Manuscript Road Trip: Introducing the Beauvais Missal!

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 spent the weekend at the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, attending the 8th Annual Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscripts in the Digital Age. The theme was “Picking up the Pieces,” devoted to fragments and fragmentology, and I was asked to present my digital reconstruction of the Beauvais Missal and discuss some of my initial findings. And here it is:

http://brokenbooks2.omeka.net

On the site, you will find records for each of the 94 known leaves of the Missal, links to brief summaries of my initial findings (in the Exhibit space), and a link out to the Broken Books Mirador manifest, the digital surrogate of the Beauvais Missal.

Ninety-four leaves located, 215 to go! I know they’re out there somewhere…

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Manuscript Road Trip: The Promise of Digital Fragmentology

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

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

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

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 Examples of Binding FragmentsBinding fragments result from medieval and early modern recycling of worn or outdated manuscripts, not from a collector’s destructive whim.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Digital Selection of Beauvais Missal Leaves

A Digital Selection of Beauvais Missal Leaves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reconstruction of Ege

Reconstruction of Ege “Fifty Original Leaves” MS 1

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

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

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

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

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

Reconstructed Quire of the Beauvais Missal

Reconstructed Quire of the Beauvais Missal

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

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

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

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Manuscript Road Trip: A DH Detour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Manuscript Road Trip: The Houghton Library

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

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

As of now, I have “visited” every state in the continental U.S., and in only one – North Dakota – have I not found a single medieval leaf or codex. Canada’s next, but before I virtually head up to Nova Scotia, I’m going to write one more post from my hometown of Boston, about the collection that lies within a stone’s throw of my Medieval Academy office: the Houghton Library at Harvard University.

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houghton

The Houghton Library, Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Harvard has been acquiring manuscripts since the early nineteenth century. The first manuscripts to arrive were seven codices (six Greek and one Latin) given by Edward Everett in 1819;  in 1874, Charles Sumner gave twenty-six medieval manuscripts to the University. The first purchases were seven manuscripts bought at the 1896 Phillipps sale at Sotheby’s, and the collection has grown from there.  For more on the early development of the collection, see pp. xii-xiv of Laura Light’s 1995 Catalogue of medieval and renaissance manuscripts in the Houghton Library, Harvard University.

One of the earliest medieval manuscripts in North America: MS Typ 6 (Jerome's letter to Heliodorus, s. VIII 2/2), written in Luxeuil script.

MS Typ 6 (fragment of Jerome’s letter to Heliodorus, ca. 750-800).

According to the Houghton website, Harvard was the first American institution to construct a separate building for its rare material, opening the Houghton Library in 1942. With the foundational collection supplemented by purchases and bequests, including the acquisition of collections compiled by William K. Richardson and Philip Hofer, the Houghton Library currently houses more than 1,000 codices and leaves, including some of the earliest medieval material in North America.

Houghton MS Typ 1 (

Houghton MS Typ 1 (“The Calderini Pontifical”), f. 1 (Rome, ca. 1380)

Today, the Houghton collection runs the gamut, from early fragments included in E. A. Lowe’s classic Codices Latini antiquiores to Carolingian leaves studied by Bernhard Bischoff, through every genre and era to major masterpieces of Renaissance manuscript and incunable illumination. Manuscripts from the collections of some of the most important scriptoria, patrons, and collectors have found their way into Houghton, from Tours and Montecassino to Jean, Duc de Berry and Sir Thomas Phillipps.

Nearly every major project on which I have worked in my career has had a Houghton connection: in the reading room, I have examined two leaves of the Gottschalk Antiphonal (the subject of my doctoral dissertation and first book), two copies of the Chronique Anonyme Universelle (here and here), and, most recently, two leaves of the Beauvais Missal. I’ve consulted the notes compiled by William H. Bond as he prepared his Supplement to the de Ricci Census, and I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit searching through Houghton’s vast auction and sales catalogue collection for provenance information on particular manuscripts in U.S. collections. The Houghton collection is so vast and varied that, whatever topic you are working on, you will always find something of interest, and the incredibly knowledgeable curators and reading room staff are always ready to help you find what you seek. Be sure to schedule your research to include working on a Friday, when readers join curators and reading room staff mid-morning for coffee and cookies.

Houghton MS Typ 120 (leaf from the

Houghton MS Typ 120 (leaf from the “Noyon Missal”) (Noyon, s. XIII 1/2)

As helpful as the staff is, you will not need their assistance to consult the vast amount of information about the collection and its holdings that is now available online. There are three online access points for the manuscripts: HOLLIS (MARC records in Harvard’s OPAC), the Digital Medieval Manuscripts collection, and the external database Digital Scriptorium (all images open access). Each point of access requires a different search strategy and offers a slightly different type of data (detailed metadata, digital surrogates, and selected images, respectively), so you should choose your access depending on your particular needs. Search strategies for HOLLIS and the Digital Medieval Manuscripts databases can be found here. If you know the shelfmark of the manuscript in which you are interested, the best place to start is the Digital Medieval Manuscripts collection. From the Manuscript Collections page, click on the shelfmark prefix (MSS Lat, MSS Ger, or MSS Typ, for example) and then scroll down to the manuscript you are looking for. There you will find links to the digital surrogate (if available) and a detailed bibliography, both of which also link to the HOLLIS record. William P. Stoneman, Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts, is particularly interested in keeping the bibliographies up-to-date and asks that you please contact him with additional references to particular manuscripts. Digitization is ongoing, so if the manuscript you’re looking for hasn’t been digitized yet, it is probably in the queue and will be available soon.

Houghton MS Richardson 42 (

Houghton, MS Richardson 42 (“The De Buz Hours”), f. 118, the Office of the Dead (France, ca. 1420-25)

I’ll use a recently-digitzed masterpiece, the De Buz Hours (a.k.a. MS Richardson 42), as an example. The HOLLIS record provides authority-controlled metadata pertaining to the contents, codicological structure, binding, script, illumination, and provenance, among other MARC/AMREMM fields. On the Digital Medieval Manuscripts page, you will find links to a detailed bibliography as well as a full, open-access digital surrogate. Meanwhile, over at Digital Scriptorium, you will find selected open-access images as well as codicological and descriptive metadata in an image databank that includes dozens of other collections.

Other online resources include a project devoted to Books of Hours titled Picturing Prayer, the Houghton blog, and a tumblr.

Several other Harvard collections also house early manuscripts: the Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Business School. Some of this material can be found in HOLLIS or via the collections’ websites.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 3.16.53 PMMuch of the cataloguing and digitization currently underway at Houghton is in preparation for the 2016 exhibit Pages from the Past that will showcase more than 250 pre-1600 manuscripts and incunables from Boston-area collections. The Houghton Library will serve as one of three exhibition venues (parts of the exhibit will also be installed at the McMullen Museum at Boston College and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) but will also be the major lender, contributing more than half of the exhibited items. The project was recently awarded a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that, combined with other sources of support, will allow the co-curators (Jeffrey Hamburger, William P. Stoneman, Anne-Marie Eze, Nancy Netzer, and myself) to fully realize our vision of a pedagogically sound exhibit accompanied by a detailed catalogue, scholarly colloquium, significant public programming, and full digitization and online availability of every item in the show. The exhibit will open in September 2016. I hope you will have the chance to come to Boston and see these treasures for yourself.

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Manuscript Road Trip: Reconstructing the Beauvais Missal

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

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

If you’ve been travelling with me on this virtual road trip around the United States, you have almost certainly come to know the dismembered beauty known as The Beauvais Missal. I’ve mentioned it many times and shown you several different leaves found in various collections. And I’ve ruminated about the possibility of digitally reassembling this masterpiece of thirteenth-century illumination. Well, it’s time to stop dreaming and start doing.

Cleveland Museum of Art, ACC. 1982.141 verso

Cleveland Museum of Art, Acc. 1982.141 verso

Working with the “Broken Books” project at St. Louis University, I have begun a digital reconstruction of the Beauvais Missal. The “Broken Books” project will result in the development of a platform for reconstructing broken books as well as the establishment of a metadata structure designed specifically for manuscript fragments and leaves. My Beauvais Missal project will serve as one of several case studies in the project’s early stages.

The Beauvais Missal (also known as the Hangest Missal) has been much studied, by scholars such as Barbara Shailor, Christopher de Hamel, Anthony Edwards, Alison Stones, and Peter Kidd, among others. You’d think there couldn’t possibly be anything more to discover about it. But for all the times it’s been mentioned in print or online (try Googling “Beauvais Missal”), there is still much to learn about its contents and history. I’m working on the former, and Peter Kidd has recently filled in some of the missing pieces of the latter, allowing us to reconstruct much of the manuscript’s pre-biblioclastic journey; see his recent blogposts here and here.

To sum up:

  1. The manuscript was written for the use of Beauvais in the late thirteenth century and is said to have originally been the third of a three-volume set. The codex originally comprised 309 leaves. No one has ever identified the other volumes of the set.
  2. Given to the Beauvais Cathedral in 1356 by Robert de Hangest, a former canon, to ensure that his death would be commemorated every year. We only know this because the donation inscription was transcribed by later catalogues; the leaf preserving the inscription was lost when the manuscript was dismembered.
  3. The manuscript is recorded in the Beauvais Cathedral library as late as the seventeenth century. It is unclear when the Beauvais Cathedral library was dispersed, but, like many early French libraries, the collection was probably broken up soon after the French Revolution.
  4. Owned by Didier Petit de Meurville (1793-1873), of Lyon; his sale, 1843, lot 354;
  5. Owned by four generations of the Brölemann family: Henry-Auguste Brölemann (1775-1854) of Lyon; his son Emile-Thierry Brölemann (1800-1869); his son Arthur-Auguste Brölemann (1826-1904); his sister Albertine Brölemann (1831-1920); her daughter Blanche Bontoux (1859-1955), sold by her at Sotheby’s, 4 May 1926, lot 161, to;
  6. William Permain, as agent for;
  7. William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951);
  8. Sold from his collection in October 1942 through Gimbel’s NY, to;
  9. NY bookdealer Philip Duschnes (1897-1970), who cut it up and sold many of its leaves to;
  10. Otto F. Ege (1888-1951). Ege went to on give away or sell many leaves of the manuscript. Single leaves of the Beauvais Missal are best known as No. 15 in the “Fifty Original Leaves of Medieval Manuscripts” portfolios, of which forty were issued.
Harvard Univ., Houghton Library MS Type 956 2 verso (left) reunited with its originally consecutive leaf, sold at Christie's on 4 Sept. 2013, lot 262 1 (at right). Note the gold offset in the upper gutter of the Houghton leaf, matching the decoration in the upper left corner of the Christie's leaf.

Harvard Univ., Houghton Library MS Typ 956 2 verso (left) reunited with its originally consecutive leaf, sold at Christie’s on 4 Sept. 2013, lot 262 1 (at right). Note the gold offset in the upper right corner of the Houghton leaf, matching the decoration in the upper left corner of the Christie’s leaf.

I’ve made a lot of progress already, identifying the contents of more than 80 known leaves, pairing up consecutive leaves, reconstructing quire structure. There are no folio numbers, but the contents are in liturgical (calendrical) order. The trick is identifying the feastday if there are no rubrics. Liturgy, it turns out, is quite Google-able. In addition, the gold decoration sometimes leaves mirror-image offsets on formerly-consecutive leaves, where the leaves were pressed together during the centuries when the book lay closed (example above).

I’m not quite ready to share all of my observations about the manuscript, but one thing is clear from the work I’ve already done on the contents of each leaf: the Beauvais Missal was a summer volume, preserving Mass texts and chant for feasts falling between the week after Easter and the end of November. The manuscript also included a calendar, a section of special masses, and the Canon of the Mass (whose leaves have only fifteen lines of text as opposed to the twenty-one lines elsewhere in the manuscript; see the Cleveland Museum of Art leaf above).

The virtual reconstruction of this manuscript is of course only possible because of recent advances in the field of digital humanities, in particular database structure, image annotation, and the encoding and interoperability of both.

Priest praying over the Host (Oberlin College, Allen Memorial Art Gallery, Acc. 1993.16 recto, detail)

Priest praying over the Host (Oberlin College, Allen Memorial Art Gallery, Acc. 1993.16 recto, detail)

But it is the very materiality of medieval manuscripts that makes them so magical. As anyone who has touched a 1,000-year-old manuscript can attest, knowing that you are reading a page written, held, read, and passed on by generations of humans is an extraordinary experience. As manuscript scholars and digital humanists, we should never lose sight of the ultimate, essential reality: these are books, meant to be touched and read and handled (unless, of course, a curator or conservator decides otherwise). A digital surrogate can only take us so far.

Priest saying Mass (Cleveland Museum of Art, ACC. 1982.141 verso, detail)

Priest saying Mass (Cleveland Museum of Art, ACC. 1982.141 verso, detail)

A digital image can’t tell you how each side of the parchment feels, it can’t show you how to definitively distinguish the hair side from the flesh side, a distinction of critical importance for understanding the structure of a medieval manuscript. Sometimes images are cropped, because the photographer doesn’t know that the margins of the leaf may be just as important as the text; in the case of the Beauvais Missal, uncropped edges may include important physical clues about the binding structure, such as sewing holes or evidence of repairs. Effaced inscriptions or annotations often can’t be read in a standard image and need to be examined in situ, using multi-spectral imaging techniques if you’re lucky enough to have access to such equipment. These are just a few examples of the kind of evidence that only a physical examination can uncover. In order to completely understand the original structure and binding and sequence of the leaves in the Beauvais Missal, I need to study as many leaves as possible in person.

And so a few weeks ago I embarked on an actual – rather than a virtual – road trip, visiting twelve of the fifteen Beauvais Missal leaves currently residing in Ohio. It was a whirlwind tour as I visiting eleven collections in four days, but I didn’t need much time with each leaf. I put a thousand miles on my rental car, driving from Cleveland to Columbus to Toledo before getting back to my day job and heading for the Annual Meeting of the Medieval Academy of America at the University of Notre Dame. All of that driving was well worth it. I saw several leaves I hadn’t known about, took high-resolution images of leaves for which I didn’t have good images already, saw old friends, and got to know collections that were new to me.

Ecclesia and Synagoga (Cleveland Museum of Art, ACC. 1982.141 verso, detail)

Ecclesia and Synagoga (Cleveland Museum of Art, ACC. 1982.141 verso, detail)

I saw the highlights of the manuscript on my first day. The 1926 Sotheby’s catalogue describes the Missal as having four historiated initials. Three are in north-east Ohio: two on a leaf at the Cleveland Museum of Art (above and at right) and one on a leaf at the Allen Art Gallery at Oberlin. The fourth, probably from the Te Igitur section of the Canon, is lost. It is no co-incidence that so many leaves of the manuscript, including both surviving historiated leaves, can today be found in Ohio, since that state was Otto Ege’s home turf.

Over the next few days, I visited Kenyon College, the Cleveland Public Library, a private collection in Oberlin, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Ohio State University, the University of Ohio, and the Toledo Museum of Art. I had to skip a few Ohio collections for want of time, so I chose not to visit collections whose leaves had already been photographed at high-resolution: Case Western Reserve University, Denison University, and the Cincinnati Public Library. My thanks to all of the librarians and curators who so generously shared their material with me.

Two Ohio collections with Ege material are particularly noteworthy: The Rowfant Club in Cleveland and the Lima Public Library. These collections could not be more different – an urban bibliophilic men’s club and a small public library in the middle of farm country – and yet both institutions were important to Ege.

Beauvais Missal leaf, Rowfant Club, Cleveland

Beauvais Missal leaf, Rowfant Club, Cleveland

In 1940, Ege was elected an honorary member of the Rowfant Club, and he probably donated their Beauvais Missal leaf at some point in the 1940s. The leaf at the Rowfant Club has been hiding in plain sight for decades, prominently displayed in a custom pivoting wall-mount in the doorway of the main meeting room (at left). The bookcases along the walls are filled with tall candlesticks, of great significance to the members. When a gentleman joins the Rowfant Club, he selects a candlestick to serve as his totem throughout his life at the club. It serves as his placecard at dinner and represents him in absentia. When he dies, the members gather to memorialize their departed friend, lighting and snuffing his candle before setting it upon a high shelf in perpetual remembrance.

Otto F. Ege's Rowfant Club candlestick, as reproduced in the Club's Candlestick Book.

Otto F. Ege’s Rowfant Club candlestick, as reproduced in the Club’s Candlestick Book.

Ege’s candlestick, of his own design, is shown at right.

Ege’s relationship with the Lima Public Library was of a fiscal nature. He worked out an arrangement with the Library whereby they would act as his local agent, selling medieval manuscript leaves on his behalf and keeping a portion of the proceeds to benefit their Staff Loan Fund. This arrangement lasted for several decades, to the benefit of all parties. During my morning in Lima, the librarian very kindly showed me several thick folders of correspondence between Ege and the Library stretching across decades. I was very excited to find this very early reference to the Beauvais Missal, a letter to the Lima librarian dated 1 October 1942 in which Ege writes, “You may have expected nine new items, the FINEST, Beauvais, France 1285 (will be sent shortly)…”

Lima Public Library, 1 Oct. 1942 correspondence between Otto F. Ege and librarian Mrs. Silver.

Lima Public Library, 1 Oct. 1942 correspondence between Otto F. Ege and the Lima librarian.

This letter (shown at left) was written several weeks BEFORE Duschnes bought and dismembered the manuscript, suggesting that he and Ege decided in advance to buy, and to break, the Beauvais Missal. And now, seventy-three years later, it’s time to put it back together.

[note: the following paragraph and the list below have been updated as of 15 July 2015]

So far, I’ve assembled images and metadata for 93 leaves (some now lost), representing twenty-two states and six countries. Several of the leaves in private hands were brought to my attention by Peter Kidd, to whom I am most grateful. I’m happy to share my handlist here – the largest list of Beauvais Missal leaves ever compiled:

Beauvais Missal Leaves in the United States

Beauvais Missal Leaves in the United States

United States

AZ           Phoenix                  Phoenix Public Library

CA           Los Angeles          [private collection]

CO          Boulder                  Univ. of Colorado

CT           Hartford                 Wadsworth Athenaeum

CT           New Haven            Yale University (2 leaves)

FL                                          [private collection] (2 leaves)

FL            St. Petersburg       Museum of Fine Arts

IN           Bloomington           Lilly Library, Indiana University

IN           Indianapolis            Indianapolis Museum of Art

KY           Louisville                The University of Louisville

MA         Amherst                 Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst

MA         Boston                   Boston Public Library (2 leaves)

MA         Cambridge             Houghton Library, Harvard Univ. (2 leaves)

MA         Northampton         Smith College

MA         Northampton        Smith College Museum of Art

MA         Wellesley             Wellesley College (2 leaves)

MD         Bethesda             Private Collection

MI          East Lansing        Michigan State Univ.

MI          Kalamazoo          Western Michigan Univ.

MN        Minneapolis         Univ. of Minnesota

NC          Greensboro       UNC-Greensboro

NH          Hanover             Dartmouth College

NJ           New Brunswick  Rutgers University

NJ           Newark               Newark Public Library

NY          Albany                 State Library of New York

NY          Buffalo                 Buffalo and Erie County Public Library

NY          Hamilton              Colgate Univ., Picker Art Gallery

NY          New York            Metropolitan Museum of Art

NY          New York            Morgan Library

NY          Rochester           Rochester Institute of Technology

NY          Rochester           Sibley Music Library, Eastman School of Music (2 leaves)

NY          Stony Brook        SUNY Stony Brook

OH          Athens                 Ohio University

OH          Bath                     Private Collection

OH          Cincinnati            Cincinnati Public Library

OH          Cleveland            Case Western Reserve University

OH          Cleveland            Cleveland Museum of Art

OH          Cleveland            Cleveland Public Library (2 leaves)

OH          Cleveland            Rowfant Club

OH          Columbus            The Ohio State Univ.

OH          Granville              Denison University

OH          Kent                      Kent State University

OH          Kenyon                 Kenyon College

OH          Lima                     Lima Public Library

OH          Oberlin                 Allen Memorial Art Museum

OH          Oberlin                 Robert and Gina Lodge

OH          Toledo                  Toledo Museum of Art

PA          Bryn Athyn            Glencairn Museum (2 leaves)

RI            Providence           Rhode Island School of Design

SC           Columbia             Univ. of South Carolina

TN          Memphis               Rhodes College (2 leaves)

VA           Great Falls            Private Collection (formerly Charles Edwin Puckett, Bookseller)

VA          Roanoke               Hollins Univ. (2 leaves)

WA         Seattle                  Univ. of Washington

Canada

ONT       Toronto                Art Gallery of Ontario

ONT       Toronto                Ontario College of Art and Design

ONT       Toronto                Univ. of Toronto

SASK      Saskatchewan   Univ. of Saskatchewan

England

Christopher de Hamel

[Private collection outside of London] (sold Sotheby’s London 7/10/2012, lot 2a)

[Private collection in Yorkshire, RMGYMss]

[Private collection]

Japan

[Private collection]

Monaco

[Private collection] (three leaves, bought at: Christie’s 09/04/2013, lot 262, no. 3; PBA Galleries, Auction 540, lot 200; and Mackus Company)

Norway

Oslo       Schoyen MS 222 (2 leaves)

As many as thirty leaves are known but untraced, including:

Christie’s 01/30/1980, lot 212

Christie’s, 06/25/1997, lot 16

Christie’s 09/04/2013, lot 262, nos. 1 and 2 (ex-Vershbow, later Pirages)

Bauman Rare Books

Bruce Ferrini Rare Books, Akron, Ohio, Catalogue 1 (1987), nos. 48-49 (2 leaves)

Endowment for Biblical Research, Boston University

Mackus Company, bookseller (1 leaf)

Maggs, London, Bulletin 11 (1982), no. 43 

Quaritch, cat. 1270 (2000), nr. 79

Sotheby’s London, 11/26/1985, lot 61 (calendar leaf)

Sotheby’s London 12/5/1994, lot 4

Sotheby’s London 6/19/2001, lot 9

Also lost are Beauvais Missal leaves from twelve of Ege’s “50 Original Leaves” portfolios, numbered sets 1, 3, 4 (this set belongs to the Cleveland Institute of Art but is lacking its Beauvais Missal leaf), 7, 14, 18, 20, 21, 26, 31, 33, and 39.

I don’t have images of all of these untraced leaves, so it’s possible that some of these references are to the same leaf sold again. It’s been said that there is a leaf on the wall at the University Club in Chicago, but the staff of the Club assures me that even if there once was a leaf in their art collection, it is no longer there.

I hope to have a working online prototype of the digital surrogate by year’s end. I now appeal to my readers to help me find additional leaves. Here’s how to recognize them:

Typical Missal page (Case Western Reserve University, Ege MS 15 verso)

Typical Missal page (Case Western Reserve University, Ege MS 15 verso)

Typical Canon page (Cleveland Public Library MS Ege 15 verso)

Typical Canon page (Cleveland Public Library MS Ege 15 verso)

Typical Missal page with music (Michigan State Univ., Mapcase MSS 325, no. 2 recto)

Typical Missal page with music (Michigan State Univ., Mapcase MSS 325, no. 2 recto)

In addition to the stylistic elements, which are certainly distinctive (in particular the leafy, pointed extensions into the margins), you can identify leaves of the Beauvais Missal by their dimensions. The leaves are written in two columns of 15 or 21 lines (or ten staves of music) per page, and the dimensions are around 290 x 200 mm (if untrimmed) with a written space of 200 x 135 mm. I am certain there are more leaves out there. If you think (or know) you’ve got one, or know of any I’ve missed, please contact me at LFD@TheMedievalAcademy.org!

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Filed under Medieval Manuscripts, Otto F. Ege

Manuscript Road Trip: Isabella Stewart Gardner

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

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

Inside an almost unassuming brick building on The Fenway, around the corner from the massive Museum of Fine Arts, hides one of Boston’s greatest treasures. Step inside the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and you will find yourself literally transported, completely surrounded by medieval and Renaissance art housed in a building that is itself a work of art, fitted throughout with pre-modern spolia enclosing a beautiful courtyard garden. working map The Gardner is not a typical museum, with permanent installations carefully crafted by curators and educators for maximum edification; instead, each and every piece of art in the Museum, every painting, tapestry, book, chaise, and sculpture, every Titian, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Botticelli, sits exactly where it was placed by Mrs. Gardner (as she is called by the staff). Even the frames of the paintings famously stolen in 1990 remain on the walls, as a testament not only to the missing artwork but to Mrs. Gardner’s wishes. When you walk through the galleries, you are experiencing not only the art but the collector’s hand and vision.  Contextualizing and explanatory labels are printed on detached gallery cards instead of posted on the walls, lest they interfere with the installations. Experiencing Isabella Stewart Gardner’s art as she wanted it to be experienced is both intimate and expansive.

Raphael Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Photo: Sean Dungan

Raphael Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Photo: Sean Dungan

Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner (John Singer Sargent, 1856-1925) (1888), Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner (John Singer Sargent, 1856-1925) (1888), Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) was an extraordinary connoisseur who stood at the center of Boston’s cultural life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She was a patron and friend to several important artists, including John Singer Sargent (whose famed portrait of Mrs. Gardner is at the left), and she was an important collector of art, early printing, and illuminated manuscripts. Anne-Marie Eze, former Associate Curator of the Collection, writes that “the manuscripts are the hidden treasures of the museum and will shed new light on the history of the art of illumination as well as Gardner’s tastes in art” (personal correspondence). Eze has been researching and lecturing to the public about the book collection since 2010 and recently published this article about the Museum’s Italian manuscripts. She is one of the principal curators of the 2016 Pages from the Past exhibit for which the Gardner Museum will serve as both a lender and a venue, and I thank her for her contributions to this post.

 Mrs. Gardner began buying books and manuscripts in 1886, nearly a decade before she began to make the major purchases for which the Museum is best known. The collection has forty-two complete or fragmentary manuscripts dating from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Isabella Gardner herself authored the first partial handlist of her book collection in 1906; the catalogue is available here.

Dante Aligheiri, La chomedia di Dante Alighieri da Firenze, around 1410-1420, f.7 (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)

Dante Aligheiri, La chomedia di Dante Alighieri da Firenze, around 1410-1420, f.7 (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)

The 1906 catalogue includes just a few of the manuscripts, such as this early fifteenth-century Dante. Mrs. Gardner describes the manuscript as follows: “Dante Alighieri da Firenze/ MS. of the fourteenth century on vellum; finely painted and richly illuminated initials, the first of which contains a miniature portrait of Dante [shown here], another one of Christ blessing, etc. From Lord Guildford’s and the Barrois Collection, [bought] at the Ashburnham sale, June 10, 1901.” (1906 catalogue, p. 21). You may remember the Barrois/Ashburnham sale from my last post; it was at the same sale that Sydney Cockerell purchased twenty-one manuscripts for the Boston Public Library.

The Annunciation, Jean Bourdichon, Book of Hours, 1490-1515, manuscript, p. 34 (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)

The Annunciation, Jean Bourdichon, Book of Hours, 1490-1515, manuscript, p. 34 (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)

A more professional catalogue was compiled in 1922 by Mrs. Gardner and Morris Carter, a librarian who served as the museum’s first director. Manuscript 6. T. 1, an exquisite and profusely illustrated Book of Hours attributed to the French illuminator Jean Bourdichon (1457 – 1521), is described without attribution on pp. 18-22. “The Bourdichon,” as we’ve come to call it, is a masterpiece of early sixteenth-century painting, showing extraordinary technical skill, masterful trompe l’oeuil, scenic depth, and figural realism. These features are all evident in the Annunciation miniature at the left, as well as the examples below (The Visitation, and the Adoration of the Magi).

The Visitation, Jean Bourdichon, Book of Hours, 1490-1515, manuscript, p. 46 (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)

The Visitation, Jean Bourdichon, Book of Hours, 1490-1515, manuscript, p. 46 (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)

The Adoration of the Magi (ISGM 6.T.1, Book of Hours, ca. 1515, p. 71)

The Adoration of the Magi, Jean Bourdichon, Book of Hours, 1490-1515, manuscript, p. 71 (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)

 Even though the manuscripts were included in the de Ricci Census (I:930-936 and II:2297), they were largely unknown until Eze began studying them in 2010. This is in part because they are safely tucked away where Mrs. Gardner shelved them, in cabinet bookcases in the Long Gallery on the third floor, behind heavy velvet curtains that visitors are indeed invited to lift. One exception is the early seventeenth-century Neopolitan Choirbook displayed beneath Sargent’s portrait of Mrs. Gardner in the Gothic Room. In this video about the choirbook, Eze tells how it was given to Mrs. Gardner by her brother-in-law, who claimed that the manuscript had been rescued from a shipwreck off the coast of Naples. In the video, you will also hear Harvard University Professor of Music Tom Kelly sing Gregorian chant directly from the manuscript.

Courtyard with nasturtium display, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Photo: Sean Dungan

Courtyard with nasturtium display, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Photo: Sean Dungan

In preparation for the exhibit, the choicest manuscripts are currently undergoing conservation and digitization; they won’t be unknown for long. When the Museum opened in 1917, Mrs. Gardner described her motivation for displaying her collection: “Years ago I decided that the greatest need in our Country was Art… We were a very young country and had very few opportunities of seeing beautiful things, works of art… So, I determined to make it my life’s work if I could.” The Gardner Museum is one of my favorite places in Boston; I hope now you understand why. For Mrs. Gardner’s vision, for her collection, and for her Museum, I, for one, am extremely grateful.

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Manuscript Road Trip: The Boston Public Library

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 week, after eighteen months, forty-nine posts, and forty-eight states, the Manuscript Road Trip goes home. Welcome to Boston!

I’ve lived just west of Boston for fifteen years, much of that time spent working as a consultant cataloguing collections of medieval manuscripts in the area. Ironically, some of the collections I know so well are not particularly well-known outside New England. This will change in the fall of 2016 with the opening of “Pages from the Past,” a major exhibition of several hundred manuscripts from more than a dozen Boston-area collections, an exhibit I have the great privilege of co-curating with Jeffrey Hamburger, William Stoneman, Nancy Netzer, and Anne-Marie Eze. As the exhibit is still eighteen months away, I’m going to spend the next few weeks writing about collections in the Boston area.working mapLet’s start with one of the great treasures of the City of Boston: The Boston Public Library.Exterior

CourtyardThe Boston Public Library, founded in 1854, was the first municipal “Free Library” in the United States. In the 1880s, architect Charles McKim was commissioned to design a worthy home for the Library, and the result is an architectural gem.interior With its palazzo-style courtyard and famed murals by John Singer Sargent, the Central Branch at Copley Square is one of the premier examples of Renaissance-revival Beaux Arts design. Lest the grand and imposing edifice intimidate the public it was designed to serve, the simple phrase “FREE TO ALL” in granite relief above the arched doorways serves as a constant reminder of the Library’s mission and mandate.

Free to All

That mission includes the stewardship of several extremely important special collections, primarily Americana (John Adams’ personal library, for example, as well as early American and Civil War collections and the Sacco and Vanzetti Defense archive). Unbeknownst to most library patrons, the Boston Public Library is also home to several hundred medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.

BPL MS f. Med. 6, f. 103 (Easter Sunday, with an historiated initial lacking)

One of the BPL’s first medieval acquisitions,  MS f. Med. 5 (f. 103, Easter Sunday, with an historiated initial lacking)

In 1878, the Boston Public Library bought its first medieval manuscripts, two volumes of a multi-volume set of Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla super totam bibliam written in “Paradisus” abbey, Germany (poss. Düren) in 1471. The two manuscripts preserve Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs (MS f. Med. 3), and the Twelve Minor Prophets (MS f. Med. 4); two other volumes of the set are Harvard University, Houghton Library MS Lat. 231 (which contains the Book of Wisom and is consecutive with f. Med. 3) and Philadelphia, Free Library, Lewis E 43 (Pauline Epistles). Another early acquisition was MS f. Med. 5, a mid-fourteenth-century Missal from Italy given to the BPL by Dr. W. N. Bullard in 1896.

It was not until 1900, however, when Librarian James Lyman Whitney entered into a long-standing relationship with British bibliophile Sydney Cockerell, that the collection began to truly take shape.  William Stoneman, Curator of Manuscripts at Harvard University’s Houghton Library, traces the early roots of the BPL’s manuscript collection to the 1849 sale of 702 manuscripts from the library of French collector Joseph Barrois (1785? – 1855) to the Fourth Earl of Ashburnham (1797 – 1878), described by Seymour de Ricci as “one of the great collectors of the nineteenth century” (Stoneman, p. 350).

Notes made by Sydney Cockerell inside the front cover of BPL MS q. Med. 6, a late thirteenth-century Psalter

Notes made by Sydney Cockerell inside the front cover of BPL MS q. Med. 6, a late thirteenth-century Psalter

It may seem a distant connection, but when the Barrois-Ashburnham collection was sold at Sotheby’s on 10 June 1901, Sydney Cockerell bought twenty-one manuscripts on behalf of the Boston Public Library. He had been authorized to do so the previous year by the Librarian and Trustees, who granted him free reign to spend the significant sum of $1000 “for the purchase of illuminated manuscripts.” (see W. P. Stoneman, “‘Variously Employed’: The Pre-Fitzwilliam Career of Sydney Carlyle Cockerell” in S. Panayotova, ed., Art, Academia and the Trade: Sir Sydney Cockerell (1867 – 1962) (Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 2010), pp. 345-361, at pp. 350-351).

St. Augustine, De civitate dei (BPL MS f. Med. 10, f. 1v) (photo by James Marrow)

St. Augustine, De civitate dei (BPL MS f. Med. 10, f. 1v) (photo by James Marrow)

Cockerell’s knowledge of the art market made him the perfect agent for the Library, and his choices were savvy. Broadly interpreting the Trustees’ instruction to purchase “illuminated manuscripts,” Cockerell acquired a variety of codices at the Ashburnham sale, for the most part decorated but unillustrated, focusing on multiple genres, scripts, and time periods rather than bidding on pricier (and therefore fewer) books that might have been more sumptuous. There were notable exceptions, of course. Over the course of their relationship, Cockerell acquired twenty-six manuscripts for the Boston Public Library, some of which were indeed quite beautifully illuminated. He facilitated the acquisition of one of BPL’s finest books, a copy of St. Augustine’s De civitate dei written in Utrecht in 1466 and illuminated by the eponymous “Master of the Boston City of God,” since identified as Antonis Rogiersz uten Broec (BPL MS f. Med. 10). Over the last century, the collection has been augmented by gifts, bequests, and purchases and is now one of the largest municipal manuscript collections in the country.

Individual manuscripts in the collection have been studied over the years, and some are well-known to scholarship. Until recently, however, there was no catalogue of BPL manuscripts other than the incomplete listing in the de Ricci Census and its Supplement. I recently spent two years writing a comprehensive catalogue of the collection, and MARC records based on my work are currently in development that will include links to my formal descriptions. A large-scale digitization project is also underway, although some of the manuscripts had been previously digitized and are available online through the Internet Archive:

BPL q. Med. 20 (Marcus Manilius, Astronomica, Italy (Ferrara), 1461)

BPL pf. Med. 97, f 1 (oversize Ferial Psalter, Piacenza, ca. 1495). This massive choirbook was originally part of a set of fourteen giant manuscripts produced for the Cathedral of Piacenza.

BPL pf. Med. 97, f 1 (oversize Ferial Psalter, Piacenza, ca. 1495). This massive choirbook was originally part of a set of fourteen giant manuscripts produced for the Abbey of St. Sixtus in Piacenza.

BPL f. Med. 73 (Johannes Andreae, Hieronymianus, Netherlands (Utrecht), ca. 1470)

BPL f. Med. 91 (Guillaume de Tignonville, Dits des philosophes, France, ca. 1420)

BPL f. Med. 101 (Christine de Pizan, Le livre des trois vertus, France, ca. 1450)

BPL f. Med. 125 (Gregorio Dati, La Sfera, Italy (Pesaro), 1484)

BPL q. Med. 129 ([Hours of the Passion, in verse], Flanders, ca. 1465-1475)

BPL f. Med. 133 (Das Leiden unserz Herren Jhesu Christi, Germany, ca. 1460)

Here are a few other highlights of the collection.

BPL MS f. Med. 95, f. 73v (Detail)

BPL MS f. Med. 95, f. 73v (Detail)

MS f. Med. 95 is a homiliary thought to have been written in the early part of the tenth century at the Benedictine abbey of St. Allyre in Clermont, France. It may be the earliest complete codex in New England (for those who care about such things, this was Phillipps Manuscript 13842).

MS f. Med. 84 is a sumptuous mid-thirteenth-century Psalter from Flanders that begins with a calendar, seven full-page miniatures (a standard cycle illustrating the life of Christ), and a full-page historiated initial. Each page of the calendar includes a charming framed illustration of the Labor of the Month, for example Janus feasting in January and a peasant slaughtering a pig in December.

Janus Feasting (BPL MS f. Med. 84, f. 1)

Janus Feasting (BPL MS f. Med. 84, f. 1)

Slaughtering a Pig (BPL MS f. Med. 84, f. 6v)

Slaughtering a Pig (BPL MS f. Med. 84, f. 6v)

The full-page miniatures are beautifully executed and heavily gilt:

The Adoration of the Magi (BPL MS f. Med. 84, f. 8v)

The Adoration of the Magi (BPL MS f. Med. 84, f. 8v)

King David playing the harp (above) and defeating Goliath (below), inhabiting the letter B (for "Beatus vir," the beginning of Psalm 1) (BPL MS f. Med. 84, f. 14v)

King David playing the harp (above) and defeating Goliath (below), inhabiting the letter B (for “Beatus vir,” the beginning of Psalm 1) (BPL MS f. Med. 84, f. 14v)

Another stunner is MS q. Med. 81, known as “The Québriac Hours” for the family that owned it for some time. The manuscript was written and illustrated in Brittany around the year 1420 and includes two dozen miniatures. The patron of the manuscript, a woman in a green gown and fashionable howve headpiece, makes an appearance in two of them:

Mass of St. Gregory (BPL MS q. Med. 81, f. 143 r, slightly later addition)

The Mass of St. Gregory (BPL MS q. Med. 81, f. 143 r, slightly later addition)

The Mass of St. Julian of Le Mans (BPL MS q. Med. 81, f. 136v)

The Mass of St. Julian of Le Mans (BPL MS q. Med. 81, f. 136v)

One the later treasures of the collection is a set of fourteen full-page miniatures by the great Simon Bening (1483-1561), taken from a Spanish Rosary Psalter in all likelihood commissioned for Joan I (“the Mad”) of Castile around the year 1525. The miniatures, collectively BPL MS pb. Med. 35, have been published in facsimile.

The Resurrection, Simon Bening (BPL MS pb. Med. 35, f. 10v)

The Resurrection, Simon Bening (BPL MS pb. Med. 35, f. 10v)

I leave you with BPL MS pb. Med. 32, a beautifully illuminated manuscript of the French scroll chronicle I have christened La Chronique Anonyme Universelle, the subject of my forthcoming book. The 34-foot-long scroll was written in eastern France in the 1470s. Nothing is known of its early history until it was offered as lot 626 in the Barrois-Ashburnham sale of 1901, when it was acquired for the Library by Sydney Cockerell (Ashburnham actually owned two copies of the Chronique; the second, lot 627, is currently in private hands). The Chronique tells the story of mankind from Creation to the Middle Ages, illustrated by fifty-eight miniatures. Originally, the BPL copy would have concluded during the reign of the French King Louis XI, but it is lacking several sheets and ends imperfectly at Pope Urban VI (d. 1378), Holy Roman Emperor Henry II (r. 1014 – 1024 C.E.), the French King Philip IV (Philip the Fair) (r. 1285 – 1314 C.E.), the English King Henry III (r. 1216-1272) and Godfrey of Bouillon.

La Chronique Anonyme Universelle (BPL MS pb. Med. 32)

La Chronique Anonyme Universelle (BPL MS pb. Med. 32)

The text is formatted in parallel columns, beginning with Biblical and ancient history before eventually settling into a four-column format recording a Papal chronicle, the history of the Roman and Holy Roman empires, and the development of the kingdoms of France and England, with a brief detour into the Crusades. The intercolumnar spaces are filled with detailed and complex genealogical diagrams that trace the direct descent of the royal houses of Europe from Adam by way of Aeneas of Troy. En route from Genesis to medieval Europe, the narrative stops to tell the tales of such luminaries as Queen Esther, King Lear, King Arthur, and Joan of Arc (although the section that would have included The Maid of Orléans is lacking in this copy). The BPL scroll is among the finest of the 28 known copies and was likely produced for French nobility. The earliest manuscript of the Chronique was compiled around 1415, in the context of the Hundred Years War. This French world chronicle is therefore inherently Francophilic at the expense of the English, serving to re-enforce its intended audience’s sense of entitlement and inherent nobility while at the same time making the English out to be war-mongering charlatans.

A few details:

Godfrey of Bouillon conquers Jerusalem

Godfrey of Bouillon conquers Jerusalem

The Hewing of Nebuchadnezzar

The Hewing of Nebuchadnezzar

The Baptism of Clovis

The Baptism of Clovis

Brut slays the Giants

Brut slays the Giants

The scroll is one of the highlights of the collection, and for good reason. It appears that when the Trustees of the Boston Public Library charged Sydney Cockerell with buying “illuminated manuscripts,” he occasionally took them at their word.

Next time, we will visit one of my favorite Boston sites, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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