Monthly Archives: September 2013

Manuscript Road Trip: On the Road to Niagara

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

As we leave the Berkshires, we’ll head due west on I-90, which, when it crosses into New York, becomes known as the New York State Thruway. Instead of turning south for Manhattan, however, we’ll keep going west (yes, there’s more to New York than NYC!), making our way (virtually, and therefore speedily) through central New York to Buffalo.Blog map

Not surprisingly, most medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the United States are to be found in university Special Collections libraries. There are, however, about two dozen public (municipal) libraries that, through good fortune and/or generous donors, count pre-1600 manuscripts among their holdings. In fact, our data suggest that public collections in the US hold more than 500 pre-1600 codices and more than 800 single leaves. The largest of these collections  belong to the New York Public Library and the Boston Public Library, but the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library in western New York is  worth a visit, as it is an excellent example of a typical public collection.

Book of Hours; 15th Century. Gift of James Fraser Gluck to the Buffalo Library, 1886. Gluck Manuscript Collection.

St. John the Evangelist (watched by his attribute, an eagle) in exile on the island of Patmos. (Book of Hours; mid-15th-century France. Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Gluck Manuscript Collection)

The Grovesnor Rare Book Room at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library is one of the oldest public rare book collections in the country, having been initially established in 1857 by Seth Grosvenor, a local businessman who bequeathed $40,000 to the city of Buffalo for the express purpose of establishing a public library. One of the earliest medieval acquisitions was this lovely two-volume Book of Hours written in mid-fifteenth-century France and given to the library in 1886 by James Fraser Gluck, a local attorney and library curator (more info here). Like most public collections, however, the B&E Library’s strength lies with manuscript leaves, not complete codices, most of which would be well beyond the purchasing power of a small public collection. The Library owns a set of fifty leaves assembled by Otto Ege and given to the library in 1964 by Mr. and Mrs. Franz T. Stone, called “Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscripts“; a second set of Ege leaves, “Original Leaves from Famous Bibles,” has a few manuscript leaves but is comprised mostly of pages taken from early printed books. All of the manuscripts have been catalogued in the library’s OPAC using MARC; you can easily retrieve the records, as the Library has established a local subject classification (in the 650 field) of “Manuscripts, Latin, New York (State), Buffalo.” Just search that as the Subject, and you will find twenty-five very informative records for all of the leaves and the lone codex (the Gluck Book of Hours illustrated above).

[Note to librarians considering putting medieval manuscripts into their OPAC: I heartily recommend establishing a local 650 field as it will allow users to easily filter your manuscript records. In MARC view, it could look like this: |a Manuscripts, Latin  |z New York (State)  |z Buffalo. I leave it to your cataloguing judgment whether to go with “Manuscripts, Latin” vs. “Manuscripts, Illuminated” vs. “Manuscripts, Medieval” or some such thing.]

There are a few other collections in Buffalo with pre-1600 manuscript holdings. Canisius College, a Jesuit university, still owns the five codices recorded in the de Ricci Census (II:1213-14). The Albright-Knox Art Gallery houses another collection of Ege leaves (including yet another leaf of the Terence manuscript we met at the University of Vermont a few weeks ago). A search of their database using the keyword “leaf” with date restrictions of 500-1500 will retrieve records for and images of all of the leaves, most of which can be readily identified as having an Ege provenance. The question of how manuscripts fit into art collections is one that has yet to be satisfactorily answered. In museums lacking a distinct manuscript department, manuscripts can sometimes be found in the Prints and Drawings Department, or they may be classified with Decorative Arts (often because of their bindings). Occasionally they wind up in the European Painting department. Because they are by definition books, manuscripts and manuscript leaves don’t always fit into standard museum classification systems. The same goes for museum cataloguing databases, which are usually designed for works of art that require minimal metadata (title, artist, date, place of origin, exterior measurements). As paleographers and codicologists, we want more than the standard museum database can provide: number of lines per page, measurements of the writing space, a collation, a full description of the binding, and so on. Although the Ege provenance of the Albright-Knox leaves is extremely important, the database does not have room for that piece of information; I only know it because I recognize the leaves. Obviously museums with just a few leaves or codices can’t be expected to design their entire database structure around those few items, but it is an issue for users to keep in mind when searching for manuscripts hiding in art collections.

niagaraBefore you leave the area, don’t forget to visit nearby Niagara Falls. If you remembered your passport, we can take a quick trip to see the view from the Canadian side before turning south for Pennsylvania.


Filed under Medieval Manuscripts

Manuscript Road Trip: Autumn in the Berkshires

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

Heading south on I-91, we leave the Green Mountains behind and find ourselves in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, a really lovely place to be in mid-September. The leaves are just starting to turn, and within a few weeks the highways will be clogged with “leaf-peeping” tourists. the-berkshires-fallBut the season is just getting started, and we have the road to ourselves as we head towards The Five Colleges: Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. These five institutions (all but U. Mass. small liberal arts colleges) are in close proximity to one another and students at any can cross-register for classes at all.

Blog mapThe same collective consciousness applies to the medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in these collections; they are joining forces for a Mellon-funded cataloguing and digitization project that is just getting underway. In the meantime, the provisional handlist and catalogue can be found as a PDF here.

The twenty-four codices at Amherst College (all of which are listed in the 1935 de Ricci Census) are primarily from late-fifteenth- or sixteenth-century Italy. As such, the collection is almost a microcosm of the classical renaissance (lower-case [r]) during the Renaissance (upper-case [R]), including manuscripts of Horace, Lucan, Cicero, Frontinus, and Persius. Several of these manuscripts have rather esteemed provenance: the Lucan (Amherst, B 3.13) was owned in the eighteenth century by Cardinal Giovanni Braschi (as of 1775 better known as Pope Pius VI), and the Horace (Amherst B 3.21) was owned ca. 1520 by Cardinal Alfonso Petrucci. The Persius and Horace (Amherst, B 3.22 and 3.23 respectively) each bear a colophon identifying the scribe, a rarity before the 1400s; they were both written in the last decade of the fifteenth century by one Lodovico Reggio Corneli, a scribe whose work is not known elsewhere, at least as far as I can tell.

Students visiting the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College. Purists may be alarmed by the sight of all of these hands on the parchment, but take note, they're only touching the parchment, not the ink.

Students visiting the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College.

The eleven codices and numerous leaves preserved in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College, on the other hand, allow students to see a different side of medieval and Renaissance books: in contrast to the Italian humanistic examples at Amherst, the Smith collection is almost entirely medieval and Catholic in origin, with examples from Bibles, Books of Hours, and liturgical manuscripts ranging from the twelfth through the fifteenth centuries.

Seal matrix impression, Smith MS 240. The murder of Thomas Becket, perhaps? Anyone have any suggestions?

Seal matrix impression, Smith MS 240, f. 25v. The murder of Thomas Becket, perhaps? Anyone have any suggestions? I couldn’t find a match in the British database of small metal finds, the “Portable Antiquities Scheme.”
[photo by Brittany Osborn]

A thirteenth-century Parisian Bible (Smith MS 240), while unillustrated, includes a fascinating record left by an early owner, an impression of what appears to be a seal matrix made on a blank leaf preceding the Book of Proverbs. The collection also includes an illuminated thirteenth-century Psalter from France (Smith MS 291), a relative rarity in American collections. Three sets of single leaves assembled by Otto Ege, when combined with the Ege leaf set at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, include (if complete) a total of more than than 150 leaves. Finally, the collection at Mt. Holyoke includes the detailed records of a Venetian fraternal organization of sailors dedicated to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of all who plough the seas. Mt. Holyoke also houses papyri from the great Oxyrhyncus trove as well as other non-European manuscripts, outside the scope of this blog (and as far as I know, there are no pre-1600 European manuscripts at the final institution that makes up the Five Colleges, Hampshire College).

King David playing hanging bells (Smith College, MS 291, f. 7)

King David playing hanging bells, in the letter [B] (for “Beatus vir,” the beginning of Psalm 1) (Smith College, MS 291, f. 7) [photo by Martin Antonetti]

Each of these collections has its own strengths. Together, they already provide students and faculty access to a spectacular, and relatively unknown, treasure trove of text and illumination, original bindings and illustrious histories, all tucked away in a truly beautiful area of New England (when you go, by the way, be sure to make dinner reservations at The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge). It is a great boon to scholarship that these collections will soon be available online.

 As we leave the Berkshires, we’ll turn west and cross the Hudson River into New York. Instead of turning left at Albany and heading for New York City, however, we’re going to keep going west, straight for Niagara.


Filed under Medieval Manuscripts

Manuscript Road Trip: Welcome to Lake Champlain

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

As you might imagine, there are not a lot of medieval manuscripts in Vermont. I know of only two repositories: Middlebury College (which reported holdings of 15 leaves and one codex) and the University of Vermont in Burlington (which reported holdings of ten codices and 26 leaves, seven of which belong to the Robert Hull Fleming Museum). As we cross the Connecticut River, leaving New Hampshire for Vermont, let’s head north on I-89 towards Burlington to visit the University of Vermont on the shores of beautiful Lake Champlain.

Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain

The University of Vermont has owned some of these manuscripts since the early part of the twentieth century, as eight of them are recorded in Seymour de Ricci’s Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada (published in 1935). They’ve now been catalogued and digitized as part of the library’s Digital Initiatives Collection.

Blog map

I’ve not looked as these images before, but I recognize at least two of the leaves as belonging to a very well-known manuscript, a copy of Terence’s works that was once owned by notorious book-breaker Otto F. Ege (more about him when we get to Ohio in a few weeks!):

New York, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library,  Med/Ren Frag. 004

Here’s another leaf from the same manuscript, part of the collection at Columbia University in NYC, for comparison: Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Med/Ren Frag. 004

The late great paleographer Albinia de la Mare attributed this beautiful humanistic bookhand to the expert scribe Giuliano di Antonio of Prato, Florence and believed it to have been written around 1460. This manuscript was still complete, its 103 leaves safely ensconced in the original binding of brown leather over wooden boards, when it was sold as lot 100 at Sotheby’s on May 28, 1934. It was bought at auction and made its way to Dawson’s Bookshop in Los Angeles; the next year, it was purchased by Otto Ege himself. It was still intact when it was described by Seymour de Ricci as Ege manuscript no. 65 in the Census of Manuscripts (II:1947). Ege dismantled the manuscript sometime after 1935 and scattered its leaves to the proverbial winds. Scott Gwara of the University of South Carolina tells me that these and other leaves were donated to the University of Vermont by Frank Teagle, a letterpress-printer who worked for Ege’s widow and who may have received at least some of these leaves as compensation for his work.

The Terence manuscript is discussed in Barbara Shailor’s seminal study of Otto Ege and in Gwara’s forthcoming Ege monograph. Ege is a character well-known to American bibliophiles, a self-proclaimed “biblioclast” active in Ohio in the 1930s and ’40s, a man whose socialist leanings (combined, ironically, with a bookdealer’s art-market savvy) trickled down even to his penchant for dismantling books and distributing/selling the resulting collections of individual leaves to small public libraries and colleges that couldn’t afford to acquire complete manuscripts. As a result of the work of scholars such as Virginia Brown, Barbara Shailor, Fred Porcheddu, and now Scott Gwara, ex-Ege leaves are becoming more and more well-known and recognizable (Melissa Conway and I have also recorded dozens of Ege leaves we’ve encountered in our travels). At least two dozen pages of the Terence manuscript have been identified in collections from Poughkeepsie to Boulder,  although many more remain to be found before the entire manuscript can be digitally reconstructed.

This fortuitous find gives me an opportunity to introduce a topic that is particularly important when thinking about medieval manuscripts in North American collections: manuscript leaves. As early as the nineteenth century, but in particular in the first half of the twentieth century, it was quite common for dealers and collectors to “break” manuscripts to be sold or given away leaf-by-leaf. For dealers, this was a way to increase their profit margin; for buyers, it was a way to own a little piece of the Middle Ages without breaking the bank. No legitimate dealer would break up a book today (or at least they would never admit to it). The result of this frenzy of dismemberment is that there are over 25,000 single leaves of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts scattered across North America, just waiting to be (digitally) reunited. Several projects that aim to do just that are already underway, and I will introduce you to some of them in the coming weeks.
Book of Hours?, 1957.17.1, Robert Hull Fleming Museum, University of Vermont (recto, detail)

Book of Hours?, 1957.17.1, Robert Hull Fleming Museum, University of Vermont (recto, detail)

In addition to the Terence leaves, I found this little creature lurking in the margins of a leaf in the Fleming Museum collection. Someone should tell the local cryptozoologists searching Lake Champlain for the sea monster known as “Champ” that they can find him swimming about in the Museum.


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Manuscript Road Trip: The Granite State

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

If you’ve ever tried to drive across Maine from east to west, you’ll understand when I tell you that this virtual road trip will be taking some liberties with the U.S. highway system. But nonetheless, heading west from Brunswick, Maine, we now find ourselves crossing the White Mountains of New Hampshire and driving up to the main green of Dartmouth College in Hanover. Blog map

The green is dominated by the spire of Baker Library, to the right of which you will find the new Rauner Special Collections Library.

Dartmouth College is the smallest of the Ivy League institutions, an idyllic New England campus that occupies a special place in the hearts of its graduates. It is also the largest repository of pre-1600 manuscripts in New Hampshire, with nearly 150 codices and two dozen leaves. Most of the manuscripts have been digitized and catalogued, and are available online here. It’s a terrific teaching collection, with codices and leaves scattered across the  chronological and geographic spectrum.Dartmouth-College-7DEE32EE

Particularly close to my heart, however, is the fragmentary scroll acquired by Dartmouth just a few years ago, MS 461940. This manuscript, written in Paris around the year 1460, is a 1.2-meter-long piece of what was originally a much longer scroll, a manuscript of the Chronique Anonyme Universelle. The Chronique tells the history of the world from Creation to the fifteenth century, taking the reader on a journey that includes the Bible, the ancient world, the Roman and Holy Roman empires, and the histories of the Papacy, France, and England, with a brief detour into the Crusades. The text is accompanied by numerous medallion illuminations and a detailed family tree of humanity that runs unbroken from Adam to King Louis XI.

Fragment of the Chronique Anonyme Universelle, Paris, ca. 1460 (Dartmouth College, Rauner Library, MS 461940)

Fragment of the Chronique Anonyme Universelle, Paris, ca. 1460 (Dartmouth College, Rauner Library, MS 461940)

Along the way, we encounter such figures as Esther, Nebuchadnezzar, Lear and Arthur, although not necessarily in their familiar contexts.  Did you know, for example, that Nebuchadnezzar was exhumed by his son Evilmerodach, cut up into three hundred pieces and fed to three hundred birds so that he could never return from the dead and retake the throne? Or that, at least according to the Chronique, the kings of France and England trace their lineage and  legitimacy to Aeneas and the survivors of the siege of Troy? (full disclosure: read my forthcoming study of the Chronique if you want to know more)

There are twenty-eight known manuscripts of this text, several of them fragmentary. The section preserved at Dartmouth includes illustrations of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor, Godfrey de Bouillon as King of Jerusalem, and St. Louis onboard a ship (detailed description here). I know of one other piece of this particular scroll, housed in France at the Centre Jean d’Arc in Orléans. Dartmouth’s piece of the puzzle was purchased from bookdealer Les Enluminures, who found it on eBay (it’s true – search “Medieval Manuscripts” on eBay and you never know what you might find!). It isn’t the finest illumination you’ll see at Dartmouth – it’s rather humble in fact – but the text offers a fascinating glimpse into the medieval conception of world and national history.

I’m going to keep heading west now, moving away from the East Coast so that I can focus on manuscripts in lesser-known collections. When we finally circle back around to the East we’ll visit major collections in DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, New Haven, and my hometown of Boston, but in the meantime, let’s cross the Connecticut River and head north on I-89. See you in Vermont!


Filed under Medieval Manuscripts

Manuscript Road Trip: Day 1

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

There has been increasing interest in recent years in identifying, classifying and cataloguing medieval manuscripts in North American collections. With my friend and colleague Melissa Conway (Head of Special Collections at UC-Riverside), I have been working for nearly twenty years on this very topic. Our preliminary Directory of collections in the United States and Canada with pre-1600 manuscript holdings is available as a searchable PDF through the Bibliographical Society of America, at  It’s a great place to start if you’re looking for manuscripts in North American collections.

Over the course of our work, Melissa and I (with the help of more than 200 contributing curators and scholars) have identified 20,000 codices and 25,000 leaves in nearly 500 collections. Many of these have not been catalogued in any significant way; students, take note, there is a lot of cataloguing work to be done! On the other hand, an increasing number of collections have put their holdings online for all to see (notably the Walter Art Museum in Baltimore, the University of Pennsylvania, and the collections contributing to Digital Scriptorium).

On this blog, I’ll be taking readers on a state-by-state tour of manuscripts in the lower 48 (I’ll get to Canada eventually, I promise!), focusing on less-well-known collections, some in very surprising locations. We begin at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine…

The curator of Special Collections aBlog mapt this small New England college of 1,800 students reported to us in 2005 that the collection has seven pre-1600 codices, five leaves, and two archival documents. Among them is a beautiful Book of Hours created for a member of the Medici family around the year 1520.

The library’s website provides the following information about this stunning manuscript (Spec. Coll. BX2080.M43 1530 vlt):

“Vellum, ca. 1520, 152 ff., 18×13 cm. Italy. Roman use. Information from the Parke-Bernet sale catalogue, N.Y.C. auction of December 5-6, 1949: 18 long lines to the full page written in gothic lettering apparently by more than one hand. Embellished with a decorative title-page displaying the gilt lettered title within an ornamental tabernacle frame and seventeen large miniature paintings within interesting frames of different designs and eight small miniatures with its text within bold tabernacle frames, burnished gold, blue, and red lettering in calendar, numerous illuminated borders and initial letters in liquid gold and colors throughout.”

Bowdoin detailA coat of arms identified as belonging to Marie de Medici appears in the margin of one of the miniatures (the Annunciation on f. 20), identifying the manuscript as having been created for her use (it’s not clear from the online catalogue which Marie de Medici we’re talking about, but based on the date it is likely the Marie who was mother to Cosimo I de Medici). It is not at all uncommon, by the way, for a Book of Hours to have been made for the use of a woman, especially a woman of noble birth, most of whom were literate and learned during the later Middle Ages and Renaissance. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an image of the Annunciation miniature with the coat of arms, but at left is a miniature from the manuscript of St. Luke, accompanied by his attribute of the bull, painting a portrait of the Virgin Mary. Note the sophisticated use of perspective, the trompe l’oeil effect of the pillar and architectural frame, the realistic figures, the clearly identified directional light source. This manuscript is a beauty.

One of the most interesting facets of medieval manuscripts in U.S. collections is their provenance, the journey every medieval manuscript in North America has taken to get from where it was to where it is. So how did this manuscript get from sixteenth-century Italy to twenty-first century Maine? Before answering that question, I want to take a minute to introduce you to a very useful online resource for studying the history of manuscripts in general, the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts. Using this database of several hundred thousand sales records, one can trace manuscript owners, prices, the manuscripts themselves, and entire collections over the course of hundreds of years.

From an inscription inside the front cover of the manuscript, we know that it was owned at one point by a French collector who identified himself as the “Prince de Conty.” A quick search of the Schoenberg Database uncovers three additional sales of this manuscript, all in London in the early twentieth century: database record 22396 (a sale at Sotheby’s in 1909), 22264 (Sotheby’s sale of the collection J.S. Burra in 1911), and 22173 (Sotheby’s, 1912). These are sales that have not previously been associated with the Bowdoin manuscript, although details in the sales records such as the number of leaves, the dimensions, provenance and binding confirm that they do indeed all represent sales of Bowdoin’s Hours. The manuscript sold in 1909 for $500, presumably to its next owner, one J. S. Burra, from whose collection it was sold in 1911 for a mere $300 (a loss for his estate, alas). The next owner sold it in 1912 at a profit, for $750.  The manuscript then disappeared into a private collection. It resurfaced, again at Sotheby’s, in 1949, when it was bought by a Bowdoin alum named Roscoe Hupper (class of 1907) who gave the codex to his alma mater in memory of a classmate named Felix Arnold Burton.

This exquisite Italian Book of Hours, a masterpiece of Renaissance illumination, has found a fitting home in the mountains of Maine, where it beautifully fulfills the promise made to Bowdoin’s students in 1906 by College President William DeWitt Hyde:

To be at home in all lands and all ages;
to count Nature a familiar acquaintance,
and Art an intimate friend;
to carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket,
and feel its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake;
to make hosts of friends…who are to be leaders in all walks of life;
to lose yourself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for common ends –
this is the offer of the college for the best four years of your life.

Next week, we head due west to Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

– Lisa Fagin Davis


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