Entries Tagged as 'Articles'

The Evolution of a Royal Book

Royal-Book

ARTICLE: Collaboration and Customisation: The Evolution of a Royal Book, by Hannah Morcos.

As we draw to the end of Paris fashion week, let us turn to a manuscript that exudes the best of Parisian style. The haute couture of book illumination, this glorious Book of Hours showcases the work of the French capital’s most in-demand fifteenth-century illuminators.

It is the eponymous manuscript of the Egerton Master, whose mastery is elsewhere illustrated in the stunning two-volume Bible historiale that starred in our exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination. The Egerton Master collaborated on several occasions with other fashion­able painters of the day. These included the Mazarine Master, who helped to complete the miniatures and decoration towards the end of this lavish manuscript, along with two lesser-known Parisian artists.

One of the more unusual characteristics of Egerton MS 1070 is the unique border decoration. Angels carry freshly unearthed branches of acanthus, roots intact, which extend up the vertical margins.

Following the original commission, this exceptional Book of Hours passed into the hands of a number of monarchs, including Henry VII, before entering the British Library’s collection (via a short residency at a Jesuit College in Krakow). Today the manuscript is identified by the name of one of its fifteenth-century owners, René of Anjou. ‘Le bon roi René’ (‘good king René’) was an influential European leader, patron of the arts and occasional author, whose many titles included duke of Anjou, duke of Lorraine and Bar, and count of Provence, as well as king of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem.

When the book came into René’s possession, it was carefully customised to suit its new owner and assert his status. This is evident from the beginning of the book: two full-page miniatures depict firstly René’s coat of arms and, on the facing page, Jerusalem, the capital of his kingdom in the Holy Land. Painted by Netherlandish artist Barthélemy d’Eyck, they reflect the early stages of the close relationship between this artist and his patron.

Texts were also added to personalise the manuscript for René’s own private devotion, such as the prayer below which incorporates his name.

The additions also permeate into the borders: many of the angels find the burden of their flight eased by billowing sails, which carry René’s motto ‘En Dieu en soit’ (‘in accordance with God’s will’). As well as furthering his devotional appropriation of the book, they function as a graffiti artist’s tag, stamping René’s ownership in his own distinctive manner.

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Written on the Edge

ARTICLE: Written on the Edge, by Cillian O’Hogan.

When you think of a bookshelf, an image comes immediately to mind: books in an orderly row, arranged alphabetically, thematically, or perhaps by height or colour, but (usually!) standing upright, with spines facing outward. But it does not necessarily follow that books were always kept in this way.

In fact, our earliest visual evidence for bookshelves, or book storage, suggests that books were laid flat, sometimes on individual shelves, and often with fore-edge or lower edge facing outwards, rather than the spine. Some evidence that this continued to be the case, both in the Latin west and in the Byzantine world, is given by the existence of decorations, titles, or other writing, on the edges of manuscripts.

Writing on edges could potentially be of great use to scholars in reconstructing Byzantine libraries, or in assigning provenance. But the barriers to such research are daunting, not least since the details of such writing are not always recorded in catalogue entries.

Moreover, the text is often extremely difficult to read, because of the dirt that has accrued on the edges that have faced outwards in a library or study for centuries. And it is a challenge to photograph edges clearly, especially in manuscripts that have been rebound, such that the binding extends beyond the text-block and casts a shadow over the edges.

But it would be very interesting to know whether, for instance, the relative brevity or length of titles could give clues as to whether the manuscript was owned by a private individual (who may only have needed one copy of a Nomocanon) or by a monastic or imperial library.

In the hopes of making such a study easier, we provide here a brief list of Greek manuscripts in the British Library with writing on the fore-edge or lower edge. Unfortunately, not all of these edges can be seen online at present, but those not online have been transcribed where possible.

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A Humanist Printer for Humanist Readers

Venezia

ARTICLE: Aldus Manutius (1452? – 6 February 1515): A Humanist Printer for Humanist Readers. Aldine Editions at Cambridge University Library, by Laura Nuvoloni.

Tuesday 6 February 1515 was a sad day for the Venetian literati. Aldus Manutius, the ‘Prince’ of Renaissance printers, had died.

His death was not unexpected though. He had in fact complained of having been unwell for sometime in the letter dedicated to his former pupil Alberto Pio in his last book, the Lucretius of January 1515. The loss of such remarkable a printer and editor was nevertheless mourned by Venetian scholars, humanists and “bibliophiles”.

On Thursday 8 February it was mentioned in his diary by Marin Sanudo, the Venetian politician and chronicler: “Two days ago don Aldus Manutius the Roman died here in Venice; he was an excellent humanist and Greek scholar and was the son-in-law of the printer Andrea [Torresani] of Asolo. He produced very accurate editions of many Latin and Greek works with prefatory letters addressed to many, dedicating a number of little works to me, Marin Sanudo. He also wrote an excellent grammar … This morning, the body having been placed in the church of San Patrinian with books surrounding it, the funeral rites were held. An oration praising him was recited by Raphael Regio, public lecturer in humanita in this city”.

The 500th anniversary of his death is celebrated this year by libraries and institutions all over the world. Cambridge University Library joins in with a small exhibition of books published by Manutius between 1495 and 1515 (plus a couple of others) on display in the library Entrance Hall, from Monday 6 February to Saturday 7 March 2015, with an enlarged online version.

Drawn from the library holdings of incunabula and early sixteenth-century Aldine editions, the exhibition celebrates Aldus’s achievements as the most successful editor, printer and businessman in Renaissance Italy. The individual history of some of these books also illustrates his importance as a highly respected humanist, scholar, linguistic and grammarian who could converse at equal level with humanists of the stature of Pietro Bembo and Erasmus of Rotterdam.

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The Episcopal Body in Late Medieval England

Episcopal-body

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

Aldus

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

Leone-X

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

Leo-X

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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