A few weeks ago, I took my 17-year-old son on a road trip to visit colleges in the Midwest. While the main purpose of the trip was to tour campuses, how could I resist a quick visit to a few Special Collections libraries? In Illinois, I had the great pleasure of spending time at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Rare Book and Manuscript Collection. My thanks to Library Director Valerie Hotchkiss, Curator Anna Chen, and Graduate Assistants David Morris and Brian Davidson for their willingness to pull some highlights of the collection for me with very little advance notice. The Library at UIUC has dozens of pre-1600 European manuscripts, including several important and fascinating specimens. I’ll go in chronological order…
First we have MS 128, a fragment from a tenth-century collection of Latin epigrams written in England that includes several epigrams attributed to Bede. The script is a beautiful example of insular minuscule, while the fragment itself is a classic piece of recycled parchment. You can easily see how the leaf was cut and folded to serve as a bookcover.
Few American collections own a specimen of this style of script, with its distinctive forked ascenders and deep f- s- and r-descenders. The leaf was purchased from New York dealer H. P. Kraus and 1959, and the students at UIUC are fortunate to be able to study it in situ.
When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, programmes like this were incredibly popular souvenirs of the ceremony: It turns out the idea of a “souvenir” recording a coronation ceremony goes back quite some time. In fact, the UIUC library has one from the fourteenth century. MS 124 commemorates the respective coronations of Charles IV, King of France (1322) and his queen Jeanne d’Evreux (1326). Like the QEII souvenir above, this manuscript is illustrated with various scenes from the occasion, such as the archbishop anointing the king or handing him the main-de-justice.
In the illustration above, the archbishop is shown anointing the kneeling queen.
The Lyte Book of Hours (MS 76) includes an illustration of St. Margaret emerging from the dragon’s belly similar to that discussed in this post. Of particular interest is the dorse of the leaf (actually the recto side) where a pinprick outline of the dragon suggests the artist’s use of a model book:
Finally, it should come as no surprise to learn that UIUC holds an Ege portfolio related to the collection of printed and manuscript leaves that we looked at at Connecticut College a few weeks ago, titled Original Leaves From Famous Books (shelfmark F 655.1 Eg20).
We also visited the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where my friend Maria Saffiotti Dale serves as curator at the Chazen Museum of Art. She was kind enough to walk me through their collection of leaves and cuttings, which includes some real beauties:
This cutting (Acq. 2001.30), a stunning portrait of Pope Clement I painted by the French artist Vincent Raymond de Lodève in Rome in 1539, was cut from an exquisite Vatican manuscript made for the Sistine Chapel (Capp. Sist.
MS 11), a codex that has been studied by Maria Saffiotti Dale here.
The Museum owns several other manuscript leaves, among them this Book of Hours:
Imagine our surprise when Maria and I went across the courtyard to visit Special Collections and found another leaf from the same manuscript!
The leaves were purchased years apart and without the knowledge that they were from the same manuscript. Another lovely manuscript coincidence.
In addition to an unfinished Book of Hours (MS 161), the Special Collections Department has two other items that are particularly noteworthy. The first is a copy of the Gesta Romanorum (MS 162) that belonged to Sir Thomas Phillipps (his MS 8074) before passing through the hands of British bibliophile Sir Sydney Cockerell.
The last piece I want to show you is an example of a failed early-modern experiment with stenciled books. This choirbook leaf was written using stenciled letters rather than freehand (before being recycled for use as a bookcover); the trend didn’t last long, as scribes figured out relatively quickly that it was more efficient to simply write the book by hand than to take the time to lay out each letter on each page for stenciling.
Next time, we’ll get back on the virtual highway to pick up where we left off, heading north out of Oklahoma towards Kansas.