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.

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

Lima Beauvais Missal

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Evelyn

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

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

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

Famulae Tuae

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

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

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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.


Filed under Uncategorized

Manuscript Road Trip: Boston Manuscripts are Beyond Words

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

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

For the last five years, I have had the great pleasure of collaborating with four extraordinary and generous colleagues – Jeffrey Hamburger (Harvard Univ.), William P. Stoneman (Houghton Library, Harvard Univ.), Anne-Marie Eze (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), and Nancy Netzer (McMullen Museum, Boston College) – on a massive and unprecedented multi-venue and multi-media project that has at last come to fruition: Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections.


Beyond Words showcases 250 manuscripts and incunables from nineteen Boston-area lenders in three venues. At Harvard’s Houghton Library, Beyond Words: Church and Cloister explores books made by and for monks in the 7th through 13th centuries; at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College, Beyond Words: Pleasure and Piety showcases books for nobles from the Gothic period (including six, count’em, SIX leaves of the Beauvais Missal!), and at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Beyond Words: Italian Renaissance Books presents masterpieces of Renaissance book illumination, including incunabula.


Six Beauvais Missal leaves in one place! That’s more than have ever been seen together since it was cut up in 1942. (photo by Jay Moschella)

But Beyond Words is much more than a showcase of Boston’s hidden treasures. As you make your way through the three venues, you will follow the development of The Book, of literacy and literate culture, and, of course, medieval and Renaissance art over the course of a thousand years. In addition, you will meet many of characters who interacted with these books or actually brought them to Boston, such as Isabella Stewart Gardner herself.


Leaf from the glorious Noyon Missal, on display at the Houghton Library, Harvard University (Noyon, France, 1225–50) (Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Typ 120, f. 4r)


Isabella Stewart Gardner reading, photograph by Otto Rosenheim, London, 14 December 1906. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Archive.

The three venues are enhanced by an audioguide and digital interactives – videos, digital facsimiles, and annotated images – that supplement the labels and walltext. A catalogue with hundreds of color images and detailed entries on each book (beautifully designed and published by the McMullen Museum and available here) includes hundreds of full-color images, contributions by more than 80 scholars, and many previously-unpublished discoveries. A three-day symposium is planned for November 3-5. Finally, the project website includes detailed information about visiting each venue, a calendar of public programming, a link to the audioguide, and a searchable database of objects in the show, many of which include links to online images. The website will be updated regularly, so check back often to see what’s new! Follow us on Twitter @BeyondWords2016 for regular updates.

If you’re going to be in Boston between now and the end of the year, please take advantage of this opportunity to meet some of Boston’s greatest treasures. While each venue can stand on its own, I encourage you to visit the sites in chronological order if possible – Houghton, McMullen, Gardner – so you can experience the scope and narrative of the show the way we intended.


A Renaissance scholar’s studiolo at the Gardner Museum

We hope to see you in Boston!


Filed under Uncategorized

Manuscript Road Trip: Manuscrits de Québec

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

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

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


Québec City: Lots to see, but no manuscripts


Bibliothèque et Archives nationale du Québec (Montreal)

Bibliothèque centrale de la Ville de Montréal (Montreal)

Concordia University (Montreal)

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

McGill University (Montreal)

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Montreal)

Musée McCord (Montreal)

Université de Montréal (Montreal)

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

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

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

Canada Map

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

Montreal MFA acq. 1955.3770 (St. Sebaldus, by Simon Bening)

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







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



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


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


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

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

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


UQAM MS 1, f. 1


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


UQAM MS 2, f. 22v

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


UQAM MS 3, f. 1

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


UQAM YPA 224, f. 1

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






Filed under Medieval Manuscripts, Uncategorized

Manuscript Road Trip: An Otto Ege Treasure Trove in Maine

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

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

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

Indeed he had.

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


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

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

Colby vThe Beauvais Missal

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

The Wilton Processional

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


Leaf of the Wilton Processional


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


Another Leaf of the Wilton Processional


1946 Mirror

Damn Yankees                                   (remember, I live in Boston)

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

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

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



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

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


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




Filed under Medieval Manuscripts, Otto F. Ege, Uncategorized

Manuscript Road Trip, Canadian Edition: Newfoundland

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

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

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


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



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

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


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

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



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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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




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