocket gospel-book, still in its original red leather binding, is a miraculous survival from 7th-century England. and has an extraordinary history, having been found in St Cuthbert's coffin when it was opened in 1104. You are warmly invited to join Simon Keynes (Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, University of Cambridge) and Michael Sadgrove (Dean of Durham), when they explain why this is one of the world's most remarkable books.

This event takes place at the British Library on Tuesday, 15 May, 19.00-20.30. See this link for more information and to purchase tickets.

CF034939 jpgcropped

You can view images of the whole of the St Cuthbert Gospel on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site. The manuscript is also on display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library (alongside other items associated with the history of St Cuthbert), and there is an interpretative exhibition in the front hall of the British Library until 17 June 2012.

03 May 2012

Visiting the British Library

It's nearing that time of year when medievalists leave their dusty garrets and, armed only with a laptop and a London AtoZ, make their annual summer pilgrimage to the British Library. Should you be considering coming, here are some handy tips to make the most of your trip to London.


1.  If you do not already have a reader's pass, please follow this link on reader registration. In particular, please note that we require new readers and those renewing or replacing a reader's pass to bring two original identification documents, one showing proof of your home address and one showing your signature. The appropriate forms of identification are listed here.

2.  It's always worthwhile to check in advance if the items you wish to consult will be available. At any given time, some of our manuscripts may be on display in our Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library, and others will be in the temporary exhibition Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands (11 May-25 September 2012). Many of our manuscripts are also restricted on account of their age, fragility or illumination, and we may require a written recommendation before permission is granted to examine them. We recommend that you contact [email protected] in order to verify the status of your manuscripts. You may also find it helpful to consult our online catalogue.

3.  Please note that the British Library will be closed for public holidays on 7 May, 4 June, 5 June and 27 August 2012. See this link for our seasonal closures.

4.  In summer 2012 the Olympic and Paralympic Games are coming to London. The British Library is situated close to St Pancras station, from where many spectators will depart for the Olympic Park. To avoid travel congestion for its readers and staff, the British Library building will therefore open at 10.00 each day from 26 July until 12 August (and at 11.00 on Sundays). Please see this link on visiting the British Library during the Olympic Games. You can read some stories associated with the Olympics here.

5.  It's worth repeating the message that we actively discourage the wearing of gloves when handling our manuscripts. The recent coverage of our acquisition of the St Cuthbert Gospel generated much feedback on the thorny issue of when it is appropriate to wear gloves, and we're keen to continue spreading the message whenever possible!

We recommend that you use gloves only when challenging an opponent, holding a hawk in your hand, or doing the washing-up: detail of a miniature of the Earl Marshall challenging the Earl of Derby by flinging down his glove before him, Bruges, c. 1470-1472 (London, British Library, MS Harley 4380, f. 141r).

01 May 2012

A Calendar Page for May 2012

For more details on calendar pages or the Hours of Joanna of Castile, please see the entry for January 2012.

Add 18852 ff. 5v-6

Calendar pages for May, Hours of Joanna of Castile, Bruges, between 1496 and 1506, Additional 18852, ff. 5v-6

Courting and hunting are the themes for the month of May, in this calendar and many others.  On the left-hand folio is a miniature of a gentleman and two ladies on a pleasure trip.  They carry musical instruments, and their boat is piloted by two figures that bear a strong resemblance to grotesques. On the facing folio, beneath the two nude figures of Gemini, is another scene of courting, with a gentleman kneeling before his lady.  This lady bears a strong resemblance to the woman on horseback in the April miniature, but in the intervening month she has apparently found a new admirer.  At the far right are two men, with hounds and birds of prey, presumably about to join the hunting party that can be seen in the fields above.