Category Archives: Medieval Manuscripts

Manuscript Road Trip: Flagellants, Thieves, a War Refugee, and a Very Unscrupulous Bookdealer

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

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

This is the story of the manuscript that was, until 12:30 PM this afternoon, known as Boston Public Library MS f Med. 203. It is a late fourteenth-century collection of statutes governing a Venetian confraternity, a type of manuscript known as a “mariegola.” Today, it was formally returned to the Republic of Italy by the United States Government.

At the outset, I want to thank Lyle Humphrey (North Carolina Museum of Art) for sharing her own work on the mariegola with me and for a very congenial and productive collaboration on this project over the last several years. (n.b. portions of this post appeared in print in the December 2012 Newsletter of the Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies)

First, some background. In Renaissance Venice, confraternities and workmen’s guilds played a fundamental role in religious, social and civic life. These groups promoted religious life but were independent of the church and offered an alternative form of service for church members who did not want to commit themselves to the strict behaviors of monastic or convent life. Perhaps the most celebrated incarnation of the Venetian confraternity was the scuola dei battuti (literally the gathering “of the beaten”), whose organizing principle was to atone for the sins of humanity by engaging in periodic, public self-flagellation. These lay societies celebrated religious feasts, funerals, and other special days by putting on white hooded processional robes and marching through the streets of Venice scourging themselves.

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The Scuola della Valverde, also known as the Scuola di Santa Maria della Misericordia, was one such organization. Founded in 1308 on Valverde, an island on the north shore of Venice, the original fourteenth-century church and meetinghouse were replaced in the fifteenth century and updated again in the seventeenth, such that only remnants of the original buildings survive today. Some of the medieval artwork from the compound survives as well, such as the fifteenth-century tympanum that stood above the door to the confraternity house and is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (above).

In this sculptured relief, the Blessed Virgin Mary stands, the infant Jesus on her chest, metaphorically sheltering a group of confraternity brethren beneath her outstretched cloak. The Virgin is their protectress and intercessor. Behind her is the Tree of Jesse, a symbolic representation of the family tree tracing Jesus’ descent from King David (Jesse’s son) in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah that the messiah would come from the line of Jesse.

Although artwork such as the tympanum reminded the brothers of the spiritual foundations of the confraternity, like any organization, the Scuola needed earthly rules and regulations in order to run smoothly. The book laying out the rules of a confraternity such as this was called a mariegola, a word whose origin is not entirely understood but that may be a conflation of “Mary” and “regola” (rules). Mariegole texts and decoration have much to tell us about the spiritual, moral, aesthetic, and professional concerns of confraternity members, who represented a large, diverse segment of the Venetian populace. Handwritten in the local vernacular – that is, the 14th-century Venetian dialect of Italian – and lavishly illuminated, mariegola manuscripts were treasured by their patrons.

203 1As part of my work cataloguing the more than 250 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts belonging to the Boston Public Library back in 2010-2012, I encountered a beautifully illuminated fourteenth-century manuscript that had been tentatively identified as a mariegola used by the Scuola della misericordia on Valverde, although there was no physical evidence to confirm this identification. At the time, it was known as manuscript f Med. 203. The manuscript comprises three sections that may or may not have been originally bound together: the original late fourteenth-century mariegola; additions up to the year 1505; and a blank register intended as a place for the brethren to sign their names.

The first section is of greatest interest. Most of the twenty-six illuminated initials in this section contain busts of saints, priests, or confraternity members, who are sometimes shown gazing toward and pointing to the statute they illustrate. 203 8vSome contain images that refer directly to the rules that they introduce, such as the one on folio 8v (at right) of a Saint holding a votive candle that illustrates the chapter governing the use of candles in confraternity ritual.

Self-flagellants

The initial on folio 6, a hooded man holding a small sack, illustrates the chapter governing the storage of the confraternity’s gold and other treasure. On folio 20v, a brother delivers a small sack to an invalid, demonstrating the requirement that brothers should bring aid to the sick. The most fascinating initials, however, are those on folios 7v and 32v (at left) that illustrate not the chapter they accompany but the general commandment of self-mortification. Each brother wears the traditional white robe of the battuti with an opening in the back exposing flesh that is already bloodied from the scourge.

Most mariegole are not illustrated so thoroughly. But they do all have one thing in common: every known mariegola began with an elaborate, full-page painting related to the philosophy and work of the confraternity. There is no elaborately gilt full-page frontispiece in the BPL mariegola. The dark shadows on the verso of the blank flyleaf (below left) are mirror-image offsets of gold leaf, proving that there once was a frontispiece that has since gone missing. Frontispieces such as this are often removed from mariegole manuscripts to be sold as works of art in their own right, and there are many such frontispieces to be found in galleries, museums, and private collections around the world. In 1905, a mariegola frontispiece said to be from the Valverde scuola was reproduced by Pompeo Molmenti in his book, La storia di Venezia nella vita privata; there can be no doubt that it is the missing frontispiece:

BPL f. med. 203 opening

Frontispiece of the marigola digitally restored to its proper place; note the matching offsets on the facing verso

Not only are the offsets on the Boston Public Library flyleaf a perfect match for the gold in the miniature, but the icongraphy of the Virgin Mary in the initial is identical to the imagery in the Scuola’s later tympanum (above). In addition, the missing frontispiece names the Scuola and gives the date of the manuscript in Roman numerals in a cartouche at the top: MCCCLXXXXII. This discovery confirmed that the BPL manuscript was without doubt a mariegola from the Valverde scuola written in 1392.

When dealing with medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, one rule to keep in mind is that scribes almost always arranged their sheets of parchment such that the often dark, yellowish “hair side” of the parchment faced the corresponding side of the next sheet, as opposed to facing the lighter, smoother “flesh side.” This aesthetic consideration, designed to create a consistently-colored and –textured opening across facing pages, is a very useful feature for studying manuscripts, because when one opens a book and sees hair side facing flesh side, it can be assumed that something is amiss, and that a leaf has been added or is missing.

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Bright “flesh” side on the left facing the yellowish “hair” side on the right…a sure sign that something is wrong!

As it was configured when I first encountered it, the BPL mariegola was full of hair-side-facing-flesh-side openings. In addition, many leaves had gilt offsets that did not match their facing pages. Looking closely, however, it was possible to identify pairs of illuminated leaves and their matching offsets that were separated by as many as twenty-five leaves. Even so, there remained several leaves without a matching facing leaf. Not only was the manuscript misbound, but it was also incomplete.

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Two leaves, formerly misbound, digitally restored to their correct order. Note the matching mirror-image offsets and catchword.

Combining the process of matching offsets with other codicological evidence, I was able to reconstruct much of the original order of the leaves. But with limited Italian language skills, and certainly no training in fourteenth-century Venetian, I was unable to re-sequence leaves that had no gilt initials and had reached a dead end. As it turns out, as I was working on the codicological puzzle that is the BPL mariegola, a scholar named Lyle Humphrey was solving its textual mysteries as part of her doctoral dissertation. In a marathon brainstorming phone conversation one night, we managed, by combining my codicological data with her textual clues, to completely reconstruct the mariegola’s original codicological structure. By the time we were done, we calculated that, in addition to the missing frontispiece, there were eleven leaves still unaccounted for. That explains the BPL leaves that had no offset – they were originally facing leaves that were now missing. Four of those missing leaves formerly belonged to the Toledo Museum of Art (with thanks to Scott Gwara for their identification) and have since been repatriated; another was sold at Christie’s Auction House and then by London dealer Sam Fogg in 1994 and remains untraced.

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Be on the lookout for this leaf, formerly f. 2 of the mariegola, sold at Christie’s in 1994, and now untraced.

As thrilling as those discoveries were, the four Toledo leaves revealed yet another issue to be resolved. The rubrics in the BPL manuscript include chapter titles only, but no chapter numbers. The Toledo leaves, on the other hand, do include chapter numbers, numbers that have been scraped away from the BPL leaves. Examination of the scraped sections under ultraviolet light revealed that the perpetrator of this abuse not only took a blade to the ink, he actually used some kind of cleanser to completely remove every trace of the original chapter numbers, making the erasures impossible to read.

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The chapter numbers were not only scraped, they were obliterated!

All was not lost, however. Additional ultraviolet exposure led to the discovery of seventeenth-century foliation in the extreme upper right corner of each leaf, now written over by modern pencil but partially legible. The numbers were legible enough, in fact, to allow us to confirm that our proposed reconstruction was correct:

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Original quire structure, giving current (i.e. misbound) folio numbers and incorporating the missing leaves, those formerly belonging to the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA), and one sold by Sam Fogg (now untraced)

After all this, we knew quite a lot about this manuscript. We knew it was written in 1392 at the Venetian Scuola de Santa Maria della Misericordia di Valverde; we knew it originally had an elaborate illuminated frontispiece; we knew the original order of the pages and had identified some of the missing leaves. Others of the missing leaves were reproduced in part in a publication of 1886, so at least we had some record of them. But we still hadn’t answered one of the most important and interesting questions one can ask about a pre-modern European manuscript in an American collection: how did it get there? How did this manuscript get from 14th-century Venice to 21st-Century Boston?

Let’s start at the beginning. We know that the manuscript was written in Venice for the use of the confraternity, in 1392. We also know that it was used continuously by the brothers until at least 1505, because section 2 includes entries up to that date. Soon after the final entry was made in 1505, the manuscript probably fell out of use to be replaced by one of the later surviving mariegolas. The brothers kept it as a treasured relic until Napoleon ordered the dissolution of all such religious organizations in 1803, at which point the confraternity’s books and manuscripts were transferred to the Archivio di Stato in Venice.

Two English-speaking scholars published descriptions of the manuscript in the nineteenth century, having studied it at the Archive: Edward Cheney wrote about the manuscript in 1867, and described the binding as “the original dark calf, ornamented with brass clasps and knobs.” Travel-writer John Ruskin, in a letter of 1877, described the initials as “of no great artistic merit; but fairly good, and of unusual interest in giving for the initial letter of every rule, a picture of the due performance of it.”

Sala diplomatica Regina MargheritaIn 1879, the manuscript went on permanent display in the Archive’s Queen Margerita Hall. It was described in the catalogue of 1880 as a “Mariegola of the Scuola di S. Maria di Valverde della Misericordia; parchment codex from the fourteenth century.” The catalogue goes on to describe the missing frontispiece: “The first page is illustrated with prophets and other saints surrounding the image of Christ bound to a column with brothers bowing before him. A large initial shows the Virgin with the infant upon her chest, sheltering a group of brothers beneath her mantel. The 42 chapters are illustrated with figures of saints, people and animals; original binding of brown calf with brass.”

We’ve just learned several rather important facts. In 1880, the manuscript still had its frontispiece. In 1867 and again in 1880, the binding of the manuscript was described as the original binding of brown calfskin over wooden boards with brass cornerpieces, probably dating from the early sixteenth century, shortly after the final additions were made to the manuscript. Unfortunately, that isn’t what the binding looked like when I studied the manuscript back in 2012. Instead, it was bound in heavily-worn modern blue silk over pasteboard. These nineteenth-century descriptions tell us that the manuscript was in its original binding, with its frontispiece intact, until at least 1880.

The mariegola, in its original binding and sequence, continued to live in its exhibit case until World War II. In the late 1940s, the Archive’s exhibit was taken down for safekeeping, at which point several manuscripts – including the mariegola – disappeared. In the 1950s, a list of missing items was compiled and sent to the local police. The thieves were captured and incarcerated. But by then, the trail had grown cold and the manuscripts were presumed lost.

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Detail of the list of missing manuscripts, filed by the Archivio di Stato with the Venetian police in the 1950s; the Mariegola is the first item on the list

We simply don’t know for sure what happened next. What is clear is that when the manuscript resurfaced in the 1950s in the United States, the frontispiece was gone (having disappeared before 1905, when it was published as a detached single leaf); at least eleven leaves were missing; and the manuscript had been removed from its original binding, the leaves mis-ordered with the chapter numbers erased to hide the fact, and the remnant rebound in blue silk-covered boards. I can only speculate that this work was done by an unscrupulous bookdealer trying to hide the manuscript’s origins or at the very least to disguise the fact that the frontispiece and many other leaves were missing. In this woe-begotten state, the manuscript may have next come into the hands of a collector named Mieczyslaw Zagajski, whose bookplate is affixed inside the front cover.

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Mieczyslaw Zagajski was a Warsaw industrialist and well-known collector of art and Judaica in Poland. Born in 1895, he began amassing his collection in the 1920s while still a student. Eventually he housed his massive collection of silver, textiles, books, manuscripts and paintings, in six rooms of his Warsaw house. After relocating to England in 1939 to join the Polish government in exile, he emigrated to New York in 1940 as a consul for the exiled Polish government. Zagajski’s collection in Warsaw was looted by the Nazis in his absence, so, like so many refugees, he started over in America. He Americanized his name to “Michael Zagayski” and began to rebuild his collection. It is during this period, in post-war New York, that Zagayski may have acquired the remnants of the Mariegola. Why would Zagayski, a reknowned collector of the finest Judaica, have been interested in a manuscript that had nothing Judaic about it? It could be that the colorful, gilt initials appealed to Zagayski’s aesthetic sensibilities, but without knowing the marketing tactics employed by our anonymous and unscrupulous bookdealer in offering the book to Zagayski, we can’t know for sure. We also don’t know exactly when and how the book left his ownership. Zagayski auctioned a large part of his rebuilt collection at Sotheby’s in 1964, but this manuscript was not among the offerings. It’s even possible that he never owned the manuscript at all, and that the bookplate was added by a bookdealer to provide a legitimate provenance. The only thing we DO know for certain is that the book passed through the hands of New York bookdealer Philip Duschnes (whom we have met before because of his business associations with Otto Ege) in 1955, when it was purchased in good faith by the Boston Public Library.

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Boston Public Library, Copley Square, Boston

By the time it was acquired by the Boston Public Library, no one knew it had been stolen from the Archivio di Stato, only that it might have originated at the Scuola on Valverde. And so it remained safely ensconced at the Library for more than fifty years, under the shelf mark MS f Med. 203.

Fast forward to 2012. After conducting my research and consulting with Lyle Humphrey, I knew we could prove that this was indeed one of the manuscripts that had gone missing from the Venetian Archivio di Stato in the late 1940s. I reported my findings to the Keeper of Manuscripts at the Boston Public Library, who immediately reached out to the Italian government with an offer to repatriate the manuscript. But repatriation, even when voluntary, is a complicated business, involving lawyers and treaties and multiple government agencies on both sides. After a lengthy and mandatory investigation by the United States Department of Homeland Security, an investigation to which I contributed as a consultant, the manuscript – along with several other items (including BPL MS pb Med. 147, a detached frontispiece from a different mariegola) – was returned to the Italian government in a repatriation ceremony  that took place at the Boston Public Library on April 19, 2017.

The repatriation was a formal, choreographed affair (photos below), with speeches by a representative of the Italian government, the acting District Attorney, the regional head of Homeland Security (which oversees such investigations), Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and the Boston Public Library’s Head of Special Collections, Beth Prindle. Official Certificates of Transfer were signed by officials of both countries, hands were shaken, and photos were taken. It is a bittersweet moment for those who have cared for this manuscript during the decades it spent in Boston, and also bittersweet for me, since I spent several years studying and handling and cataloguing this beautiful and fascinating book. It’s always hard to say goodbye to an old friend, but I’m proud to have a played a small part in sending this manuscript home.

The Repatriation ceremony (hover over or click each image for captions)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cecchetti, B. La vita dei veneziani nel 1300 (Venice, 1885–1886. Reprint, Bologna: Arnaldo Forni, 1980), pp. 132–133, and tav. III figs. 5, 7; tav. IV figs. 10–13, 16–19, 21–24.

Cheney, E. “Remarks on the Illuminated Official Manuscripts of the Venetian Republic” in Philobiblon Society Miscellanies XI (1867–68), pp. 14-17.

Humphrey, Lyle. “The Illumination of Confraternity and Guild Statutes in Venice, ca. 1260-1500: Mariegola Production, Iconography, and Use,” Ph.D. dissertation, Institute of Fine Arts, 2007, pp. 268-274 (“The 1392 Mariegola of the Scuola della Valverde”); Appendix A, pp. 290-298 (“Reconstruction of the 1392 Mariegola of the Scuola della Valverde); Appendix B, pp. 443-454, cat. 24.1-3; and plates 24.1, 24.2, 24.3a-q, 201, and 202.

Humphrey, Lyle. “The Lost 1392 Mariegola della Scuola di Santa Maria della Misericordia o della Valverde, Rediscovered,” in F. Toniolo and G. Toscano, eds., Miniatura. Lo sguardo e la parola (Studi in onore di Giordana Mariani Canova) (Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana, 2012), 163-169.

Humphrey, Lyle. La miniatura per le scuole e le arti veneziane: Mariegole dal 1260 al 1500, Collana di studi e ricerche sulla Cultura Popolare Veneta realizzata su iniziativa della Regione del Veneto (Costabissara, 2015), cat. 23.1-3.

Molmenti, Pompeo G., La storia di Venezia nella vita privata: Dalle origini alla caduta della Repubblica. 4th ed. 3 vols. Bergamo: Ed. Istituto Italiano di Arti Grafiche, 1905–1908.

Van Akin, B., Christmas Story: John Ruskin’s Venetian letters of 1876-1877 (Wilmington, 1990), p. 237 ff.

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Manuscript Road Trip: Back to Lima

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

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

I’ve written about Ohio dealer/biblioclast Otto F. Ege in several blogposts (here and here in particular), but there is one chapter of his story that I haven’t written about in detail: his decades-long relationship with the Lima Public Library.Lima Public Library

The Lima Public Library is a small but bustling center for reading and communing in the center of Lima, Ohio, about halfway between Toledo and Cincinnati in the western part of the state. It’s a small town in the middle of farm country. It’s a place where you would never expect to find an important collection of medieval manuscript fragments…but you’d be wrong. What follows is a unusual and fascinating chapter in the story of medieval manuscript connoisseurship in the United States.

Screenshot (142)_LI.jpgIn 1930, Lima librarian Georgie McAfee wrote to Ege after hearing him lecture, to propose an unusual scheme: the Lima Public Library would sell manuscript leaves as an agent for Ege, retaining a portion of the proceeds to benefit their Staff Loan Fund.  The arrangement lasted for decades, continuing under the direction of Ege’s widow Louise after his death in 1951. Thousands of leaves were sold, and thousands of dollars were raised.

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Lima Librarian Mary Lathrop holds a page (now lost) of this gorgeous Flemish antiphonal  (Gwara Handlist 82) (Lima News, 12 March 1939, p. 7).

An extensive archive at the Library preserves decades of correspondence between McAfee and Ege in which she would write to request leaves of particular manuscripts to sell, and he would reply with notes about what was available. When she once wrote to insist that, because of slowing sales, the Library would voluntarily reduce their commission, Ege responded by insisting that they continue to retain one-third of the proceeds. He also wrote to promote new acquisitions: in early October, 1942, he told McAfee about “nine new leaves, the FINEST, Beauvais France, 1285 (will be sent shortly).” This was a reference to the Beauvais Missal, which his business partner, NY dealer Philip Duschnes, would purchase and dismember several weeks later.

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Over the course of this partnership between business associates who became friends, McAfee and her staff occasionally purchased leaves themselves, some to keep at home and others for the Library’s collection. As a result, the Lima Public Library currently owns more than 75 manuscript leaves, including one of Ege’s “Fifty Original Leaves” portfolios, making it one of the largest leaf collections in a U.S. public library.

Lima Beauvais Missal

The Lima Public Library’s “Fifty Original Leaves of Medieval Manuscripts” portfolio, open to no. 15, a leaf of the Beauvais Missal.

Scholars have known about the Lima Public Library’s collection for years (see, e.g.,  S. Gwara, Otto Ege’s Manuscripts (2013), p. 22 and note 54). But I’m here to tell you a previously unknown part of the story.

In November of 2016, I heard a lecture at the Beinecke Library delivered by retired Yale University chemistry professor and Lima native Michael McBride in which he reminisced about his personal connection with the Lima Public Library and its leaf-selling business. The fact that Prof. McBride and his siblings own more than a dozen Ege-sourced leaves suggested that other Limans might have some of this material hanging on walls, stored in attics, or resting in trunks. With Prof. McBride’s help, I reached out to Gary Fraser, director of the Lima Public Library, and to their public relations director, Karen Sommer, who helped me arrange a two-day “antiques road show” event at the Library. In exchange for allowing me to photograph their leaves for my own records, I would happily provide information to owners about their material.

My visit to the Lima Public Library on May 30-31 was publicized on the Library’s website and Facebook page, through flyers distributed at a local church, and via this brief spot on the local TV news (“The hunt is on for illuminated manuscripts!”). Overall, the response was fantastic. Ten attendees brought in a total of thirty previously-unknown Ege leaves, including some from well-known manuscripts (at least to those of us who study Ege and his legacy). Here are a few of them (hover over or click on each image to see its caption):

Many of the owners had connections to the Lima Public Library, such as a
great-aunt or family friend who had worked there in the 1940s. Some spoke fondly of Miss McAfee’s “Closet Shop,” an antique store she ran for many years where, among other things, she continued to sell manuscript leaves. Even if they didn’t

Miss Evelyn

97-year-old Miss Evelyn with her Book of Hours leaf (probably Gwara Handlist 151)

know very much about their leaves, they knew they were precious, and they all appreciated learning more about them. 97-year-old Miss Evelyn (shown at left) brought in three leaves, including a lovely leaf from a mid-fifteenth-century Book of Hours (probably Gwara Handlist 151) that happened to include the feminine Latin phrase “famulae tuae” in the text of the Marian prayer “Obsecro Te.” She was very moved when I told her that that meant the book had been made for a woman.

Some of the owners mentioned that they had family members with leaves who had left Lima, and I hope to be in touch with some of those ex-pats in the coming weeks.

Famulae Tuae

On the first line of Miss Evelyn’s Book of Hours leaf: “famulae tuae”

Ege’s relationship with the Lima Public Library created a pocket of manuscript aficionados in the middle of farm-country Ohio. It was a joy getting to know them.

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Manuscript Road Trip: Manuscrits de Québec

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

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

There are several hundred medieval and Renaissance manuscripts to be found in the Canadian province of Quebec, although very few have a digital presence. The small list published in the de Ricci Census was only slightly increased by the Supplement. Both were fleshed out more fully by Bruno Roy in 1999 (“Spicilegium Montis Regii, Description de quelques manuscrits conservés à Montréal,” Memini. Travaux et documents, 3, 1999, p. 171-194) and by a special issue of Memini published in 2011 and available online here. The latter is a very useful work – with brief notices, studies of individual manuscripts, and extensive bibliography – that adds significantly to the information compiled by myself and Melissa Conway in our Directory of Collections in the United States and Canada with Pre-1600 Manuscript Holdings (pp. 419-420); unfortunately, we didn’t know about Memini until our work had already been published. The next online update to our Directory will include all of these collections as well as the relocation information (such as the disposition of the manuscript leaves recorded by de Ricci as belonging to F. Cleveland Morgan) traced by Brenda Dunn-Lardeau and Janick Auberger in their introduction to the Memini volume. In sum, several hundred pre-1600 European manuscripts can be found today in at least ten collections in Quebec, most of which are in Montreal:

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Québec City: Lots to see, but no manuscripts

 

Bibliothèque et Archives nationale du Québec (Montreal)

Bibliothèque centrale de la Ville de Montréal (Montreal)

Concordia University (Montreal)

Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf (Montreal)

McGill University (Montreal)

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Montreal)

Musée McCord (Montreal)

Université de Montréal (Montreal)

Université du Québec à Montréal, Bibliothèque des Arts (Montreal)

Musée de la civilisation, Musée de l’Amérique Francophone (Québec)

Because this blog is primarily focused on digital access to medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, we’ll spend today in Montreal, where there are several collections with online handlists, images, or records.

Canada Map

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 12.45.14 PM.pngThe University of Montreal provides a detailed online handlist of medieval material, but without images (except for this image, which is on the cover of the PDF). Most of the objects listed are binding fragments, including this late-eleventh-century Italian legendary, of which the collection holds eight leaves. Of particular interest is that the handlist records details about the particular early printed books from which the fragments were removed. While European fragment collections sometimes retain this information, since the fragments were often removed from the early printed books by the owning institution, most North American collections acquired their fragments long after they had been pulled out of bindings and have little to no knowledge of the source bindings. For more on the collection, see Joyce Boro, “Notes on Libraries and Collections: Rare Books and Special Collections,University of Montreal/Livres rares et collections spéciales de Université de Montréal,” Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of manuscripts and printing history (Vol. 10, 2007), pp. 287 ff.
On the other side of Mont-Royal, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts owns one codex and around forty leaves, but the online search engine is difficult to use when searching for manuscripts. After some experimentation, a search for “vélin” had the most success, bringing up records for three leaves and a Book of Hours (along with a few later objects on vellum). For more information on these and other early manuscripts, see E. Leesti, Les manuscrits liturgiques du Moyen âge. Liturgical Manuscripts of the Middle Ages (Montréal, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, 1987).
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Montreal MFA acq. 1955.3770 (St. Sebaldus, by Simon Bening)

MMFA acq. 1955.3770 (at left) is a miniature of St. Sebaldus enthroned holding the Nuremberg cathedral on his lap, with a lively bas-de page jousting scene. The miniature – from an as-yet-unidentified Book of Hours – has been convincingly attributed by Elizabeth Leesti, Sandra Hindman, and others to Simon Bening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lovely late-thirteenth-century French miniature of the Adoration of the Magi (acq. 1962.1355) shown below may have been part of a full cycle of miniatures at the beginning of a Psalter. It was given to the Museum by F. Cleveland Morgan, although it isn’t included in his Census listing (II:2233).

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The Annunciation miniature below (acq. 1962.1357) comes from a ca. 1430 Book of Hours. It was also given to the Museum by F. Cleveland Morgan but, like the Adoration miniature, was not recorded in the Morgan Census.1962_1357_IN2

 

The final online record is for a late-fifteenth-century Book of Hours (acq. 1943.1372). The manuscript was donated to the Museum by Vera Pratt (called “Mrs. George D. Pratt” in the record), whose New York collection is recorded in the Census (II:1809-10). This codex may be her No. 2, although the Museum record doesn’t include enough codicological descriptors to allow for a firm identification (it is worth noting that the Pratt manuscript is identified in the Schoenberg Database as having been offered – but not sold –  at Sotheby’s London, 22 June 1982, lot 79, but the identification of the lot as Pratt no. 2 may be incorrect…if anyone has the catalogue and could take a look at the lot for me, I would be very grateful!).

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This ca. 1470 Book of Hours belonging to Concordia University in Montreal is described in detail in the Memini volume, which includes several images in addition to that at right, an image of Death attacking a woman in a cemetery illustrating the Office of the Dead.

Several manuscripts from the Université du Québec à Montréal’s Bibliothèque des Arts are discussed in the Memini volume as well, with multiple images. See also the exhibition catalogue, Le Livre médiéval et humaniste dans les collections de lUQAM. Actes de la Journée détudes sur les livres anciens suivis du Catalogue de lexposition « Lhumanisme et les imprimeurs français au XVIes. », dir. B. Dunn-Lardeau et J. Biron (Université du Québec à Montréal, Figura. Le Centre de recherche sur le texte et l’imaginaire, 2006). Here are the manuscripts discussed in Memini:

MS 1: 13th-c. Paris pocket Bible:

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UQAM MS 1, f. 1

 

MS 2:  a truly international late fourteenth-century Book of Hours…made in the Netherlands for an English owner with later Italian additions but currently a resident of Canada:

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UQAM MS 2, f. 22v

MS 3: Book of Hours of Pellegrin de Remicourt (ca. 1470-1475), in which he and his wife Madeleine later recorded the birthdates, names, and godparents of their children. Shown here, the births of their first three children in 1478, 1480, and 1482:

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UQAM MS 3, f. 1

Livres rares Général YPA 224: Cicero, De finibus bonorum et malorum (Italy, ca. 1460):

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UQAM YPA 224, f. 1

For next time, take a boat up the St. Lawrence and across Lake Ontario to meet me in Toronto…

St.-Lawrence-River

 

 

 

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Manuscript Road Trip: An Otto Ege Treasure Trove in Maine

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

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

About two months ago, I received an email with the subject line “Beauvais Missal.” My interest piqued, I opened the message to find Maine bookseller Seth Thayer writing to report that he had found a leaf of the Missal “in a trunk in a client’s house in Maine.”

Indeed he had.

This leaf-in-a-box turned out to be the 100th identified folio of the Beauvais Missal. But there was much more.

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For several days, Seth continued to send images of additional leaves he found in the trunk, eleven in all. The client believed them to have been purchased in New York in the 1950s and stored in the trunk since the 1970s. They hadn’t seen the light of day in forty years.

Several of the leaves looked very familiar to me, and after some research I was able to identify nearly all of them as having passed through the hands of our old friend Otto F. Ege or his close associate Philip Duschnes.

Colby vThe Beauvais Missal

This Beauvais Missal leaf preserves liturgy for the Office of St. Lawrence (10 August) and is consecutive with a leaf belonging to a collector in Bath, Ohio. The leaf is unusual in that it provides complete choral pieces instead of the incipits found elsewhere in the manuscript, because of St. Lawrence’s status as an Apostle. For example, in this image of the verso, the versicle and offertory are given in full on multiple staves of music.

The Wilton Processional

Another exciting find: two leaves from a thirteenth-century processional made for the nuns of Wilton Abbey. The manuscript is the subject of important work being done by  University of Northern Iowa musicologist Alison Altstatt. Leaves of this processional were used by Ege as no. 8 in his “Fifty Original Leaves” portfolio; some images of those leaves can be found here, but to really learn about this important manuscript, spend some time with this video and watch for Prof. Altstatt’s forthcoming article, “Re-membering the Wilton Processional” in Notes: The Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association, 72:4 (June 2016), 590-632.

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Leaf of the Wilton Processional

 

The Processional leaf above was housed in a red-fillet matte of the style typically used by New York dealer Philip Duschnes and his associate Otto Ege. The Processional leaf below was found in a custom frame and includes the label of the seller, Livingston Galleries in New York. This suggests that the two leaves may have been purchased from different sources at different times, begging the question as to whether the owner realized they were from the same manuscript and purchased one because he already owned the other.

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Another Leaf of the Wilton Processional

 

1946 Mirror

Damn Yankees                                   (remember, I live in Boston)

When Thayer removed the framed leaf from its glass, he found that it, too, was housed in the same style matte. But there was another surprise in the frame: a New York newspaper from June 5, 1946. This is actually a really important piece of evidence, as it helps to establish the date when the leaf was framed (soon after June 5, 1946), which in turn helps establish when the Wilton Processional was broken (before then). This pushes back by at least two years the possible date of Ege and Duschnes’ acquisition of this manuscript as recorded by Gwara (Otto Ege’s Manuscripts, p. 346). It is likely they acquired and broke up the manuscript before June of 1946 [n.b. Peter Kidd’s comment below].

There are several layers of provenance to be read in this particular leaf. First, its origin: part of a processional made for the nuns of Wilton Abbey in the thirteenth century. Then, the red fillet matte, into which it was secured before June 1946, probably by Philip Duschnes (given the New York provenance, as opposed to Ege in Ohio). Then, the frame, into which it was placed by Livingston Galleries in June 1946. Then, the trunk, in which it was stored in the 1970s.

Most of the other leaves can be definitively identified as having passed through the hands of Philip Duschnes and Otto Ege; again, given the New York connection, it is likely that these particular leaves were sold by Duschnes rather than Ege. In the montage below, clockwise from the upper left and with reference to Scott Gwara’s Otto Ege’s Manuscripts, these leaves are found in his handlist as numbers 115, 73 (two leaves), 65, 82, 99, and 100.

Montage

 

choirbooksThe final leaf (shown to the right), from a large choirbook, cannot be positively identified in Gwara’s handlist, but it may be lurking in there somewhere.

Thayer was committed to finding an institutional home for the leaves, where they could be used for study and teaching. He was successful; the entire group has just been acquired by Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

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A Happy Ending: Students and faculty from Colby College examining the new leaves

 

 

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Manuscript Road Trip, Canadian Edition: Newfoundland

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

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

Heading northeast from Nova Scotia, we’ll make our way across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the island of Newfoundland, whose Atlantic coast is the continent’s most easterly point, granted the daily gift of North America’s first sunrise.

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As far as I know, there is only one collection in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador housing pre-1600 European manuscripts: Memorial University in St. John’s.

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Memorial’s collection is uncommon in several respects. The manuscripts have been catalogued, both in the library OPAC and in two online handlists (here and here), and several have been completely and beautifully digitized (linked from the first handlist). In addition, unlike the collection we looked at last week in Nova Scotia whose manuscripts were acquired by bequest a century ago, Memorial is actively collecting, having acquired nearly all of its early manuscripts in the last decade. In its acquisition, cataloguing, and digitization programmes, Memorial University is impressively on par with larger, more well-known institutions.

Not only is the Library acquiring fine examples from various regions and centuries to form an excellent teaching collection, but several of the manuscripts have esteemed histories, making them fascinating case studies in provenance and North American collection development.

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Opening initial, Hours of the Virgin (Memorial University, Newfoundland, BX 2080 1455 vault, f. 16r)

Memorial’s beautiful mid-fifteenth-century Dutch Book of Hours (made in Haarlem for the use of Utrecht) is a great example of a manuscript with an impressive origin and storied history.  This codex is full of extraordinary penwork decoration, almost shockingly ornate. The penwork holds many hidden surprises; check out the face hidden in the lower left corner of f. 63v!

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The scribe of this professionally-produced manuscript has been localized by Margriet Hülsmann – who has identified several other manuscripts written in this hand – as active in Haarlem, ca. 1455 – 1465 (see “An identifiable Haarlem scribe active c.1455 to c.1465 in the environment of the Master of the Haarlem Bible”, Quaerendo 33, 2003, nos 1 & 2, pp. 119-134, this manuscript described on pp.120, 125-6). Hülsmann also affiliates the decorative stamps on the original leather binding with a Haarlem workshop of the same period.

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Provenance inscriptions (Memorial University, Newfoundland, BX 2080 1455 vault, first blank leaf)

By the early nineteenth century, the manuscript had crossed the English Channel, where it was bought in Exeter by Devonshire collector Charles Aldenburg Bentinck (1810-1891), who made note of the acquisition on the first flyleaf. In 1943, the manuscript was purchased by famed British collector (and Sussex sheriff and brewer) John Roland Abbey (1894-1969), who affixed his very impressive gilt and embossed bookplate inside the front cover. This was no. 2225 in his collection.

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Abbey Bookplate (Memorial University, Newfoundland, BX 2080 1455 vault, inner front cover)

The Abbey library was dispersed by Sotheby’s London in the 1970s. In Part 7 of the sale (1 Dec. 1970), this manuscript was lot 2880. From Sotheby’s, the manuscript went through several hands before making its way to St. John’s (see Schoenberg Database records 26721, 83131, and 185343; the latter is Christie’s London, 23 Nov. 2010, lot 15).

In addition to several other codices (see the handlists linked above), Memorial has recently acquired nearly two dozen single leaves, several of which are particularly noteworthy. None of these images are available online as of yet, and I thank Memorial librarians Jeannie Bail and Patrick Warner for their generosity in sharing these images with me and allowing me to share them with you.
Leaf from the Chundleigh Bible (side 1)

This bible leaf, preserving part of the fourth book of Kings, comes from a thirteenth-century manuscript from Arras known as the Chudleigh Bible, so named for Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, who owned the complete manuscript in the first half of the twentieth century. The volume was sold by Lord Clifford at Sotheby’s on 7 December 1953, lot 51, and appeared there again on 8 July 1970, lot 104.  It was broken soon afterwards and the leaves dispersed. Although the Memorial University leaf does not have any historiated initials (such as those in these leaves sold recently at Christie’s), it is clearly identifiable as part of the Chudleigh Bible because of its dimensions (54 lines, two columns, 285 x 190 (185 x 120) mm) and the distinctive decorative red-framed annotations. Stanford University owns a bifolium of the manuscript, and other leaves have been sold by Quaritch (cat.1147, 1991, no 15), Maggs (Cat.1167, 1993, no 2), and Sotheby’s, 6 December 2005, lot 16 and 8 July 2014, lots 13-14.

Another recent acquisition of note is this leaf, from a processional attributed to the nuns of the Royal Dominican Abbey of St-Louis at Poissy:

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At first glance, this looks an awful lot like the manuscripts produced in France in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries (like this or this), with the vertical bars, colorful vines, spindly tendrils, and trefoil leaves typical of manuscripts produced around the year 1400. In fact, the pencil notation in the lower margin makes just such an early attribution, albeit slightly earlier than one might immediately think.
At second glance, however, something looks odd. The blunt, squared-off appendages to the vines are unusual…the script is a later style than would usually accompany this kind of decoration…and so on. In fact, in her unpublished dissertation, Joan Naughton argues that the sixteenth-century nuns of Poissy were in the habit (sorry) of “archaizing” late-fifteenth and early sixteenth-century manuscripts by adding decoration in an antiquated style, making them appear older than they really were (“Manuscripts from the Dominican Monastery of Saint-Louis de Poissy,” unpubl. PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, 1995, p. 139). In this case, a late fifteenth-century manuscript was decorated in a style from a century before. For more, see Scott Gwara’s sales catalogue Enchiridion 19: Medieval Fragments for University Teaching & Research, where this leaf is item 1A.
Next time, we’ll journey to Montreal, Québec, where there are several collections of distinction.
MontRoyal

 

 

 

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Manuscript Road Trip: The Promise of Digital Fragmentology

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

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

Last week, I traveled to the University of Leeds with 2,000 other medievalists from around the world to participate in the International Medieval Congress. This post is a somewhat-abbreviated version of the paper I gave on the last day of the Congress, titled “Fragments and Fragmentology in North America.”

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The corpus of manuscript leaves in North America presents problems and opportunities distinct from those facing and offered to other national collections, due to both the content of the corpus and the historical circumstances of its development. And I’m primarily going to be referring to whole, single leaves; cuttings and binding fragments such as those at right tell a very different story than the one you are about to hear. Examples of Binding FragmentsBinding fragments result from medieval and early modern recycling of worn or outdated manuscripts, not from a collector’s destructive whim. Manuscripts were being cut up “for pleasure and profit” (in the words of Christopher de Hamel) as early as the eighteenth century. Throughout the nineteenth century, collectible illuminated initials and miniatures were cut out close to the borders, the remnant text thrown out.  This practice resulted in sales and collections of  free-standing tightly-cropped initials, arranged cuttings adhered to highly-acidic paper, and elaborate collages such as the one shown at the left. IMC_2015_presentation Most collectors on both sides of the Atlantic were not particularly interested in text or context, only in the pictures.

Beginning in the early twentieth century, dealers began breaking books and selling them off page by page. Was this in response to demand from collectors or was it a profit-driven impulse? It’s unclear. What is clear is that during this period, dealers began to sell, and collectors began to buy, entire pages. The United States, with its new industry-fueled wealth, was a primary beneficiary of this flooded market. From Masters of Industry to small-town collectors, major museums to small colleges, bibliophiles in the United States were clamoring for matted and framed leaves, in particular leaves from Gothic Books of Hours and Italian choirbooks. Dealers saw no harm in destroying these manuscripts. It was an example of a market economy on one side, as demand drove prices up, and economies of scale on the other. Dealers knew they would make more money selling 250 leaves to 250 buyers than if they offered a whole codex to one buyer. As a result, today there are tens of thousands of single leaves in several hundred U.S. collections.

The publication of Seymour de Ricci’s 1935 Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada, its 1962 Supplement, and the Directory of Institutions in the United States and Canada with Pre-1600 Manuscript Holdings (co-authored by Melissa Conway and myself) give us three data points with which to analyze the development of the corpus of single leaves in the United States. For additional information about the Directory, see Melissa Conway and Lisa Fagin Davis, “The Directory of Institutions in the United States and Canada with Pre-1600 Manuscript Holdings: From its Origins to the Present, and its Role in Tracking the Migration of Manuscripts in North American Repositories,” Manuscripta 2013, Vol. 57, No. 2, pp. 165-181. The statistics and figures in the next few paragraphs are taken from that article.

In compiling our Directory, Melissa and I did not set out to produce a union catalogue of manuscripts, but rather a true census, a counting, with the goal of answering a question that many scholars have asked but no one had previously been able to answer, that is, just how many pre-1600 manuscripts ARE there in North America? And how has the landscape of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in North America changed since the publica­tion of the Census and the Supplement?

While a detailed history of the migration of early manuscripts to North America over the past two centuries has yet to be written, it is certain that by 1935, after the pub­lication of the de Ricci Census, about 7,900 codices and 5,000 individual manuscript leaves had made their way to the North American continent. In order to formulate a meaningful comparison with today’s holdings, however, it is necessary to remove from this total the number of manuscripts in private collections, because contemporary collectors are more hesitant than were collectors in the 1930s to publicize their collections. The number of manuscripts in public collections in 1935, then, was around 6,000 codices and 2,500 leaves. By 1962, the number of manuscripts in public collections totaled 8,000 codices and 3,000 leaves.

IMC_2015_presentation2As for today’s holdings, the current count is approximately 20,000 codices and 25,000 indi­vidual leaves—a total increase of 400% in fifty years.  The total number of codices in public collections has gone up two and a half times; by contrast, the number of leaves has mushroomed nearly nine times. In addition, the number of public collections has grown from 195 to 207 to 499. Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts can now be found in every state in the Union except for Alaska and North Dakota. The collections holding manuscripts today that were not in­cluded in either the Census or the Supplement represent 60% of the total, 300 out of 499. Between them, these “new” collections hold about 1,800 co­dices and 9,000 leaves, a lopsided statistic when compared to the rest of the collections that demonstrates the dependence of “new” collections on the cheaper, more plentiful mar­ket in single leaves. These mostly small institutions with small acquisitions budgets were able to take ad­vantage of the burgeoning market in single leaves to grow their teaching collections.

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This map above  shows the relative number of manuscripts in 2015 – that is, codices and leaves – in each state. Not surprisingly, the greatest holdings (the darkest shading) correspond with well-known repositories and academic institutions in the Northeast, the Great Lakes region, and California. The picture changes a bit when we look just at singles leaves (below).  Here we find in addition to the usual suspects leaf collections of distinction in the Midwestern states of Kansas, Missouri, and Texas, but especially Ohio, and if you go back and read this blogpost, you’ll understand why.

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No story of manuscript leaves in the United States would be complete without a discussion of Otto Frederick Ege, bibliophile and self-proclaimed biblioclast. Ege spent most of his career as a professor of art history at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio. He was a collector of manuscripts, recorded in the Census, but he was also a bookdealer. He is best known for breaking apart manuscripts and early printed books in the 1930s and 1940s, selling them leaf by leaf at a massive profit. He wasn’t the first to do this of course; other dealers had figured out that economies of scale worked in their favor if they sold 250 leaves to 250 buyers instead of one manuscript to one buyer. Ege defended his “biblioclasm” with what he considered the noble goal of putting a little bit of the Middle Ages within the economic grasp of even the humblest collector or smallest institution.

In a 1938 article in a “hobbyist” journal called Avocations, Ege explained:

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Otto F. Ege, “I am a Biblioclast,” Avocations vol. I (March, 1938), pp. 516-18

“Book-tearers have been cursed and condemned, but have they ever been praised or justified?…Surely to allow a thousand people ‘to have and to hold’ an original manuscript leaf, and to get the thrill and understanding that comes only from actual and frequent contact with these art heritages, is justification enough for the scattering of fragments.  Few, indeed, can hope to own a complete manuscript book; hundreds, however, may own a leaf.” His actions may have been misguided, but he was correct in one important respect; small collections throughout the United States that could never have purchased entire codices are the proud possessors of significant teaching collections of medieval manuscript leaves.

Thanks to the work of scholars such as A. S. G. Edwards, Barbara Shailor, Virginia Brown, Peter Kidd, William Stoneman and others, as well as a recent monograph by Scott Gwara, several thousand leaves from several hundred manuscripts that passed through Ege’s hands can now be identified in at least 115 North American collections in 25 states. In other words, more than 10% of the entire corpus of single leaves in the United States can be traced back to Otto Ege.

Ege leaf in its distinctive matte (from the collection at Rutgers University; the leaf has since been removed from the matte)

Ege leaf in its distinctive matte (from the collection at Rutgers University; the leaf has since been removed from the matte)

Ege used the leaves of several dozen manuscripts to create thematic “portfolios,” for sale. In other words, he would take one leaf of this manuscript, one leaf of that one, one leaf from a third, and so on, and pile them up into a deck of manuscript leaves, each of which was from a different codex.  The leaves in these portfolios are always sequenced the same way. Number 5 in one portfolio comes from the same manuscript as Number 5 in every other portfolio of the same name. The most common of these portfolios are titled Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscripts; Original Leaves from Famous Bibles; and Original Leaves from Famous Books. The leaves were taped into custom mattes with a distinctive red-fillet border and Ege’s handwritten notes across the bottom, identified with Ege’s letterpress label, and stored in custom buckram boxes.

The leaves of some dismembered manuscripts were never used in portfolios but were distributed individually or in small groups, as gifts to friends or in small sales. Many portfolios are lost or have been broken up, their leaves sold individually. It is, however, usually possible to identify Ege leaves that aren’t in their original portfolios anymore, because of the distinctive mattes, inscriptions, or tape residue. Some of the manuscripts are themselves quite distinctive and easily recognizable, such as the late thirteenth-century Beauvais Missal.

A Digital Selection of Beauvais Missal Leaves

A Digital Selection of Beauvais Missal Leaves

This manuscript serves as a perfect example of just how great a loss is incurred when a codex is dismembered and its leaves scattered, but it also serves as a hopeful case study of the possibilities offered by recent developments in imaging and metadata standards, platforms, and interoperability. The Beauvais missal is a beauty, its numerous gilt initials with graceful, colorful tendrils extending into the margins easily recognizable. The manuscript was written in or near Beauvais, France around 1285 and was used early on at the cathedral there. We know this because of an inscription on a lost leaf, transcribed in a 1926 Sotheby’s auction catalogue. Peter Kidd recently discovered that the manuscript was purchased from Sotheby’s by none other than American industrialist William Randolph Hearst, who owned it until 1942 when he sold it through Gimbel Brothers to New York dealer Philip Duschnes, who cut it up and began selling leaves less than one month later. He passed the remnants on to Otto Ege, who scattered it through his usual means. The Beauvais Missal is number 15 in Ege’s “Fifty Original Leaves” set, but many leaves are known outside of his portfolios. I know of 92 leaves in permanent collections or that have come on the market recently, scattered across twenty-one states and five nations.

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Unlike well-known leaves such as those from the Beauvais Missal, most of the 25,000 single leaves in North American collections are neither catalogued nor digitized. If metadata standards for the electronic cataloguing of manuscript codices are in flux, the standards for cataloguing leaves and fragments are truly in their infancy. It is not easy to catalogue manuscript leaves, as it requires expertise in multiple fields including paleography, codicology, liturgy, musicology, and art history, among others. But leaves are easy to digitize, much easier than complete codices. They’re flat, with no bindings to damage, no need to use weights to keep the book open during imaging. A digitized leaf can be put online with minimal metadata and made instantly available for crowd-sourced cataloguing and scholarly use. Many U.S. collections are beginning to do just that.

With this growing corpus of digitized leaves comes the potential to digitally reconstruct dismembered manuscripts such as the Beauvais Missal. I have heard skeptics ask why such reconstructions are worthwhile. Does the world really NEED another mediocre mid-fifteenth-century Book of Hours from Rouen? What do we gain from piecing Humpty Dumpty together again? It’s a reasonable question. Many of the books broken by Ege and his peers were not exactly of great art historical or textual import. Because they are manuscripts, however, every one is unique and worthy of study. I would argue that in many cases, such as the Beauvais Missal, the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. A lone leaf of the Beauvais Missal that preserves the liturgy for the feasts of a few Roman Martyrs in late July isn’t going to tell us much that we don’t already know. But identify the immediately preceding leaf that preserves a rare liturgy for St. Ebrulf of Beauvais on July 26, and we’re starting to get somewhere. The liturgy of Beauvais begins to come into focus alongside the music and the art historical record. Even reconstructing those shabby fifteenth-century Books of Hours serves a valuable pedagogical purpose, on top of any textual and art historical gain there may be; there is no better way to teach your students about the structure and contents of a Book of Hours than by having them piece one back together.

I know of at least three incipient projects that hope to reverse the scourge of biblioclasm:

Manuscript-Link at the University of South Carolina is a repository of siloed images submitted by multiple collections that will be catalogued by the project’s Principal Investigators. Registered users will be able to form their own collections online and compare multiple leaves side-by-side in parallel windows.

The international and recently fully-funded Fragmentarium project (organized by the team that brought you the splendid e-Codices site) will focus on the massive collections of binding fragments found in European national libraries, the market in whole, single leaves having been in many ways a predominantly American phenomenon.

Most promising for the North American corpus, I think, is the Broken Books project at St. Louis University. Broken Books will use a highly sustainable model in which holding institutions will be responsible for data and image curation. The Broken Books platform, according to the project’s website, will “allow the canvases that hold the digital images of the relevant leaves or pages to be annotated and arranged, so that users can attach annotations, including cataloguing metadata, to individual images or to a whole leaf, with the goal of virtually reconstructing the original manuscript.” The Broken Books platform will use Shared Canvas technology compliant with the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), in which structural and descriptive metadata about a digitized object can be standardized and made interoperable.

In other words, instead of storing images and data on a dedicated server (by definition of limited capacity), the Broken Books tool will use persistent URLs to retrieve images when called for into a IIIF-compliant viewer such as Mirador, where they can be annotated and arranged by the user. This model is particularly sustainable, as it puts the onus of image and data duration on the holding institution, where it should be. Such interoperability also carries with it an expectation of Creative Commons licensing, which is, after all, the wave of the future.

Imaging and data platforms are in development for all three projects and metadata standards are being established by teams of digital humanists, librarians, and manuscript scholars. For the purposes of such projects, the Ege leaves present a perfect test case. Working with the portfolios alone, it will be possible to easily reconstruct at least a portion several dozen Ege manuscripts. Using the Mirador viewer, Ben Albritton at Stanford University has just unveiled a case study that models how such digital reconstructions might work:

Reconstruction of Ege

Reconstruction of Ege “Fifty Original Leaves” MS 1

Albritton has reconstructed a portion of Ege’s “Fifty Original Leaves” MS 1 (a twelfth-century glossed Bible from Switzerland), comprised of leaves at Stanford, the University of South Carolina, the University of Mississippi, and others. The viewer uses PURLs to retrieve the images in the correct order when called for, pulling them into a IIIF-compliant viewer, in this case, Mirador. As an added bonus, the primary text has been transcribed using the T-Pen annotator (let’s hear it for interoperability!). Click on the speech bubble in the lower left corner of the viewer to see the annotations.

The Broken Books platform will function along similar lines and will also  include metadata for each leaf. I’ve recently begun working with the Broken Books project, using the Beauvais Missal as a case study to help establish a metadata and authority structure. I hope to be able to debut the reconstruction using the Broken Books platform later this year.

In the meantime, there are several tools already in existence that can be used for this kind of work. I’m using an Omeka exhibit site as a workspace while the Broken Books platform is in development. The Omeka environment allows me to associate Dublin Core metadata with images of recto and verso in a single record and then easily put the leaves in their correct order. While this is a workable temporary solution, the Dublin Core metadata structure is somewhat inflexible and doesn’t really have room for all of the fields one would want in a full-scale Fragmentology project.

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This is not a public site, by the way, because I do not yet have the rights to use some of these images for anything other than personal research.

I’m using a different tool to recreate the original bifoliate quire structure of the manuscript. Even though the Beauvais Missal has no foliation, reconstructing the signatures is possible because there are catchwords at the end of each quire. The gathering shown below was reconstructed using the Collation Visualization generator developed by Dot Porter at the University of Pennsylvania.

Reconstructed Quire of the Beauvais Missal

Reconstructed Quire of the Beauvais Missal

This brilliant tool combines a manuscript’s collation statement with PURLs of digital images to generate conjoint bifolia, as if the manuscript had been virtually disbound. I’m using the tool to reverse the process; once I know the order of leaves in a particular quire, I can use the Generator to digitally reunite formerly-conjoint leaves from disparate collections. For example, let’s look more closely at the second bifolium, outlined in yellow above. These leaves were originally conjoint, but are not consecutive.

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The leaf on the left belongs to a private collector in Monaco, while its formerly conjoint leaf belongs to Smith College in Massachusetts. These two leaves haven’t seen each other since they were sliced apart in 1942.

So this is the situation in North America. We have more than 25,000 single leaves in several hundred collections. Some are beautifully digitized and skillfully catalogued. Others are catalogued incorrectly; some turn out to be printed facsimiles; others sit in a drawer, unknown and waiting. Digitization and metadata standards are still being established. We have our work cut out for us. But the promise of these projects is great. Historical circumstance has deposited a well-defined and cohesive corpus of leaves in the United States and Canada. Multiple leaves from dozens – perhaps hundreds – of manuscripts can easily be identified for reconstruction. We just need images and data, and a place to put them.

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Manuscript Road Trip: A DH Detour

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

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

I apologize for my prolonged absence. It has been a very busy time for me for the last few months, but things at the Medieval Academy are slowing down a bit as we enter the summer months. I’ll get back to writing about North American manuscript collections next time. Today, I want to take a detour from my road trip and drive around the neighborhood of best-practices and Digital Humanities.

Two online resources that I use often and steer my students toward have disappeared in recent weeks. The Harry Ransom Center Fragment Project, an online repository of images and associated metadata for hundreds of manuscript fragments found in early bindings at the University of Texas at Austin, has been taken down due to the non-renewal of the staffer who was producing what was turning out to be a fruitful project. The other was a very important and otherwise unpublished resource for identifying the origin of Books of Hours that went dark following the death of the Principal Investigator, Erik Drigsdahl. Both projects are partially retrievable through the Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine, the second more effectively than the first, but this situation demonstrates why the best DH projects take sustainability and long-term digital archiving seriously.

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In March of 2014, when I wrote about early manuscripts in Texas, I held up the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin as a model of digitization, metadata structure, and crowd-sourced cataloguing:

In addition to digitizing its codices, the Ransom Center has been engaged for some time in an innovative crowd-sourcing cataloguing project, posting images of fragments recovered from bindings in their collection on a Flickr Photostream and asking the hivemind to help identify and catalogue them.

This project is a spectacularly successful example of how social media and web networks can be used to tap into the collective expertise of scholars worldwide. The image collection not only demonstrates the myriad ways manuscripts were recycled as binding waste but is also yet another example of why it is always worthwhile to conduct a survey of the early bindings in your Special Collections library. The Ransom Center undertook just such a survey and found a treasure trove of hundreds of fragments – some nearly 1,000 years old – hiding in the stacks.

I’m sorry to report that while the University’s codices are still accessible online, the Fragment Project’s Flickr site has been taken down because Micah Erwin, the staffer who spear-headed the project, did not have his contract renewed (more about that here).  Personnel issues aside, the fact that the images are no longer online is a great loss to scholarship, to students, and to the manuscript community. This collection of images and associated metadata was a great example of why surveys of early bindings are worthwhile, regardless of how you may feel about the effectiveness of crowd-sourced cataloguing. Micah had made several important discoveries, finding Carolingian fragments, bits of early music and liturgy, excerpts from important texts, and medieval documents, all hiding in HRC’s early bindings. He had presented the project at conferences and symposia around the country, and scholars were just beginning to make use of the images and Micah’s careful metadata. I am hopeful that at the very least the University will decide to host the images and metadata in some format and that the hundreds of images have been archived.

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With the death of Erik Drigsdahl in March 2015, the field of manuscript studies lost a great scholar who had produced an important body of work. One of his greatest contributions to the field was his online Book of Hours tutorial, an introduction to working with and understanding Books of Hours that included an updated and expanded list of the famed (and flawed) Falconer Madan Tests for Localization (F. Madan, “The Localization of Manuscripts,” in H. W. Carless Davis, ed., Essays in History Presented to Reginald Lane Poole (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927), pp. 5-29). This refers to the strategy of using the Prime and None antiphon and chapter reading incipits from the Hours of the Virgin to help determine the locale for which a particular Book of Hours was made. Falconer Madan published dozens of such combinations; Drigsdahl expanded Madan’s list to include hundreds. Much of his work was otherwise unpublished, and with the expiration of the domain registration (chd.dk), Drigsdahl’s site is now offline. Fortunately, the pages were last backed-up to the Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine on April 6 and can be accessed here, and although this is essentially a screenshot it does preserve Erik’s research. Peter Kidd reports that he will soon be meeting with Erik’s executor in hopes of reviving the site on a different server.

These are cautionary tales of which anyone involved in Digital Humanities should take note. In the first case, lack of institutional commitment and support led to the demise of a very worthwhile project. The second case begs the question, what happens to our digital footprint after we die? The Internet Archive, through the Way Back Machine, preserves snapshots of sites for posterity, and we are all learning to save our work to The Cloud, but these are, in the great scheme of things, short-term solutions. Every Digital Humanities project must include plans for sustainability, long-term viability, and archiving as part of initial planning and strategy.

A recent study by Valerie Johnson and David Thomas of digital projects funded by the New Opportunities Fund in the UK found that of the 155 projects granted support between 1998 and 2003 (at a cost of £55 million), “twenty-five can no longer be found, while there have been no changes or enhancements to a further eighty-three. Of the 155, there are only thirty which have been enhanced or added to since the launch. So in less than ten years, sixteen per cent of resources have been lost and fifty-three per cent have, at best, stagnated.” (Valerie Johnson and David Thomas, “Digital Information: ‘Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom…’ Is Digital a Cultural Revolution?,” in The Sage Handbook of Historical Theory, edited by Nancy Partner and Sarah Foot (London: Sage Publications, 2013), 466-467). These are alarming statistics that are almost certainly representative of the larger problem confronting Digital Humanities.

Univ. of Texas, Austin, Harry Ransom Center, Incun. 1498 L635p (spine)

Univ. of Texas, Austin, Harry Ransom Center, Incun. 1498 L635p (spine)

I have no idea what the “permanent” long-term digital archiving solution is going to turn out to be. We already know it isn’t the Cloud or tape or CDs or floppy disks or punch-cards. Data migration and storage upgrades are a constant necessity, as technologies change at a faster and faster pace. The Internet Archive, which is a good model for best-practices, recommends full data migration and storage upgrades every ten years. In the meantime, I’m saving this blog to my external drive, storing files in the Cloud, saving to PDF, and printing hardcopy for storage in files and binders. In the long run, I’m not so much worried about the survival of the rare books and manuscripts that are the primary subject of my blog. They’re fairly sturdy and have managed to survive fire and flood and rodents and pillaging and censorship and ocean voyages and centuries of use. Even fragments and single leaves – broken and cut by dealers and collectors – are long-term survivors, as the HRC Fragment Project demonstrated. Printed books on paper can survive for hundreds of years, and manuscripts handwritten on parchment are built to last for a millennium. It’s the digital word we have to worry about.

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