When my son decided to matriculate at Miami University of Ohio back in 2015, he had no idea that he would spend the rest of his life explaining that he attended “Miami University (the one in Ohio, not the one in Florida!).” The distinction is important – the University of Miami (the one in Florida) vs. Miami University (the one in Oxford, Ohio). He’s been there for several years already and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I had not visited Miami’s Special Collections until I went to see my son last week. Given what we all know about medieval manuscripts in Ohio (this is my third post devoted to the state), I should not have been surprised to find an excellent assortment of leaves and several very fine codices on the third floor of King Library. My thanks to curator Bill Modrow for facilitating the visit and to Miami Professor Anna Klosowska for exploring the collection with me.
Miami University of Ohio (MUO) has acquired several loose leaves over the years, including a previously unknown leaf from a beautiful humanistic manuscript of Terence’s Comedies that was a victim of Otto Ege’s biblioclastic practices; it is also known as Ege Handlist (HL) no. 78 (see Gwara, Otto Ege’s Manuscripts, pp. 145-146; all references to Handlist numbers below come from Gwara as well). I’ve mentioned this manuscript before (here, citing the leaf at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, and here, at the University of Vermont), and Barbara Shailor reproduced the Rutgers University Library leaf as Fig. I.2 in her 2003 article, “Otto Ege: His Manuscript Fragment Collection and the Opportunities Presented by Electronic Technology.” According to the great paleographer Albinia de la Mare, this manuscript was written by the humanistic scribe Giuliano di Antonio of Prato, Florence in the mid-fifteenth century (Shailor, p. 12 and note 6). By 1937, it was no. 65 in Ege’s personal collection as recorded in the de Ricci Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada (II:1947). According to the de Ricci description, the manuscript originally comprised 103 leaves and – in 1937 – was still bound in its original wooden boards covered with brown leather. Ege acquired it from Dawson’s Bookshop in Los Angeles in 1935, and was selling single leaves by the early 1940s (Gwara, pp. 57-58). Gwara records nine known leaves (see pp. 145-146), a list to which the MUO leaf can now be added.
This fifteenth-century gradual leaf, perhaps from Spain, is also noteworthy – not because of its music or script, which are not at all uncommon, but because of the small scrap of cloth adhered to the outer margin of the recto (about 25 x 50 mm):
This bit of embroidery was cut from a larger piece of cloth and adhered to the leaf to be used as a bookmark tab. This leaf preserves Masses for Sts. Fabian and Sebastian (January 25) and for the fifth day during the Octave of St. Vincent (January 27); one of these days was important enough to a user of this choirbook that they felt it worthwhile to mark the page.
Otto Ege was not the only dealer assembling and marketing leaf collections in the twentieth century. MUO owns a portfolio titled “Pages from the Past” that was assembled by Foliophiles Inc. in 1964. This set includes specimens covering a wide spectrum of humanity’s written record, from papyrus documents and cuneiform tablets through medieval manuscript leaves all the way to examples of fine printing from the twentieth century. A similar set belongs to the St. Louis Public Library, and another can be found at the University of Missouri – Columbia.
The MUO library also owns several codices, one of which is particularly noteworthy: a lovely and heavily illustrated Book of Hours from Flanders (possibly Ghent), produced around 1460-70. Although the Hours of the Virgin is for the Use of Rome and the Office of the Dead is of indeterminate Use, the calendar and litany point to Flanders (spelling Ursula “Hursula” and Gertrude “Ghertrudis”, for example), as does the artistic style. The manuscript comprises 124 leaves, measures 145 x 100 mm, has fourteen full-page miniatures and nine historiated initials, and is bound in 17th-century gilt armorial brown calf over pasteboard (the arms – a Katherine wheel surmounted by the barred helm of a Count below a lion rampant holding an ax or perhaps a cross – are as yet unidentified). It was purchased from Bromer Booksellers (Boston) in 1997 as Miami University of Ohio’s two millionth volume. The manuscript’s provenance prior to 1997 is unknown, and I can find no clear trace of it in the Schoenberg Database.
The Book of Hours is so lovely that I can’t bear to show just a few miniatures…here are all of them:
The deep blue backgrounds and the brick-and-mortar structures, among other features, point to Flanders as the place of origin. Quite fortuitously, I have found another manuscript by the same workshop if not the same artist (Glasgow University Library Sp Coll MS Euing 3). The parallels are clear in this side-by-side of the Annunciation to the Shepherds (MUO at left, Glasgow at right): note the similarities in the treatment of the tiny lambs, the style of the rock cliff, trees, background, grass, and shrubs, as well as costumes and facial features.
If anyone has a more specific attribution, please let me know. Medieval artists are rarely known by name – instead, art historians give them descriptive epithets. Until we know otherwise, I’ll call this artist the Master of…well…how about The Master of the Tiny Lambs?
Before I flew back to Boston from Cincinnati, I had the opportunity to visit a private collector there. He had contacted me several weeks ago, saying that he had inherited several dozen leaves purchased from Otto Ege by his step-father’s first wife…would I be interested in seeing some images? By a wonderful co-incidence, I was already planning to be in Cincinnati just a few weeks later, and he invited me to see the leaves in person. And what a trove! In addition to several single leaves acquired from Ege (such as HL 13 and HL 150), he had an entire Ege portfolio, the set titled “Original Leaves from Famous Bibles/ Nine Centuries 1121 – 1935 AD” (if you want to get technical about it, this particular example is a combination of Series A (200 sets of 37 leaves, issued in 1936) and Series B (100 sets of 60 leaves, issued in 1938) (see Gwara, p. 36)). Series B typically begins with four manuscript leaves, as described in the accompanying Broadside:
The Broadside in this private collection, however, has been altered. Not only that, but it was edited by the hand of Louise Ege herself. This particular portfolio was probably purchased before Otto’s death in 1951, since he had once claimed that Series A had sold out by around 1940 (Gwara, p. 42). This set was likely acquired shortly before 1940, then, because by the time this set was purchased, certain leaves were already no longer available and Otto and Louise were offering substitutions. On the Broadside for this set, Louise notes, for example, that of leaf no. 4 (usually HL 54) there are only “a few left.” No. 2 (HL 59) was completely out of stock.
These substitutions are evident in the collection itself. No. 1 (HL 56, a leaf from an Armenian Bible) is present, but the second (and out-of-stock) leaf (HL 59) has been replaced by HL 76, an equally lovely but totally different specimen of a twelfth-century Bible, this one with marginal glossing. Even though the two manuscripts are completely different (a typical example of HL 59 shown below left, the replacement HL 76 below right), Otto and Louise didn’t change the label when they made the substitution, since the description was vague enough to suffice for either manuscript:
The delicate thirteenth-century Italian Bible HL 58 serves as the third leaf, as expected.
The fourth leaf should be a small two-column Bible leaf from HL 54. According to the label on the matte, that manuscript is a “Dominican Manuscript written in Paris” in the unrealistically-precise year 1240 AD. In the present set, this was replaced with a leaf from HL 9, another small-format thirteenth-century Bible which Ege dated to the equally absurdly-precise year 1250 AD.* The date on the label has been edited accordingly:
After Otto’s death in 1951, Louise took over the leaf-marketing business. She had a gift for marketing and sales, reaching out to institutions and collectors throughout the country promoting the business. As correspondence preserved with this private collection demonstrates, after Otto’s death she kept up the relationships cultivated during Otto’s lifetime and gave the same time and attention to small private collections as to large cultural institutions:
4 – 17 – 56
Dear Mrs. ***,
Would you at present be interested in having a selection of leaves for choice or perhaps for sale. I could send you a selection of hand written Bible leaves. If you wish them unmounted I can give you a very special price, perhaps I can also find some mounted ones which are reasonable.
Would you also be interested in some leaves from Books of Hours. I am not sure just what all your special interests are.
Would you care for some inexpensive assortment of unmounted leaves? I’ll be glad to try. Are you connected with the University [of Cincinnati]?
Mrs. Otto F. Ege
* On pp. 119 and 137 of Otto Ege’s Manuscripts, Gwara notes that in a different portfolio, “Original Leaves from Famous Books: Eight Centuries,” leaves of HL 54 are sometimes replaced by leaves of HL 9. The present set appears to be the only recorded example of the same substitution taking place in “Original Leaves from Famous Bibles, Nine Centuries,” but many examples of this portfolio have yet to be carefully catalogued and identified using Gwara’s handlist numbers. Peter Kidd has written about the marketing of the Bible sets and others here.