Entries Tagged as 'Articles'

The Episcopal Body in Late Medieval England


ARTICLE: The Episcopal Body and Sexuality in Late Medieval England, by Dr Katherine Harvey (Birkbeck College, University of London).

Abstrcat: This paper examines the significance of episcopal sexuality in medieval England, with a particular focus on the twelfth and thirteenth centuries – that is, the first two centuries after the Gregorian reform movement made celibacy an obligation for all priests, and a period which has been described as a golden age of episcopal sanctity in Western Europe.

This new emphasis on clerical celibacy meant that the sexual behaviour of would-be saint bishops was intensely scrutinised; such men needed to be unquestionably celibate, and preferably virginal, if they were to stand any chance of being formally canonised. The author approached episcopal sexuality through the prism of contemporary ideas about medicine and the body, in order to shed new light on the lived experience of clerical celibacy from the perspective of a group of men who were particularly devoted to this troublesome ideal.

Questions to be addressed include: How was long-term celibacy thought to affect the health of religious men? How could medical knowledge help clerics to achieve bodily purity? How did sexuality relate to the ascetic lifestyle, and how did hagiographers use this relationship to suggest that their subjects were truly celibate? And how could such ideas be subverted, in order to suggest that a less-than-saintly bishop was falling far short of the standards expected of him?

Dr Katherine Harvey gave her paper on The Episcopal Body and Sexuality in Late Medieval England at Institute of Historical Research on October 7, 2014.

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Greek MSS from the Circle of Aldus Manutius


ARTICLE: Between Manuscript and Print: Greek Manuscripts from the Circle of Aldus Manutius, by Cillian O’Hogan.

The year 2015 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Aldus Manutius, founder of the famous Aldine press at Venice. A wide range of activities are taking place worldwide to commemorate the occasion, including a free exhibition in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at the British Library, entitled Collecting the Renaissance: the Aldine Press 1494-1598.

Aldus’ pivotal role in the early history of the printed book is well known. For scholars of Greek literature, he deserves special thanks. Early attempts to set Greek type had proved difficult, and demand for printed books in Greek was low. While Aldus was not the first to print Greek books, he certainly was the first to do so on a large scale. Most of the principal classical Greek authors were first set in type by the Aldine press.

The texts themselves were edited by a large group of scholars, many of Cretan origin. Aldus formed a club of Greek scholars, called the Neakademia (the New Academy), at which only Greek could be spoken. The great numbers of Greek manuscripts that can be attributed, with some confidence, to Venice at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th century are at least partly a result of the efforts of Aldus Manutius.

The first edition published in Greek by the Aldine press was the grammar of Constantine Lascaris, a fifteenth-century Greek scholar who, like many other Greeks, came to Italy in the wake of the fall of Constantinople in 1453. A manuscript of part of the work dating from around the same time is now preserved in the British Library, copied by the scribe George Alexandrou, possibly at Rome. Though the manuscript cannot be linked with Manutius’ circle, it nonetheless provides us with a fascinating juxtaposition of manuscript and print in the late fifteenth century.

The British Library holds one of the great collections of Aldine books in the world. It also holds a number of manuscripts that can be attributed to scribes and scholars from the Aldine circle. Of course, as scribes often moved around, and worked on a variety of projects, we should be cautious of making the leap from ascribing a manuscript to an individual scribe, to localising it in the context of the Aldine press. Nonetheless, the manuscripts and scribes listed below attest to the vibrant scholarly culture in northern Italy, and in Venice in particular, at the turn of the 16th century.

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The Vassar Leo X Cuttings, Part III

  Cutting-1 Cutting-2

NEWS: The Vassar Leo X Cuttings (Part III): The Parent Volume, by Peter Kidd.

Having demonstrated in a previous post that the Vassar (and related) cuttings come from a manuscript closely related to the Preparatio ad missam manuscript of Pope Leo X, now at the Morgan Library, we can now consider what else can be deduced about the appearance of the volume from which the cuttings came.

Part of the evidence comes from the text visible on the backs of the cuttings. The text on the back of the oval Vassar cutting is difficult to identify: the top word is uncertain except for the letter “a“, the second line is perhaps part of “ecclesie”, and the last line is apparently part of “Amen”.

The text on the back of the rectangular cutting can be identified as snippets of the priest’s prayer at the offering of the chalice:

Offerimus tibi domine calicem salutaris tuam deprecantes clementiam ut in conspectu divinae majestatis tuae pro nostra et totius mundi salute cum odore suavitatis ascendat.

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The Vassar Leo X Cuttings, Part II


NEWS: The Vassar Leo X Cuttings, Part II, by Peter Kidd.

In a previous post I mentioned that the the newly-recognised cuttings from a Missal of Pope Leo X have a “companion” in New York. At the Morgan Library and Museum is a Preparatio ad missam manuscript (MS H. 6) with a full-page frontispiece depicting Pope Leo X.

The date 1520 (M.D.XX), and his name (LEO .X. PATRIA FLORENT. PO[N]T. M. are written on the dais on which his throne is placed. This frontispiece faces the start of the text with a heading in gold against a blue background, a full border, and historiated initials. The wording of the heading, «Quando pontifex parat se ad celebrandum …».

The fact that the manuscript is complete in 19 leaves, allows us to believe that it is the book recorded in an 18th-century inventory of the books in the pontifical sacristy, described as a «Canone à Preparazione di Leone X» with 19 leaves, and illuminated on the first, second, and all the other leaves (see Roger Wieck in The Painted Page: Italian Renaissance Book Illumination 1450–1550, no.4 p.56).

This is relevant because the Morgan manuscript must have been en suite with that from which the Vassar-Wildenstein-Wildenstein-Antiquus cuttings come, as details of a few of its initials clearly show.

We see the same priest and the same leaded window, although instead of the red embroidered wall-hanging we seem to have a green painted walls decorated with the triple-feather device of Leo X. The initials in the Morgan manuscript show various stages in a priest’s preparation for mass, while the Vassar, Wildenstein, and Antiquus cuttings show the performance of mass.

Not only does the comparison allow us to attribute the cuttings to the illuminator Attavante, but it allows us to date them to c.1520, the date of the Morgan volume. It is possible to deduce a certain amount about the appearance of the cuttings’ parent volume, and this will be the subject of a future post.

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Another Leo X Cutting


NEWS: Another Leo X Cutting, by Peter Kidd.

The Morgan Library in New York has a Preparatio ad Missam manuscript closely related to the newly-identified cuttings from a Missal of Pope Leo X that were the subject of a previous post. In the Morgan’s files is a note of another cutting, offered for sale in 1993 by the London art dealer Antiquus, which clearly comes from the same set.

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The Vassar Leo X Cuttings, Part I

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NEWS: New Cuttings From a Missal of Leo X, illuminated by Attavante c.1520, by Peter Kidd.

In preparation for a visit to manuscript repositories within a few hours drive of New York city, I contacted Vassar College Library’s Special Collections. They have a online listing of their leaves and cuttings, which included this tantalizing description.

I enquired about a few items, and was kindly sent images by Ronald D. Patkus, Head of Special Collections and Adjunct Associate Professor of History, and Dean Rogers, Special Collections Assistant.

The background of each image has what is presumably a red cloth wall-hanging, embroidered in gold with devices of Giovanni di Lorenzi de’ Medici (b.1475) who became Pope Leo X (1513–21), including the three feathers within a diamond ring, with a scroll …..

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An English Medieval Book of Hours


ARTICLE: An English Medieval Book of Hours from the Newberry Library, Chicago, by Karen Christianson.

One of the Newberry’s most beautiful medieval manuscript books is Case MS 35, a Book of Hours, Use of Salisbury, probably made in Bruges in the mid-fifteenth century for the English market.

Books of Hours were abbreviated versions of the monastic divine office, a cycle of psalms, readings, and hymns that varied over the course of the liturgical year. Medieval monks or nuns generally gathered to recite or sing these devotional texts at eight set times each day, from before dawn through late at night. By the later Middle Ages Books of Hours were developed to guide lay people through a less rigorous and less time-consuming series of daily devotions.

Wealthy families often commissioned luxury Books of Hours, such as this one, with elaborate and colorful illuminated miniatures embellished with decorative borders and gold leaf. Bruges became a major center of production of these works of art. That this book was destined for England is attested to by inclusion of English saints, including among others Wulfstan of Worcester and Augustine of England, and prayers to the Venerable Bede and Thomas Becket, as well as the phrase “secundum consuetudinem Anglie” (following the usage of the English) at the top of the page for the hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Many of the illuminated miniatures in this book illustrate the stories of saints’ lives in the text. Among them are Saint Margaret emerging unscathed from being swallowed by a dragon; Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the snake—who has a woman’s head; Saint Catherine standing before her wheel; and Saint George, patron saint of England, slaying a dragon.

While we do not know who originally owned this book, by the early sixteenth century its front endpapers were being used as a family register, beginning with “The namys of the children of Wilham Gonstone and Benet his wif of the perisshe of Saincte Donistones in the est as hereafter ffolowith”. The first entry records the birth of the couple’s first son, Dany, on November 29, 1508 (at five o’clock in the morning). The births of two more sons and a daughter are also listed, the last born in 1515. On the following page appears the family of “Sir Thomas Myldmaye, knight, and the Ladye Frauncys his wiefe”, recording the births of their five daughters and three sons, plus a son borne to Thomas by his second wife Margaret, over the years from 1568 through 1593.

We know that this Sir Thomas Mildmay (to use modern spelling) was the son of Thomas Mildmay of Moulsham, who had been granted this manor in Essex in 1546 by King Henry VIII. The book’s owner was also a nephew of Sir Walter Mildmay, who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Queen Elizabeth I. In 1538 Henry VIII had issued a proclamation “unsainting” Thomas Becket. It read, in part, “Therefore his Grace strayghtly chargeth and commandeth that from henseforth the sayde Thomas Becket shall not be estemed, named, reputed, nor called a sayncte, but bysshop Becket.

And that his ymages and pictures, through the hole realme, shall be putte downe, and avoyded out of all churches, chapelles, and other places; and that from henseforthe, the dayes used to be festivall in his name shall not be observed, nor the service, office, antiphoners, colletes, and prayers, in his name redde, but rased and put out of all the bokes.” As evidence of the family’s strong ties to the royal court, the prayer to Becket in this book has been crossed out—though the lovely miniature showing Becket’s martyrdom remains untouched—and his name has been erased from the calendar of saints’ days.

This fascinating book is one of nearly three hundred medieval manuscript books in the Newberry collection. Learn more about our Pre-1500 European Manuscripts (here).

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Conservation in the 17th Century


ARTICLE: Conservation in the 17th Century, by James Freeman.

The Mayerne manuscript, Sloane MS 2052, is on display at the National Gallery’s exhibition Making Colour and is also available to view on Digitised Manuscripts. Compiled over twenty-six years, it reflects Mayerne’s abiding interest during his middle age in the chemistry of painting and the preparation of pigments, glues, varnishes and other substances. As Making Colour reveals, before the synthesis and manufacture of pigments in the nineteenth century, artists made their own colours from the raw materials, experimenting and developing them through trial and error.

Such information is vitally important for conservators: understanding the chemical make-up of early modern or medieval pigments can help them to determine why paintings have degraded in certain ways, and inform any interventions that they might make to rectify or halt such deterioration. The Mayerne manuscript is also of interest in the history of conservation as a discipline, since it also contains notes about how paintings were repaired and cleaned nearly four centuries ago.

At the close of his sermon, preached at the funeral of Sir Theodore de Mayerne on Friday, 30th March 1655 at St. Martin-in-the-Field, Rev. Thomas Hodges remarked that: ‘He [Mayerne] was a person of rare accomplishments… I confess I know not any subject which might be either for necessity or delight whereof he was ignorant, nay in which he was not a great proficient, and expert master. And, which is more admirable, this variety was not attended with the least discernable confusion, but so methodised and digested that he readily at his pleasure commanded it when occasion required, and brought it forth clothed in such language as he spoke him no less an orator than an artist.’

However tidy-minded and articulate Mayerne might have been in life, his manuscript Pictoria, sculptoria et quae subalternarum artium is something of a jumble. In Sloane MS 2069 (f. 172r), we find a letter from Mayerne to his friend Dr Monginot in 1630, in which he recognised the need ‘to take up my pen, if I wish to leave to posterity some of my dearest children – that is, the fruits of my genius – as my conscience dictates, and as my friends invite me’. Yet, as with his medical case notes, Mayerne never succeeded in imposing order upon his artistic notes or preparing them for print during his lifetime. Those illustrated with pigment samples or coloured diagrams have naturally attracted most attention and, until 2004, there was no complete edition in English of this manuscript.

Buried among them are fascinating insights into conservation, 17th-century style. Folios 56v-57r, for example, contain a note that to repair a cracked painting, it should be washed and rinsed thoroughly, and coated on the back with a thick water paint, that may be removed when necessary. It is tucked among miscellaneous observations on the purification of light linseed oil by filtering it through a cow’s bladder, or the transparency of ox intestines in which gold has been wrapped.

Sir Anthony van Dyck was a source of other conservation tips. To repair a peeling oil painting and protect it from a damp wall, he advised painting the reverse with umber very finely ground in oil – a recipe essential for paintings undercoated with glue or water colours.

An unfortunate incident with paintings imported from Italy for Charles I prompted Mayerne to formulate his own ideas. The paintings had been shipped, ill-advisedly, with a cargo of currants and mercury sublimate. The former fermented and the latter vaporised, blackening both the oil and tempera paintings in the hold. Mayerne jotted in the margins that the oils were apparently cleaned with milk – but observed that a more watery liquid would have been better: the oil would have resisted it and prevented the washing away or smearing of the pigments.

Mayerne continued with further, more specific instructions: that a picture soiled with dust should be washed with a wrung-out sponge, with any parts painted with the pigment Dutch pink protected from spoiling by glued-on paper. Apparently, potash from crushed grape skins or urine are also effective!

Mayerne’s interest extended beyond oil paintings to include prints, and he sought information from craftsmen such as Mark Anthony, a painter from Brussels, the royal apothecary Louis le Myre and Jean Anceaux, a bookseller from the French town of Sedan. From the latter, Mayerne acquired some of the earliest recorded information about the bleaching of paper: one stage involved the soaking of paper in water in which a cod has been boiled.

These and many other such notes formed the basis for subsequent experimentation, also recorded in the manuscript. The same motivation drove Mayerne’s medical and artistic pursuits – a passion for the study, development and application of chemistry – and sustained the compilation of this notebook over twenty-six years. He also had an eye for the commercial potential of his discoveries. Towards the end of the manuscript, there is a recipe for ‘freshening tempera pictures and making them equal to those painted with oil’. To distinguish it from his other notes, many of which had been obtained second-hand, he recorded in the title that it had been ‘invented by T. de Mayerne, 1632’, perhaps with the aim of ensuring that it remained his or his heirs’ intellectual property.

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