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03 October 2017

Reuniting a Middle Dutch prayerbook

We are pleased to be able to update this blogpost with the kind assistance of Professor Kathryn M. Rudy (St Andrews), whose work on this prayerbook will be published next year.

In the decades after Gutenberg built the first printing press, bookmakers experimented with pasting printed images into hand-written books. That is, they combined the old technology of manuscript with the new medium of print. In the 19th century, collectors removed many of these prints from the manuscripts that had preserved them. Hundreds of woodcuts and engravings that once embellished manuscripts have ended up in the British Museum, while the manuscripts from which they were removed are in the British Library. Professor Rudy, a book historian at the University of St Andrews, has built a database to match the prints with the manuscripts in which they were formerly pasted. Digitally reconstructing them shows how innovative bookmakers were in absorbing the new technology.

Image 1 - Binding
binding of the Middle Dutch prayerbook, probably from Maastricht, c. 1500: Add MS 24332

This Middle Dutch prayerbook (British Library Add MS 24332) once contained a series of engravings, which had been chosen by the original makers as companions for its handwritten prayers. However, the engravings became separated from the manuscript in the 19th century. Only in recent years has the manuscript been matched with more than 50 illustrations held in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. Photo-editing allows us to reveal a series of beautifully coloured engravings — several of which have been associated with Israhel van Meckenem (d. 1503), a German printmaker and goldsmith — alongside the texts for which they had originally been selected.

  St Lucy

A modern leaf replaces the gap left by a missing illustration of St Lucy (Add Ms 24332, ff. 422v–423r): see the reconstruction below

Until recently, the only images still found in this manuscript were a snippet from an engraving of the Annunciation and a marginal image of St John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary, which probably remains only because it could not be removed without destroying it.

Image 2 - The AnnunciationImage 3 - The Virgin Mary
A snippet of the Annunciation, Add MS 24332, f. 283v; engraving of St John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary,  f. 307v

We know where the British Museum prints go, because they follow the original medieval page numbering system.

    St Lucy
A prayer to and engraving of St Lucy digitally reunited using British Museum image (copyright Trustees of the British Museum) and Add Ms 24332, ff. 422v–423r

St Cecilia

A prayer to and engraving of St Cecilia digitally reunited using British Museum image (copyright Trustees of the British Museum) and Add MS 24332, ff. 416v–417r

St Anne

A prayer to and engraving of St Anne (with the Virgin Mary and Christ Child) digitally reunited using British Museum image (copyright Trustees of the British Museum) and Add MS 24332, ff. 354v–355r

St Michael match

A prayer to and engraving of St Michael the Archangel digitally reunited using British Museum image (copyright Trustees of the British Museum) and Add MS 24332, ff. 383v–384r 

But what does this teach us? These leaves give an insight into how the engravings were adapted for the needs of the book. For example, the manuscript’s miniature of St Lucy is a reworked version of St Catherine of Alexandria. St Lucy is usually depicted holding a pair of eyes in one hand, to indicate that, before she was killed by her Roman persecutors, her eyes had been gouged out. However, this engraving lacks St Lucy’s usual attribute: while the artist who reworked the print was able to cover St Catherine’s torture wheel, it was impossible to add a pair of eyes to her hands, as one already held a sword and the other a book. The artist therefore appears to have given St Lucy a black eye.

AN00059989_001_l Eyes

St Catherine of Alexandria, disguised as St Lucy with an artful(ish) make-over (copyright Trustees of the British Museum, object reg: 1861,1109.639)

The engravings hold further evidence for the manuscript’s origin at the community of Franciscan tertiaries in Maastricht. The manuscript contains prayers to St Francis and St Clare of Assisi, the founders of the male and female branches of the Franciscan Order; one of these refers to St Francis as ‘our dear father and worthy patron’ (f. 379r: ‘soete vader ende werde patroen’), and so the manuscript has been attributed to a Franciscan community. One of the illustrated leaves supports this attribution, since it contains an unusual prayer to and engraving of Saint Elzéar of Sabran, a Franciscan tertiary. Another engraving is dedicated to Holy Name, a devotion closely associated with the Franciscan friar St Bernardino of Siena, who is also mentioned in the manuscript.

  Image 8 - Holy Name
The Holy Name of Jesus (copyright Trustees of the British Museum, 1861,1109.645)

We still know little about this Middle Dutch prayerbook, but a full reconstruction could provide further insights into the textual and visual culture of the religious community that produced the manuscript. 

Professor Rudy’s book, The Image, the Knife, and the Gluepot: Early Experiments in Combining Manuscript and Print, will appear in early 2018, with support from the British Academy.

 Clarck Drieshen and Amy Jeffs

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I have been working on a book-length study of this manuscript, the prints that were formerly pasted into it, and other manuscripts-with-prints in the BL/BM, Paris and elsewhere. I have given public talks about the project in York, St Andrews, Amsterdam, and elsewhere. The study will be out next year.

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