Late Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts on the Web

I’m still working on the, you know thing, but I stumbled across the Late Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts – Books of Hours 1400-1530 guide from The Institute for the Study of Illuminated Manuscripts in Denmark, and wanted to point it out. And while I’m posting, I ought to mention this article which discusses the British Library’s recent purchases of three of the missing leaves from the Sforza Hours. While you’re at the British Library’s site, you should definitely visit their Illuminating the Renaissance site about Flemish manuscript painting.

The May Calendar Image from The Golf Book

Before discussing the May from the Golf Book, I’m going to be lazy, and link to a post from two years ago about May day and May calendar images from books of hours. This calendar image from a book of hours is an image of a Maying boat expedition.

May from the Golf Book manuscript showing a boating scene on one page and the calendar of holy days and feasts for May on the other page

The British Library’s Golf Book f. 22v–23

This page showing May from the Golf book is an image from the British Library’s manuscript Additional 24098 folio 22v. This May calendar image is from a sixteenth century  book of hours from the Netherlands workshop of Simon Bening and better known as The Golf Book. The image shows a characteristic aristocratic Maying scene in its depiction of a spring landscape (Bening is known for his landscapes), with green leaves, and branches of greenery in the boat. You’ll note there’s a lutenist, and a pipe player in the boat, presumably performing a Maying song or May carol. There appears to be an additional Maying party on the bridge above.

The style of the images in The Golf Book is very similar to that of panel paintings, and more “painterly” than is usual in earlier illuminated manuscripts, and typical of Bening’s workshop. The Golf Book is a partial ms. that consists of calendar images, similar to those in other Books of Hours, with an emphasis on leisure rather than seasonal labor. It is particularly well known for the miniature border images showing people playing games (like golf—The Golf Book has a calendar page with a scene at the bottom showing people playing a game like golf, hence the title). You can see other images from The Golf Book here and here, in a calendar scene for June, showing jousting. Some medievalists may be particularly interested in the toy windmills, or in the spectacles visible in this self-Portrait of Bening.

Margins and Meta Data

In his latest Info World column “Filling in the Margins,” Jon Udell writes:

Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) alumnus Austin Henderson says that “one of the most brilliant inventions of the paper bureaucracy was the idea of the margin.” There was always space for unofficial data, which traveled with the official data, and everybody knew about the relationship between the two.

As Udell makes clear, he’s paraphrasing the forthcoming research of Austin Henderson, and it’s an interesting comment. It’s not, however, quite accurate.

Yes, marginal glosses are used in medieval (and earlier—think Egyptian papyri) manuscripts just that way. But the “everybody knew about the relationship,” well, no, they didn’t, and no, we don’t. Those marginal comments, or glosses, were used by readers to make reflective annotations, to add reference material by other authorities, to make corrections, or even to doodle. Scribes also used margins to make corrections, or sometimes, just comments. And of course marginal comments weren’t restricted to the right and left margins, or even the top and bottom—readers made interlinear comments too, like these in the Book of Lindisfarne which provide Old English translations of the Latin Gospel. And then for certain texts, and classes of texts, the glosses were soon seen as a sort of textual appendix, one that was right on the page with the main text (what, you didn’t know hypertext was a manuscript tradition? Think of the Talmud.) Remember that manuscripts were copied by hand, often by professional scribes, in or out of the monastary, and often by private individuals. Professional or not, scribes get tired, and hungry, and have trouble with the light, and often, are copying texts in languages they can’t read. And sometimes, a scribe didn’t realize a marginal gloss was a gloss, and so the gloss was incorporated into the main text. OK, a lot of times— it happens so regularly that it’s a field of paleographic specialization. Once a gloss is incorporated into the body of a text, it’s frequently transmitted, so the error perpetuates, and even propagates.

My point, which I realize is somewhat divorced from John Udell’s context, is that as we work out semantic data and metadata and document standards, we need a way to do “digital marginalia” so that meta data identifying marginalia travels with it, because it’s a real pain comparing versions of an ancient text in an effort to determine whether text that appears corrupt is in fact part of the text, or a scribal error of addition. I don’t even want to think about doing that with a digital record.

Cornish Medieval Drama Bewnans Ke

Two years ago I posted about a newly discovered medieval Cornish Saint’s Play. Dr. O. J. Padel of Cambridge University has kindly made available a .pdf file of his transcript of National Library of Wales MS.
23,849D here.

Dr. Padel points out that initial assumptions that the manuscript contained fragments of two plays, one about Saint Ke, and one on an Arthurian subject, was inaccurate; it is a single play about St. Ke which contains a section referring to Arthur, present now only as a fragment. Scholars have adopted the name Bewnans Ke for the play, much as the only other extant medieval Cornish saint’s play, Bewnans Meriasek, the Life of Saint Meriasek, which exists in a single copy in MS. Peniarth 105, also in the National Library of Wales. Dr. Padel’s transcription is provided as a way of tiding us over until the edition by Graham Thomas and Nicholas Williams is available.

Lighting the Spark: The Medieval Itty-Bitty Book Light

Detail from Hans Memling Annunciatior showing a "book light"

Metropolitan Museum of Art

At the request of Janice Safran and Heather Blatt I’m posting this small detail from the Annunciation of 1465-75 produced by the workshop of Rogier van der Weyden in Brussels, Belgium — possibly by Hans Memling— and in the collections of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sifran and Blatt are interested in hearing from anyone who’s seen a similar object in other images or heard one described in writing. They are presenting a paper on “Lighting the Spark: The Medieval Itty-Bitty Book Light” and are in hopes of locating similar images. They have already explored The Annunciation from the left wing of the Dijon Altarpiece (1393-99) by Melchior Broederlam in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, France; the Annunciation of 1482 by Hans Memling in Brugge, Belgium, also in the collections of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Yes, there is New Medieval Celtic Literature

Thanks to a newly discovered medieval Cornish manuscript fragment the amount of Medieval Cornish literature has increased by about twenty percent. The fragment was discovered among the papers of the recently deceased Celticist, J. E. Caerwyn Williams, whose papers were donated to the National Library of Wales.

The manuscript, NLW MS 23849D, consists of ten pairs of leaves (20 folios), foliated, 7, [8, 9], 10-13, 16-19, 22-9. As you can see, there are a number of missing pages. It is written in a secretary hand of the mid sixteenth century, by a professional scribe, copying an earlier manuscript which he refers to as containing five torn leaves. It contains two previously unknown Middle Cornish plays, one, about the life of Saint Kea, a Celtic saint favored in Cornwall and in Brittany, and whose life is described in medieval Breton texts. The second play is possibly even more important, since it is Arthurian in nature, derived from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britannice (Books ix.15; x.1-13; xi.1-2). It refers to King Arthur’s quarrel with the fictive Roman emperor, Lucius Hiberius, about British tribute to Rome. It ends with Arthur’s victory and the emperor’s death in battle, and it also alludes to the clandestine relationship of Arthur’s nephew, Modred, with Queen Guenevere (yes, that is one of the Arthurian variants). I am not aware of any other extant medieval play about Arthur, so this is a Big Deal. Neither text is complete, and both are currently being edited by Graham C. G. Thomas and published by the National Library of Wales where he is a Senior Assistant Archivist in the Department of Manuscripts.

Even if you aren’t a medievalist or Celticist, this really is a piece of good news. There isn’t a lot of medieval Cornish literature left; much of it was destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. The last native speaker of Cornish died in the late eighteenth century. There are currently several different forms of Cornish that have been carefully reconstructed as part of a language revival, but no native speakers in the usual sense. Of the extant medieval literature, there are two short pieces, one of them a poem on the Passion, the Pascon Agan Arluth, another a fragment on the back of a charter, offers a somewhat sardonic view of marriage and is the earliest known extant Cornish. The bulk of extant medieval Cornish literature is in the form of miracle and mystery plays from the fifteenth century, specifically a play about the Cornish saint, Saint Meriasek in Peniarth MS. 105. L 430, and parts of a mystery cycle, the Cornish Ordinalia, MS. Bodleian 791. The manuscript contains plays on the Creation, Passion of Christ and Resurrection, in Cornish verse, with Latin stage directions and diagrams. There are also bits of Middle English in the plays, typically in the lines of the devils and other villains.

Happy Cotton Library Day

Professor Scott Nokes, over at Unlocked Wordhoard, has announced Happy Cotton Library Day, in celebration of those manuscripts that didn’t burn in the fire of 1731, and solicited our responses regarding our favorite Cotton MS.

It’s a hard question, actually. There are a lot of really important, and really famous ms. in the British Library’s Cotton collection. You can see a complete list here, and a list of the “stars” here, a list which includes the unique-but-burned-in-the-fire ms. of Vitellius A.xv Nowell Codex, containing Beowulf and Judith, or the mss. of the major Aelfrich texts, and the only copy of the Gawain Poet’s works.

I’d have to say I can’t really decide between Nero A.x, which contains Pearl, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as well as the less well known works of the same poet, Patience, and Purity/Cleanness, and Nero D.iv Lindisfarne Gospels.