Category Archives: Uncategorized

Manuscript Road Trip: Miami University (the one in Ohio, not the one in Florida!)

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

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

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.

Oxford map

MUO Terence

Terence, Comedies (PA6755.H4/H43/1480 verso) (250 x 175 mm)

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.

Gradual recto

MUO, s.n., Gradual (Spain?, s. XV) (505 x 366 mm)

 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):

Gradual recto detail

MUO, s.n., Gradual, detail

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.


Foliophiles, Inc., Pages from the Past

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:

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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:


Original Leaves from Famous Bibles: Nine Centuries 1121-1935 AD, typical 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 purchasedFBNC Broadside 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.


HL 58 (Italy, thirteenth century)

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:

Ege letter4 – 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.













Filed under Books of Hours, Medieval Manuscripts, Otto F. Ege, Uncategorized

Fragmentarium: a Model for 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

In the early 1990s, I was a graduate student at Yale working on a PhD in Medieval Studies. My dissertation focused on a fragmentology project, although that word would not be coined for decades. Seventeen leaves from a twelfth-century antiphonal from the Austrian Benedictine abbey of Lambach (on the Danube about halfway between Salzburg and Vienna) had made their way to Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and for my thesis I reconstructed the manuscript as much as possible – adding to the seventeen Yale leaves four leaves still in Lambach, two in the abbey of St-Paul-im-Lavanttal, another that was hanging on the wall of an alpine resort in Badgastein, two at Harvard, and one at the St. Louis Public Library (I’ve blogged about that one here) – and studied the cumulative liturgy, music, and decoration of the manuscript in the context of the twelfth-century Lambach scriptorium. The manuscript is known as the Gottschalk Antiphonary (or Antiphonal), after the scribe/artist Gottschalk of Lambach who was primarily responsible for its creation. 

Gottschalk Houghton

The Gottschalk Antiphonal

The Gottschalk Antiphonal has a very different post-medieval story than the leaves of manuscripts dismembered by Otto Ege about which I have frequently blogged. The Gottschalk Antiphonal was a victim of pre-modern recycling rather than twentieth-century biblioclasm. The manuscript – its music and liturgy hopelessly outdated by the late Middle Ages – was taken apart in the fifteenth century and its leaves were used as flyleaves and pastedowns for incunables bound at the Lambach bindery. These and dozens of other binding fragments were removed from the early bindings and sold to raise money for the Abbey’s woodshop during World War II. Eventually, the collection made its way to New York dealer Hans P. Kraus, and from there to the Beinecke Library at Yale in the 1960s along with hundreds of fragments collectively known as MS 481 and MS 482. By that time, the origin of the Lambach group had been forgotten.

As a graduate student in the 1990s, I had a job working for the Curator of Pre-1600 Books and Manuscripts at the Beinecke and was assigned the task of cataloguing part of Yale’s enormous fragment collection, of which the then-unidentified leaves of the Gottschalk Antiphonal were part. The story of how the curator (Robert G. Babcock), fellow students Philip Rusche and Nancy Seybold, and I discovered the Lambach origin of the Antiphonal and dozens of other leaves has been told elsewhere. The Lambach project was the inspiration for my dissertation and first book and was the beginning of my thirty-year interest in medieval manuscript leaves and fragments.


Fragmentology, ca. 1992

Reconstructing the Gottschalk Antiphonal in 1992, sitting on the floor of my living room with scissors and paste and photocopies of the leaves, I was, without realizing it, “doing” fragmentology. Analog was the only option back then, of course. In the early years of the twenty-first century, scholars began to realize the potential of burgeoning digital technologies for the virtual reconstruction of dismembered manuscripts. The call to arms was issued by Barbara Shailor (who was at the time the Director of the Beinecke Library) in a 2003 article, “Otto Ege: His Manuscript Fragment Collection and the Opportunities Presented by Electronic Technology” (The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries 60 (2003), 1-22). “For Otto Ege fragments now dispersed around the world,” she wrote, “the possibilities presented by modern technology are fascinating. It is only a matter of time, financial resources, and scholarly communication and perseverance before significant portions of Ege’s intriguing collection will be reassembled and made available electronically.” (p. 22)

After several fits and starts, “time, financial resources, and scholarly communication and perseverance” have finally, fifteen years later, made the vision of virtual reconstruction a reality. Technology has caught up with our dreams in the form of IIIF-compliant shared-canvas interoperability.


IIIF: the key to digital fragmentology!

All that tech-speak may be a little jarring, but it really is the key to the what fragmentology can accomplish. Let’s unpack it.

IIIF (the International Image Interoperability Framework) is a way of presenting digital images in an online environment that allows them to be shared via a permanent URL instead of by downloading and uploading into a silo (there’s more to it than that, of course, but that’s the basic idea). In other words, if an online image is IIIF-compliant, it can be manifested in a workspace known as a “shared canvas” simply by pointing to the permanent IIIF URL. The image is drawn into the shared canvas when called for rather than being physically stored there. This interoperability has the advantage of enabling a user to apply their own metadata and annotations and sequence the images without transforming the actual imagefile. An image can be stored in one place while being used in multiple workspaces. The model is completely open-access and avoids siloing, and is thus in keeping with digital best practices. Even the code needed to set up a IIIF server is open-source. For more on IIIF and shared canvas, including technical specifications (which are WAY beyond my ken), see the IIIF site.

So what does all this have to do with digital fragmentology? To find out, we have to go to Switzerland.

Screenshot (301).png

The recently-launched Fragmentarium project (based in Fribourg) combines IIIF with a powerful mySQL database to allow for the cataloguing of individual fragments and leaves and the virtual reconstruction of parent manuscripts in a shared canvas workspace. Brought to you by the incredible team behind e-codices, Fragmentarium uses a flexible and well-designed data model that is fragment-centric and follows international standards of authority and data modeling. It is the culmination of decades of development on the technical side and of metadata design on the scholarly side. Several institutions are already working on Fragmentarium case studies, uploading images (if they don’t already have IIIF purls), cataloguing them, and creating virtual reconstructions. 

Let’s head back to Boston now, to the Simmons School of Library and Information Science, where I teach an annual course titled “The Medieval Manuscript from Charlemagne to Gutenberg.” For the last three years, I have assigned my students an Ege manuscript to study and reconstruct as their final project. You can read about the 2015 and 2016 projects here. This year, my students participated in a Fragmentarium case study. Each student was assigned a leaf from the lovely early fifteenth-century Book of Hours known as “Fifty Original Leaves no. 30” (or FOL 30), because leaves from this manuscript are always no. 30 in Ege’s Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscripts portfolios. We found twenty-eight leaves in twenty-eight collections, and the first part of the assignment was for each student to catalogue their leaf in the Fragmentarium database. I am extremely grateful, by the way, to Fragmentarium’s William Duba and Christoph Flüeler for facilitating the project.



Simmons students creating the shared canvas sequence

Once the leaves had been catalogued, we worked as a class to assemble the known leaves in order in a IIIF shared canvas. Fragmentarium makes sequencing images simple with a drag-and-drop feature. Once the images are in order, one click creates the shared canvas reconstruction (click the “thumbnails” link at the bottom and the “metadata” link at the left for the full experience). The students were familiar with the basic structure of a Book of Hours, so once they had identified the contents of each leaf, it was fairly straightforward to put the leaves in order and create a record for the reconstructed manuscript (this work was made even easier by the survival of folio numbers on some of the leaves!).

The next step demonstrated why such reconstructions are worthwhile. Using the cumulative liturgical evidence of the reconstructed manuscript – much more evidence than survives on a single leaf – the students conducted original research to determine its origin and provenance. By analyzing the saints in the reconstructed Litany and the liturgy of the Office of the Dead, the students concluded that the manuscript was originally written for the Use of Paris (no other portions of the manuscript that might have provided supporting evidence – such as the Calendar or the Hours of the Virgin – survive). By searching the dimensions and known contents of the reconstructed manuscript in the Schoenberg Database, they were able to identify several early-twentieth-century sales of the whole manuscript and identify it as the manuscript purchased by collector C. L. Ricketts from dealer Bernard Quaritch in 1922 (see de Ricci, Census I:634, no. 116) and sold by Parke-Bernet Galleries in 1939. It was dismembered by Ege or his business partner Philip Duschnes soon thereafter. As a final step, I updated the Schoenberg Database to reflect these discoveries, creating a new manuscript record that links the provenance records. These discoveries by my students were completely original. Instead of considering these a scattered group of pretty leaves, we now know that this manuscript was made for the Use of Paris and, from details in the Parke-Bernet catalogue, we know it had 189 leaves and seven miniatures and that it had been bound by Rivière. We know it was offered by Quaritch several times before being bought by Ricketts in 1922. We know it was bought and broken sometime after 1939. And now we can see, at least in part, how it once looked.


When I remember sitting on my living room floor with scissors and paste, I am truly awed and inspired by the beauty, simplicity, and effectiveness of the Fragmentarium model. Next year, my students will use Fragmentarium to reconstruct and study FOL 29. Who knows what we’ll find? Stay tuned.

And I really do think it’s time for Gottschalk to go digital. 







Filed under Fragmentology, Medieval Manuscripts, Otto F. Ege, Uncategorized

Manuscript Road Trip: The New Bedford Hours

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

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

An appropriate subtitle for this blog would be “Medieval Manuscripts in Unexpected Places.” Today’s installment is no exception.

The whaling town of New Bedford is nestled on the New England shore of the North Atlantic, in southeastern Massachusetts. It is an important center for the history of the whaling industry in New England, and its beautiful Public Library includes more than a century’s worth of whaling logs and records. But it also includes something much older, a sumptuous Book of Hours from France written around the year 1465.

New Bedford map

This 98-leaf manuscript is a real beauty, with nine miniatures and five full borders:

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This manuscript has never been studied or widely noted before now. It was recently brought to my attention by Phil Weimerskirch, the retired librarian of the Providence Public Library. Phil is 87 years old, and for nearly twenty years has been an important source of local knowledge for myself and my colleague and co-author Melissa Conway as we compiled our Directory of Collections in the United States and Canada with Pre-1600 Manuscript Holdings. During his career in Providence, Rhode Island, Phil – who is an expert bibliographer and book historian – regularly explored small collections throughout southern New England looking for unrecorded medieval manuscripts. At last count, he had brought more than a dozen such repositories to our attention. He remains, by far, our greatest sleuth and for his knowledge and experience we are extremely grateful!

When Phil emailed me a few weeks ago to confirm the presence of this manuscript in New Bedford, he included a few images. I could tell immediately that this manuscript was something special (not that they aren’t ALL special in their own way), not your every-day run-of-the-mill manuscript. Janice Hodson, the Library’s Art Curator, welcomed me to the collection last week to study and photograph the manuscript and has graciously given me permission to share my photographs and findings here.

I’m going to use this post as an opportunity to walk you through the steps of researching Books of Hours, and I will include links to several important online resources of particular use when working with such manuscripts. Roger Wieck’s Time Sanctified remains the best printed introduction to the genre, and I highly recommend you purchase it if you are going to work with Books of Hours in any capacity. If you’d rather explore an online primer, Les Enluminures presents a profusely illustrated introduction to Books of Hours here.

The first thing to know is that Books of Hours were personal prayerbooks, as opposed to books for use in a church or cathedral (the Beauvais Missal is one such churchbook). As such, they were not in general produced by monks or nuns in abbey scriptoria but were written and illuminated by professionals often working on commission. The genre developed in the mid-thirteenth century but really took off with the establishment of professional centers of book production in the fifteenth century. Wealthy patrons commissioned these prayerbooks for their own home use and could request personal touches such as added devotions to their name-saint or to saints of local importance, even self-portraits or coats-of-arms. In addition, particular sections of the liturgy can vary by locale. Books of Hours, therefore, are full of clues as to their origin and patronage. You can even tell if a book was made for the use of a woman, as many Books of Hours were.

As far as contents are concerned, Books of Hours are modular, consisting of discreet sections usually presented in the same sequence, although not all Books of Hours include all of these sections or present them in this order:

Liturgical calendar (listing which saints are to be commemorated on which day)

Passion narratives from the Gospels (often illustrated with portraits of the evangelists at work)

The Hours of the Virgin (divided into the eight canonical offices of the day, each of which is often illustrated with a scene from the life of the Virgin Mary): Matins (the Annunciation), Lauds (the Visitation), Prime (the Nativity), Terce (the Annunciation to the Shepherds), Sext (the Adoration of the Magi), None (the Presentation in the Temple), Vespers (the Slaughter of the Innocents or the Flight into Egypt), and Compline (the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Flight into Egypt, or the Coronation of the Virgin).

The Hours of the Cross and the Hours of the Holy Spirit (illustrated by the Crucifixion and Pentecost respectively and often abbreviated, in which case called “Little” Hours)

Prayers to the Virgin Mary (“Obsecro te” and “O intemerata”)

The Penitential Psalms (a group of seven Psalms – 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, and 142 – that focus of the theme of repentance, usually accompanied by a portrait of King David or a scene from his life) and Litany (a series of Saints grouped by type and gender – Apostles, Popes, Martyrs, Virgins, etc. – from whom the penitent requests intercession)

The Office of the Dead (illustrated by a funeral, burial, or a scene from the Book of Job)

Suffrages and additional prayers (optional prayers for particular saints or events, sometimes illustrated by portraits of the particular saints)

When faced with a Book of Hours, the first step is to identify the contents and determine if anything obvious is missing or is out of order. Then you can go through more carefully looking for clues.

While conducting my initial survey, I could see that something was wrong. There were only five miniatures in the Hours of the Virgin instead of the expected eight. A comparison of the text with the online Hypertext Book of Hours confirmed that several sections of the Hours of the Virgin were missing: the end of Terce, the beginning and end of Sext, all of None, and most of Vespers. In addition, the Office of the Dead was interrupted twice, by the Hours of the Cross and by the Hours of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Hours of the Cross and the Hours of the Holy Spirit are inserted into the middle of the Hours of the Virgin (the term is “intercalated”), but never into the Office of the Dead. Clearly something was out of sequence here as well.

I set the codicological issues aside and began working on identifying the liturgical use of the manuscript, that is, identifying the place for which it was made. This is often different than the place in which it was made.

Stylistically, the manuscript can be localized to northern France, possibly Rouen, and dates to around 1460-70. In private correspondence, art historian James Marrow observed that the illumination style is similar to the workshop of the Masters of the Échevinage de Rouen, a workshop active in Rouen and the Loire Valley in the third quarter of the fifteenth century. If you compare the New Bedford Hours Annunciation miniature (below left) with the Annunciation in British Library Sloane 2732 B (below right, also attributed to the Masters), you can see the resemblance in the composition, the setting, and the treatment of hands and faces, even the structure of the Angel Gabriel’s wings and the gold cross-hatching that gives texture to the drapery.

Even if you’re not an art historian, you can at least get a sense of the date of the manuscript simply by looking at the border illumination. In the early fifteenth century, borders are comprised of delicate spindly vines (“rinceaux”) and small gold trefoil leaves. As the century progresses, colorful thick foliage begins to appear in the corners (“acanthus leaves”).


f. 13

By the third quarter of the century, the acanthus leaves have overtaken the rinceaux, as in this manuscript. By the end of the century, they’ve forced the rinceaux completely into the background and have come to dominate the border decoration.

So the manuscript was made in northern France, possibly Rouen, around the year 1465. But for WHOM was it made? To answer that question, we have to conduct a detailed textual investigation of several sections of the manuscript: the calendar, the Hours of the Virgin, the Litany, the Office of the Dead, and the suffrages.

Liturgical calendars such as the one in this Book of Hours are universal, as opposed to year-specific, and indicate which saint is to be commemorated on which day (they also help you determine the date of Easter and which days are Sundays in any particular year, but that’s another story). Saints are presented in a hierarchy indicated by color: saints in black ink are of “normal” importance, while those in red are more so (hence the expression “red-letter day”).



The first half of September in the New Bedford Hours, with the Nativity of the Virgin Mary in blue and the Exaltation of the Cross in red (f. 9)


Some calendars give a third level of importance, indicated by blue or gold ink. In the present manuscript, saints are written in black, red, and blue, with the latter reserved for the most important saints. It is those more colorful saints that are likely to provide significant evidence of the liturgical use of the manuscript. You want to look for atypical saints, that is, saints who aren’t apostles, or early Roman martyrs, or Biblical characters such as Jesus, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, or the Virgin Mary. Saints in red or blue who are unusual are the clues you’re looking for. If those saints also appear in the litany or the suffrages, you know you’ve hit upon critical evidence for determining the Use of the manuscript.

Most of the red and blue saints in the New Bedford Hours are either of the Biblical variety or are typically French (such as St. Katherine or St. Egidius) and so are not of much use in localization; we already knew from stylistic evidence that the manuscript was from France. But one blue saint stands out: St. Ursinus, Bishop of Bourges, on June 11. In fact, St. Ursinus appears in this calendar four times: January 5 (the Octave, written in black), June 11 (his Translation, i.e. the commemoration of the movement of his relics from one place to another, in blue), November 9 (in black, the “Revelatio,” or revealing of his relics), and December 29 (in red). In addition, Ursinus appears in the litany, in the list of Confessors. Clearly, St. Ursinus was of particular importance to the patron of this manuscript. The next stop is the online “Zeitrechnung des Deutschen Mittelalters und der Neuzeit,” an online version of Hermann Grotefend’s dictionary of Saints. Each alphabetical entry gives the date(s) on which a particular saint was commemorated and where they were of particular importance. For Ursinus, however, Grotefend does not mention June 11. Time to break out the big guns.

acta-sanctorumThe most detailed and lengthy dictionary of Saints is the Acta Sanctorum, begun by the Jesuit scholar Jean Bolland (1596 – 1665) in 1643 and carried on by the Société des Bollandists, who continue the work to this day. The Acta Sanctorum is organized calendrically and, like a great cathedral, is continually under construction; the 60+ published volumes cover only January through November. If you’re looking for a December date, you’re out of luck, since only an introduction to that month has been written so far. The volumes are enormous in size and copious in content, with each month filling three or four books. Many university libraries own the whole set, but if you can’t find it, you may be able to access it online through a library that subscribes to the Brepols Acta Sanctorum database. The digitized volumes are browseable through the Internet Archive and the URLs have been conveniently compiled here.

The Acta Sanctorum is written entirely in Latin and provides transcriptions of Saints’ lives, tales of their relics and miracles, and important information about where they are venerated and on which days. According to the Acta Sanctorum, St. Ursinus – the patron of Évreux in the diocese of Lisieux in Normandy – was venerated in Évreux specifically on January 5, June 11, November 9, and December 29. Other saints of regional importance in the calendar include: Launomarus, Abbot of Chartres (January 19);  Gatianus, Bishop of Tours (May 2); Translation of St. Audoenus, Archbishop of Rouen (May 5); Leufredus, Abbot of Merey (June 21, a date of particular import in Évreux); Ravennus and Rasiphus (July 23); Taurinus, Bishop of Évreux (July 23), Maurilius, Bishop of Angers (September 13); Mellonis, Bishop of Rouen (October 22, in red); Romanus, Archbishop of Rouen (October 23, in red); Briccius, Bishop of Tours (November 13); Anianus, Bishop of Orléans (November 17); and Gatianus, Archbishop of Tours (December 18).

This is all pretty clear evidence that the manuscript was made for a patron in or near Évreux. But there is more to do before drawing this conclusion with confidence. Does the rest of the liturgical evidence support this initial hypothesis?

This next piece is some hardcore liturgiology, so bear with me. It so happens that two deeply-buried portions of the liturgy in the Hours of the Virgin also point towards the Use of the manuscript: the antiphon and chapter reading for Prime and None. These can be difficult to find if you don’t have a lot of experience working with Books of Hours, but the miniatures can serve to orient you, just as they did for medieval readers. Prime is always illustrated by the Nativity, an easily recognizable scene (the Virgin Mary and Joseph gazing at Baby Jesus, surrounded by animals in a humble setting), and None by the Presentation in the Temple. Towards the end of each of these offices, you will find the antiphon (indicated by the rubric “Ant.”) and the chapter reading (indicated by the rubric “Cap.” for “capitula”). In the New Bedford Hours, the Prime Antiphon begins “Quando natus” and the Chapter reading begins “Ab initio et ante secula.” The next step is to make note of the antiphon and chapter reading in None, which is why it’s such a bummer that None is missing from this manuscript. It means that we only have half of the evidence.

Once you’ve made note of your antiphons and chapter readings, your next stop is another online resource, the extraordinary Book of Hours reference site authored by Erik Drigsdahl, who founded the Institute for the Study of Illuminated Manuscripts in Denmark and was its Director until his untimely death in 2015. Since that time, the website has remained viable thanks to the generosity and efforts of Peter Kidd. On this page in particular, you will find a very detailed list of these sets of antiphons and chapter readings, indicating where they’re used. There are many different Uses recorded for “Quando Natus” and “Ab initio” at Prime, and without the data for None we just can’t be sure. But even though None is missing, we can delve a bit further thanks to Drigsdahl’s recording complete outlines for several different local uses, including the Use of Lisieux. Even though so much of the Hours of the Virgin is missing from the New Bedford Hours, the extant texts are a near-perfect match to Drigsdahl’s outline. So Use of Lisieux seems likely, especially given the Lisieux emphasis in the Calendar.

The final piece of the liturgical puzzle is found in the Office of the Dead. Here, you want to make note of the (usually) nine responsories of Matins. Matins is divided into three sections called nocturnes, each of which consists of a series of psalms and antiphons followed by a series of three readings, each of which is followed by a responsory. Those are the texts you’re looking for.

In the New Bedford Hours, the Responsories of the Office of the Dead are as follows:

1)      Credo quod redemptor…

2)      Qui lazarum…

3)      Domine quando veneris…

4)      Heu michi…

5)      Ne recorderis…

6)      Domine secundum actum meum noli…

7)      Peccantem me cotidie…

8)      Requiem eternam dona eis domine…

9)      Libera me domine de morte…

Once you’ve found your nine responsories, the next stop is Knud Ottosen’s Responsories and Versicles of the Latin Office of the Dead. Fortunately, this, too, is available as an online resource. Ottosen’s methodology was to assign a number to each of the dozens of possible responsories used in Matins of the Office of the Dead. In this case, the numeric series is: 14 72 24 32 57 28 68 82 38. By looking up the numeric series here, you can determine where this particular series was used. The series in the New Bedford Hours turns out to be rather common, having been incorporated in the Sarum (a.k.a. Salisbury) liturgy among others. But it WAS used in Lisieux. When this evidence is combined with the evidence in the calendar, litany, and Hours of the Virgin, I think we’ve got enough to conclude that this manuscript was made for the use of someone in Évreux or elsewhere in the Lisieux diocese.


“The City of Evreux, Normandy, France,” published in Harper’s Weekly, January 1871

After all this, the hymns and suffrages are a bit anticlimactic: Sebastian, Katherine, Barbara, Blasian, the male and female “Privileged Saints” (Denis, Gregory, Christopher, Blasian, and Egidius and, for the women, Katherine, Margaret, Martha, and Barbara), Ivo, and Eustache. None of these are particularly localizable. I would’ve been very happy to see a hymn to St. Ursinus here, but so it goes.

Here’s the last bit. To determine if a Book of Hours was made for a female patron, turn to the Marian prayer “Obsecro te.” About two-thirds of the way through, you’ll find this phrase: “…atque momentis vitae meae et mihi famulo tuo impetres…” Or, if you’re lucky, you might find this: “…atque momentis vitae meae et mihi famulae tuae impetres…” Latinists will have spotted the difference between the two: the former is masculine, the latter feminine. If you’ve got the latter, you can confidently conclude that your book was written for a woman. If you’ve got the former, you can’t be sure either way, since the text could have been copied without “translating” the gender. On folio 68v of the New Bedford Hours, we find the masculine version, and so the gender of our Lisieux patron is not determinable.

Finally we have to ask the question I direct at all medieval manuscripts in North America: how did you get here? Unfortunately, we don’t know much.

The manuscript was acquired by the New Bedford Public Library in 1912, from New York bookdealer Lathrop C. Harper. I haven’t been able to find it in any of his catalogues (yet), and I have found no trace of it in the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts. But we don’t need to find the Harper catalogue because the New Bedford Librarian very kindly transcribed it in his report to the Board of Directors in 1913:

“MS. Horae on Vellum—Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis cum Calendario, a Fifteenth Century French manuscript written in a large Gothic hand on 97 leaves of vellum, with nine large miniatures, nearly every leaf of the text decorated with a delicate floriated side border, the miniatures and some other pages being surrounded by similar, but rather more elaborate borders, 27 large illuminated initial letters, the smaller initials and the text also decorated (size 9 1-12 in. x 7 1-6 in.) in modern red velvet binding. g[ilt] e[dges]. Saec xv.”

In a report published several years later, the Librarian explained that he purchased the manuscript “a number of years ago, since it was deemed advisable that we should have in the library one sample of the beautiful work executed by the monks of the Middle Ages. The leaves of the book are vellum, and every letter and illustration is the handiwork of these mediaeval monks. Although a stiff price was paid for the book it would have been worth fully twice as much if the margins had not been cut in binding many years ago.”

Putting aside the librarian’s misconception about the origins of the volume (not written by monks but by professional guildsmen), these two descriptions provide important information: the book only had nine miniatures when the Library acquired it (in other words, it was already missing the lost leaves) and was bound in red velvet. It was bound in its current brown morocco leather after 1912.

Finally, by using the Hypertext Book of Hours, I was able to reconstruct the correct sequence of leaves and determine the missing sections. For those of you who care about such things, that information is detailed in my formal description of the manuscript: New Bedford Hours description

IMG_20170426_104030865_HDRFor 95 years, this beautiful Book of Hours has rested comfortably at the New Bedford Public Library, unknown, unrecorded, and unstudied. It is an instructive case study in how to interpret the evidence preserved in these medieval “best sellers,” but the manuscript also demonstrates that there is still material out there waiting to be brought to light.

RESOURCES CITED (in order of use):

Melissa Conway and Lisa Fagin Davis, Directory of Collections in the United States and Canada with Pre-1600 Manuscript Holdings:

Roger Wieck, Time Sanctified:

Les Enluminures, Book of Hours tutorial:

Hypertext Book of Hours:

Hermann Grotefend, “Zeitrechnung des Deutschen Mittelalters und der Neuzeit”:

Acta Sanctorum database (subscription only):

Acta Sanctorum scans:

Erik Drigsdahl, Book of Hours tutorial:

Knud Ottosen, Responsories and Versicles of the Latin Office of the Dead:

Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts:





Filed under Books of Hours, Medieval Manuscripts, Uncategorized

Manuscript Road Trip: Be on the Lookout!

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

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

Now that the Boston Public Library repatriation investigation has concluded, I have been given permission by the United States Department of Homeland Security to circulate this list of manuscripts reported as stolen from the Archivio di Stato in Venice in the 1950s. This list is a cleaned-up transcription of the original typescript (reproduced below) that I was given by Homeland Security several months ago, itself a translation of the original Italian, which I have not seen.

Nos. 3 and 36 were repatriated on April 19, 2017, by the Boston Public Library. No. 8 was returned by Harvard in 1975 (it was formerly Houghton MS Typ 405(2)). Be on the lookout for the rest of these missing manuscripts and miniatures, and feel free to circulate this list. In some cases, it is unclear whether the entire volume is missing or only the particular illuminated leaf delineated in the handlist.

Any of these items found in the United States should be reported to the US Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Program.


Series LXXVI:

No. 3: Mariegola della Scuola di Santa Maria della Valverde [the first illuminated page is missing] FOUND: formerly Boston Public Library MS f Med. 203, this manuscript was repatriated by the Library on April 19, 2017.

No. 4: Promissione del Doge Andrea Dandolo e Capitolare dei Consiglieri [f. 6, an illuminated leaf, is missing]

No. 6: Promissione dei Dogi Jacopo Tiepolo, etc. [f. 66, an illuminated leaf, is missing]

No. 8: Mariegola della Scuola di Sant’Anna [f. 3, an illuminated leaf, is missing] FOUND: formerly Harvard University, Houghton Library MS Typ 405(2), this leaf was repatriated by Harvard in 1975.

No. 20: A volume that “speaks about” the choral music of the San Marco Chapel, vol. II.

No. 24: Capitolare degli Ufficiali straordinari delle regioni [f. 3, an illuminated leaf, is missing]

No. 25: Mariella della Scuola della Beata Vergine e San Francesco

No. 27: Mariegola dell’arte e dei venditori del vetro [missing at least one or two leaves and miniatures]

No. 28: Mariegola della Scuola di Santa Margherita e di San Pietro di Mazzorbo [f. 1, an illuminated leaf, was stolen]

No. 30: Mariella della Scuola della Santissima Annunziata dei servi [f. 1, an illuminated leaf, was stolen]

No. 33: A parchment fragment depicting Saint Lucy (?)

No. 35: Mariella della Scuola di Santa Maria dei Narzeri [f. 1, an illuminated leaf, is missing]

No. 36: Mariella della Scuola dei Peltreri di S. Giovanni Evangelista [f. 1, an illuminated leaf, was stolen] FOUND: formerly Boston Public Library MS pb Med. 147, this leaf was repatriated by the Library on April 19, 2017.

No. 37: Two illuminated leaves missing from a choir book

No. 47: Commissione del Doge Leonardo a Cristoforo Moro luogotenente di Cipro

No. 53: Capitolare dei Provveditori dei 10 uffici [f. 1, an illuminated leaf, was stolen]

No. 57: Mariegola della Compagnia dei Corrieri [f. 1, an illuminated leaf, was stolen]

No. 58: Mariegola dei pesatori di Comun [f. 1, an illuminated leaf, was stolen]

No. 62: Capitolare I del Magistrato sopra le Pompe [f. 1, an illuminated leaf, was stolen]

No. 63: Mariegola della Scuola di Santa Maria della Consolazione [f. 2, an illuminated leaf, was stolen]

No. 68: A doctoral degree in utroque jure earned by Andrea Fondio, a citizen of Venice

No. 74: The third part of the “Libro doro” (Golden Book), containing the main rules of the Superior Council



Filed under Uncategorized

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.


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.


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.


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.

UV comparisan

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.

Zagayski bookplate.jpg

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)


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.


Filed under Medieval Manuscripts, Uncategorized

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.


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.

30% detail

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.

Screenshot (150)



Filed under Medieval Manuscripts, Otto F. Ege, Uncategorized

Manuscript Road Trip: Training the Next Generation of Fragmentologists

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

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

It’s been a while since I last posted, and for that I apologize. As some of you may know, along with my Boston manuscript colleagues I have been busy this fall with tours, public programming, and website development for the multi-venue exhibition, “Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections.” The show is starting to wind down, and two of the three venues have closed (the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum venue will be open until mid-January). But even if you didn’t get a chance to see the show in person, you can still access the exhibition’s searchable online catalogue here. We will continue to update these records with images, codicological descriptions, and other material, and will soon be adding batch-download functionality.

But I digress…

In addition to my day job at the Medieval Academy of America and my work on the exhibition, I teach one course each year as an adjunct at the Simmons School of Library and Information Science. The class, “The Medieval Manuscript from Charlemagne to Gutenberg,” is an introduction to working with pre-1600 manuscripts. I give my students a crash course on paleography, codicology, and illumination, certainly, but because these are library students, the real focus of my curriculum is identification, cataloguing, and metadata. The care and feeding, if you will, of pre-1600 manuscripts. If this blog has taught me anything, it’s that special collections librarians working in North America are fairly likely to encounter this kind of material at some point in their careers. I want my students to know what to do when they open a desk drawer someday and find a file with some single leaves in it, or discover a previously-overlooked box in the stacks that is filled with binding fragments. This sort of things happens with some regularity in North American collections, and I want my students to be prepared.

What that means in practice is that I want them to know how to approximate a date/place of origin for a manuscript (is it French? English? Italian? Twelfth century or fifteenth?). I don’t expect them to become Bernhard Bischoff over the course of one semester, of course, but I do expect them to master the basics. Because the odds are pretty good that they’ll find themselves working with single leaves in particular (again, if this blog has taught me anything…), I also want them to know how to identify the text on a dismembered manuscript that, again more likely than not, is going to have come from a Book of Hours, a choirbook, or a Bible (to help with that process, I developed this digital “flowchart”). Most of all, I want my students to know how to craft clean, consistent, and appropriate metadata in an open-access platform that will make these objects discoverable, retrievable, and accessible to colleagues, students, and scholars worldwide.

For the most part, my library science students have a different background and different professional goals than students in a doctoral program, and they come to me with a different skillset that reflects their pasts and anticipates their futures. By the time they are advanced enough students to take an elective course like mine, they’ve already been introduced to various metadata models, cataloguing strategies, and modes of digital scholarship. I don’t have to teach them about the importance of consistent, clean data, because they already know. I don’t have to explain to them what TEI is, or Dublin Core, or LC authorities. I don’t have to convince them that MARC records are problematic for primary source material or explain the many uses of a well-crafted 500 field. When they show up for the first day of class, they already understand the importance and function of a well-structured metadata record.

This brings me to my main subject, digital reconstruction.

I have written several times about “digital fragmentology” and my project to digitally reconstruct the Beauvais Missal. I’ve found 103 leaves so far and will continue to update the website as more leaves are identified. I’ve learned much about the manuscript over the course of this project and will be publishing some preliminary findings in 2017. That project, a test-case for the Broken Books application, is up and running here. The Broken Books application, spearheaded by Debra Cashion at St. Louis University, uses a data model specifically designed for use with single leaves, serving them up using a  IIIF-compliant model that retrieves digital images from holding collections and sequences them in a Mirador shared canvas.

But why do it? Why reconstruct broken books? What do we gain from the effort, other than perhaps a small moral victory over the biblioclasts? How many late fifteenth-century Books of Hours from Rouen does the world really need? We all know that many dismembered manuscripts weren’t necessarily high art or of great textual import. Many were already incomplete or damaged before they were broken up, a feature that biblioclasts often used to justify their actions. I would argue that recovering a lost text or major work of art in these books can’t be the only goal, as such discoveries are not guaranteed outcomes. I propose a different rationale. Instead of reconstructing these manuscripts solely for the sake of broader scholarship, we should look inward, embarking on these projects as pedagogical journeys for the sake of our students.  A chance encounter with mold brought me to this conclusion.

In a typical year for my Simmons course, I spend half of the class sessions teaching from pre-1600 manuscripts in the Rare Book Room of the Boston Public Library, a collection I know well, having spent several years cataloguing it. I assign each student a detached leaf from the collection to catalogue and present to the class as their final project. Two weeks into the 2015 fall semester, however, “A significant mold outbreak … forced the Boston Public Library to close its Rare Books Department for five to 10 weeks after staff found fuzzy white spores on a medieval manuscript and other prized items in the renowned repository…” Boston Globe, 18 Sept. 2015).


Boston Public Library, Copley Square

This was very bad news, of course, not just for the manuscripts, but for my class. Always one to take advantage of a teachable moment, I began class that day with a discussion about the long-term effects of humidity and temperature on parchment. But I was left with a serious problem. Learning that the Rare Book Room would be closed for months, I had to essentially throw out my syllabus midstream and rethink my entire plan for the semester. How could I achieve my desired learning outcomes if my students didn’t have unfettered access to a public collection of pre-1600 manuscript codices and leaves?

The show-and-tell piece was easy to resolve. My friend and colleague Ruth Rogers offered to let me bring my students twice to nearby Wellesley College to look at their very fine collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. The final project was more challenging to re-imagine on the fly.

At that time, my Beauvais Missal project was well underway and beginning to bearing fruit, so I decided to try a similar digital reconstruction project with my Simmons students. First, I had to select a dismembered manuscript for my students to reconstruct. Here is where Otto Ege comes in.


Otto F. Ege (1888 – 1951)

If you are regular reader of this blog, it will be old news to you to read that in the 1930s and 1940s, Cleveland dealer/ teacher/ collector Otto F. Ege, among other biblioclastic deeds, used the leaves of several dozen manuscripts to create thematic “portfolios” for sale. In other words, he (and after his death, his widow Louise) 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 ManuscriptsOriginal Leaves from Famous Bibles; and Original Leaves from Famous Books. Each leaf was annotated with its title and date and place of origin, adhered with acidic masking tape into a highly acidic matte, adorned with Ege’s letterpress label, and, the case of the Fifty Original Leaves set, stored with its 49 partners in a custom buckram box.

The leaves are presented in roughly chronological order (although Ege’s attributions are certainly debatable). In the Fifty Original Leaves set, these range from no. 1, a twelfth-century annotated lectern Bible, to no. 50, a late fifteenth-century bâtarde Book of Hours. These manuscripts were not chosen for their artistic excellence (although several of them are quite attractive); they were selected to illustrate a particular interest of Ege’s, the history of letterforms, with examples of romanesque script and various varieties of Gothic, as well as cursive, bâtarde, and humanistic hands. As an aside, it is worth noting that many of the manuscripts likely originally included miniatures, which Ege would have sold or given separately; the effort to reunite the excised miniatures with the Fifty Original Leaves manuscripts is just beginning, and until now has been mostly a matter of luck. Digital fragmentology projects will greatly enhance such efforts.


Known locations of Otto Ege’s Fifty Original Leaves of Medieval Manuscripts portfolios.

Ege’s wife Louise assembled forty of the Fifty Original Leaves portfolios shortly after Otto’s death in 1952, of which thirty intact portfolios have been identified (for more on the portfolios, see Scott Gwara’s book, Otto Ege’s Manuscripts). Think about that. That’s already thirty leaves of each of those fifty manuscripts, easily identifiable, easily digitized, wrapped up in a neat little buckram package. That’s a great place to start. Here’s a list of known Fifty Original Leaves numbered sets:

Collection Location Set No.
Ohio State Univ. Columbus, OH 2
Yale Univ. New Haven, CT 3
Cleveland Institute of Art Cleveland, OH 4
Ohio University Athens, OH 5
Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst Amherst, MA 6
State Lib. Of NY Albany, NY 8
Cincinnati Public Library Cincinnati, OH 9
Wadsworth Athenaeum Hartford, CT 10
Buffalo and Erie County Public Library Buffalo, NY 11
Toledo Museum of Art Toledo, OH 12
Univ. of Minnesota Minneapolis, MN 13
Kent State Kent, OH 15
Art Gallery of Ontario Toronto, ON 16
Univ. of Toronto Toronto, OH 17
SUNY Stony Brook Stony Brook, NY 19
Cleveland Public Library Cleveland, OH 22
Kenyon College Kenyon, OH 23
Lilly Library, Indiana Univ. Bloomington, IN 24
Univ. of Saskatchewan Saskatchewan, SA 25
Univ. of South Carolina Columbia, SC 27
Pierpont Morgan Library New York, NY 28
Lima Public Library Lima, OH 29
Denison Univ. Granville, OH 30
Univ. of Colorado Boulder, CO 32
Sold by Christie’s, 25 June, 1997, lot 16 [unknown] 33
Newark Public Library Newark, NJ 34
Rochester Institute of Technology Rochester, NY 35
Ontario College of Art and Design Toronto, ON 36
Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH 37
Univ. of North Carolina-Greensboro Greensboro 38
Sold by Christie’s, 30 January, 1980, lot 212. [unknown] 39
Smith College Northampton, MA  s.n.

Fifty Original Leaves no. 47 (Smith College, MS 35.47v)

For my 2015 Simmons students, I selected Fifty Original Leaves, leaf no. 47. This is a fairly non-descript late fifteenth-century French Book of Hours, perfectly nice, but nothing unusually spectacular. I chose it in part because of its ease of legibility, but also because, unlike some of the other leaves, it has no foliation. For a classroom project such as that I had in mind, foliation would kind of defeat the purpose.

While working on my Beauvais Missal project, I’ve traveled around the country photographing Fifty Original Leaves sets, so it was easy, between the already-digitized sets and my own JPGs, to collect images of twenty-one leaves of the manuscript, one leaf for each student. I set up a shared Dropbox folder and uploaded the images; I labeled each with an abbreviated repository name, randomly naming the sides a and b (determining recto and verso was part of the assignment). The first step was for each student to catalogue their leaf, using such resources as Roger Wieck’s Time Sanctified, the Clemens/Graham textbook Introduction to Manuscript Studies, and the online Hypertext Book of Hours. Once they identified the text on their leaf, they catalogued it in Omeka and then placed it in the appropriate section of the exhibit space (Matins, Nones, the Office of the Dead, and so on). For this part of the exercise, they had to compare their leaf to others in the same section that had been catalogued by their classmates and determine the proper sequence of leaves. They identified several consecutive leaves during this part of the assignment.

Once that portion of the project was complete, the analysis of the reconstructed manuscript began. I divided the students into groups and assigned them different features of the manuscript to investigate further and present online: the manuscript’s origin and use; its history; and its illustration.

Once the students catalogued their individual leaves and started analyzing what they had done, they made amazing and important discoveries: using the Schoenberg Database, they discovered that, when whole, the manuscript had been owned by Estelle Getz, and that it was MS 7 in her collection in the de Ricci Census (I:12) as well as no. 70 in Ege’s (II:1948) (by the time de Ricci got around to cataloguing Ege’s collection Ohio, Mrs. Getz had dispersed her California-based collection, which is why the manuscript appears in the Census twice); from the 1936 Anderson sales catalogue of the Getz collection, a catalogue that can be found in the Internet Archive (lot 1059), they were able to determine the precise sequence of the sections of the manuscript, some of which are atypical, and recover a list of the miniatures that had originally been part of the codex; and – even though the usual signposts of Obsecro Te and the antiphons and chapter readings of Prime and Nones are not extant – one of the students, Katherine Philbin, determined that the manuscript was made for the use of a woman from Troyes, by researching an unusual Marian text preserved in the manuscript and by studying the recovered responsories for the Office of the Dead. This research was done almost entirely using online resources. The project was so successful that several of the students, including Katherine, have continued to work on the site even though the class technically ended in December 2015. Several more leaves have been added and additional discoveries explained. And so, thanks to an unfortunate mold outbreak at the Boston Public Library, my students had the opportunity to catalogue a set of related single leaves and curate an online fragmentology project. There are so many fragmented manuscripts out there that I could – and will – run this project in my class for years without circling back to the same manuscript.

Smith 48r

Fifty Original Leaves no. 48 (Smith College, MS 35.48r)

This year, I put my students to work on Fifty Original Leaves, leaf no. 48, and the results were just as enlightening. What was once just another “late fifteenth-century French or Flemish Book of Hours” can – thanks to their research – be re-catalogued as a late-fifteenth century Book of Hours from Northeast France, made for a woman and for the Use of Châlons-sur-Marne, preserving  Wace’s French poem “La Vie de Sainte Marguerite,” with one identified miniature to boot.

The upshot is this: If your collection owns a Fifty Original Leaves portfolio, you may want to update your metadata with this new information for leaves 47 and 48. You’ll be able to add additional details to your records by searching for your leaf on each site, where you will find identifications of the particular text preserved on your leaf (this is also true for Beauvais Missal leaves, which are Fifty Original Leaves no. 15 but are also found independently of portfolios). As for next year, I’m already gathering images of Fifty Original Leaves leaf no. 30.


Fifty Original Leaves no. 30. What will we learn next year?

I’m far from the first person to suggest that the Ege leaves are perfect case studies in reconstructing broken books. Barbara Shailor was the first to see the potential applications of burgeoning digital technologies in her visionary article, “Otto Ege: His Manuscript Fragment Collection and the Opportunities Presented by Electronic Technology” published in the Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries in 2003, when digital technologies were in their infancy. In that article, she exhorts us to action, declaring that “the advent of electronic technology holds remarkable promise for re-assembling the fragments.” Her call was answered soon afterwards by Fred Porcheddu at Denison University, who developed an online collection of siloed images of several Ege portfolios, accessible by repository or by manuscript. That project was abandoned several years ago, however, and it has not been updated in some time. Other incipient projects have been designed as static siloes that don’t incorporate the interactivity and interoperability that are not only ideal but represent best practices in digital humanities. Users want and need to do more than just look at images, or even just download them. They want the images AND the underlying data, and they want to be able to take it, manipulate it, and use it. In the words of Will Noel at his 2016 Medieval Academy plenary, data should be promiscuous.

At long last, technology has caught up to our dreams and Shailor’s vision can now be fully realized. With well over 30,000 single leaves housed in more than 500 North American collections, there’s a lot to do. Some projects are already well underway, such as the work on Fifty Original Leaves no. 8 (a.k.a. the Wilton processional) being done by Alison Altstatt (Univ. of Northern Iowa). The Broken Books application is still in beta-testing, but I hope to be able to use it with my class in 2017. Using this platform in the classroom, IIIF-compliant images of a fragmented manuscript can be drawn into the shared canvas viewer to create a digital surrogate of the original codex; but the Broken Books platform allows students and scholars to do much more than that. With multiple annotation and viewing options, the reconstructed manuscript becomes more than the sum of its leaves. The cloud-based technology also widens the scope well beyond the classroom. Using the scattered Fifty Original Leaves portfolios, which themselves represent a well-defined corpus, students in any classroom worldwide will be able to collaborate on such projects. In the process, they will be initiated into the fragment-centric data model developed by the Broken Books team, a model they can use to dig deeper into the subject manuscript. Each leaf can be easily catalogued individually and also studied as part of the whole, leading to several important learning outcomes: a deeper understanding of the subject manuscript, its origins, function, contents, and history; and strengthened (and marketable) skills as digital humanists. In other words, students can work with fragmented medieval manuscripts in a context that values interoperability and clean, well-designed data, studying old books in a brand new way.


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