Manuscript Road Trip: Carolina on my Mind

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

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

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.

working mapSome 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.

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

UNC, Chapel Hill, MS 92, f. 1r

UNC Chapel Hill, MS 92, f. 1r

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:

UNC, Chapel Hill, MS 10, f. 29v

The Annunciation (UNC Chapel Hill, MS 10, f. 29v)


The Nativity (UNC Chapel Hill, MS 10, f. 50v)

Annunciation to the Shepherds (UNC Chapel Hill, MS 10, f. 54v)

Annunciation to the Shepherds (UNC Chapel Hill, MS 10, f. 54v)

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.

Psalter, Use of St-Denis (Paris, s. XIII 1/2) (UNC, Chapel Hill, MS 11, f. 96v)

Psalter, Use of St-Denis (Paris, s. XIII 1/2) (UNC, Chapel Hill, MS 11, f. 96v)

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).

Annointing of King David (UNC Chapel Hill, MS 11, f. 27r)

Annointing of King David (UNC Chapel Hill, MS 11, f. 27r)

UNC, Chapel Hill, MS 11, f. 40v

The Judgement of Solomon (UNC Chapel Hill, MS 11, f. 40v)

UNC, Chapel Hill, MS 11, f. 66r

Jonah and the Whale (UNC Chapel Hill, MS 11, f. 66r)

Psalter, Use of St-Denis (Paris, s. XIII 1/2) (UNC, Chapel Hill, MS 11, f. 96v)

The Nativity (UNC Chapel Hill, MS 11, f. 96v)


UNC, Chapel Hill, MS 98, f. 1r

UNC Chapel Hill, MS 98, f. 1r

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.

UNC, Chapel Hill, MS 98, f. 271r

UNC Chapel Hill, MS 98, f. 271r (detail)

UNC Chapel Hill, MS 526, f. 1v

UNC Chapel Hill, MS 526, f. 1v

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:

Christ with Saints within the letter [R] (Ackland Art Museum Acq. 65.6.1)

Christ with Saints within the letter [R] (France, s. XIII) (Ackland Art Museum Acq. 65.6.1)

 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).

Ackland 69.7.1

Ackland Art Museum, Acq. 69.7.1

Ackland 69.7.2

Ackland Art Museum, Acq. 69.7.2

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, Durham, NC

Duke University, Durham, NC

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.


Filed under Medieval Manuscripts

12 responses to “Manuscript Road Trip: Carolina on my Mind

  1. Mark Mersiowsky

    Dear Linda, UNC Chapel Hill, MS 98 is dated 1211 era (in era …), a Spanish form of datation very common; this means anno Domini 1173. So the manuscript is 12th century, in which the script fits better.
    Best regards
    Mark Mersiowsky, Stuttgart

  2. I think “Albaro Vegio” may be a personal name “Alvaro Vegio”, not a place. It occurs in a later 12th-century context here:

  3. Mark’s clarification of the date suggests that we are talking about the same Alvaro, who is recorded in 1175

    • Now we’re getting somewhere!

    • Farley Katz

      The Google Books search Peter refers to turns up Jose Luis Orella, Estudio Juridico Comparativo de los Fueros de San Sebastian, Estella, Vitoria y Logroño. The Appendix of Las Tenencias Navarras de Sancho el Sabio (1150-1194), lists Alvaro Vegio as a tenant in the year 1175. See
      p. 295.

      In the UNC volume, Alvaro Vegio is also described as “tenente.” So
      this is likely the same Alvaro. An old on line UNC
      catalog states “Written in 1173 in north Castile or Navarre.” Perhaps
      we can now place the ms in Logroño (La Rioja province).

  4. The French Coronation of the Virgin and David in Penitence leaves are from a Book of Hours illuminated by the Boucicaut Master, and it had a colophon stating that it was written in 1408. After a series of owners Chester Beatty broke it up, and miniatures appear for sale occasionally, e.g. here and here, with the colophon:

  5. Nick Wilding

    Great stuff!
    One correction: the annunciation is not upside down, but mirrored. I think this becomes a standard trick in renaissance paintings, but would like to know its earliest iteration?

  6. reidhardaway

    While I was at the University of South Carolina, Dr Gwara was my graduate advisor. He was an excellent mentor, and his commitment to original scholarship was inspiring. Thank you for the post.

  7. Pingback: On the Road: The Manuscript Road Trip Reaches Chapel Hill | The Chapel Hill Rare Book Blog

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