Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

13 posts from November 2014

11 November 2014

The Codex Crippsianus: A Byzantine Manuscript of the Attic Orators

Of all the manuscripts collected by the schoolmaster and bibliophile Charles Burney (d. 1817), two stand out for their significance for the transmission of classical texts. One is the Townley Homer (Burney MS 86), an important witness to the text of the Iliad and the key source for the exegetical scholia on that text. (You can read more about the Townley Homer in this blog post from last summer.) The other is the Codex Crippsianus (Burney MS 95), recently added to Digitised Manuscripts. It is the most important witness to the text of the minor Attic Orators, containing the speeches of Andocides, Isaeus, Dinarchus, Antiphon and Lycurgus, as well as works by Gorgias, Alcidamas, Lesbonax and a work attributed to Herodes Atticus.

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Zoomorphic initial of a bird, from the Codex Crippsianus, Eastern Mediterranean (Constantinople), 1st half of the 14th century, Burney MS 95, f. 34v

The hand of the manuscript caused some confusion about how best to date it, in the absence of a scribal colophon, and most attempts to date it placed it in the thirteenth or even the twelfth century. In 1960, however, Nigel Wilson noted the similarities between the script and that of chancery script in two early 14th-century manuscripts on Athos, and he suggested that the manuscript had been written by a chancery scribe commissioned to write a book. Certainly, the script differs greatly from a typical contemporary book-hand such as that found in Arundel MS 523, copied by the priest Michael Lulludes in Crete, in 1312-13:

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Detail of the hand of Michael Lulludes, from a copy of the Chronicle of Constantine Manasses, 1312-13, Arundel MS 523, f. 143v

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Detail of the hand of the Codex Crippsianus, Burney MS 95, f. 16v

On the other hand, Burney MS 95 is much closer to the hand of Romanus Chartophylax, in Harley MS 5579, copied in 1320-21. This script is the form known as “notarial” Cypriot script.

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Detail of the hand of Romanus Chartophylax, from the Codex Goblerianus, Cyprus, 1320-21, Harley MS 5579, f. 98r

Finally, in the 1990s, the scribe was identified by Erich Lamberz as Michael Klostomalles, a notary also known as the “Metochitesschreiber”. It is heartening to think that such a famous manuscript can now be associated with a known person, and is also a good reminder of the vast amounts of work remaining to be done on Greek manuscripts.

It remains to say a few words about how the manuscript ended up in Burney’s possession. The manuscript contains an early pressmark identifying it as belonging to the monastery of Vatopedi, Mount Athos, and it may well have been part of the gift of the Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus (r. 1347-54). Like many public figures during the Byzantine age, John planned to retire to a monastery, and prepared for his retirement by having many of his books sent in advance. The manuscript contains annotations in the hand of Prince Alexander Bano Hantzerli, and from him it passed into the possession of Edward Daniel Clarke, who procured it for John Marten Cripps, from whom the manuscript gets its name. There was great excitement when the manuscript went up for auction in 1808, as can be seen from the printed sale notice now preserved as ff. 171r-172v, and Burney acquired it for the not insignificant sum of £372 15s. Now, along with Burney MS 96, a descendant of the Codex Crippsianus, the manuscript and its riches can be viewed by all online.

- Cillian O'Hogan

08 November 2014

The Harley Psalter: Devils in the Details

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 103 (Vulgate numbering): The creations of the Lord: valleys and mountains (left) with springs where beasts and birds are drinking, a man ploughing with oxen, a sea with ships on it and beasts in the water (centre); lions and other beasts among the rocks (right), from the Harley Psalter, S.E. England (Canterbury), 1st half of the 11th century, Harley MS 603, f. 51v

The Harley Psalter is one of three manuscripts copied from the very well-travelled Utrecht Psalter, a Carolingian masterpiece made around 825 at the Benedictine monastery of Hautvilliers near Rheims in Northern France. Now MS 32 at the Universiteitsbibliotheek in Utrecht, the Utrecht Psalter spent at least two hundred years in Canterbury from about 1000 AD, where it was the inspiration for our very own Harley Psalter, Harley MS 603. Dating from the first half of the 11th century, the Harley Psalter has a very similar arrangement and many near-identical images to those of the Utrecht Psalter, though the version of the Psalms is different. In each one of the large pen drawings, the artist has attempted to represent the words of the Psalms in pictorial form - not always an easy task. The images often include four or five episodes from the text of the Psalm that follows, depicted in a vibrant yet intimate style. They are extraordinarily detailed, filled with tiny people and animals and many details, some amusing, and some bizarre.  This is the medieval ‘Where’s Wally?’: the reward for hours of searching is an unexpected delight from time to time.

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 5: The psalmist entering a sanctuary (left), from which a winged demon is fleeing (centre), and above him an angel placing a wreath on a martyr's head; on the right, demons are prodding the wicked in a pit of fire, Harley MS 603, f. 3r

There are, of course, the standard variations on the theme of the righteous and unrighteous, such as holy tabernacles and fiery pits, the psalmist appealing to God and his angels for help against foes and demons.  

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 134
: The Lord unleashing the fury of the wind and rain and his angels with spears slaying kings and their armies, Harley MS 603, f. 69r

God’s vengeance is portrayed repeatedly and with relish, as are the agitated gestures of the figures who suffer the consequences, particularly kings and judges.

So much for the standard fare. Here are a few unusual and interesting details we found to enjoy (apart from a medieval umbrella!). Please look for your own favourites in the online images and share them with us via Twitter: unlike the ‘Where’s Wally?’ books, Digitised Manuscripts allows you to zoom in for added searchability.

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Detail from a miniature illustrating Psalm 7: a female demon with quadruplets (below right), Harley MS 603, f. 4r

Here is a female demon with her brood of quadruplets. She seems to have her hands full!

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 21: The themes include: (1) the lamentation of the psalmist, who is shown holding two vials, and is attacked by bulls, dogs and lions, with a unicorn below (lower right); (2) prophetic images of Christ’s passion including an empty cross and two men dividing a garment in front of a lot machine (centre); and (3) praise to heaven, represented by the tabernacle with the meek eating at a circular table and seven women seated with babies (the seed of Israel), Harley MS 603, f. 12r

As those of you who follow this blog will know, we have a soft spot for unicorns. Here is one that seems to be facing up to two men with scythes. One has to wonder what the outcome of that contest will be. Our money is on the unicorn, naturally.

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Detail of a miniature illustrating Psalm 30: People watching acrobats and a dancing bear
, Harley MS 603, f. 17r

Continuing with the animal theme, this image includes a dancing bear and acrobats, presumably as a condemnation of frivolous pastimes.

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 108: Below Christ in a mandorla with angels, a wicked man is seized by a demon (left) and the psalmist with a locust, standing in oil from an oil-horn (right); the sinner is punished (lower left), his wife and children abandoned and his treasures taken from his chest, Harley MS 603, f. 56r

And here a locust is an onlooker to the punishment of a sinful man. The sinner’s treasure is looted, his wife tears her hair out and his children are abandoned, naked.  

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Added miniature illustrating Psalm 59: The Lord in a mandorla handing a pair of shoes to an angel; the defenders of the city of Edom(?) are facing the attacking soldiers
, Harley MS 603, f. 32v

Finally, did you know that angels wore shoes? No, nor did we, but in the picture the Lord is handing a pair to an angel (illustrating the line, ‘Over Edom will I cast out my shoe’). The style of this image is different: it is one of the drawings added to the Psalter in the 12th century. 

There are 112 of these fascinating and skilful illustrations in the Harley Psalter, an impressive achievement by any standard. The artistic style, originally from Reims, was influential in the development of late Anglo-Saxon book decoration and the coloured line drawings that became especially popular in England at the time. For further examples of this style, check out the Tiberius Psalter (Cotton MS Tiberius C VI), which dates to the third quarter of the 11th century. Two copies of the Psychomachia at the British Library also contain similar decoration: Cotton MS Cleopatra C VIII and Additional MS 24199 (the latter will soon make an appearance on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts).

- Chantry Westwell

06 November 2014

Greek Digitisation Project update: 40 manuscripts newly uploaded

We have now passed the half-way point of this phase of the Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and many others, including the A. G. Leventis Foundation, Sam Fogg, the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, the Thriplow Charitable Trust, and the Friends of the British Library. What treasures are in store for you this month? To begin with, there are quite a few interesting 17th- and 18th-century items to look at, including two very fine 18th-century charters, with seals intact, an iconographic sketch-book (Add MS 43868), and a fascinating Greek translation of an account of the siege of Vienna in 1683 (Add MS 38890). We continue to upload some really exciting Greek bindings – of particular note here are Add MS 24372 and Add MS 36823. A number of scrolls have also been uploaded, mostly containing the Liturgy of Basil of Caesarea. A number of Biblical manuscripts are included, too, but this month two manuscripts of classical authors take pride of place: Harley MS 5600, a stunning manuscript of the Iliad from 15th-century Florence, and Burney MS 111, a lavishly decorated copy of Ptolemy’s Geographia.

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Add Ch 76659, detail of lead seal of Procopius I

Add Ch 76659, Confirmations by the Patriarch of Constantinople of the stavropegiacal rights of the Monastery of Theotokos Chrysopodariotissa near Kalanos, in the province of Patras in the Peloponnese, December 1786.

Add Ch 76660, Confirmations by the Patriarch of Constantinople of the stavropegiacal rights of the Monastery of Theotokos Chrysopodariotissa near Kalanos, in the province of Patras in the Peloponnese, March 1798.

Add MS 22749, Basil of Caesarea, Divine Liturgy, on a parchment scroll. 12th century.

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Add MS 24372, front board

Add MS 24372, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes; with additional leaves inserted in the 12th century taken from Symeon Metaphrastes, Passio S. Clementis Admirabilis et S. Agathangeli (BHG 353), imperfect. 11th century. Illuminated head-pieces, gilt titles and initials. Stamped leather on wooden sides and bosses, possibly the original binding, but rebacked in the 19th century, at which time the inner boards were overlaid with goatskin.

Add MS 24381, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes, most being imperfect at the beginning, owing to miniatures which have been torn out. Three miniatures remain on ff 2r, 41v, and 52r. One wooden board from an earlier (15th-century?) binding survives and is kept separately as Add MS 24381/1. Written in 1079 or 1088, probably at Constantinople: the hand has been identified as that of Michael, a monk at the monastery of Christ Panoikteirmon in Constantinople.

Add MS 27563, Basil of Caesarea, Divine Liturgy, on a parchment scroll. 14th century.

Add MS 27564, Basil of Caesarea, Divine Liturgy, on a parchment scroll. 14th century.

Add MS 28823, John Zonaras, Commentary on the Canons of the Apostles, of the ecumenical and local councils and of the Fathers, and related texts. 4th quarter of the 14th century.

Add MS 28825, Greek translation of Ephraem the Syrian, Homilies, imperfect, and other patristic texts, including Isaiah of Gaza, Asceticon, Neilos of Ankara, Epistola ad Diaconum Achillium. Marcian of Bethlehem, and John of Lycopolis. 12th century.

Add MS 33318, Menaion for the month of September, imperfect. f 1 should follow f 185. The text varies considerably from that of modern printed editions. 4th quarter of the 14th century.

Add MS 34554, Lives of saints and theological discourses, imperfect. 16th century.

Add MS 34820, Divine Liturgy of St Basil, imperfect at beginning and end. inc. θυσιαστήριον εἰς ὁσμὴν εὐωδίας, expl. Πλήρωμα Πνεύματος ἁγίου. With a  wooden roller attached. 14th century.

Add MS 35212, John Chrysostom, In Genesim homiliae 10-17, imperfect. 11th century.

Add MS 36635, Lives of Saints, for 9-17 January, mostly by Symeon Metaphrastes. 12th century. Illuminated headpieces and initials.

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Add MS 36636, f 48v, detail

Add MS 36636, Lives of Saints, for 3-13 November, mostly by Symeon Metaphrastes. 11th century. Historiated initials and decorated headpieces.

Add MS 36654, Lives of Saints for the month of October, mostly by Symeon Metaphrastes. The manuscript ends with the text set out in cruciform with the letters of the Victorious Cross set in the angles. An inscription on f 215v records that it was brought to the Euergetis Monastery in Constantinople in 1103, and was probably created around the same time.

Add MS 36669, Apophthegmata Patrum: a compilation of the Greek Church Fathers, bearing the title Λειμὼν ἐνθάδε καρπῶν πεπληρωμένος. 14th century. In a 17th-century binding of boards covered with leather with gilt ornament, the centrepiece representing on the upper cover the Crucifixion, on the lower cover David and the angel of the Lord.

Add MS 36754, Collection of homilies by Basil of Caesarea and John Chrysostom, imperfect and mutilated. 11th century.

Add MS 36821, Works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, with the marginal commentary of Maximus the Confessor, and additional texts relating to Pseudo-Dionysius. 1st half of the 10th century, possibly copied from an uncial manuscript of Pseudo-Dionysius written by Methodius, future Patriarch of Constantinople, at Rome.

Add MS 36823, Menaion for the months of November and December, imperfect, partly palimpsest. 15th century, Selymbria: donated to the Diocese of Selymbria by the copyist John Chortasmenus. Bound with bare oak wooden boards, with a 19th-century leather spine. Traces of previous leather covering on back board and nail holes from clasps or furniture.

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Add MS 38890, f 3v, illumination of Emperor Leopold

Add MS 38890, Siege of Vienna, Ἀποκλεισμὸς τῆς Βιέννης, an account of the siege by Turks in 1683, translated from Italian into Modern Greek by Jeremias Cacavelas. Written by the priest Nicolas at Bucharest in December 1686, at the request of Constantin Brâncoveanu (b. 1654, d. 1714), later Prince of Wallachia.

Add MS 39608, John Chrysostom, In Genesim homiliae 1-133. 13th century.

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Add MS 43868, f 26v

Add MS 43868, Iconographic sketch-book, relating mostly to religious subjects. Also included are recipes, biblical quotations and church accounts. Pen and ink sketches, with some colour washes. 18th century.

Burney MS 24, Collation of the Codex Ephesinus (Lambeth Palace Library MS 528, Gregory-Aland 71) by Philip Traherne. c 1679.

Burney MS 56, Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, 2nd half of the 16th century.

Burney MS 57, Liturgy of St Basil of Caesarea, 2nd half of the 16th century.

Burney MS 58, Ioannes Sphaciotas, letters and offices. Corcyra, 17th century.

Burney MS 100, Works of Aristotle, preceded by Porphyrius, Isagoge. Italy, N? 1st half of the 15th century.

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Burney MS 111, f 1v. Ptolemaic map of Taprobana (Sri Lanka)

Burney MS 111, Ptolemy, Geographia, with many diagrams and coloured maps, all except that on f 1v being later fifteenth-century replacements on inserted leaves. 4th quarter of the 14th century-1st quarter of the 15th century.

Egerton MS 2743, Menaion, imperfect, from the middle of 16 March until 14 August, with Gospel Lections (Gregory-Aland l 940). Decorated headpieces and initials. 13th century.

Egerton MS 2744, Menaion for the months June, July and August. Imperfect at the beginning and end, some leaves are missing from the body of the volume. 12th century, written at Epirus.

Egerton MS 2745, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 941), imperfect, with ekphonetic notation in some lections: ff 1v-23v, 60r-61r, 62v-66r, 67v-68r, 69v-70r, 71r-121r. 12th century.

Egerton MS 2785, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 715; Scrivener evan. 564; von Soden ε 364). Decorated headpieces and initials. 13th century.

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Harley MS 5600, f 15v. Illumination of Homer surrounded by the nine muses. Medallions of four bearded figures in the four corners.

Harley MS 5600, Homer, Iliad, with prefatory material. Florence, completed on 16 May 1466. With a full-page frontispiece in colours and gold on f 15v; a full white vine border in colours and gold on f 16r; 25 white vine initials in colours and gold.

Harley MS 5620, New Testament: Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 322; Scrivener act. 27; von Soden α 550). Decorated headpieces. 16th century.

Kings MS 16, Homer, Iliad. Italy, 1431.

Royal MS 1 B I, New Testament: Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 308; Scrivener Paul. 25, Act. 20; von Soden α 456), with Euthalian prefaces to the Catholic Epistles, imperfect, being partly damaged throughout. 14th century.

Royal MS 12 A VIII, Complimentary verses to Elizabeth I on her Accession Day, 17 Nov., by Robert Twist, alumnus of Westminster School, in Latin and Greek. 1597.

Royal MS 12 A XXVIII, Complimentary verses inviting a visit from Henry, Prince of Wales, by members of Winchester College. Winchester, c 1603-1612.

Royal MS 12 A XLVII, Complimentary addresses in prose and verse to Elizabeth I on her visit to Woodstock and Oxford, 31 August 1566, by members of Oxford University. Oxford, 1566.

 

Cillian O'Hogan

04 November 2014

“Snip It!” at The Jewish Museum, Berlin

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Detail of Abraham and the men of his family being circumcised, from the Egerton Genesis, Southern England, c. 1350–c. 1375,
Egerton MS 1894, f. 9v

Two manuscripts from the British Library are featured in the exhibition “Snip it! Stances on Ritual Circumcision”, newly opened at The Jewish Museum in Berlin (24 October 2014 to 1 March 2015). The British Library’s Egerton Genesis Picture Book and Omne bonum are two of some 60 objects and artworks gathered from international collections to examine the cultural and historical context of circumcision.

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The story of Abraham and Sarah from
Egerton MS 1894, f. 9v

Together with 19 other leaves, this page forms part of a remarkable picture book containing 149 illustrations of Genesis, from the Creation to the history of Joseph. The relative size of the illumination makes clear the primacy of image over the text, with the latter consisting of short captions in Anglo-Norman French, derived from Peter Comestor’s Historia scholastica. The exhibition features this page for its inclusion of Abraham and the men of his family being circumcised (see top for detail). Many more images from this manuscript feature in this previous blog post, and a discussion of the picture book genre can be seen here.

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Detail of the illustrated entry on ‘Circumcisio’ in the encyclopaedic 'Omne bonum', London, c. 1360–1375,
Royal MS 6 E VI, f. 269

The author of the second volume on loan to the exhibition, James le Palmer, said of his work: “Since virtually all good things are in one way or another contained herein, I thought it fitting to name this little work Omne bonum – all good things.” Containing more than 1350 entries arranged in alphabetical order, this work aspired to be a universal collection of knowledge. Over 750 entries are illustrated, including “Circumcisio” above. The ritual is performed on an ordinary child, in agreement with the text which discusses circumcision in the Old Testament, but the artist has followed the pictorial tradition of the Circumcision of Christ.

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Detail of the Circumcision of Abraham in Omne bonum,
Royal MS 6 E VI, f. 3

It is not the entry on “Circumcisio” which is on display in Berlin, however, but a scene depicting the Circumcision of Abraham included in the biblical cycle at the beginning of Omne bonum. This occurs among 109 tinted drawings of Old and New Testament subjects. The curators of the exhibition, Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek and Martina Lüdicke, explain that “Snip it!” illuminates “ritual circumcision from the perspective of the three monotheistic religions. Both loans, Omne bonum and the Egerton Genesis, are exhibited in the room dedicated to the Christian perception of the ritual. The depiction of Abraham’s circumcision greatly enriches our content, emphasising the Christian interpretation of Abraham’s circumcision as an act of sacrifice.” Starting from the Jewish concept of the Abrahamic covenant, via sculptures exploring the body-shaped-by-culture, to clips from contemporary TV series, this exhibition is described as “incisive in every sense of the term”; for the full details see this press release.

The British Library is delighted to be a lender to this exhibition, and we hope that as many people as possible have the opportunity to see our manuscripts while they are on display in Berlin.

 

Holly James-Maddocks

01 November 2014

A Calendar Page for November 2014

For more information about the Huth Hours, please see our post A Calendar Page for January 2014.

These two calendar pages for the month of November show a typical labour for this part of the agricultural season – the fattening of pigs for autumn.  On the opening folio, beneath the beginning of the saints’ days for the month, is a roundel of a peasant in the woods.  He is armed with a long stick, and is engaged in knocking acorns from oak trees to feed the pigs that are rooting around near his feet.   On the following folio, we can see a small miniature of a centaur with a bow and arrow, for the zodiac sign Sagittarius.  Beneath him is another peasant, heading home after a day of feeding pigs.  He looks fairly miserable – understandably enough, as he is walking through a heavy rainstorm.  Surrounding this roundel and the continuation of the saints’ days is a frame made up of golden columns, circled by banners with the initials ‘MY’ and ‘YM’.  These initials might be clues to the original owner of the manuscript, whose identity/identities are still unknown.  For more on this mystery, see here.

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Calendar page for November, with a roundel miniature of a man feeding pigs in the woods, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 11v

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Calendar page for November, with a roundel miniature of a man heading home in a rainstorm, with the zodiac sign Sagittarius, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 12r

- Sarah J Biggs