Thanks to the sleuthing and expertise of University of South Carolina English professor Scott Gwara, every manuscript in the state of South Carolina has been catalogued and imaged, and all of the resulting metadata has been gathered into a very useful and comprehensive website titled Pages from the Past. In addition to publishing A Census of Medieval Manuscripts in South Carolina Collections, Gwara has also worked to bring scholars together at the University for an annual seminar on the history of book, making South Carolina an important center of manuscript studies in the United States. I urge you to explore the website; you will find leaves from manuscripts that should be familiar to you by now (such as the Llangattock Breviary and the Beauvais Missal), but you will also encounter manuscripts that will certainly be new to you.
After you’ve spent some time exploring manuscripts in South Carolina, join me in North Carolina where we’ll visit UNC and Duke University.
Some of the most picturesque campuses in the United States are in North Carolina. Let’s start at UNC-Chapel Hill, where medieval manuscripts can be found in the Rare Book Collection and in the Ackland Art Museum. My thanks to Claudia Funke (Curator of Rare Books at UNC-Chapel Hill) and Daphne Bissette for arranging for me to have access to images of several of the University’s manuscripts.
The Wilson Special Collections Library is home to several hundred manuscripts, many of which were included in the Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada and its Supplement (Census II:1907-1909 and Supplement pp. 415-420). I’ve picked a few highlights, starting with this late fifteenth-century Aristotle from Italy (perhaps Florence). The “white-vine” border on the first page is typical of manuscript illumination in Italy during this period.
Next up, a ca. 1475 Book of Hours said to have been produced in Bruges, with fifteen full-page miniatures and numerous richly illuminated borders as well as coats of arms that identify it as having been made for François de la Tour and his wife Hélène de Bussy. Known as The Hanes Hours, it was given to the University by the widow of Frederick Hanes in 1946:
The Annunciation miniature is particularly endearing, with a simplicity of execution that simultaneously incorporates rich iconographic detail: Mary, in her usual blue gown, sits at prayer, reading from a Book of Hours much like the very book in which she is depicted. The white lilies in the vase behind her represent her physical and spiritual purity. The Angel kneels before her, holding a scroll on which are written the words he speaks, “Ave, gratia plena, dominus tecum” (Hail [Mary], full of grace, the Lord is with you). The face of God can be seen in the upper left corner of the starry sky, and the Holy Spirit, as a small dove, descends in the center of the scene.
The Nativity scene also depicts the standard iconographic elements, with some details (the radiant Child, Joseph’s candle) indirectly inspired by the vision of the Nativity recorded by the fourteenth-century mystic St. Bridget of Sweden: “…[Mary]’s son, from whom radiated such an ineffable light and splendour, that the sun was not comparable to it, nor did the candle that St. Joseph had put there, give any light at all, the divine light totally annihilating the material light of the candle…. I saw the glorious infant lying on the ground naked and shining.” (see Hendrik Cornell. The Iconography of the Nativity of Christ. Uppsala Universitets Årsskrift. Uppsala, Sweden, 1924, pp. 11-13).
The angel who reveals the Good News to the startled men in this Annunciation to the Shepherds also holds a scroll. The text, “Gloria in excelsis deo,” is written upside-down, legible only to the angel as he reads it aloud.
Next up is this gorgeous thirteenth-century Psalter. The calendar of Saints in this manuscript identifies is as having been made for the use of the monks of St-Denis in Paris. The historiated initials preserve an uncommon, though not unknown, illustrative cycle that includes The Annointing of King David (Psalm 26), The Judgement of King Solomon (Psalm 38), Jonah and the Whale (Psalm 68), and the Nativity (Psalm 97).
This theological miscellany from Spain is notable for the zoomorphic initials on the first page (spelling the first word, “Historia”) and the colophon on the last. Initially, I interpreted the inscription as recording that the manuscript was written in the year 1211, referencing a conflict that year between Alphonse VIII of Castile and the King of Navarre. It wasn’t at all clear to me what event was being referenced, however, since by 1211 Alphonse and Sancho, King of Navarre, were teaming up and undertaking the reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. Mark Mersiowsky has since pointed out (in a comment below) that the phrase “in era 1211” is a Spanish dating system that in fact translates to the year 1173.
Before we head over the Ackland Art Museum, I want to share with you what is almost certainly the earliest western manuscript in North Carolina. The Bible fragment above dates from the first half of the ninth century and was produced in the scriptorium at Tours, where the letter-forms we still use today were first developed. This fragment and another just like it were found pasted inside the cover of an incunable binding by a sharp-eyed UNC cataloguer and were carefully removed from the binding by University conservators in 1985. Note to curators: check your early bindings! You never know what treasures may be hiding in plain sight.
The Ackland Art Museum at UNC Chapel Hill has several manuscript fragments, discoverable on their website by searching “manuscript.” Here are a few that caught my eye:Below, two leaves from an early fifteenth-century Book of Hours from northern France: King David at prayer in the wilderness (the beginning of the Seven Penitential Psalms) and the Coronation of the Virgin (illustrating Compline of the Hours of the Virgin).
Moving on to the Greensboro campus of the University of North Carolina, we find a boxed set of Ege’s “Fifty Original leaves,” all of which have been digitized here. Ege originally put together forty numbered portfolios with this particular collection of leaves; the Greensboro set is number 38.
Duke University owns several dozen medieval manuscripts (Census II:1910-1911 and 2342), including those once owned by Chicago collector Berthold Louis Ullman (Census I:667-668 and Supplement pp. 421-425). Most have not been catalogued and are not available online. The Greek manuscripts in the collection, however, are catalogued here. The Nasher Collection, Duke’s art gallery, owns a beautiful late fifteenth-century Book of Hours that has been attributed to the great artist Jean Bourdichon, or at least to his workshop. Another image is here. The gallery also owns several leaves from Books of Hours, including a sumptuous miniature of The Last Judgement from a manuscript attributed to a group of illuminators known as the Masters of the Gold Scrolls (named for their swirling gold-on-scarlet backgrounds).
We visited western Tennessee a few months ago. Next time, we’ll cross the Appalachian Mountains to visit the eastern half of the state before heading into Kentucky.