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This horribly mangled item is the remains of what once was probably a beautiful Book of Hours, probably from Spain.  None of the miniatures or historiated initials remain, but what does survive includes the February-December of the Calendar, a piece of the Litany and terce-vespers (incomplete on both ends and the start of each hour) of the Hours of the Virgin.  The scribe who wrote this was extremely careful and talented.  Every page is ruled in red ink, double lines to the edge of the membrane for the edge of the text-block and a single line within the text block for each line of text

Cambridge-Harvard Houghton Library-Typ 731 - 12r.jpg


For the calendar pages, the ruling is more complex, with two additional double-lines, though not extending above or below the text block, setting up columns for the Dominical Letters and the Golden Numerals.

Cambridge-Harvard Houghton Library-Typ 731 - 5r.jpg


Besides the care in ruling and preparing, the scribe's writing is exceptional.  The strokes are even in both color and width and the text block is filled cleanly and evenly with no odd hanging strokes or unfilled lines.  Even the letter spacing is even

Cambridge-Harvard Houghton Library-Typ 731 -_.jpg

(Terce of the BVM from Typ 731)

Though none of the miniatures survive, the profusion of colored and gilded initials inline, particularly the Litany, suggest that this would have been a lavish book when intact

Cambridge-Harvard Houghton Library-Typ 731 - Litany.jpg

(Litany from Typ 731)


Black before Red

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Sometimes errors provide an interesting insight into processes. In this case the context is the calendar section of a Book of Hours held by the Boston Public Library, MS q. med 89, which dates to the mid 15th century and was made in Poitiers, France. In this calendar there are three columns of text:

  • The main feast or saints name (black text for most, red for the most important)
  • A dominical letter, used for calculating the date of Easter (black text)
  • The numeral of the Roman Date, i.e. VI. (Red text)

There are 2 interesting errors that point to the practice of writing all of the black text first and then going back to add in the red. On the verso of May the Roman number is offset one row versus the Feast and the Dominical, which are in alignment (f.6v below) Boston-Boston Public Library-MS q med 89 - 6v02838.jpg Notice that the red roman numerals start one row down from the top and continue one line past the black text. The dates of the feasts match the dominical letters and are offset from the Romans exactly by one.

The second one is at the very end of the verso of of November (f.12v below). In black we have, on November 29th, ‘Vig’ as shorthand for “The Vigil of St. Andrew, apostle”, and on the following page, 7 days later on the 7th of December, the Octave of the same Andrew(see f.13r below). There is, however nothing on November 30th, no feast at all. This should be the main feast of St. Andrew, and as the feast-day of an Apostle, it should be in red. The presence of both the Vigil and Octave, on the proper dates, is strong evidence that the saint should have been there and was forgotten, rather than being intentionally omitted. I would propose that the scribe simply forgot the last line on the page when he was doing the second pass for the rubrics. Boston-Boston Public Library-MS q med 89 - 12v02850.jpg Boston-Boston Public Library-MS q med 89 - 13r02851.jpg


Typ 295, from the Houghton Library at Harvard University, is a late 13th Century single-volume bible.  Specs are: 368 leaves of vellum, very thin, about 18cm high. It contains the Vulgate text with some additional apparatus, in this case Interpretationes Hebraicorum nominum and a table of readings.  These are often referred to as Parisian bibles, due to the large number of them which were created in the Paris stationary trade, but the catalogue identifies this on as Italian, due to the roundness of the gothic hand. There's plenty to say else about the manuscript, but I'm focusing on the rulings on the page.

Genesis 36.jpg

The rulings consist of three parts: Titles, Text and Decorations.  Moving from top to bottom, the first pair of lines locate the title of the page, in this case "Sys" (the facing page has "Gen").  The next pair of horizontal lines mark out the first line of text in the block, and the rest of the block has ruling only within it, not extending to the edges of the page.  Finally there's a horizontal pair near the bottom of the page, which does not appear on all the pages of this MS.  I'm guessing that it has to do with the decorations, but that's speculation. 

For the vertical rulings, moving from the inside out, there's a pair of vertical lines to define the inside margin of the text block which also serve to structure the red/blue penwork decoration.  Next there's a double-column ruling, three lines, to spit the columns of text.  There's a vertical pair to end the text block and one final one to mark out the title margin, in this case for XXXVI.  This final block also contains penwork on some pages. 

All of these rulings, three horizontal pairs and four vertical sets, extend nearly to the edges of the membrane, far beyond where they are used.  In contrast the text block itself is ruled internally only, crossing the center gutter but not extending outside the margins after the first line.  The text floats between the rules lines, neither sitting on the baseline nor hanging from above.  Some descenders cross the baseline, but only a small amount (see closeup of Genesis 35, below).  The scribe has fit an enormous amount of text on the page, from Genesis 34:19 through part of 35:23, or about 1000 words

Genesis 35 - closeup.jpg

The last section of the manuscript, the Interpretationes Hebraicorum nominum, attributed to Jerome, but probably written later.  For our purposes it is interesting because the scribe has shifted to three columns of text.  These are demarcated only by 4 vertical rulings, the one to the left of each column also serving to structure the constant list of capital letters (see 'B' below)

Hebrew Names B.jpg

All of the rulings appear to be in ink

De Bellis Macedonicis is one of those manuscript fragments more important for what it heralds than what it is.  As a text it's just a bit of a history on a war between Rome and Macedonia, possibly written by one Lucius Arruntius, found with a vast number of papyrus fragments at Oxyrhynchus in the 19th century.  It is, however, currently the oldest known representitive of the most important western manuscript form, the parchment codex. 

Despite it being referenced and reproduced quite often in Paleography textbooks, the British Library had not, until this past week, publically digitized it.  Despite the clarity of the letters, the text isn't all that easy read.  The letters are a mix of Rustic (A, M, U), Old Roman Cursive (q and p) and Uncial (D,F,R).  The Old Roman Cursive is particularly strange to modern eyes, see the word "Imperi..." at the end of the first line. 

The fragment was dated to the 3rd Century by Lowe, but has more recently been dated to the end of the 1st C CE by Michelle Brown (A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600. London: British Museum, 1990; repr. 1993. [52 plates])


American Qu'ran

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I'm a bit late to the party, but a sample of the American Qu'ran created by Sandow Birk.  It's a complete manuscript of the translated text with illustrations of contemporary American life.




Where Babies Come From...

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The British Library has finally digitized MS Harley 4425, their profusely illuminated 15th Century copy of Romain de la Rose.  Within it is the answer to the age-old question "where do babies come from?"  The answer, of course, is "babies are forged by nature in a smithy"



Ottoman Miniature Movies

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Redoing movie posters seems to be a thing on the internet, however I've rarely seen them done in a style that required such skill and attention to detail as these in the style of Ottoman miniatures by Murat Palta.

The GodfatherScarface
Star WarsThe Shining
star wars.jpgthe shining.jpg
Kill Bill


Comet Sketches

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Argentum im Zeichen des Jupiters


The 'Kometenbuch' (Comet Book) was produced in 1587 in the area of Flanders or North-East France. This is one of the many illustrations (see the source for more), in this case a comet of silver hue passing through the region of Jupiter.  A digitized version is available from the Universitätsbibliothek Kassel


Explicit History!

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MS Add. 11695 86r.png

From a manuscript in the British Library, a copy of Beatus of Liébana's Commentary on the Apocalypse, written between 1091-1109.  It's a Spanish manuscript, mostly written in Visigothic script.



Dumbarton Oaks is a weird branch of Harvard.  Based in Georgetown, Washington DC, it supports research into Byzantine art, Pre-Columbian art and landscape design with a library, funding and space for scholars and a public museum and gardens.  We were there to study Byzantine art, so we didn't get to look at the pre-Columbian stuff and the rain kept us inside.  That said, they were preparing a small exhibit on Byzantine manuscript copies of the New Testament, and they let us take a look. (Note that all captions were transcribed from the texts in the display cases and are not my text)

Psalter and New Testament
Dumbarton Oaks MS3 Middle Byzantine, Constantinople(?). ca. 1084, on Vellum The miniature on display (folio 80v) depicts the Annunciation in the upper register and the seated Virgin below. Under the illumination, the text begins with the initial letter 'M', in which the Visitation is nestled. The particular aspect of this composition is the seated Virgin. She gestures to an open book that contains her canticle, seemingly providing guidance for the devotional use of the text. This representation is unique to the DO manuscript.
Washington, DC-Dumbarton Oaks-Psalter and New Testament0353.jpg
Canon Table
Gospel Book Dumbarton Oaks MS5 Middle Byzantine, Constantinople(?), late 11th C. The book contains the four gospels, written in dark brown ink as a single column of twenty lines. It is closely related to a group of more than a dozen manuscripts that were produced in Constantinople over a period of a few decades. The scribes of these books specialized in the production of illuminated luxury lectionaries and gospels for wealthy patrons. Ten lavishly decorated canon tables--concordances of the four gospels--are paired on the first five pages. Each pair is distinct, yet bears similar decorative motifs. One such motif is the presence of fleshy acanthus leaves with flame-like flowers. This book is open to canon table IV (folio 4r)
Washington, DC-Dumbarton Oaks-Canon Table0360.jpg

Start of Luke from a Gospel Lectionary
Dumbarton Oaks MS1
Middle Byzantine, Constantinople (?), Late 11th to 12th C
Vellum, tempera gilding
A Gospel Lectionary -- different from a Gospel book -- contains passages (lections) of the four Gospel arranged in the order that they are read during the Byzantine liturgial year.
This luxurious manuscript is thought to have been produced between the mid-eleventh and twelth centuries, mostly likely in a scriptorium in the capital city of Constantinople. The lectionary is peculiar because, while the first 42 folios were written in double columns, the following 107 were scribed in a cruciform shape. Few other lectionaries exist with the text written in a cruciform format.
The book is opened to the beginning of the readings from Luke (folios 64v and 65r)
Washington, DC-Dumbarton Oaks-0357.jpg
Lectionary Leaf
Middle Byzantine, Constantinople(?), early 11th C BZ.1979.31 The full page portrait of the evangelist Mark is a leaf from a lectionary. The book contained a dedication, indicating that it was presented by Empress Catherine Comnene to the Holy Trinity monastery of Chalki in March of 1063.
Washington, DC-Dumbarton Oaks-Leaf of a Lectionary Book0391.jpg

While there they also brought out a single leaf from an Armenian manuscript of the Alexander Romance, probably about 17th Century, that is in their collection. This illumination shows Alexander attaching a letter to his mother, Olympias, to a bird to send back to her. Though it is on paper, not parchment, and less costly, the iconography is pretty similar to the Alexander Romance in the John Rylands Library.
Washington, DC-Dumbarton Oaks-Leaf of Armenian Alexander Romance0396.jpg

(see the rest of the trip)


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