THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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3 posts from April 2021

29 April 2021

The Gospels of Metropolitan Jakov of Serres

The Four Gospels of Metropolitan Jakov of Serres is one of the most prominent and finely decorated Serbian mediaeval codices, produced in 1354-55, during the greatest ascent of the Serbian mediaeval state, in the reign of Stefan Dušan, King of Serbia (1331-46) and “Emperor of the Serbs and Greeks” (1346-55). This codex has recently been digitized.

Headpiece of the Gospel of St Mark decorated with birds in coloured vine scrolls on a gold background. A coloured initial with interlace and foliate decoration at the beginning of the Gospel

Headpiece of the Gospel of St Mark decorated with birds in coloured vine scrolls on a gold background. A coloured initial with interlace and foliate decoration at the beginning of the Gospel. Add.MS.39626, f. 89r

The military success of Stefan Dušan was crowned with the conquest of the city of Serres in 1345. The Serbian mediaeval state incorporated large parts of the Byzantine Empire, almost all of Macedonia, Khalkidhiki, Epirus and Thessaly, as well as Mount Athos, the centre of monastic and spiritual life.

After the conquest of Serres, Stefan Dušan was crowned Emperor in 1346, and Jakov, the former abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Archangels near Prizren, was proclaimed the Metropolitan of Serres. Jakov remained a Metropolitan until his death, between 1360 and 1365. Shortly after the conquest, the city of Serres became a prominent literary, artistic and political centre of the Serbian Empire, along with other major centres such as Novo Brdo, Prizren, Skopje and Prilep.

The contacts between the Serbian monks, scribes and illuminators and the Greek scribes resulted in the adoption and exchange of stylistic and artistic expressions of the masters in the time of the Palaeologus dynasty of the Byzantine Empire.

Kephalaia (numbered chapters) to the Gospel of St Luke. Each Gospel is preceded by kephalaia. The heading is in uncial and text is in semi-uncial scrip

Kephalaia (numbered chapters) to the Gospel of St Luke. Each Gospel is preceded by kephalaia. The heading is in uncial and text is in semi-uncial script. Add.MS.39626, f. 142r

The Gospels of Metropolitan Jakov of Serres was produced on parchment and has 302 leaves and a mediaeval parchment flyleaf. It consists of the four Gospels preceded by a colophon. At the end of the Gospels are synaxarion and menology (lists of Gospel readings for the liturgical year) and octoechos (weekly cycle of hymns). The dimensions of the codex are 315 x 225 mm.

The Gospels are decorated with five large and five smaller head-pieces, four lavishly decorated initials and three drawings in the colophon.

Headpiece of the Gospel of St Luke. The headpiece is painted in the upper part of the page at the beginning of each of the Gospels

Headpiece of the Gospel of St Luke. The headpiece is painted in the upper part of the page at the beginning of each of the Gospels. Add.MS.39626, f. 145r

The Gospel of St John with floral decoration on gold background

The Gospel of St John with floral decoration on gold background. Add.MS.39626, f. 229r

Full page illustration of Jakov the Metropolitan of Serres

Full page illustration of Jakov the Metropolitan of Serres. Add.MS.39626, f. 292v

Inscription stating that the codex was made in 1355 for Jakov in his Metropolitan church at Serres, in the time of Tsar Stefan Dušan, his wife Helena, a sister of Tsar Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria, their son the King Uroš, and the Patriarch Joanikije

Inscription stating that the codex was made in 1355 for Jakov in his Metropolitan church at Serres, in the time of Tsar Stefan Dušan, his wife Helena, a sister of Tsar Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria, their son the King Uroš, and the Patriarch Joanikije (d. 1354). Add.MS.39626, f. 293

The Gospels of Metropolitan Jakov of Serres were created under his patronage in the monastery of St. Theodore as a product of the Serres scriptorium. The manuscript is written in Serbian Church Slavonic and was the work of a single scribe. In the colophon Kalist Rasoder is recorded as the scribe and the Metropolitan as the patron of the codex.

The researchers’ conjecture is that Kalist Rasoder arrived in Serres from Mount Athos (most likely from the Hilandar Monastery), where he worked under the auspices of the Metropolitan. In the period of Serbian rule the proximity of Mount Athos enabled the close association of the Metropolitanate of Serres and the district lords with the Hilandar Monastery. A sudden rise and increased production of copying and artistic activities occurred in that time. Additionally, the influences of Thessaloniki and Trnovo were of great importance in selecting the letters and rich decoration, especially floral decoration, which is one of the primary characteristics of 14th century manuscripts.

Synaxarion (a list of Gospel readings for the liturgical year) decorated with a coloured headpiece above the text

Synaxarion (a list of Gospel readings for the liturgical year) decorated with a coloured headpiece above the text. Add.MS.39626, f. 294r

Table relating the lessons to the Octoechos cycle (weekly cycle of hymns) in red and black lettering in a table made of red and gold lines, and decorated with interweaving floral and geometric motifs

Table relating the lessons to the Octoechos cycle (weekly cycle of hymns) in red and black lettering in a table made of red and gold lines, and decorated with interweaving floral and geometric motifs. Add.MS.39626, f. 302v

This work is considered as one of the most beautiful examples of 14th-century manuscripts produced in the lavish art style during the reign of the Palaeologus dynasty. It is assumed that the Gospels of Metropolitan Jakov of Serres were donated to the monastery of St. Paul in 1365, while this area was still under Serbian rule. The significance and value of the manuscript was recognized by the Hon. Robert Curzon (1810-1873), traveller and collector of manuscripts, in the first half of the 19th century. During a visit to the monastery of St Paul on Mount Athos the codex was presented to him together with the Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander

These codices were later bequeathed to the British Museum Library (now the British Library) in 1917.

Branka Vranešević, Associate Professor, University of Belgrade, Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Art History

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South East European Collections

References:

Ralph A. Cleminson, Union catalogue of Cyrillic manuscripts in British and Irish collections. The Anne Pennington catalogue. (London, 1988) 2725.e.600.

Zaga Gavrilović, ‘The Gospels of Jakov of Serres (London, BL Add. MS 39626), the Family of Branković and the Monastery of St Paul, Mount Athos’, in Through the Looking Glass. Byzantium through British eyes. (Aldershot 2000), 135–144. YC.2000.a.6271.

 

22 April 2021

The Toppling of the Vendôme Column

This is the second in a series of blog posts marking the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, a radical, popular led government in power between 18 March and 28 May 1871.

Following Adolphe Thiers’s botched attempt to neutralize Paris as detailed in our first blog, by the middle of April, 1871, the Paris Commune was in full swing. The municipal government, elected on 26 March, almost immediately cancelled rent arrears accumulated during the Prussian siege, proclaimed the separation of church and state, and imposed a maximum salary of 6,000 francs for public employees.

However, the communards were not satisfied with attempts to redress only economic and social inequalities. Seeing itself as a vehicle to remold the space of the city in its own image, on 12 April, the Commune decreed that the Vendôme Column, raised in 1810 as a celebration of Napoléon’s victory at Austerlitz five years earlier, was to be pulled down. Living with the destructive legacies of Haussmann’s glittering metropolis, the Commune’s decree was to be one of its most emotionally resonant for both those it infuriated and those it amazed.

Topped by a statue of Napoleon dressed in the robes of Caesar, for the communards, the column represented an intolerable history of imperialism, false glory and a perpetual threat to international fraternity. In short, the Commune’s decision to remove the statue is reflective of its attempts to restart history, a history not born in blood and brutality.

Photograph of the statue of Napoleon I after the Fall of the Vendôme Column

Statue of Napoleon I after the Fall of the Vendôme Column, Picture by Bruno Braquehais, from Wikipedia Commons

The column was taken down on 16 May. It was a day of spectacle for the communards, who organised music and speeches following the toppling of the monument. For those who were infuriated by the destruction of the monument, the event was repeatedly used as a reference point of loss, considering it an attack on the heart and soul of their France. On the eve of leading his troops into Paris the following month, General MacMahon made clear that not even the Prussians, who had spent the winter bombarding the city with shells, had dared to take the column down.

The toppling constituted one of the most symbolic moments of the Commune, and artists from various disciplines used it as a touchstone for their work. This is particularly true for caricaturists, who employed their skills as polemicists to great effect in a moment that emphasised the great divide.

Gustave Courbet, realist artist and member of the Commune government, was neither the first to suggest that the column should be pulled down, nor was he the most strident supporter of the decree. Nevertheless, this did not save him from the pencils of the anti-Communard caricaturists who savaged him repeatedly.

Anti-Communard caricature of Gustave Courbet

Signs of the Zodiac, by Nerác, from Morna Daniel’s eBLJ article

This piece drawn by Nerác is located in Volume 5 in the largest set of the British Library’s collection of caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (14001.g.41). It is part of a set which depicts famous communards as various signs of the Zodiac, with others including the Commune and Prussia as the twin evils of Gemini.

Courbet, le Taureau (the bull, Taurus), is dressed in garb reminiscent of a circus performer, while balancing the inverted Vendôme Column on his thumb. On his other arm, he balances an expensive-looking home equipped with a fountain, entitled Place St. Georges. This is most likely a reference to the home of Adolphe Thiers, ceremonially destroyed a day before the toppling of the monument as a reprisal for the shelling of the city by the Versaillais army.

The bottom text similarly reads like an enticing advertisement for the circus, willing us into paying attention to the very dangerous acts being performed in front of us. The caricature warns us to beware of not only Courbet, but also of the courbatures (body aches) involved in such balancing acts.

These caricatures are ironically juxtaposed to acts of wanton destruction the Versaillais committed to both property and, more importantly, on the thousands of people they massacred when taking back the city. The communards did not have a monopoly on destruction of public space for their own ends. A new column on Place Vendôme was raised in 1874, for which Courbet was charged the fee of 323,000 francs – a fee he obviously could not pay, and thus he fled to Switzerland, dying in alone and in poverty in 1877.

Another permanent reminder came when the founding stone of the Sacré-Cœur was laid on Montmartre in the summer of 1875. The basilica, still overlooking the city almost 150 years later, was intended as a constant reminder of the so-called ‘crimes of the Commune’. In a time where people are once again rightfully questioning aspects of the public space they exist within, we are reminded that there are brutal remnants of the past everywhere we look.

Anthony Chapman, CDP Student at the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London

Further reading:

Morna Daniels, ‘Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune’, Electronic British Library Journal, (2005), pp. 1-19, Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune - Morna Daniels (bl.uk)

Gay Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune, (Ithaca, 1996), YC.1997.a.1077

John Milner, Art, War and Revolution in France, 1870-1871: Myth, Reportage and Reality, (New Haven, 2000). Document Supply m00/44939

David A. Shafer, The Paris Commune, (Basingstoke, 2005). YC.2006.a.16941

Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune, 1871, (London, 1999). YC.1999.a.3641

19 April 2021

Two women, a lawyer and a book chest

Today, 19 April, is the anniversary of the death of Maria van Reigersberch, or Reigersbergen the wife of Hugo de Groot a.k.a. Grotius. Her husband is well known for his legal writings in which he launched the idea of the freedom of the seas and international law. Grotius is credited with stating that rights are not just connected to objects, but also to people, although that doesn’t make him a human rights activist in the modern sense: his work is very much aimed at the advancement of the interests of the Dutch Republic.

Portrait of Maria van Reigersbergen

Maria van Reigersbergen by a painter from the circle of Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt. Source: Wikipedia.

Grotius had made his career in the service of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt the most powerful man in the Republic, who got himself in trouble with the Stadholder Maurits. It cost him his head and he dragged Grotius down with him. Grotius was actually lucky to escape with his life, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Castle Loevenstein.

Maria van Reigersberch campaigned hard to obtain better living conditions for her husband and permission to join him at the castle, together with their maid Elselina (Elsje) van Houwening. The women were allowed to join Grotius. Big mistake!

Maria negotiated with the authorities to have books brought to Hugo, so he could continue his studies and work. The books were delivered in a large trunk and I can just imagine Maria looking at that trunk and thinking: ‘Trojan Horse in reverse!’

Portrait of Hugo de Groot

Hugo de Groot, by Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt (1631) Source: Wikimedia 

Portrait of a woman presumed to be Elselina van Houwingen

Portrait of a woman presumed to be Elselina van Houwingen (anonymous, 1656). Source: Houweningen, Elselina van (?-1681) (knaw.nl)

They prepared their plan very well. Maria made Hugo lie in the chest very still for up to two hours for several evenings. Then on 22 March 1621 Hugo climbed in the chest, Maria made up the bed with his clothes and put his slippers in front of the bed to make it look like he was asleep. She sent the trunk off, out of the castle. Elselina went with it and watched over it fiercely.

Maria stayed behind in prison. She was eventually released and joined Hugo in Paris. He was never allowed to return to his home country and Maria returned there only to die.

Hugo was also a rather accomplished poet and he wrote a poem in thanks to his wife: Silva Ad Franciscum Augustum Thuanum (Paris, 1621; 11405.i.18.(13.)). 

The story of this audacious escape has been written about in books, poems, and plays over the centuries. The first to record it was Gerard Brandt, who actually spoke to Elselina herself, so it is a first-hand account. Brandt’s son Caspar compiled his father’s notes and published them as Historie van het leven des Heeren Huig de Groot, beschreven tot den aanvang van zyn gezantschap ... aan’t hof van Vrankryk (Dordrecht/Amsterdam,1727; 10760.g.12.). 

Brandt’s notes show how Elselina looked after the chest with its precious contents with great dedication. The chest was of course heavy and the soldiers carrying it noticed that and suggested De Groot must be in it. To see if that were true they wanted to drill a hole right through the chest. She replied that they needed a drill as long as the way to his rooms in the castle. Then the captain of the ship that would take them to Gorinchem wanted to put down a rickety plank over which the soldiers had to carry the chest. She was having none of it, saying that the chest could easily fall in the water and then ‘all the books would be spoiled. They were fine books that had been borrowed, so had to be returned in good order.’ I think she missed her vocation as a librarian. A sturdier plank was duly supplied.

Elselina van Houwening survived Hugo and Maria by decades. She died in March 1681 and was buried on the 8th of March, only a few weeks short of the 60th anniversary of the escape.

Image of Grotius’s book chest

Image of Grotius’s book chest from Het Leven van Hugo de Groot, getrokken uit de voornaamste historie-schryvers en dichters (Amsterdam 1785) 10760.e.1

And what happened to the chest? Well, as with so many ‘mythical’ objects, there are three chests which the institutions that hold them claim to be the real one. These are at the Rijksmuseum, Slot Loevestein and Het Prinsenhof in Delft. Recent research has concluded that the Delft chest has the best claim, but the outcome was not conclusive. It is much more likely that the original chest disappeared sometime in the 17th century.

Front cover of De Boekenkist van Hugo de Groot

Front cover of De Boekenkist van Hugo de Groot, by Arnout van Cruyningen. (Utrecht, 2021). (awaiting shelfmark)

The latest book on the topic has just come out and is by Arnout van Cruyningen. (Utrecht, 2021) which will be available for BL readers later this year.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

References and further reading

Jeronimo de Vries, Hugo de Groot en Maria van Reigersbergen (Amsterdam, 1827). DRT Digital Store 1560/1614.

Marco Barducci, Hugo Grotius and the century of revolution, 1613-1718 : transnational reception in English political thought (Oxford, 2017) YC.2018.a.7730

Henk Nellen, Hugo Grotius: a lifelong struggle for peace in church and state, 1583-1645, translated from the Dutch by J.C. Grayson. (Leiden, 2014) YD. 2015.a.204

Grotius and law, edited by Larry May and Emily MGill. (Farnham, 2014) YC.2015.a.11580

Grotius, edited by John Dunn and Ian Harris. 2 vols. (Cheltenham, 1997) YC.1998.b.5202

De Hollandse jaren van Hugo de Groot, edited by H.J.M. Nellen and J. Trapman. (Hilversum, 1996) YA.1997.b.411

For more information on women in Dutch history:
Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland, or Digital Womenlexicon of the Netherlands. Freely available on [Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland (knaw.nl)]

Els Kloek, et al, 1001 Vrouwen uit de Nederlandse geschiedenis (Nijmegen, 2013) YF.2015.a.1208.