As we turn south and head into Iowa, we leave the lake country behind and find ourselves in the plains of the Midwest, among the farms, big sky, and wide open spaces of the Heartland. It isn’t necessarily where most medievalists would expect to find medieval manuscripts, but if I’ve learned anything from my experiences searching for leaves and codices, it’s that they show up in unexpected places.
The 1938 de Ricci Census of Manuscripts in the United States and Canada lists ten manuscripts in only one public collection in Iowa (see Census I:717-724): the Davenport Public Library (the manuscript listed as belonging to the State University of Iowa is said by de Ricci to have been “recently mislaid”).
The manuscripts in the Census listed as belonging to the Davenport Public Library had been bequeathed in 1931 by the estate of Charles August Ficke (1850-1931), the former Mayor of Davenport, successful financier, art collector and bibliophile who also donated a large collection of paintings to establish Davenport’s Figge Art Museum. The Figge gives the following brief biography on its website (longer bio here):
“Charles Ficke was born in Germany in 1850. His family settled in Scott County, Iowa, and at the age of 13, he moved alone to Davenport to enroll in the public schools. He worked as a store clerk and bank cashier before leaving to attend law school in Albany, NY. While attending law school, he visited the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. He later credited this visit with sharpening his vague interest in art into something approaching devotion.
After serving two terms as mayor of Davenport, Charles spent the next several years traveling the world. On those trips, Charles acquired many artistic and cultural items, establishing the foundation of what would become an extensive art collection. In 1924, Ficke told the Davenport City Council he would donate his art collections to the city…Charles Ficke died on December 10, 1931, at the age of 81, leaving behind a legacy of generosity and civic support that is not easily equaled in the history of Davenport.”
The manuscripts, which still belong to the Davenport Public Library, have been on permanent loan to the University of Iowa (in Iowa City) since 1956 and have been digitized, along with the rest of the University’s pre-1600 manuscripts, here.
Since the publication of the Census in 1938 and the Supplement in 1963, several Iowa collections have been added to the list of collections housing pre-1600 European manuscripts, in particular Loras College and Grinnell College.
At Grinnell, you will find a sixteenth-century French document and one illuminated leaf housed as part of the Bill Ingram Collection of Early Modern French Manuscript Business Documents (here). The Grinnell College Art Collection holds several dozen leaves, some of which are Persian in origin. A search of their collection using the term Medium = Manuscript yields these results. Most of the leaves have been digitized, and some are quite spectacular. I would draw your attention to this astonishing leaf from an early fifteenth-century Book of Hours said to be from Soissons:
Such elaborate gold lettering filling an entire page is rare in a Book of Hours, making this leaf truly noteworthy.
In addition, the leaf below caught my eye because I recognized the manuscript as an old friend:
It is part of a well-known dismembered Book of Hours attributed to the circle of the “Coëtivy Master”: leaves come on the market regularly (here‘s one), but I am most familiar with the leaf that belongs to the Boston Public Library (MS pb. Med. 232):
Aside from the calendar pages, which show the Labors of the Months on the recto and the Zodiac on the verso (Leo on the Grinnell leaf above), the medallions in the outer margins tell the story of the life of St. Alexius, suggesting that the original owner bore that name. In the BPL leaf shown at right, for example, St. Alexius’ bride waits alone in bed for her groom, who has abandoned her on their wedding night for a life of prayer and poverty.
Another leaf from this manuscript belongs to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (here). In fact, once you learn to recognize its lush borders, distinctive 3/4-frames, and marginal medallions, you will start to see it everywhere! (here and here and here…you get the idea).
Our final stop in Iowa is Loras College in Dubuque. In addition to the documents and leaves listed in the Census as belonging to the Rev. L. Kuenzel (Census I:721-722), Loras owns a late-fifteenth-century French Book of Hours that appears to have been made for the use of Chartres (this conclusion is based on my own overview of the calendar and the Hours of the Virgin). The manuscript was digitized as part of a class project, and the resulting website is a great example of how medieval manuscripts can be used in the classroom to inspire students in many ways.
Next week, we turn westward to explore Nebraska.