NEWS: Digitization Update on the Barocci Collection. Halfway through digitizing the Bodleian’s Barocci collection, we offer a layperson’s introduction to these fascinating manuscripts.
If you have been monitoring our list of digitized Greek manuscripts, you will know that both the Bodleian and the Vatican Library have been hard at work getting manuscripts online. At this point, almost half of the Bodleian’s Barocci collection has been digitized—112 volumes—and that number is fast increasing.
In the long term, the Bodleian’s images will be moving to a more user-friendly interface, with more complete metadata for each manuscript. In the meantime, however, the list of shelfmarks can be intimidating if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. If you’d like to learn more about a particular manuscript, our summary catalogue has more information. If you’d just like to browse, this post will serve as a rough introduction, with a few suggestions on where to start.
Like many of the Bodleian’s special collections, the Barocci collection is organized from smallest to largest. MS. Barocci 1 is 12 cm high; MS. Barocci 116, one of our most recent digitizations, is about twice that. Many volumes in the collection incorporate multiple works, and in some cases, books produced at different times have been bound together into one volume. (This is generally indicated by a double pipe (||) between the books’ titles.) For example, MS. Barocci 63 incorporates both a 14th-century book of speeches and astronomical tables and a 15th-century book of moral poems. There is also MS. Barocci 96, a palimpsest, with 13th-century poems written over an 11th-century menologion.
Many volumes in the collection are made of parchment, and the high-resolution images provided by the Bodleian offer a rare chance to look closely at this unfamiliar medium. Zooming in, you can see the cracks and pores and distinguish hair side from flesh side; in the case of MS. Barocci 55, you can also see the stained, wrinkled texture of damaged parchment.
Because we have digitized the covers of each book, you can also get a better sense of the dimensions of each volume and see the damage it has sustained. You can also get a sense of how valuable the volume’s binders or re-binders believed it to be; many volumes in the Barocci collection are bound in tooled leather and fastened with clasps, but there is also the humble, parchment-bound MS. Barocci 78.
If you are looking for decoration, check out the very fancy MS. Barocci 31, with its ornate canon tables and gilt miniatures of the evangelists. (The value of this book is further evidenced by the beautiful and spacious hand in which it was written; its latter pages, unfortunately, serve as an excellent example of water-damaged parchment.) There is also MS. Barocci 15, a robust psalter with decorated tables and miniatures. MS. Barocci 93, a “treatise on the end of the world,” offers miniatures of saints and devils, as well as—presumably—a fascinating account of the Apocalypse. A personal favourite is MS. Barocci 110, in which decorated initials are interspersed with lively drawings of birds.
The beauty of these manuscripts, however, goes beyond their colourful decoration. In many cases—such as Barocci 31, mentioned above—the script itself can be startlingly beautiful, although occasionally, aesthetic value gives way to the practical need to conserve space. (See the densely-packed MS. Barocci 88, for example.) Many manuscripts, however, are particularly lovely in their juxtaposition of text and scholia. Scholia are marginal comments, either original or copied from a pre-existing work.
They are packed in around the edges of the main text, impossibly small and neat. MS. Barocci 77 combines a very clear main script with layers of faded scholia; also visible are the ruled lines scratched into the parchment that allowed the pages to be laid out so neatly. MS. Barocci 61, meanwhile, combines its scholia with minuscule in-line annotations. The grammatical, logical and scientific treatises in the collection offer further examples of scribal ingenuity; MSS. Barocci 14 and 88 contain webs of interconnected words, while MS. Barocci 94 contains several very lovely astronomical diagrams.
Finally, one of the most rewarding things a novice can do with this collection is simply to browse the endpapers for notes and doodles. Scribbled in a variety of later hands, these additions are generally uncatalogued, and until now they were known only to scholars with access to the physical manuscripts. Now that they have been digitized, they represent a fascinating glimpse into the lives of these manuscripts and of the people who have used them. To start with, check out MS. Barocci 61, and the full-page face doodled at the end of MS. Barocci 99.