Manuscript Road Trip: Sweet Home Alabama (and Georgia too)

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

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

Before we leave Florida for Georgia and Alabama, I want to call your attention to a very exciting and important discovery made by Peter Kidd and discussed in his recent blogpost. He has discovered that the last person to own the Beauvais Missal before it was cut up and sold piecemeal was none other than William Randolph Hearst.

Tampa, Museum of Fine Arts, 1979-11-1 recto

The Beauvais Missal: Tampa, Museum of Fine Arts, 1979-11-1 recto

This information fills in an important gap in our previous knowledge about the manuscript’s history between its late-medieval use at the Cathedral of St-Pierre in Beauvais and the twentieth-century distribution of its leaves by Otto F. Ege. According to Kidd’s  research, Hearst purchased the manuscript in 1926 and sold it through Gimbel Brothers in November 1942. Since leaves of the Missal were offered by New York dealer and Ege-collaborator Philip Duschnes that same month, it seems likely, as has been posited, that it was Duschnes who bought the manuscript and wielded the knife. He would have then sold remnants of the fragmented manuscript to Ege, who went on to distribute leaves of the missal through his usual channels. Duschnes originally sold leaves of the missal for as little as $25 each. They now go for as much as $9,000, a number that will certainly rise in the wake of this nearly-discovered provenance.

working map


We’ll start today with two collections in Birmingham, Alabama. Samford University owns a copy of the Otto Ege leaf set “Original Leaves from Famous Books: eight centuries, 1240 A.D. – 1923 A.D.”. This set includes several manuscript leaves, still in their Ege mattes (my thanks to Samford’s Rachel Cohen for the images). The Aristotle manuscript below is a well-known component of the “Original Leaves from Famous Books” sets. Ege cites it as having been copied in 1365, presumably because the manuscript, when whole, included a colophon giving the date of completion. Unfortunately, because he divided the manuscript and sold it off page by page, we have to take his word for it.

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, manuscript on paper (Germany, 1365)

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, manuscript on paper (Germany, 1365) (Samford University)

The University also owns a few Ege leaves purchased in the early 1950s from the Lima Public Library in Ohio, such as this Italian leaf from a small Book of Hours.

Samford University, Manuscript L13

Samford University, Manuscript L13

The very first collection listed in the 1963 Supplement to the Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada is the Medical Library at the University of Alabama. The Library still owns these medical and scientific manuscripts, all of which have been digitized here.


Most of the medieval manuscripts in Georgia are concentrated in the Atlanta area. We’ll start at Georgia State University, which owns a single leaf of a 13th-century Parisian Bible (at left) notable for its strict adherence to the Gothic aesthetic: justified margins on all sides and closely-spaced letters. The lack of decoration, with new chapters starting midline and distinguished only by marginal chapter numbers, adds to the overall impression of density.

Emory University, also in Atlanta, has medieval material in several different collections. This Finding Aid in Woodruff Library’s MARBL catalogue includes several pre-1600 manuscript leaves, although none appear to have been digitized as of yet. The Pitts Theology Library owns a collection of thirteen leaves (shelfmark RG020-2), all of which have been imaged here (caveat lector: these 26 images represent thirteen leaves, since each side of each leaf has its own record; you’ll have to refer to the short-titles to determine which two images should be paired). This leaf, from a late fifteenth-century Dutch Book of Hours, is particularly fine:

Book of Hours (Netherlands, s. XV) (Emory University, Pitts Theological Library)

Book of Hours (Netherlands, s. XVex) (Emory University, Pitts Theology Library)

It is always worth looking at every image of every leaf in collection such as this, since you never know when you’re going to bump into an old friend. Remember the St. Alexius Hours? Emory’s leaf of this beautiful manuscript is culled from the Hours of the Holy Spirit (recto at left, verso at right):

Emory Alexius r Emory Alexius v

Also at Emory, the Michael C. Carlos Museum owns several manuscript leaves, including this gorgeous early thirteenth-century French Bible leaf that includes a very fine initial [I] for “In principio” (the first words of the book of Genesis) illustrated, as is common practice, with the days of Creation (shown here in detail):

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This initial adds to the typical iconography a vaster sweep of human history, including not just the days of Creation but also the Creation and Fall of Man as well as the Crucifixion, representing Man’s redemption.

The Museum also owns a leaf from a Humanistic Italian manuscript of Aristotle’s Economica, preserving a lovely example of the white-vine style of illumination typical of the time and place (detail at right).

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Just north of Atlanta, we will find a very nice teaching collection of thirty manuscript leaves at Kennesaw State University. The selections below are notable for preserving  different styles of high-quality decorative penwork: the fluid French flourishes in manuscript 4 (a thirteenth-century French Bible) and the more typically Italian, highly-detailed work in manuscript 12 (a fifteenth-century Italian Book of Hours) (my thanks to Adam Doskey for the images):

Bible (France, s. XIII)(Kennesaw University, Manuscript 4v)

Bible (France, s. XIII) (Kennesaw State University, Manuscript 4v)

Book of Hours (Italy, s. XV) (Kennesaw University, Manuscript 12r)

Book of Hours (Italy, s. XV) (Kennesaw State  University, Manuscript 12r)

Kennesaw’s Manuscript 13 caught my eye as well. This leaf is a page from a calendar, with November on the recto and December on the verso. The segment cut from the lower margin may have been blank, cut away for use as scrap. This calendar almost certainly preceded a liturgical book such as a breviary; the contents suggest it was produced by monks  for monastic use rather than in a professional workshop for the use of a wealthy patron (hence a breviary, not a Book of Hours). At the beginning and end of each month are found verses that together form a popular poem known as “Prima dies Iani timor est” (Walther, Initia Carminum, no. 14561). These verses warn the reader of Egyptian Days, Dog Days, and other inauspicious days of each month. The verse on this leaf begins “Quinta novembris obest”; apparently the 5th of November is one to watch out for.

Calendar for November (Italy, s. XV) (Kennesaw University, MS 13r)

Calendar for November (Italy, s. XV) (Kennesaw University, MS 13r)


 From Atlanta, we’ll head due east on I-20. See you in South Carolina!



Filed under Medieval Manuscripts

5 responses to “Manuscript Road Trip: Sweet Home Alabama (and Georgia too)

  1. On the calendar leaf, Kennesaw MS. 13, the presence of saints Frigidianus, bishop of Lucca (18 Nov.) and Prosper, bishop of Reggio (25 Nov.) suggests the general area in which it was presumably meant to be used.

    Do you have an image of the verso? It would be interesting to know if there are any unusual saints in December who may help pin it down more precisely.

  2. I do indeed…just added it above!

  3. Pingback: More Leaves from 'Otto Ege Manuscript 51' -

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