The Phillipps Lectionary must once have been – and to some extent still is – a very beautiful manuscript. As Tuesday’s post detailed, it is full of richly decorated headpieces, glimmering gold headings, and ornate zoomorphic initials. The manuscript’s condition reveals, however, a story of centuries of use, misuse and neglect that seem at odds with the precious contents.
Leaf containing a decorated headpiece and titles written in gold, which displays severe cockling, multiple tears and losses at the leaf edge and upper corner, and the smudging and loss of text, from the Phillipps Lectionary, Add MS 82957, f. 137r
Christopher de Hamel’s recent Panizzi lectures showed inordinately expensive and elaborately ornamented giant bibles being used amid the smoke, grease and grime of the monastic refectory. We should therefore avoid the assumption that medieval people treated their books – even luxury ones – with the same care as modern-day curators. In the Phillipps Lectionary, there is damage literally at every turn; no corner of the manuscript has been unaffected by the way the manuscript has been handled and mishandled, stored and ignored, and – most recently – salvaged and painstakingly repaired.
A mutilated leaf; the black backdrop highlights how the moisture damage has made the edges fragile and liable to tear and flake away, Add MS 82957, f. 119r
The physical condition of this manuscript presents many problems to the curator: how best to balance the need to conserve and protect it with the needs of readers to view and study it; and how to manage the digitisation process. Every manuscript that we plan to digitise is first examined, assessed, and, if necessary, treated by one of our in-house conservators (an earlier post by Ann Tomalak describes this process in more detail). The manuscript you see today on Digitised Manuscripts has been the subject of hours of work and many careful interventions in order to make it fit for digitisation. These repairs will be the subject of a future blog post. Here, our focus will be upon the damage the manuscript has sustained.
The fore-edge of the manuscript, illustrating the areas damaged by rodents, Add MS 82957
Most obviously, the manuscript has suffered from rodent damage. The edges of the manuscript, in particular the upper left-hand corner, have been nibbled. Prior to conservation, these thin, shredded strips of parchment would fall off every time the manuscript was opened. Worse still, the discolouration of the parchment in these locations may have been caused in part by the rodents’ urine. Rest assured we washed our hands very thoroughly after handling the manuscript!
Detail of a leaf showing moisture staining and severe cockling, with part of the text now concealed under a stiff fold in the parchment, Add MS 82957, f. 252r
Damp and mould have also taken their toll on the parchment leaves. The moisture has caused the leaves to swell and cockle. This must have taken place while the manuscript was closed. Adjoining leaves have crinkled together and, though they can be separated, continue to ‘lock’ together when the pages are turned. The mould has eaten away at the parchment, weakening it and making it more likely to split and tear. Rodents also seem to prefer damp and mouldy parchment, because it is softer (and perhaps partially pre-digested!).
Detail of text that has lifted off and transferred onto the facing leaf, Add MS 82957, ff. 126v and 127r
It is fortunate that, in most instances, the margins are so wide that the damp has not reached the text block and caused the ink to bleed. Here, however, the ink has lifted off and transferred onto the facing leaf, damage most likely caused by a combination of moisture damage and friction between the two leaves.
The upper edge of the manuscript, illustrating the swelling caused by moisture damage, Add MS 82957
The water/urine damage has affected the shape of the book by making one corner into an uneven wedge shape.
Humans too have left their mark. In several locations, small red dots are found on the parchment: this is candle wax, which you can feel as a slightly raised spot on the surface. You can see that as the wax has cooled and contracted, it has pulled on the parchment, causing small radiating wrinkles to appear.
Detail of a small hole burned into the parchment, Add MS 82957, f. 197v
Elsewhere, the damage is more serious, with falling cinders from a candle having burnt small holes into the parchment. In this instance, the cinder burnt a hole through one of the adjoining leaves.
Detail of an initial ‘Θ’ (theta) that has been torn out and the corresponding off-print, Add MS 82957, ff. 2v and 3r
The manuscript has also been mutilated, with several initials roughly torn out. All that remains of these are ghostly off-prints on facing pages.
Neo-Gothic-influenced blind-tooled binding, probably 19th century, Add MS 82957, front binding
The manuscript was rebound, probably in the nineteenth century. The binding features recessed boards, most likely to help to protect the edges from further damage. The blind tooling is unusual – showing neo-Gothic influences that perhaps echoes William Morris bindings from Kelmscott – as is the covering.
Detail of the binding, shot under raking light, revealing the wild boar follicle pattern, Add MS 82957, front binding
Close inspection has revealed that the manuscript is bound in wild boar skin. The above image was taken under raking light, a technique where light is shone at an angle from the side, making surface texture more clearly visible. One can see the triangular follicle pattern typical of common pig skin, which was widely used for this purpose. However, the presence of additional bristles – amounting in the live animal to an extra layer of hair – confirms the source as a wild rather than domesticated swine. The circumstances in which the skin was acquired – perhaps a genteel hunting-party? – remains a mystery.
Stay tuned for the next instalment on the Phillipps Lectionary, when we will describe the conservation and digitisation process in more detail.
- James Freeman
Posted by Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Manuscripts at 12:01 AM
In 2006 and 2007, the British Library acquired five Greek manuscripts that had formerly been on long-term deposit as Loan 36. These manuscripts all once belonged to Sir Thomas Phillipps, the noted manuscript collector of the 19th century. All but one (now Add MS 82951) also belonged to Frederick North, 5th Earl of Guilford, much of whose manuscript collection is now in the British Library. The story of the provenance of these manuscripts will be the subject of a future blog post, when the remaining four manuscripts have also been digitised. Today, however, our focus is on the standout item in the group, Additional MS 82957, a very fine 11th-century Gospel Lectionary from Constantinople.
Add MS 82957, f 59r. Decorated headpiece with two peacocks, one drinking from a fountain, on top, and two rams on pedestals on either side
The lectionary is extremely fragile and required extensive, painstaking conservation work for over a year before it was fit for digitisation. Future blog posts will outline the damage that the manuscript has sustained, and the particular difficulties of digitising and conserving this item.
Add MS 82957, f 1r. Decorated headpiece with numerous animals, birds and other decorations.
The manuscript itself is spectacular. It goes beyond the usual levels of ornamentation for Greek lectionaries of the period to incorporate richly-decorated initials and headpieces. In fact, it is closer in style to some of the great psalters of the eleventh century: including the Theodore Psalter and the Bristol Psalter, both now kept at the British Library. Indeed, the similarities between some of the decorated initials in this manuscript and that of the Theodore Psalter led to the hypothesis that both were produced at the Stoudios Monastery in Constantinople. More recently, however, a detailed study of a wide range of eleventh-century manuscripts led Irmgard Hutter to suggest that the manuscript should be placed in the circle of the so-called ‘copiste du Métaphraste’, a scribe whose hand can be detected in a number of manuscripts of Symeon Metaphrastes (for bibliographical details, please consult Digitised Manuscripts).
Pi in the shape of two hands holding palm leaves. (L) Add MS 82957, f 154v. (R) Add MS 19352, f 100r.
Epsilon in the shape of two birds. (L) Add MS 82957, f 113v. (R) Add MS 19352, f 148v.
Illuminated initial omicron. (L) Add MS 82957, f 10r. (R) Add MS 19352, f 74v.
Particularly noteworthy are two anthropomorphic initials found at the beginning of the first two sections, below the adorned headpieces:
(L) Add MS 82957, f 1r, detail of St John the Evangelist in the form of an epsilon. (R) Add MS 82957, f 59r, detail of a man feeding a bird in the form of an epsilon.
Sadly, the fragility of the manuscript means that there is some loss into the gutter in the case of these two initials, but the level of artistic skill is clear nonetheless.
We finish with a lost initial. f 280 was damaged at some point in the manuscript’s history:
Add MS 82957, f 280v.
However, the imprint made by a decorated initial on the portion of the page now lost can still be seen on the facing page. It is the letter tau (T) with a bird at the base. The imprint is a little difficult to make out, but is perhaps clearer when put alongside a similar tau from earlier in the manuscript:
(L) Add MS 82957, imprint of initial tau on f 281r. (R) Add MS 82957, f 3v, bird carrying the letter tau on its shoulder.
There is much more to be discovered in this manuscript, and surely a great deal more to be said about its place in the wider context of 11th-century illumination. The digitisation of this fragile item makes it available to a wide audience, and we invite you to explore its riches.
- Cillian O'Hogan
Posted by Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Manuscripts at 12:01 AM
The British Library is pleased to be able to offer a paid internship in the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section of the Western Heritage Department for a doctoral or post-doctoral student in History, History of Art or other relevant subject.
Gorleston Psalter, England (Suffolk), 1310-1324, Add MS 49622, f. 193v
The intern will be involved in all aspects of the work of the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section, including responding to enquiries, providing talks for students and patrons, selecting and presenting manuscripts for display in our exhibition gallery, and cataloguing, thereby gaining insight into various curatorial duties and aspects of collection care. During the internship at the Library, the intern will enjoy privileged access to printed and manuscript research material, and will work alongside specialists with wide-ranging and varied expertise.
The primary focus of the internship will be to enhance the online Digitised Manuscripts website by creating and supplementing catalogue entries for medieval manuscripts and accompanying images, and assisting with the Library’s Magna Carta exhibition, working under the supervision of the Lead Curator, Illuminated Manuscripts.
The internship is designed to provide an opportunity for the student to develop research skills and expertise in medieval and Renaissance art and history, and in presenting manuscripts to a range of audiences.
The programme is only open to students who are engaged actively in research towards, or who have recently completed, a PhD in a subject area relevant to the study of pre-1600 manuscripts, and who have a right to work in the UK.
Hours of Work/Contract Duration
36 hours per week over normal business hours, full time for nine months.
The internship will start on 2 February 2015 or as soon as relevant security checks have been completed.
Opening leaf of the Old English epic poem ‘Beowulf’, 4th quarter of the 10th century or 1st quarter of the 11th century, Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 132r
This is a reminder that the deadline for applications for a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership at the British Library is 4.00pm on Friday 28th November. There is just one week left to apply – don’t miss out on this fantastic opportunity!
Six doctoral studentships are up for grabs, fully-funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and with additional financial support of up to £1,000 per year from the British Library to cover travel and related research costs.
Miniature of King Cnut and Queen Aelfgifu/Emma placing a golden cross on an altar, witnessed by Christ in Majesty and Benedictine monks, from the Liber Vitae of New Minster and Hyde, England, S.W. (Winchester) c. 1031, Stowe MS 944, f. 6r
The British Library has the largest holdings of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in the world. We particularly welcome applications relating to network and knowledge exchange across early medieval Europe, the methods of making manuscripts and the development of script, perceptions of the past in Anglo-Saxon England, and comparable topics (see the advertisement for full details). A CDA in this field would fit exactly with the three-year period of research and preparation for the major British Library exhibition on the Anglo-Saxons, which is scheduled to open in October 2018.
We invite applications from Higher Education Institutions to work with us on this topic. We will select the six proposals with the strongest HEI applications to start in the next academic year, commencing October 2015. HEI applications will be assessed according to the following criteria:
- development of the research theme;
- the proposed academic supervisor’s research interests and expertise;
- the ability of the proposed Department to support the student;
- and evidence of previous successful collaboration with non-HEI partners.
The studentships will then be further developed in collaboration with the successful academic partner in each case before being advertised to prospective students. The successful student will contribute to the final agreed research topic.
We'd like to thank everyone who entered our recent ballot to see the four original 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts, when they are brought together next February for the first time in 800 years. We were overwhelmed by the response: just under 45,000 people entered online, and we received in addition more than 100 postal entries. Everybody at the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral really appreciates the efforts made by members of the public to view our precious Magna Cartas.
The ballot is now closed, and the winning entrants are in the process of being selected. You may recall that we were offering 1,215 people the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the four documents side-by-side. Winners will be contacted between now and 12 December, so please hold tight if you haven't heard from us yet: there's a chance that you may actually be one of the chosen ones!
Lincoln Cathedral (left), Salisbury Cathedral (middle) and the British Library (right), home to the four surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta
A reminder that the winners will view the four 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts at the British Library in London on Tuesday 3 February 2015. The winners will be given a special introduction to the history and legacy of Magna Carta from historian and TV presenter Dan Jones. They will also each receive a special edition Magna Carta gift bag containing free passes to each of the upcoming exhibitions at the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral, plus a Certificate of Attendance, inscribed with the winner’s name and sealed in wax with a special stamp created to mark the day. The event is being sponsored by Linklaters, the global law firm, and we are very grateful for their support.
For anyone who does miss out on this one-off event, remember that all four Magna Carta manuscripts will be on display individually as part of major exhibitions in 2015 at their respective institutions - the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral. See this webpage for more information.
The 800th anniversary of the granting of Magna Carta by King John will be marked worldwide by numerous events and exhibitions, which will be publicised on this blog and via our Twitter account, @BLMedieval. In the meantime, if you'd like to know more about the history of Magna Carta, please see the British Library's dedicated webpages. It's going to be a very exciting year for all of us!
Posted by Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Manuscripts at 12:01 AM
Detail of a miniature of a crowned lion as ‘King of Beasts’ in a Book of Hours (‘The Taymouth Hours’), ?England (?London), c. 1325–c. 1350, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 18r
In light of the recent news that London may be without lions for the first time in 800 years, and with further inspiration from the Royal Beasts exhibition at the Tower of London, we take a turn towards the role of the lion in the medieval imagination.
Visitors to Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination may remember the lion skull kindly lent to the British Library by the Natural History Museum. This was one of two skulls unearthed at the Tower of London, where King John (d. 1216) had established a Royal Menagerie which was to become home to an assortment of exotic beasts including lions, bears and one short-lived elephant.
Detail of an historiated initial showing the King of England mounted on a lion, from the Bohun Psalter, England (S.E., ?London), 2nd half of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3277, f. 68v
The skulls were radiocarbon dated to 1280–1385 and to 1420–1480, suggesting that these particular lions were the private exhibits of either Edward I, II or III, in the first instance, or of the Lancastrian Henry VI or Yorkist Edward IV, in the second. These ‘Barbary’ lions, hailing from northwest Africa, were doubtless an exciting embodiment of the Royal Arms of England for any English monarch.
Detail of a miniature of crafty method for catching lions (potentially) by placing a goat in one hole and waiting for a lion to fall down the second hole, from a Bestiary, England (?Salisbury), c. 1225–c. 1250, Harley MS 4751, f. 2v
Whether royal mascots or diplomatic gifts, numerous archival records indicate a long history of lions at the tower. Exactly how they came to be at the tower, how they were crated and transported, is unknown, but trapping a lion using the method depicted in the Bestiary above (involving two holes and a tethered goat) would be quite a feat. The earliest noted payments to their keepers came from King John in 1210-1212, with records becoming more detailed under Henry III (d. 1272).
Detail of an historiated initial showing a man being devoured by lions (I Kings 20:36), Egerton MS 3277, f. 104r
In 1240, the sheriffs of London were instructed to make provisions for a lion and a keeper, William de Botton, including 14 shillings for ‘buying chains and other things for the use of the lion’. By 1314, the sheriffs were providing a quarter of mutton every day for the maintenance of numerous lions. The polar bear seems to have had it better in this respect. As part of a cost-saving measure for the City, this (chained) Norwegian captive could at least fish for its own supper on the bank of the Thames.
The keeper’s own wages could be slow to materialise, as experienced by William Bounde who was owed £55 by 1408: he would be imprisoned by his creditors, he claimed, and the lions would go unfed. The office was granted to Robert Manfeld in 1436, who would double up as marshal of the hall within the royal household. Perhaps delegating duties became a challenge since it was in the same year that all of the lions in the tower apparently died. Had he simply fed the sick lions a monkey, as recommended by the Bestiary, they may well have been cured.
Detail of a miniature of lion and his irrational fear of the white rooster, in a Bestiary, England (?Rochester), c. 1230–c. 1300, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 5v
The Bestiary describes the power, courage and intelligence of the lion – a fitting emblem of monarchy – who fears nothing save the white rooster, scorpion and snake.
Detail of a miniature of cubs born dead and reanimated by their fathers who breathe life into them, in the Bestiary, England (?North or Central), c. 1200–c. 1210, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 6r
When hunted, the Bestiary relates, the lion sweeps his tail over the ground to conceal his tracks; he also sleeps with his eyes open to avoid capture, and he has the ability to resurrect his stillborn cubs. He never attacks women and children, nor the man who prostrates himself before him.
Lions were able to ascertain, by mysterious means, both virginity and royal blood, which is why Josiane was immune to being trapped in a cave with two lions.
Detail of a miniature of Beves of Hampton slaying the two lions pestering Josiane, Yates Thompson 13, f. 12r
Beves of Hampton, by contrast, was forced to employ all his knightly prowess to avoid being devoured alive.
Detail of a miniature of Joanna of Paris embracing a lion, from the ‘Topographia Hiberniae’ of Gerald of Wales, England (?Lincoln), c.1196–1223, Royal MS 13 B VIII, f. 19v
Occasionally, a ‘woman’s tricks’ might be held responsible for encouraging the amorous affections of the lion, as Gerald of Wales reports was the case at the French court of King Philip.
Detail of a column miniature showing Habakkuk (suspended by the hand of God) delivering a jug of stew to Daniel in the lions’ den, from Guyart de Moulins, Bible historiale, France (?Paris), 1357, Royal MS 17 E VII, f. 107v
Detail of an historiated initial 'A' showing Daniel and two lions in the den, from a Bible, England, c. 1250–c. 1275, Royal MS 1 D I, f. 377r
The popular stories associated with biblical heroes Daniel, Samson and David gave frequent cause for lions in manuscript miniatures. Daniel’s benign and friendly companions emphasise his miraculous delivery from the lions’ den.
Marginal drawings of David keeping his sheep safe by grappling with a lion and a dog (above) and fighting Goliath (below), from the Worms Bible, Germany (Frankenthal), c. 1148, Harley MS 2803, f. 126v
Other popular subjects include David – shepherd boy and future king – protecting his sheep from a lion, a prolepsis of his battle with Goliath.
Detail of a miniature of Samson taking a honeycomb from the lion’s body, from the ‘Queen Mary Psalter’, England (?London or East Anglia), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 44r
Samson was renowned for possessing the strength to tear apart a lion with his bare hands. The illuminator who executed the Samson miniature chose to depict the moment when Samson revisited the dead lion to find bees nesting in its carcass, allowing him to take honey from the lion’s body.
Detail of an historiated initial containing an Evangelist portrait that represents Mark as a lion, from a Book of Hours, Italy (?Bologna), c. 1390 – c.1400, Add MS 69865, f. 2v
The lion can be seen, more frequently, distinguishing the Gospel of Mark from the other Evangelists (this particular Mark has morphed into a lion-human hybrid).
Detail of an historiated initial showing Jerome and lion, from Jerome, Pseudo-Jerome and others, Epistles and treatises, Italy (?Venice), c. 1390, Egerton MS 3266, f. 8r
Similarly, Saint Jerome can be identified by his red Cardinal’s hat and his attribute, a lion.
Detail of the border of a Calendar page for July, showing Leo and a man harvesting and gathering sheaves of wheat, from a Book of Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410, Egerton MS 1070, f. 9r
In the bestselling devotional books of the Middle Ages, the calendar pages often display a zodiac sign paired with a typical activity for the month. Leo, the sign for July, heralded the harvest and he is frequently juxtaposed with scenes of peasants sharpening sickles or threshing grain.
Detail of Leo as a lion apparently forced into the July calendar by chain, Royal 2 B VII, f. 78r
The lion is often very well portrayed in manuscripts and this may be linked to their popularity as an exhibit in the Tower. The improvements to Matthew Paris’ depictions of elephants, for example, are the result of his journey from St Albans to the Menagerie to draw Henry III’s elephant from life. Looking at the miniature above, you can almost imagine William de Botton with his chains worth 14 shillings, cajoling his captive ...
To learn more about the lions and other exotic creatures, their keepers, and the vanished menagerie that was a distant predecessor of London Zoo, check out the Royal Beasts exhibition at the Tower of London.
- Holly James-Maddocks
Posted by Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Manuscripts at 12:01 AM
Just in case you’ve been living in a cave on the island of Patmos, here’s a reminder about the forthcoming illuminated manuscripts conference at the British Library! It will be taking place on Monday 1st December, 10.45am-5.15pm. It is being held in honour of Lucy Freeman Sandler, who has published extensively on British Library manuscripts. The speakers are each leading lights in the field of art history and manuscript studies: Nigel Morgan, Kathryn Smith, Julian Luxford, Alixe Bovey and Paul Binski. Lucy Freeman Sandler will also be giving a paper on Egerton MS 3277, the Bohun Psalter. This is an unmissable opportunity to hear them talk about their most recent research.
150 people have registered to attend so far. If you haven’t reserved your place yet, don’t delay! E-mail James Freeman (firstname.lastname@example.org) to bag a seat, and check out our earlier blog post for further details of the programme.
As a taster of what we have to look forward to next month, let’s take a closer look at the manuscript that will be the subject of Nigel Morgan’s paper: Add MS 38842, an English apocalypse fragment, which has recently been published on Digitised Manuscripts.
Sadly, only 8 folios are known to survive, but they contain wonderful illuminations on every page, including these of the Woman and the Beast.
The Woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and the Beast with seven heads, from an Apocalypse fragment with a commentary in French prose, England, early 14th century, Add MS 38842, ff. 3v-4r
A fierce red dragon with seven heads attacks the woman, but she looks back at him defiantly while passing her child up to God in heaven. Below, a host of angels come to her aid with spears, fighting off the beast and his army of club-wielding creatures, which represent vice. They are soon dispatched into a waiting hell-mouth, into which they dive headlong with evil grins. The woman grows wings and escapes from the beast; here she represents the Church, as the French commentary explains, escaping from the evil on earth.
On either side of the final folio of the British Library fragment is the episode of the angels and the seven vials (Revelation 16). First, the angels, clothed in pure white gowns with golden girdles, receive their vials at the temple door. Although the text states that the vials, containing the wrath of God, are given to the angels by one of the four beasts of the Apocalypse, the image shows an angel giving out the last vial.
The commentary in Anglo-Norman French tells us that the angels represent ‘li precheur de la foi’ (the preachers of the faith), ‘ki dampnerunt ceux ki ne la voudrent receuvre’ (who will damn those who do not want to receive it).
On the following page is a scene of high drama: six of the angels pour out God’s wrath on the earth, the sea, the rivers, the sun, the beast’s kingdom and the air. Some people lie sleeping or dead on the left, while in the foreground three figures writhe in terror, at the same time attacking each other violently.
The first six angels pour out their vials (right), Add MS 38842, f. 8v
This Apocalypse is believed to have been illuminated by the English court artist who worked on the ‘Treatise on Good Government’, given by Walter of Milemete to Edward III (Oxford, Christ Church MS 92). Milemete also presented a copy of the Secretum Secretorum to Edward III as companion volume to his treatise: Add MS 47680, one of the manuscripts displayed in our exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination.
Three men worshipping the beast out of the earth, with the dragon on a hill; fire descends from heaven and four men lie dead, Add MS 38842, f. 5v
- Chantry Westwell
Posted by Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Manuscripts at 12:01 AM