Manuscript Road Trip: The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies

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

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

As we head north out of Baltimore on I-95, we’ll cross the Delaware River and head into Wilmington, where there are manuscripts to be found at the University of Delaware.

The pre-1600 manuscripts at the University are part of a collection with the shelfmark “MSS 095.” There’s a list of the relevant records here and some highlights are described here. Of particular interest to me is a relatively recent acquisition, U. Delaware MSS 095 no. 31, a Book of Hours for the use of Noyon. There aren’t any images on the Special Collections website, but there are a few on this blogpost written by a Special Collections staff member, as well as a little information about the manuscript’s history. But I’d like to know more…how did it get to Delaware, and what can be gleaned about its history before that?

To answer that question, I’ll do what I always do when I have a provenance problem to solve: hop on the virtual superhighway and head to Philadelphia to visit the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

working map

In addition to being an actual institute in an actual library with actual staff organizing actual symposia and caring for actual (beautifully digitized) manuscripts, the Schoenberg Institute is responsible for some significant and important data curation, as it is the home of the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts. This is an extraordinary resource that has changed the field of provenance research, and we have collector and Big Data visionary Lawrence J. Schoenberg (1932-2014) to thank for it.

Barbara Brizdle and Lawrence J. Schoenberg

Barbara Brizdle and Lawrence J. Schoenberg

Larry Schoenberg (pictured here with his wife Barbara Brizdle) was a passionate collector of books and manuscripts, and the greater part of his collection now belongs to the University of Pennsylvania, part of the Institute that bears his name.  I was fortunate enough to work for Larry back in the 1990s, and throughout that period I came to appreciate him as a savvy collector, an appreciative connoisseur, and a kind and generous man whose enthusiasm was contagious and whose energy was boundless. He passed away earlier this year and will be greatly missed.

As a collector and an innovative businessman (he started out at IBM in the late 1950s), Larry understood both the intellectual importance and financial value of provenance, of the history of the books and manuscripts he owned. In the late 1990s, he acquired a spreadsheet-based dataset of manuscript sales to help with his own research into his collection. With the help of his wife Barbara and a group of student assistants, he began to add to the data by manually entering information, first from his personal collection of auction catalogues and later by systematically combing through the catalogue collections at the Grolier Club in New York or dealers such as Bernard Quaritch in London, eventually turning it into an Access database before finding it a permanent home online at the University of Pennsylvania. There, the database has continued to grow under the curatorship of a creative and brilliant staff who are constantly working on improving the data structure and interface.

One of my favorites, a ninth-century manuscript of Boethius (LJS 101, f. 1v)

One of my favorite Schoenberg manuscripts, a ninth-century Boethius (LJS 101, f. 1v)

Today, the Schoenberg Database is a growing dataset of (as of this writing) 221,408 records pertaining to pre-1600 manuscripts. Each record represents an “appearance” of a particular manuscript, by which I mean a transaction, a catalogue description, or an exhibit. This means that a particular manuscript might have multiple Schoenberg Database records associated with it. If it has appeared at auction or sale several times, each of those transactions might have its own record. I say “might” because even though the database is the largest of its kind, it is still growing as new and legacy catalogues are added. As users and staff discover that particular records represent the same manuscript (at two different sales, for example), those records are linked so that users can begin to track manuscript movements through space and time.

I’ll use the Delaware Book of Hours to show how this works.

From the University’s record, we know several things about the manuscript already:

Book of hours : Use of Noyon

Date: circa 1500

Extent: 130 leaves

Dimensions: 175 x 120 (95 x 60) mm

Lines per page: 20

This is a good amount of information to work with. Using the Advanced Search feature in the Schoenberg Database, we can easily search for “Book of Hours” in the title with a limit of 130 leaves. This results in a list of 111 records. Now we have to narrow it down further to see if we can find any records that pertain to the Delaware manuscript. Clicking on “Liturgical Use” in the limiter options along the right side of the page brings up a browse list of identified Use for those 111 records. Two are for the Use of Noyon:

Title: Book Of Hours
Folios: 130
Date: 1500
Place: France, Amiens?
Primary Seller: Sotheby’s
Catalogue: Western manuscripts and miniatures L06241 – 2006/12/05
Lot #: 45
Provenance: Le Camus; Paque

Duplicates: 29454

Title: Book Of Hours
Folios: 130
Date: 1450
Place: France, northern, Amiens
Primary Seller: Pirages
Catalogue: Catalogue 60 – 2011
Lot #: 444
Provenance: Cinot, Jeanne; Camuce(?), Madelaine; Paque, Jean Marie, of Boulogne
Both of these are sales records, one from Sotheby’s in 2006, the other from an Oregon dealer, Phillip Pirages, in 2011. The Sotheby’s sale includes a link to an earlier sale of the same manuscript, record 29454 (Swann Galleries, 1987). Additional details in the Sotheby’s and Swann records confirm that these were indeed sales of the Delaware manuscript (note the binding signed by Hans Asper, for example, and the early annotations). But what about the Pirages sale? Record 192622 appears to be the same manuscript as well, but it hasn’t been linked to the Sotheby’s and Swann records. In addition, a researcher interested in, say, Books of Hours created for the Use of Noyon would have no way of knowing that these records refer to a manuscript that currently belongs to the University of Delaware. But once I email the Schoenberg Database staff with this discovery, they will link the transactions and add the U. Delaware shelfmark to the Provenance fields of all three linked records.
Annunciation (Amiens, ca. 1500) (U. Delaware, Special Collections, MSS 095 no. 31)

Annunciation (Amiens, ca. 1500) (U. Delaware, Special Collections, MSS 095 no. 31)

Now that we know that the manuscript was sold by Sotheby’s on 5 December 2006 (lot 45), we can go to the Sotheby’s website and retrieve their description, which happily includes a few images. In addition, the Sotheby’s description gives details about the manuscript’s origin and later provenance. If we combine that information with what we’ve learned from the Schoenberg Database, we can now tell a fairly complete story of this manuscript’s journey from Picardy to Delaware. The first few owners were women:

1) Created around 1500 for the Use of Noyon, possibly in Amiens (Sotheby’s attributes the miniatures to Amiens based on the style), with an early inscription in rhymed French naming one Jeanne, daughter of Jean Cinot, as the owner and asking that the book be returned if lost, “Car sans heures ne puys dien prier” (“Without these hours she cannot say her prayers”);
2) Inscriptions of “Madelaine Camuce” dated 1615 and 1657 on the flyleaves;
3) Inscription of “Jean Marie Paque” of Boulogne on a flyleaf, from the 17th or 18th century;
4) Rebound by Hans Asper (Geneva, Switzerland) in the nineteenth century;
4) Sold by Swann Galleries (New York), 2 April 1987 (cat. 1432), no. 112;
5) Sold by Sotheby’s London, 5 December 2006, lot 45;
6) Sold by Phillip Pirages (Oregon), 2011 (cat. 60), no. 444;
7) Currently University of Delaware, Special Collections MSS 095 no. 31.
That’s quite a journey.
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Philadelphia Museum of Art

In addition to the Schoenberg database and manuscript collection at Penn, there are several other collections of note in the Philadelphia area, including The Free Library of Philadelphia, the Glencairn Museum, the Rosenbach Museum and Library, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Free Library’s database is easy to use and intuitive to navigate, filled with lots of gorgeous images. A major 2001 exhibition of manuscripts from Philadelphia collections, Leaves of Gold, lives online here. You’ll find numerous images of Philadelphia’s manuscript treasures in the online exhibit gallery. It’s a legacy site, nearly 15 years old, so the images might not be as accessible or high-resolution as one might hope, but the site includes some of the greatest art to be found in the city and its environs.

Glencairn Museum (Bryn Athyn, PA)

Glencairn Museum (Bryn Athyn, PA)

 Next time, we’ll keep heading north to visit the Jersey Shore.


Filed under Medieval Manuscripts

6 responses to “Manuscript Road Trip: The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies

  1. Alexa Sand

    Lisa, I enjoy all your posts, but this one is superlative and will be required reading for students in my manuscripts seminar from now on! Thank you for the wonderful explanation of an invaluable research resource.

  2. Very interesting post. As most of us may never get our hands on a genuine medieval manuscript, these posts are fascinating and informative.

  3. dotporter

    Reblogged this on .

  4. dotporter

    Reblogged at Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies. Thanks for the wonderful post, Lisa!

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