Sunday, 25 October 2020


Charles Fairfax Murray (1849–1919)
Self-portrait [Source]

The previous post discussed some cuttings from a French vernacular prose romance, three of which were almost certainly in the 1838 Ottley sale, because they were later in the Holford Album, which was apparently formed entirely of items from the Ottley sale. Another two, apparently from the same parent manuscript, are at the V&A Museum.

In today's post I will look more closely at the provenance of the V&A cuttings, to see what it might tell us, not only about these French cuttings, but also about the other cuttings acquired as part of the same acquisition.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Cuttings from a Prose Romance in French

In the blogpost two weeks ago I reproduced a miniature from a 14th-century French manuscript, shown above, without saying much about it. It was one of a group of three, sold as lot 2 in the Holford sale, 12 July 1927; here are the other two:

I already knew of two sister-cuttings, and by coincidence, I think I found three more this week.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

The Date of a Worcester Psalter (Magdalen College, MS 100)

I visited Magdalen College Library for the first time a year or two ago, to look at an early 13th-century Psalter [1]. It has been discussed in some detail by Nigel Morgan [2], thanks to its high quality illuminated initials, one of which is shown above.

He attributes it to Worcester, based partly on the iconography of the historiated initials (two of which are closely paralleled in the mid-13th-century Evesham Psalter -- Evesham is less than 15 miles south-east of Worcester), and especially the fact that "the Calendar and Litany are for the use of Benedictine Priory of the Cathedral of Worcester". The date is a trickier issue.

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Felix Joubert (1872-1953) [II]: Collector?

Felix Joubert dressed as a medieval soldier

In last week's blogpost we met Felix Joubert, the amazingly talented restorer and copyist of artworks and artefacts in various media. It is probably fair to also label him as a "forger", as he cannot have been unaware that some of his works were intended to deceive: they were either being sold as originals, or used as substitutes for works that were obtained illicitly.

We started our enquiry from the fact that he (or more likely one of his many employees) made a new frame for an illuminated cutting, probably soon after it was sold in the Holford sale in 1927. What I did not mention last week, is that he was also himself the buyer of several lots at that sale. The official  price-list, printed and distributed to catalogue subscribers after the sale, records that he bought lots 1, 2, 9, 14, 25, and 33, for a (substantial) total of nearly £2,200 [1]:

Before I found out who he was, I always assumed that Joubert was a dealer, buying these lots either on behalf of clients, or for stock. This may indeed be true, but I suspect that he was buying at least some items for his own collection, for two reasons.

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Felix Joubert (1872-1953) [I]: Forger

Felix Joubert (1872-1953) [Source]

Many of my blogposts start as very small questions or observations, which might be easy to ignore, but that become more interesting as I pursue them, often leading in unexpected directions. Today's post is an example of this.

I am attempting to trace the provenance and present whereabouts of as many lots as possible from the Holford sale in 1927. Looking through the Italian volumes of the Illuminated Manuscripts in Cambridge catalogue this week, I found one that I had previously overlooked, now at the Fitzwilliam. Its reported provenance led me to "meet" Felix Joubert for the first time.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

The Antiphonary of Marguerite de Baconel

In a previous post about Brölemann manuscripts, I listed the provenance of the Antiphonary of Marguerite de Bacovel [sic], of which this is a slightly revised version:
  • Written and decorated for Marguerite de Bacovel, of the Carthusian nunnery of Mont-de-Sainte-Marie, Gosnay, Pas-de-Calais [French Wikipedia], apparently started in 1539, and finished in 1542, by Louis de Villechecq, vicar of the convent
  • The Carthusian nunnery of Sainte-Anne-au-Désert, Bruges, of which the first six nuns came from Gosnay [French Wikipedia]: “aen de Chartreusinnen vase Brugge”
  • M. Marguier, antiquities dealer (including molluscs), of Paris, according to:
  • Henry-Auguste Brölemann (1775–1854); by descent to:
  • Mme Etienne Mallet (1853–1929); sold at Sotheby’s, 4–5 May 1926, lot 16.
  • Louisa Dexter Sharpe Metcalf (1866–1959); presented in 1947 to:
  • The John Carter Brown Library, Providence, RI; sold at Sotheby’s, 18 May 1981, lot 12
  • Christie’s, 25 November 1992, lot 17
  • Dr Jörn Günther Antiquariat: offered in his Katalog und Retrospektive (1993), no. XVI.
This week I discovered that the manuscript has been cut up.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

A Rediscovered Border from the Murano Gradual

Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum,
Marlay Cuttings MS It. 18 (detail) [Source]

A couple of years ago, trawling the Fragmentarium website for illuminated manuscripts, I encountered this group of cuttings of medieval borders, attached to a page from a 19th- or early-20th-century album:

Houghton Library, MS pf MS Typ 995 [Source]
The reverse of the sheet has 1916 accession numbers, and de Ricci, Census, p. 1050, records that it was part of a group given the Fogg Art Museum by William Augustus White (d. 1927) in that year. [1] It was later transferred to the Houghton Library.

Ignoring the three smallest pieces in the upper left and middle of the page, my eye was especially caught by the large border that occupies the right-hand side and lower part of this page. It really is large: 40×23cm. according to the online description -- so it is presumably from a huge choirbook. [2]

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Amigotus and the Agen Breviary


On Wednesday this week a "European Illustrated Manuscript Page on Parchment", shown above, was sold in Lichfield County, Connecticut, at the local auction room, between the Community Center and a Auto Parts store:

As is often the case with provincial auctions, medieval leaves keep incongruous company: the preceding lot was this 20th-century pastel, which somehow failed to find a buyer:
and this etching after Corot, which sold to the only interested bidder, for $20:

Saturday, 29 August 2020

A Tree of Affinity [Part III] : The Missing Miniature Found

It was always my hope, when starting this blog, that it would allow me to provide periodic updates in a way that very difficult in conventional academic publishing, and especially to reduce the amount of time that elapses between making a discovery or observation, and sharing it with those who might be interested. Today's post is a case in point.

I have twice written about a volume of Goffredo da Trani's Summa super titulos Decretalium (here and here), and its interesting provenance. The volume remained complete until the Delamarre sale in Paris in 1909, and then, by 1928, had its two large miniatures excised. One of these (the Tree of Affinity) ended up in the McCarthy collection, the other (the Tree of Consanguinity [Wikipedia]) was untraced until now.

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Another Hachette-Lehman-Yale Cutting

I have been compiling a list of the illuminations of Mortimer Brandt recently (they will be the subject of a future blogpost), including the one above, which gave me a reason to investigate its provenance.
It has long been recognised as being extremely similar to a cutting at the Yale University Art Gallery (above) -- they presumably come from the same parent manuscript. One of the things that is never conveyed by images like these is their large size: they are each 20-23 cm (8-9 inches) tall.

Each shows a half-length prophet(?), looking upwards, next to an initial "I"; the palette and design of the initial "I"s are extremely like one another, so the main differences are the colours of the figures' beards and clothes.

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Groups of Illuminated Cuttings at Yale University Art Gallery

There are a number of illuminated cuttings at the Yale Art Gallery whose 20th-century provenance seems to have been "lost" (or at least forgotten).

Most of them are described and reproduced in the catalogue of the exhibition of illuminations from the collection of Robert Lehman: Treasures of a Lost Art: Italian Manuscript Painting of the Middle Ages and Renaissance,  edited by Pia Palladino (New York, 2003), nos. 48a-i, 57, 64, and Appendix, no. 1.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

More on the Gospel of the Wife of Jesus

A few years ago I linked (here) to a fascinating article in The Atlantic about the so-called Gospel of the Wife of Jesus; the article explains how the forgery was uncovered largely through a close study of its recent provenance.

I now learn that Ariel Sabar, author of the article, has a new book on the same subject (shown above), published yesterday.

According to this review, the book adds considerable new detail to the previously published account, including a damning account of the peer-review process that enabled the fake papyrus fragment to be published, as genuine, in a reputable academic journal. This does not surprise me; both in my personal experience, and from anecdotes related to me by friends and colleagues, the peer-review system does not work: it allows bad articles to be published and worthy ones to be rejected, and creates a false sense of the legitimacy of those (usually politically-motivated) decisions.

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Henry Yates Thompson and America

I recently found a contribution I wrote fifteen years ago for a facsimile commentary of BL, Yates Thompson MS 36, a copy of the Divine Comedy illuminated by Giovanni di Paolo for of Alfonso V, King of of Aragon, Naples, and Sicily:
La divina commedia di Alfonso d’Aragona, re di Napoli: Manoscritto Yates Thompson 36, Londra, British Library, commentario, ed. by Milvia Bollati, 2 vols (Modena: Panini, 2006).
My text was translated into Italian for publication, and in the nature of such facsimiles, it has presumably had a rather limited readership; I have therefore this week put the original English text on my page here.

Much of my discussion about Henry Yates Thompson was, or will seem now, rather derivative, but I think some of it is original, so I decided to provide an extract here, in the hope that it will be of interest to some readers, concerning HYT's attitude to America and Americans.

The following passage relates to the much-discussed matter of HYT's decision to sell most of his manuscripts at open auction, in the knowledge that many might be acquired by collectors and institutions in the USA:
An interesting aspect of the proposed sale that has not, to my knowledge, been mentioned before, is Yates Thompson’s attitude towards American versus British owners of manuscripts. On hearing that Yates Thompson had decided to auction his manuscripts, M. R. James appealed to him that, having been brought together safely in an English collection, they should not ‘be dispersed again among Boches, Jews and Transatlantics.’ [1] 
Cockerell displayed similar, if less strongly expressed, sentiments when he wrote begging Yates Thompson to ‘give me the chance of raising the money and securing them for the country and Cambridge … I will at least try my utmost to save them from the hands of ignorant millionaires’. [2] 
Yates Thompson would have been completely unmoved by these nationalistic appeals. Neither James nor Cockerell had been to America, but Yates Thompson loved the country and had been there many times: he first spent six months there in 1863, concluding that ‘If ever a nation deserved to live it is the United States of America’; [3] he went again in 1866 to re-visit the friends he had made, taking his younger brother with him; he took his wife there soon after their marriage (her great-grandfather was from Virginia); and he and his wife were known for their hospitality to Americans in London: his obituary in The Times noted that ‘He became the warm friend of each succeeding American Ambassador in London and welcomed to his house in Portman Square all Americans of any intellectual standing who found their way there – and most of them did.’ The Yates Thompsons counted among their friends Henry James, Henry Adams, and Andrew and Louise Carnegie. ‘He always loved the company of Americans and after 1863 he returned to America again and again right up to the time of the 1914–18 war’. [4] 
In an attempt to make America better understood in England Yates Thompson even offered to endow an annual Lectureship at Harvard on the ‘History and Political Institutions of the United States of America’, but the offer was turned down by Cambridge University, where the lectures would have been delivered. 
When, in 1920, Cockerell told Yates Thompson that he was just about to make his first visit to America, Yates Thompson replied:
‘What excellent news! It is an episode of importance in your life. You will come back Americanised—in a good sense—especially [because] you will teach the British world how absurd their craze is for retaining all art and history treasures in England, when the truth is that such as they manage to secure will be quite as much or more valued and cared for in America than here.’ [5]

1 Quoted by Hermann, op. cit., p. 187. James was a firm Anglican, which may explain his antipathy to Jews; and had lost many friends in the First World War, which explains his enmity towards Germans; but I have no reason to suppose that he had any particular ill-feeling towards Americans.
2 Blunt, op. cit., p. 146–47; the reference to ‘ignorant millionaires’ was doubtless a reference to the Americans such as J. Pierpont Morgan who were buying many of the best items that appeared on the market in the preceding two or three decades.
3 Quoted by Jean Gooder, op. cit., pp. v–vi.
4 Chancellor, op. cit., p. 3.
5 In a letter dated 9 October 1920 (BL, Additional MS. 52755, f. 224)

The manuscript has now been digitised here.

Friday, 7 August 2020

The Illuminations of John Malcolm (1805–1893), of Poltalloch [a re-post]

[I accidentally deleted this post, and so I am now re-posting it; apologies if you get an alert to this post if you have already read it before. I have, however, added a very short addendum]

As discussed in a previous post, the British Library has the small but important collection of illuminated cuttings and leaves formed by John Malcolm, of Poltalloch, depicted above.

I have begun to prepare a detailed list of the provenances of the items in the collection, but I begin today with some general background.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Master BF and the Holford Collection

In January this year, Birmingham city Art Museum put images of its illuminated cuttings and leaves online. They provide material for at least two blogposts close to my interests.

As every follower of this blog knows by now: the first auction dedicated solely to illuminated manuscript cuttings was the Celotti sale at Christie's, 26 May 1825; the catalogue was written by William Young Ottley (1771-1836), who bought extensively at the sale; and Ottley's own collection was sold about a decade later 1838.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Another Leaf of the Missal of Johannes von Giltingen (Augsburg, c. 1485)

OK, despite what I wrote earlier today, here's a very brief post, lacking in detail.

The Missal of Johannes von Giltingen has been published a few times in the past few decades, most recently in the Beyond Words exhibition catalogue, in an entry by James Marrow [online here], in which he cites the known leaves, and ends by saying:
"Considering the pace at which decorated and illustrated leaves from the commission have been recognized in recent decades, one hopes that some of these presumed missing leaves will also be located."

"The Bookhunter on Safari" Blog

I don't have time to write a proper blogpost myself this weekend (or next weekend), so instead I will point readers to the "The Bookhunter on Safari" blog.

It is written by Laurence Worms, owner of Ash Rare Books and founder-organiser of the Book Collecting Seminar at Senate House, University of London, which I have attended whenever possible for the past few years.

A particularly provenance-related post is The Most Successful Book-Huntress in the World, with a follow-up: The Real Clara Millard.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

At Home With Robert Forrer in 1937


By chance I recently came across an article about Robert Forrer (who has been mentioned in several previous posts, e.g. here): Jean R. Debrix, ‘Visages d’Alsace: M. Robert Forrer’, La vie en Alsace (1937), pp. 132–36.

This includes seven photographs of the interior of Forrer's home, on the walls of which hang framed manuscript leaves and cuttings, including the one above, and these two:
Looking closely, I recognised an old friend.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

The Holford Album

I ended the previous blogpost [not including its small addendum] by mentioning the Holford Album of illuminated cuttings, which was loaned by George Lindsay Holford (1860-1926) to an exhibition in London, just a year after the death of his father, the collector, Robert Stayner Holford (1808-1892).

In 1927, after George's own death, two well-illustrated catalogues of the collection appeared in print (as detailed in that previous post) but by this time the album had been taken apart, and the cuttings framed.

What do we know about the origin and later history of the album?

Friday, 19 June 2020

Whitehead-Holford-Malcolm: A Small Addendum

In my previous post I suggested that the initials transcribed by a British Library cataloguer as "J. M. W.", that are inscribed on the back of the miniature shown above, should in fact be read as "T. M. W.", the initials of Thomas Miller Whitehead.

I have now found near-certain confirmation that he did indeed own it.

Saturday, 13 June 2020


I have been working recently on various collections of illuminations, including that of R. S. Holford [Wikipedia], attempting to trace the present whereabouts of each item.

In the course of tracing Holford's miniatures, I was reminded that he lent several to the 1862 International Exhibition [Wikipedia] at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). The catalogue is available online through Google Books and
Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Works of Art of the Mediæval, Renaissance, and More Recent Periods, on Loan at the South Kensington Museum, June 1862, edited by J.C. Robinson (revised edition: London, January 1863).
The Holford miniatures were catalogued in detail twice in 1927, each time with numerous reproductions, so we have a very good idea of its contents before dispersal:
Robert Benson, The Holford Collection, Dorchester House, with 200 Illustrations, from the Twelfth to the End of the Nineteenth Century, 2 vols (London: Humphrey Milford).
Sotheby & Co, The Holford Library, Part I: Catalogue of the Magnificent Series of Illuminations on Vellum, Forming Part of the Collections at Dorchester House, Park Lane, the Property of Lt.-Col. Sir George Holford, K.C.V.O. (Deceased) ... 12th of July, 1927.
In principle, therefore, it ought to be easy to identify items from the collection. In practice, however, it is not always so simple.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

A Dispersed Album of Illuminated Cuttings [II]: The Collector(s) Identified


Christopher de Hamel has kindly contacted me about a previous post. He points out that a leaf from a Book of Hours in the Reed collection at Dunedin (shown above) is also from the same album, with the same characteristic handwritten captions.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

The Chichester "Evangelia Festivalia"

[Image by courtesy of Vassar College]
It was in preparation for a tour of CT, MA, and NY libraries in 2014 that I found out that Vassar College has some very interesting unpublished leaves and cuttings, notably the two cuttings from a Missal of Pope Leo X that I described in several blogposts, starting here.

When I got there, one leaf that particularly intrigued me is shown in the image above and below, written in a distinctive, angular, script. It is said to be Flemish but to come from Chichester cathedral (on the south coast of England).

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Yet More Alphabet Soup

A couple of years ago I spent a week at the Lilly Library to photograph all their leaves and cuttings, and have periodically been using those photos in blog posts (e.g. Beaupré Antiphonary leaves, here, and Dominican Lectionary leaves, here).

One discovery that is long overdue to share, is a group of cuttings from a well-known and important Psalter-Hours, among the Library's manuscripts collected by Coella Lindsay Ricketts (d. 1941).

The majority of the cuttings from the mid-13th-century parent manuscript were studied by Judith Oliver thirty-five years ago: "Medieval Alphabet Soup: Reconstruction of a Mosan Psalter-Hours in Philadelphia and Oxford and the Cult of St. Catherine", Gesta, 24 (1985), pp. 129-140 [available (with a subscription) through JSTOR]. One large group she discusses is at the Free Library, Philadelphia, part of the collection of John Frederick Lewis (d. 1932); it comprises dozens of small foliate initials:
several inhabited initials:
and a handful of large historiated initials:

Another group is in a scapbook in the Douce collection at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Whereas the Philadelphia group have been trimmed close to the edge of the decoration, the Douce ones have not been trimmed. The small foliate initials have been arranged alphabetically: initial "A"s followed by "B"s, "C"s, etc.; here are some of the "D"s:

Because they are not trimmed, this group preserves significant amounts of text, and the larger cuttings also give a good idea of the mise-en-page; we can see from the one on the left here, for example, that the parent volume had 23 lines of text per page:
and from this one we get an idea of one form of marginal decoration:

Another initial from the same manuscirpt turned up about 15 years ago, and became the subject of an article by William M. Voelkle, "More Medieval Alphabet Soup: Another Unique Catherine Initial from the Mosan Psalter-Hours", in Tributes to Lucy Freeman Sandler: Studies in Manuscript Illumination (London, 2007), pp. 63–65; and then in the Arcana sale, part III, at Christie's, 6 July 2011, lot 1:
(detail) [Source]

In addition to the "known" ones, there are three previously unpublished initials at the Lilly Library:
Fortunately, they are mounted so that the text on the back of each can easily be read and identified:

The first shows the Elevation of the Host by a priest performing Mass (a detail of which is at the top of this post): 
The stem of the letter "P" has three subsidiary scenes; at the bottom is a tonsured figure ringing the Sanctus Bell:
In the middle is the congregation, a group of laymen and women:
And at the top is God with souls in heaven:

The text on the back is from the Office of the Dead, so we can be confident that the historiated initial "P" introduces the word "Placebo", with which Vespers of the Office of the Dead begins. The priest is therefore presumably performing a Requiem Mass.

The next Lilly initial, an "S", shows a woman wearing a veil, kneeling before the Virgin and Child:

The text on the back appears to be part of two prayers for the dead. The second is written for a male ("famulo tuo .N."):

The text of the prayers must have been something like this:
Quesumus domine famuli tui cuius
obitus sui diem commemoramus sanctorum
tuorum atque electorum tuorum largire consorti-
um et rorem ei misericordiae tue perhennis infunde.
Deus indulgentiarum  [rubric in French:] Une a(ul)tre.
domine da famulo tuo .N. cuius anni-
verfarium depositionis diem
commemoramus refrigerii sedem quietis
beatitudinem et luminis claritatem. P(er Christum).
 Although it is a bit hard to see, the masculine Latin forms on the top line ("famuli tui") have superscript letters "e" above their final letters, to allow the reader easy conversion into feminine forms ("famule tue"):

But it is not clear to me exactly what is depicted in the initial, or what text it introduced. It seems that the kneeling woman (nun?) is giving the white bird (representing her soul?) to Christ.
If the prayers for the dead on the reverse come from the end of the Office of the Dead, as seems likely, then they are presumbly on the recto, and this initial, on the verso, introduced whatever followed.

The last Lilly initial shows a king directing three men to be burned in a fire:
We might assume that this depicts  the popular story of the Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace [Wikipedia], but several details suggest otherwise.

First, the three man have closed eyes, indicating that they are dead. Second, the king seems to be accompanied by a queen, who extends her hand in the standard gesture of blessing. Third, although at first sight the initial appears to be an initial "O", a closer look shows that there is the tail of a "Q" to the lower left, and the text on the back of the cutting is from Psalm 50; the initial "Q" must therefore be the beginning of Psalm 51 (Quid gloriaris in malitia) and be on the verso. Psalm 51 is one of the normal major divisions of the psalms in medieval Psalters, and we know from Judith Oliver's work that the iconography of the parent volume placed a special emphasis on scenes involving the virgin queen, St Catherine of Alexandria. (In her 1985 article Oliver noted that the Psalm 51 initial was as yet unaccounted for, and identified the following major psalter initial, Psalm 68, as depicting St Catherine's torture on the wheel). It therefore seems certain that the initial depicts the story from Catherine's life in which Emperor Maxentius summoned fifty wise men to dispute with her about her Christian beliefs: when they failed to outsmart her, Maxentius had them thrown into a fire while Catherine assured them of the rewards of martyrdom.

The three Lilly cuttings discussed here are not among the 100 highlights of the  collection in Christopher de Hamel, Gilding the Lilly: A Hundred Medieval and Illuminated Manuscripts in the Lilly Library (Bloomington, 2010), and nor, as far as I can see, are they included in the list of Ricketts manuscripts published by de Ricci in his Census, and there did not seem to be any information about their provenance on the Library's index cards. The parent manuscript must have been cut up during the lifetime of Francis Douce (d. 1834) [Wikipedia], but it seems that a large tranche re-surfaced on the market in the first decades of the 20th century, perhaps with a London dealer such as Tregaskis, from whom John Frederick Lewis (d.1932) of Philadelphia, and Coella Lindsay Ricketts (d.1941) of Chicago, are known to have bought illuminations.