14 August 2022
Every one of the glistening treasures in the Gold exhibition will startle and impress our visitors. But there are some more than others that may cause them to catch their breath, especially at the dates on the labels. The Harley Golden Gospels is one of these, a magnificent imperial book, written entirely in gold at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (r. 800-814), perhaps for emperor himself. Amazingly, this treasured book has survived in near-perfect condition for over 1,200 years.
The court of Charlemagne was Christian while modelling itself on the splendours of ancient Rome. In the decoration of the Gospels, evocations of the Roman past are combined with Christian images and symbolism. Though only one page can be displayed in our exhibition, images of every page are online and here we show a selection of the most beautiful among them.
While the Harley Golden Gospels is often exhibited for its picture pages, the page on display in the Gold exhibition shows off the manuscript's remarkable golden script. It was very unusual for a manuscript to be written entirely in gold, so this is an outstanding display of wealth and scribal skill. Every text page is also ornamented with a different patterned frame, beautifully painted in colours and gold. This amount of attention lavished on the Gospel text was probably intended to show that it represented the word of God in physical form, with its radiance emphasising the value of divine wisdom.
Following the biblical prefaces at the beginning of the volume there are eleven pages of canon tables, lists of parallel and unique passages in the Gospels. The lists of Roman numerals are set among classical columns and arches decorated with rich patterning and animals. They may evoke the Roman porphyry columns in Charlemagne’s palace chapel at Aachen.
The title preceding the Gospels is written in gold and silver on a large red medallion surrounded by geometric designs, with the space around it filled by bright turquoise peacocks and colourful roosters.
Each of the four Gospels is preceded by a full-page portrait of the evangelist, the authors of the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are each seated on a throne that resembles in shape the throne of Charlemagne at Aachen, and are surrounded by an imperial setting of columns and arches. On the facing page is an elaborate initial and the opening words of the Gospel in large gold capitals
At the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew points to an open book, with an angel above. The opposite page contains the opening words of his Gospel in gold capitals; the large ‘L’ of ‘Liber generationis’ (The book of the generation) is topped with two lion-like creatures in a medallion.
Mark dips his pen in an inkwell while holding an open book. The lion above holds an unfurled scroll with the opening words of his Gospel. On the opposite page the first letter ‘I’ of ‘Initium’ (The beginning) has interlace patterns and contains a roundel with a bust of Christ. The name ‘Marcum’ (Mark) appears in red in the central column among the gold lettering.
The opening page of Luke’s Gospel has a colour palette dominated by warm reds and ochres. Above him, a white ox with wings holds an open book. On the facing page, an angel announces the future birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias, his father, who is at an altar in a round Temple. On either side are roundels of Elizabeth, his wife, and her cousin Mary, mothers of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.
The evangelist John is a more solid figure than Luke and faces straight out of the page. He is shown with his symbol of a golden eagle, and he, like Mark, dips his pen in an ink well. On the facing page, John the Baptist and two disciples below all point upwards to the Lamb of God, illustrating a passage from John’s Gospel (1: 36-37). The purple inscribed with gold capitals on this page further emphasises the imperial connotations of this work, since purple was especially associated with the Roman emperors (you can read more about gold and purple manuscripts in a previous blogpost).
With such a wealth of shining decorations, this splendid manuscript certainly earns its name as the Harley Golden Gospels.
The British Library’s Gold exhibition runs until 2 October 2022. You can read more about the exhibition in our previous blogpost and you can book tickets online now. An accompanying book Gold: Spectacular Manuscripts from Around the World is available from the British Library shop.
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The exhibition is supported by the Goldhammer Foundation and the American Trust for the British Library, with thanks to The John S Cohen Foundation, The Finnis Scott Foundation, the Owen Family Trust and all supporters who wish to remain anonymous.
21 October 2021
The latest leg of the British Library’s Treasures on Tour programme sees the loan of the Bodmin Gospels and Pascon Agan Arluth, a medieval Cornish poem on the Passion of Christ, to a new exhibition in Redruth. These manuscripts are on display from 23 October 2021 until 22 January 2022 at Kresen Kernow (‘Cornwall Centre’), in an exhibition entitled ‘Treasures from Medieval Cornwall’.
The Bodmin Gospels (Add MS 9381) is the earliest surviving manuscript known to have been in use in Cornwall. It was produced in Brittany towards the end of the 9th century, but by the 940s it had been taken to the Cornish priory of St Petroc. The priory was initially in Padstow, but subsequently relocated to Bodmin following Viking attacks.
The opening of the Gospel of Mark in the Bodmin Gospels: Add MS 9381, f. 50r
From the mid-10th to the 11th centuries, numerous scribes copied documents onto blank pages and into the margins around the text of the Gospels. These documents, known as manumissions, record the freeing of many enslaved individuals whose existence in Cornwall is not noted in any other sources. The text of some of the documents was erased in the past by scraping the ink off the parchment, but in recent years multispectral imaging has made these texts legible again.
The Bodmin Gospels is open at ff. 8v–9r in the exhibition in Redruth, showing a page with four added manumission documents on the left, opposite the first canon table, listing parallel passages in the four Gospels.
Copies of four manumission documents in the Bodmin Gospels: Add MS 9381, f. 8v
The first canon table in the Bodmin Gospels: Add MS 9381, f. 9r
On display alongside the Bodmin Gospels is Pascon Agan Arluth, a Cornish poem on the Passion of Christ (Harley MS 1782). This manuscript was written in the 15th century, and appears to be a copy of a text originally composed in the previous century, making it the earliest surviving complete Cornish text. It also includes 10 coloured drawings in the lower margins, and is the earliest known illustrated manuscript written in Cornish.
Pascon Agan Arluth, a Passion Poem in Cornish, with a coloured drawing of Christ before King Herod: Harley MS 1782, f. 9r
The narrative of the poem, written in 259 8-line stanzas, focuses on the story of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, drawing on the accounts found in the Gospels, with other additional material.
Pascon Agan Arluth, a Passion Poem in Cornish, with a coloured drawing of Christ carrying the Cross: Harley MS 1782, f. 14v
The project to develop Kresen Kernow, where the manuscripts are on display, was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Cornwall Council, to create a new home for Cornwall’s archives and gallery spaces, within the walls of the former Redruth Brewery. It opened in September 2019 and houses over 1.5 million manuscripts, maps and documents from Cornwall Record Office, as well as photographs, books and newspapers from the Cornish Studies Library, and the archaeological records and photographs from the Historic Environment Record.
The Kresen Kernow building in Redruth © Phil Boorman
The new exhibition in Redruth includes medieval items from Kresen Kernow’s own collection. It follows on from the display this summer of four early Cornish language play-scripts on loan from the Bodleian Library and the National Library of Wales: the Cornish Ordinalia; the Creation of the World; the Life of St Meriadoc (Bewnans Meriasek); and the Life of St Kea (Bewnans Ke).
‘Treasures from Medieval Cornwall’ opens to the public on Saturday 23 October 2021 and runs until Saturday 22 January 2022. More information on opening times and how to book free tickets is available on the Kresen Kernow website.
The Treasures on Tour programme is generously supported by the Helen Hamlyn Trust. The British Library is working with other libraries, museums and galleries to share our collections across the UK. Last year, as part of this programme, we loaned the Gospels of Máel Brigte to the Ulster Museum, as well as George Eliot’s manuscript of Middlemarch to Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery, and we will be announcing additional loans as part of ‘Treasures on Tour’ over the coming months.
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24 September 2021
What's the first thing that you think of when you hear the words 'the Green Knight'? Is it the new Hollywood movie starring Dev Patel, Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander, which has its UK release on 24 September? Or, if you are a medieval nerd, is it the unique manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that we look after at the British Library?
We haven't yet seen the film (have you booked your tickets yet?) but the 14th-century manuscript is available to view in full online, and it is also currently on display, for free, in the Treasures Gallery at the British Library. Its full-page illustrations have a charm all of their own, even if they were once dismissed as 'coarsely executed'. Take, for instance, the scene shown below, which prefaces the poem (Cotton MS Nero A X/2, f. 94v). At the top of the page, Sir Gawain (dressed in red and holding an axe) is addressing King Arthur and Queen Guinevere at their distinctly un-round table. Below, the Green Knight mounted on his green horse holds his severed head aloft, in front of a clearly bemused Gawain.
There are three further illustrations accompanying the text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, all painted in the same palette and in which all the characters have identical features and hairstyles. These illustrations follow one another in sequence at the end of the poem (ff. 129r, 129v, 130r). First, we have Bertilak's lady entering Gawain's bedchamber in order to seduce him (f. 129r). She is wearing what seems to be a turban and a brightly spotted dressing gown. Gawain is swathed, quite fittingly, in a green blanket.
Then we have the scene of Sir Gawain (on horseback) and the Green Knight (wielding the axe) before the Green Chapel (f. 129v). It has to be said that this particular page is exceedingly green, with the odd hints of other colours to delineate Gawain and the Green Knight's blond hair.
Finally, a kneeling Gawain is shown being greeted by Arthur and Guinevere beneath a dark blue canopy (f. 130r). The perspective of the three figures at the rear is disproportionate to that of Gawain before them and the paint, it has to be said, has been applied rather thickly. But the king and queen's expressions say it all: Gawain has accomplished his challenge and has saved the honour of King Arthur's court.
There are some wonderful still images of The Green Knight movie available on the IMDb website. The costume design of Gawain (played by Dev Patel) and the Green Knight (played by Ralph Ineson) clearly owes nothing to their medieval counterparts. But we love their distinctive headdresses — Dev Patel shown below looks a tad like a Sun King — and the sheer menace on the Green Knight's face. The image of the Green Knight riding into King Arthur's court (featuring, incidentally, a very round-looking table) makes our hairs stand on end. There may be little in common with the image in the unique medieval manuscript, but they both convey a similar mood. This is a moment of wonder, of real danger, and of enticing mystery. We hope the film lives up to expectations. Never has it been more appropriate to declare, "Off with his head!"
All film images courtesy of IMDb.com, and as used in other reviews of the movie
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23 September 2021
Legends and stories have always been part of our human experience – tales of terrifying creatures, star-crossed lovers and impossible quests have been adapted and invented by storytellers and bards across cultures and millennia. The Middle Ages was no exception and manuscripts containing stories are among some of the most beautifully illustrated in our collections. A number of these are currently on display in our Treasures Gallery - which is once again open to the public - and are the subject of a new book, Dragons Heroes Myths and Magic by Chantry Westwell, published this week by the British Library.
A love story
One of the most famous literary love stories is between Dante Alighieri, Italian poet and author, and his muse Beatrice. To commemorate the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, a magnificent copy of the Divine Comedy is displayed, open to an illumination in the third book, Paradiso, showing Dante and Beatrice floating upwards to heaven. Very little is known about their relationship, but it seems they met only once or twice before Beatrice died aged only 24. In his poem to her, the Vita Nuovo, Dante promises to create a work that will be worth of her memory. He achieves this in the Divine Comedy, one of the greatest poetic works of all time.
Having experienced the torments of hell and the suffering of purgatory, Dante is guided through the realms of heaven by Beatrice, finally reaching the Celestial Rose, where the Holy Trinity is surrounded by the nine orders of angels. Dante looks into the Eternal Light and his soul becomes one with God. To discover more, see our recent blogpost on Dante in our collections.
Stories of famous women
In the display case beside Dante is Christine de Pisan’s ‘Book of the Queen’, a collection of works by one of the few women to make her living from writing in the Middle Ages. The manuscript was produced under her supervision for Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen Consort of Charles VI of France. It is open at an illustration of Venus teaching a group of women at the beginning of 'L'Épître Othéa'. This is a letter imagined by Christine de Pisan from the fictional Othéa, personification of wisdom, to the Trojan prince, Hector. Each short epistle is followed by a commentary giving advice to women on how to follow the example of famous characters from history and mythology. A number of episodes from the Trojan legends are illustrated, including this miniature of Circe changing Ulysses and his men into swine. Christine uses this example to encourage her audience to make use of the medical expertise of physicians rather than the charms and dark arts practised by Circe.
Far-fetched accounts of exotic, unknown lands have always captured the popular imagination, and a work of English origin, known as the Travels of Sir John Mandeville is one of these. The copy on display contains illustrations of encounters with strange and wondrous creatures to be found in faraway places. The ‘author’, Mandeville, probably never existed, and the stories are thought to have been collected from other travellers’ accounts and presented as a real journey. Whatever its origins, this work may have been more popular than The Travels of Marco Polo at one time – it is thought that Christine de Pisan and Leonardo da Vinci owned copies of it.
A tale of magic and mystery from the court of King Arthur
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight survives in only one handwritten copy, currently on display beside the Mandeville manuscript. In this well-known story, the Green Knight issues a challenge to Arthur’s knights, a challenge that is taken up by Gawain. This leads him on a quest through the wilderness of Wirrall, where he overcomes dragons, wodewoses, bears and ogres. No spoilers here - the strange outcome of these events will be revealed in a film, The Green Knight, to be released in the UK this weekend (watch this space for a forthcoming blogpost!). The late 14th-century manuscript contains a series of full-page illustrations and three other Middle English poems, Pearl, Cleanness and Patience, believed to be by the same author, about whom nothing more is known.
A lovable rogue
Storytellers have always loved a mischief-maker, an individual who delights in creating mayhem for its own sake, but who sometimes falls victim to his or her own tricks. Animal rogues in traditional folk tales, from Anansi, the spider in West Africa, to the crow in the Indian Mahabharata and the medieval Renard the fox are the precursors of our much-loved Jerry (nemesis of Tom), Bugs Bunny and the Wild Things. Surely the best-known animal character of the Middle Ages is Reynard the Fox, hero of the French Roman de Renart. This beloved rascal was so famous that the French word for fox changed from ‘goupil’ to ‘renard’. A manuscript in French in our collections contains illustrations, including one of the well-known story of Renart and Chanticleer the cockerel, adapted by Chaucer as the Nun’s Priest’s Tale. Renart distracts the foolish and self-important cockerel by asking him to demonstrate his singing prowess, seizing the opportunity to grasp him by the neck and carry him off as dinner for his family.
Though this manuscript is not on display in Treasures, there is a William Morris Kelmscott Press edition of the tales of Reynard the fox in the section on Printed Books, where Morris adapts the medieval foliate border to create a beautiful opening to the collection of stories in English. The text is a reprint of Caxton’s 1481 English translation of the Dutch prose version, Reinaerts Historie.
Discover more medieval stories
Intrigued by medieval stories? A new book, Dragons Heroes Myths and Magic: The Medieval Art of Storytelling, by Chantry Westwell, is published this week by the British Library, and is now available to buy from the Library’s online shop and St Pancras bookshop. It features stories with images from some of the most gorgeous medieval manuscripts in our collections. The stories are divided into 7 sections, including Quests, Love Stories and Epic Battles, each with details of its origins and history and how it was perceived by medieval audiences. Illuminations from British Library manuscripts are beautifully reproduced on almost every page.
But there is no substitute for seeing the real thing, so come and visit our Treasures Gallery at the St Pancras site, which is once again open for visitors and contains a wealth of materials from our collections, in addition to the medieval manuscripts featured here.
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19 July 2021
Five hundred years after the artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) travelled through the Low Countries, the exhibition “Dürer was here. A journey becomes legend” has opened at the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum in Aachen, Germany. Drawing on the detailed travel journal that Dürer kept, the exhibition reconstructs the artist’s journey, with a particular focus on the time he spent in Aachen in 1520 when he attended the coronation of Emperor Charles V.
The British Library is delighted to have loaned the only surviving page-fragments from Dürer’s original journal to the exhibition, where they are displayed with an early copy of the complete text, loaned by the Staatsbibliothek in Bamberg. The first British Library fragment shows two sketches of a piece of folded cloth with instructions on how to make a type of woman’s cloak worn in the Low Countries.
Page from Dürer's original journal, 1520: Add MS 5229, f. 50r
The second fragment contains two sketches of the Coat-of-Arms of Lorenz Staiber (1485/6–1539), writer, orator and patrician of Nuremberg, and mentioned by Dürer in his journal. The sketches are thought to have been made in preparation for a woodcut.
Page from Dürer's original journal, 1520-21: Add MS 5229, f. 59r
Dürer used his journal to document his itinerary, diet, expenses and earnings, and to record noteworthy sights, encounters with fellow artists, and meetings with influential individuals and patrons. The journal also mentions around 120 portrait drawings and a small number of paintings that Dürer produced and either sold or gifted during his travels. Now widely dispersed, the exhibition brings together many of these masterpieces, as well as works by some of the artists whom Dürer met and inspired on the way.
In addition to his extraordinary artistic abilities, Albrecht Dürer possessed a lifelong fascination with artistic theory. From about 1500 he became increasingly absorbed by his studies on the techniques and underlying principles of art and in particular on the correct depiction of the human body. The British Library holds four volumes of Dürer’s research notes, which relate overwhelmingly to his studies on human proportion. They contain numerous mathematically constructed drawings of men, women and children, accompanied by precise measurements and detailed notes in German on the correct construction of the human figure.
The sheet below is dated 1513 and bears Dürer’s characteristic ‘AD’ monogram. It shows a proportion drawing of a male nude with detailed measurements. Dürer has used a framework of vertical and horizontal lines to calculate the dimensions of different sections of the body as fractions of the total height of the figure.
Proportion drawing of a male nude with detailed measurements: Add MS 5230, f. 93r
Proportion drawing of a ‘stout woman’ accompanied by measurements and step-by-step instructions in German on the correct construction of the figure: Add MS 5231, f. 5r
Proportion drawing of a male nude seen from the front and in profile: Add MS 5228, f. 124r
Proportion drawing of an infant: Add MS 5228, f. 186v
Drawing showing the construction of a male head in profile: Add MS 5230, f. 10r
As Dürer’s sketches of fencers in combat illustrate, he was also interested in the theory of movement and how to capture the appearance and form of the body in motion. The inscriptions accompanying the rapidly executed drawings explain that they show the positions for the blades and for counter-blows or parries.
Drawing of fencing positions, 1512: Add MS 5229, f. 67v
Albrecht Dürer’s extensive research, conducted over 30 years, culminated in the illustrated treatise Vier Bücher von menschlicher Proportion or ‘Four Books on Human Proportion’ which was posthumously published by his wife Agnes in Nuremberg in 1528.
“Dürer was here. A journey becomes legend” runs in Aachen from 18 July until 24 October 2021.
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17 July 2021
How would you cope if your library was under lockdown? That is the situation Sir Robert Cotton (1571–1631) found himself in late in his life. We can all probably sympathise — most of us would never have anticipated the events of the past year — but the treasures denied to Cotton, by order of King Charles I, were astonishing. They included the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and a copy of Magna Carta issued in 1215 with King John's seal intact; for Cotton had assembled one of the greatest private libraries ever known. At a time when the British Library's own Reading Rooms and galleries have now reopened, and remembering of course that we have always remained open online, we look back in this blogpost to the events of the 1620s–30s and consider what lessons can be learned from them.
A portrait of Sir Robert Cotton, commissioned in 1626 and attributed to Cornelius Johnson, reproduced from the collection of The Rt. Hon. Lord Clinton, D.L.
The temporary closure of Cotton's library is summarised by Colin Tite in The Manuscript Library of Sir Robert Cotton (The British Library, 1994). Cotton, a Member of Parliament for Huntingdonshire and advisor to King James I (reigned 1603–1625), as well as a prominent antiquary and manuscript collector, had aroused suspicion over a number of years. Cotton's London residence was at Westminster — Members of the House of Lords had to pass through his garden in order to enter their chamber — and his habit of amassing state papers for antiquarian and political purposes (what we would now call 'preserving them for posterity') had earned the mistrust of the new king, Charles I (reigned 1625–1649), and his favourite, the Duke of Buckingham.
As early as 1616 Cotton had been suspected of communicating 'secretts of state' to the Spanish ambassador, for which he was threatened with the confiscation of his papers. Cotton frequently loaned his manuscripts or allowed others to consult them, what we may consider a charitable act but which curried disfavour in certain quarters. One of those borrowers was Francis Bacon (1561–1626), the Lord Chancellor of England, until he was impeached, barred from office, fined £40,000 and imprisoned for three days. (Bacon's disgrace, ostensibly for taking bribes, was ultimately the result of a scandal relating to monopolies and patents, for which he was made the scapegoat.) In 1621, as part of his extended punishment, Bacon was forbidden access to Cotton's library, but we know that the two men remained close. Two years later, in 1623, Bacon presented to Robert Cotton the benefactors' book of St Albans Abbey (Cotton MS Nero D VII), as is evidenced by an inscription on its opening page.
The Benefactors Book of St Albans, presented to Robert Cotton by Francis Bacon in 1623: Cotton MS Nero D VII, f. 1r
The year 1626 witnessed another two incidents that suggested all was not well between Sir Robert Cotton and the new king. First, at Charles's coronation in 1626, Cotton attempted to present him with a gospel-book on which the early kings of England had reputedly sworn their oaths (Cotton MS Tiberius A II). Charles refused the gift and ordered that the royal barge be rowed past Cotton House, where Sir Robert was waiting, book in hand, as a result of which the king had to wade onshore, hardly a good omen for his own rule. Around the same time, the Duke of Buckingham urged that the famous Cotton library be closed, most probably because it contained the historical precedents on which his Parliamentary critics often relied. The library, in other words, had become a battleground for political debate.
A page of the so-called Coronation Gospels, with the signature Ro: Cotton Bruceus: Cotton MS Tiberius A II, f. 3r
Buckingham may have been assassinated by a discontented soldier at Portsmouth in 1628, but his untimely demise did not remove the heat from Sir Robert Cotton. After an allegedly seditious tract was found among Cotton's papers in 1629, Sir Robert and his associates were arrested and his library was ordered to be closed, with a guard placed on its door. The full impact of its closure may never be known, but the denial of his books to Cotton and his fellow antiquaries cannot be underestimated. The Privy Council appointed commissioners to search the library for state papers and other records that Cotton was suspected of having appropriated, and they drew up a catalogue of its contents (now Add MS 36789) to aid them in that process. The catalogue reveals that the manuscripts were arranged in presses named after the Roman emperors, and also that many of the papers were unbound. Tite also surmised that some items may have been confiscated from the library at this very time, since they are named in that catalogue but no longer form part of the Cotton collection. An example is the 'Survey of the Anne Royall 1626', a reference to the naval ship the Ark Royal, named after Queen Anne of Denmark, that sank in the 1630s.
Sir Robert Cotton was granted only limited access to his own library for the remainder of his life. He died on 6 May 1631, and it remained for his son and successor, Sir Thomas Cotton (1594–1662), to petition the king for the library to be re-opened. But the Cotton collection did not remain dormant in its final years. We know that Robert Cotton continued to receive new acquisitions even after 1629 — one wonders where he kept them — among which was the copy of Magna Carta we cited at the beginning of this blogpost, sent to him by Sir Edward Dering from Dover Castle on 10 May 1630. So the Cotton library may have been physically closed, but it remained an intellectual entity, cherished by Sir Robert Cotton, his family and the leading scholars of his day. It had been Cotton's ambition, essentially, to create a national collection, and his wish was fulfilled when his library was bequeathed to the British nation in 1702 'for Publick Use and Advantage', as confirmed by Act of Parliament (12 and 13 William III, c. 7). The Cotton manuscripts formed one of the foundation collections of the British Museum in 1753, and more recently, in 2018, they were inscribed on the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register.
The letter of Edward Dering, informing Robert Cotton that he was sending him 'the charter of K. John dated att Running Meade', now Cotton Ch XIII 31 A: Cotton MS Julius C III, f. 143r
So what can we learn from this sorry episode? First of all, you should never give up, even if you lose access to your books due to circumstances beyond your control. We know that the last sixteen months and counting have been very difficult for so many of our readers, as well as the staff and supporters of the British Library, but we hope sincerely that with time we'll be able to recommence our studies with the benefit of the Library's collections and those of our sister-institutions around the world. Secondly, knowledge is precious. The attempts by the government of King Charles I to suppress the Cotton library were founded on jealousy, mistrust and abuse of process, but ultimately they proved unsuccessful. Finally, Sir Robert Cotton did not have the benefit of having digital surrogates made of his precious books, but today you can view some 312 of his manuscripts, 51 of his charters and 2 of his rolls on our Digitised Manuscripts site, with more items being added on a regular basis. Once again, we hope that Robert Cotton would have approved.
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10 July 2021
One thousand years. That's how long Euro 20 seems to have been running. It's the summer when football officially came home — provided, that is, you live in Baku, St Petersburg or Budapest.
In time-honoured fashion, we have selected our European XI of the best medieval manuscripts at the British Library. We've gone for a traditional 3-2-3-1-1 formation because, quite frankly, we haven't got a clue, either. We think you'll agree that our line-up is more happy than Mbappé, less immobile than Immobile, and as apocalyptic as a Spanish defender's back pass.
When they're not representing their nation, all of these manuscripts can be viewed online on Digitised Manuscripts.
(1) The Cnut Gospels (DEN)
Canterbury, early 11th century: Royal MS 1 D IX, f. 111r
(2) The Portuguese Genealogy (POR)
Lisbon and Bruges, 1530–34: Add MS 12531, f. 7r
(3) The Carmina Regia (ITA)
Tuscany, c. 1335: Royal MS 6 E IX, f. 10v
(4) The Harley Golden Gospels (GER)
?Aachen, early 9th century: Harley MS 2788, f. 13v
(5) The Silos Apocalypse (ESP)
Silos, 1091-1109: Add MS 11695, f. 79v
(6) Christine de Pizan's 'The Book of the Queen' (FRA)
Paris, c. 1410: Harley MS 4431, f. 3r
(7) The Middle Dutch Historie van Jason (NED)
Haarlem, c. 1470-80: Add MS 10290, f. 118r
(8) The Theodore Psalter (GRE/TUR)
Constantinople, 1066: Add MS 19352, f. 1r
(9) The Luttrell Psalter (ENG)
Lincolnshire, c. 1325-40: Add MS 42130, f. 202v
(10) The Harley Froissart (BEL)
Bruges, c. 1470–72: Harley MS 4379, f. 23v
(11) The Gospels of Máel Brigte
Armagh, 1138: Harley MS 1802, f. 10r
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04 February 2021
The British Library and Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums are delighted to announce the loan of the Lindisfarne Gospels to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle for an exhibition scheduled to open in 2022. This exhibition will explore the contemporary resonance of this spectacular and justly celebrated manuscript in a range of personal, regional and national contexts, focusing on themes such as identity, creativity, learning and a sense of place.
At the same time next year, Newcastle City Library will stage a complementary exhibition. This will be accompanied by a range of public, community and school events across the North East, and a newly commissioned artwork to reimagine the Gospels for the 21st century.
The carpet page at the beginning of the Gospel of John in the Lindisfarne Gospels: Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 210v
The exhibition in Newcastle will see the fifth loan of the Gospels to the North East. The manuscript was loaned to Durham Cathedral in 1987, the 1300th anniversary of the death of St Cuthbert. This was followed by two loans to the Laing Art Gallery in 1996 and 2000, and the most recent loan in 2013 to the ‘Lindisfarne Gospels Durham’ exhibition at Durham University, which generated great excitement in the region and attracted nearly 100,000 visitors.
The Lindisfarne Gospels on display at Palace Green Library, Durham University, in 2013
The Lindisfarne Gospels has also featured in two recent temporary exhibitions at the British Library that focused on different aspects of the manuscript. In 2018–19, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms’ exhibition included a spectacular display of illuminated manuscripts from the Golden Age of Northumbria.
The Lindisfarne Gospels being installed in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms’ exhibition
The Lindisfarne Gospels was displayed with the Book of Durrow on loan from Trinity College Dublin, the Echternach Gospels on loan from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Durham Gospels on loan from Durham Cathedral, the St Cuthbert Gospel, and Codex Amiatinus, returning to Britain from Italy for the first time in 1300 years. In contrast, in the 2019 exhibition, ‘Writing: Making Your Mark’, the beautiful Insular Half-Uncial script of the Gospels was the focus. It was displayed with other manuscripts dating from the 6th to the 15th centuries to illustrate the many different scripts used during the Middle Ages for the Roman alphabet.
The Lindisfarne Gospels displayed in the ‘Writing: Making Your Mark’ exhibition, showing the Insular Half-Uncial script: Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 208r
Although the British Library's physical sites are currently closed to the public, when we are able to reopen our exhibitions the Lindisfarne Gospels will be on display again in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery alongside other highlights from the national collection. So we look forward both to sharing the Gospels in the Treasures Gallery later this year, and to the loan of Gospels to Newcastle next year. In the meantime, you can find out more about the Lindisfarne Gospels on our website and explore all the pages of the manuscript in detail on Digitised Manuscripts.
The Chi-rho page in the Lindisfarne Gospels: Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 29r
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