Thursday 26 December 2013

Cuttings from a 13th-Century Royal Spanish Bible

A week ago I visited the current exhibition of manuscripts at Lille. It was mostly very unimpressive, with low-quality objects displayed in a bizarre setting. But it did have a few high-quality items, notably the two surviving full-page miniatures of the Liessies Gospels.

One other item especially caught my eye: a framed group of 13 cuttings from a Bible, owned by the Musée de Picardie, Amiens, with bright burnished gold backgrounds, and unusual interlace ornament on many of the extremities of the historiated initials:

"What Counts as Provenance Evidence?"

There is a detailed analysis of a variety of marks found in a single book here:
under the title "What Counts as Provenance Evidence?", on the blog of the Special Collections Department of Michigan State University. It's worth a read. The following is an extract:

Some markings are relatively straightforward and easy to understand, while others are more mysterious. How many different marks do you see?  Let’s be literal at this stage and refrain from judgment about which particular inscriptions are important for determining provenance.  I count at least 15 different potential provenance markers on these two pages alone.  I’ll highlight those below:
Post 2 Image 2
Click to enlarge

Stephen Ferguson's blogging at Princeton

I have recently found blog-posts by Stephen Ferguson at

A sample post, similar to those I post myself, is this (from here:

Shelf-marks of Sunderland books

Sunderland.shelf.markHorace. Ars poetica with commentary of Aldus Manutius (Venice, 1576) Call number: PTT 2865.311.076. [Shelf mark on verso of front free endpaper, which is marbled on recto. The front paste-down is marbled. These are the only marks of ownership.]
Sunderland.shelf.mark.De.RCharles Spencer, third Earl of Sunderland (1674-1722), his “books are easily recognizable by the bold shelf-marks written in ink on the verso of the upper cover in the upper left hand corner.” S. DeRicci, English Collectors of Books & Manuscripts (1530-1930) and Their Marks of Ownership (Cambridge, 1930), p. 39.
For more about the history of the Sunderland Library, see the record for the 18th century manuscript catalogue of the Library held at John Rylands Library:

Mapping Books: The Dispersal of the Medieval Libraries of Great Britain

I just found this interesting blog-post by Mitch Fraas:

An excerpt is below, but the full post is worth reading.

As of last week, the MLGB3's online database  included over 6,000 records for books and manuscripts owned by medieval libraries. In order to look at them in aggregate I used the ever-helpful wget utility to pull down each record in order. I was left with a gigantic mess of html with the useful data hidden within it. After extensive cleanup and parsing of the data I was able to throw the location names of the original medieval libraries as well as current owners against David Zwiefelhofer's geocoding service (which I believe uses the Yahoo API) to get longitudes and latitudes. This didn't go entirely smoothly as the names of ruined monasteries tend not to register very well in geo databases. Fortunately, there are a wealth of wikipedia entries providing detailed long./lat. information on a wide range of English historical sites and I was able to fill in the blanks.

Libraries in Medieval Great Britain (MLGB3)
Current Locations of Books from the MLGB3

Worldwide Current Location of Books in MLGB3
What most struck me from this preliminary view (I'll wait until the final MLGB3 release to make sure) is how much less movement there was than I expected. That is, if books owned by medieval libraries are any indication, the cultural patrimony of Great Britain has not moved far from its home. Over 93% (5900/6316) books from the MLGB3 data show up as being currently held in Great Britain leaving just 416 in other locations. This visualization of course elides the many movements of books between when they were cataloged or inventoried in the medieval period and when they reached their current place of residence. That being said, I wonder how a similar map of the dispersal of French or German monastic libraries would look? Are 93% still in their country of origin (loosely defined)? I doubt it.


Monday 9 December 2013

Bodleian, MS. Auct. D. 4. 6, revisited

Exactly three years ago I wrote a blog post questioning the often-asserted link between Bodleian, MS. Auct. D. 4. 6 and Roger, abbot of Reading Abbey from 1156 to 1165.

My skepticism has now received support in a recent publication by Nigel Morgan:
"The litany not only contradicts the destination claimed for the book, but also its date. ... In the litany ... there is an erasure of the fourth saint following the three English martyrs Alban, Oswald, and Edmund. There is little doubt that the erasure is of ... Thomas of Canterbury. The litany text ... must therefore be after 1173, and the connection of the book at the time of its making with Abbot Roger and Reading must inevitably be completely abandoned. ... neither Abbot Roger nor his institution was its original destinee"
Nigel J. Morgan, English Monastic Litanies of the Saints after 1000, II: Pontefract–York, Henry Bradshaw Society, 120 (London, 2013), p.33.

The old image-link seems to be broken, but a large version of the image is available here.