Sunday 29 October 2023

An Unpublished Illuminated Calendar from the Abbey of Montier-la-Celle

This and the following images are used
Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Interesting manuscripts can be found in unexpected places. At the CULTIVATE MSS conference in London a year ago [PDF programme], there was a presentation about the collection of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust [Wikipedia], which was interesting but had very little to do with medieval manuscripts. One partly-medieval volume was mentioned and very briefly shown on screen, however, and after several months of emailing I was eventually able to get a complete set of images of the relevant part of it. One detail is shown above.

Saturday 21 October 2023

A.C. de la Mare and Neil Ker on Describing Script


Anyone who has ever attempted to describe a manuscript will have faced the issue of terminology for describing script. Over the course of the last 75 years numerous books and articles have been written, and conferences held [1], discussing the issue, and yet we have still not arrived at any real consensus.

I think that two main drivers lay behind these publications and conferences, especially the earlier ones. One was to try to make palaeography more "scientific" (with implications of reliability and accuracy), and the other was to compensate for a lack of reproductions. It seems to me that the former was somewhat misguided [2], and the latter is now outdated [3].

If a series of Books of Hours are described as being mid 15th-century French, Flemish, Spanish, Dutch, German, and Italian, then the knowledgeable reader will have a very good idea of what the script of each of them looks like, and how they differ from one another, without a formal description of their script. The same goes for an 11th-century biblical text, a 12th-century patristic text, a 13th-century academic text, a 14th-century legal text, a 15th-century Humanistic one, and so on. The date and place of origin, plus the type of text, is usually enough to indicate in general terms what the script looks like. No amount of description can ever convey its precise appearance  any attempt to do so is at best futile, and at worst misleading [4].

Saturday 14 October 2023

Minor Initials from the Murano Gradual: Two More 19th-Century Albums


In March last year ago I wrote a blogpost about the minor (i.e. small foliate, not historiated) initials cut from the Murano Gradual. For a long time I had been very sceptical that they were indeed from the Murano Gradual -- because their style was so unlike the style of the minor initials that occur on the back of a few of the cuttings of historiated initials -- but when I eventually took the time to look closely at their script and musical notation, the relationship became plain.

I therefore compiled a list of all the Murano Gradual's minor initials known to me: my hope is that, one day, someone will be able to emulate the exercise of reconstruction done by Margaret Rickert in the 1930s ("Fragmentology" is not a new field of study!), which resulted in three publications:

Margaret Rickert, ‘The Reconstruction of an English Carmelite Missal’, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, vol. 67 no. 390 (Sept. 1935), pp. 99-113 (available to those with access to JSTOR here)

Margaret Rickert, ‘The Reconstruction of an English Carmelite Missal’, Speculum, XVI no. 1 (1941), pp. 92-102, pls. I-V (available to those with access to JSTOR here)

Margaret Rickert, The Reconstructed Carmelite Missal: An  English Manuscript of the Late XIV Century in the British Museum (Additional 29704-5, 44892) (London: Faber & Faber, 1952)

It is a masterclass of reconstruction. Not only did she work out the original sequence of the major, historiated initials (a comparatively straighforward task), but was also able, astonishingly, through a painstaking examination of the tiny portions of text preserved on their backs, to put hundreds of the small, minor, initials into their relevant places:


Saturday 7 October 2023

"Inclitus" Identified

A miniature in the Wildenstein collection (shown above), the largest surviving work by the Master of the Murano Gradual, has usually been identified as depicting "Mission to the Apostles". In a previous blogpost, I suggested that the subject is instead The Selection of St Matthias (as an apostle, to replace Judas).

Even if my suggestion is correct [1], there is still an oustanding puzzle about the miniature: it appears above a single line of text and music, and the text consists of a single word "INCLITUS":

No one has ever been able to identify the text this comes from.