Tag Archives: Digital Scriptorium

Manuscript Road Trip: NorCal

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 few weeks, we’ve been making our way through states with relatively few medieval manuscripts. California is a different story entirely. At last count, there were more than 8,500 pre-1600 manuscripts in 47 collections in the state of California. So this may take a few weeks!

working mapLet’s start in the San Francisco area, at the University of California at Berkeley. UC Berkeley is home to Digital Scriptorium, the digital repository for 25,000 images from 6,500 manuscripts in 31 U. S. collections. The metadata is stored in an XML platform specifically designed to address the challenges of creating electronic records for unique handwritten materials (for example, the DS platform handles composite manuscripts much more elegantly than MARC). The collection is growing, and the project, free to users but supported by membership fees from contributing institutions, is a model of self-sustainability. Note to cataloguers (the rest of you should skip to the next paragraph): working with MARC cataloguers at Yale, DS has now established a template for MARC records that will cross-walk into the DS XML format, allowing institutions to export their OPAC records to DS with minimal rekeying. This is big news, people.

David admiring Bathsheba's bare calves (somehow I think the Spanish Forger would have handled this moment differently) (UC Berkeley, Bancroft MS 131, f. 141)

David admiring Bathsheba’s bare calves (somehow I think the Spanish Forger would have handled this moment differently) (UC Berkeley, Bancroft MS 131, f. 141)

But back to the manuscripts. The Bancroft Library at Berkeley counts around 300 codices and hundreds of leaves among its collection, most of which have been catalogued and at least partially digitized through Digital Scriptorium. There are so many fantastic manuscripts at Berkeley that I can’t possibly survey them here; I encourage you to explore Digital Scriptorium on your own. Many of the manuscripts have an esteemed provenance. I’m particularly interested in two in particular, because they come from the Romanesque Italian monastery at Morimundo:

Univ. of California  - Berkeley, Bancroft Library MS 4, f. 79v (detail)

Univ. of California – Berkeley, Bancroft Library MS 4, f. 79v (detail)

Univ. of California - Berkeley, Bancroft Library, MS 6, f. 1 (detail)

Univ. of California – Berkeley, Bancroft Library, MS 6, f. 1 (detail)

The first image (below) is of a scribal colphon, in which the scribe asks for the prayers of the reader and promises in return to “defend” the reader before God (“Omnes valete et pro me scriptore rogate/ Ut me vobiscum dominus defensare dignetur”). This is followed by a rare inscription dated 1298 that gives the name of the commissioner of the manuscript (Beltramus de Redoldi) and places the creation of the manuscript in the abbey of Morimundo. It is quite rare to have the details laid out so clearly in a thirteenth-century manuscript.

The second manuscript, at right, dates from the twelfth century. It is a compilation of several texts, the first of which is Hugh of Fouilloy’s De claustro animae. In the late twelfth-century, the monks of Morimundo recorded a list of books in their library at the end of a manuscript that now belongs to the Houghton Library at Harvard (pf MS Typ 223, f. 227v):

pf MS Typ 223, f. 227v (detail)

Harvard Univ., Houghton Library, pf MS Typ 223, f. 227v (detail)

Bancroft MS 6 is the 44th volume on the list,  tucked between Bernard of Clairvaux and Isidore of Seville and titled “De materiali claustro” (detail).

Remarkably, many of the manuscripts on the list can actually be identified with extant codices (for more on the Morimundo catalogue, see Mirella Ferrari, “Sui ‘Salmi’ e sui ‘Profeti’: dal primo catalogo di Morimondo alla Biblioteca Braidense,” in Studi di Storia dell’arte in onore di Maria Luisa Gatti Perer, ed. Marco Rossi and Alessandro Rovetta (Milan, 1999), pp. 33-46).

UC Berkeley Phillipps

Phillipps ex libris and stamp (Univ. of California – Berkeley, Bancroft Library MS 5

Speaking of provenance, it’s high time we met the most obsessive and prolific manuscript collector of all time.  Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872) was a compulsive collector, to put it mildly. He was notorious for buying up entire lots himself, and while he was knowledgeable about parts of his collection, when you look at the big picture it does seem as though he may have been more interested in the number of books in his collection at his Middle Hill estate than in their content. At the time of his death, he owned more than 60,000 manuscripts; it took his estate more than 70 years to sell the collection in a series of Sotheby’s auctions. There are dozens of Phillipps manuscripts in US collections, including twenty-five at UC Berkeley alone. They’re easily recognizeable by the Middle Hill ex libris stamp and the distinctively written shelfmarks.

The Oxford Dictionary of Biography gives a nice summary of Phillipps’ life, although the ultimate reference for the collection is the five-volume work by A. N. L. Munby, Phillipps Studies (1951-60).

Other collections in the San Francisco area include the De Bellis Collection at San Francisco State University (mostly documentary); the Sutro Collection at the State Library of California; and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (a few leaves and cuttings).

Before we leave the Bay area completely and head south down the coast, we’ll make a stop in Palo Alto at Stanford University.

Stanford has digitized several hundred fragments and some leaves of codices in their collection here. Many of these are binding fragments and show interesting signs of use and wear, such as this late-twelfth century leaf from a Bible (preserving part of II Kings). These leaves have much to teach us about medieval binding techniques. For example, it’s fairly obvious how this leaf (below) was cut and folded to create a book cover.

Stanford Univ. Special Collections MS M1737

Stanford Univ. Special Collections MS M1737

Some leaves require a slightly deeper dive into material evidence to sort out their re-use, like this mid-twelfth-century Austrian antiphonal (below). Those of you who have known me for a while may know that twelfth-century Austrian liturgical manuscripts are a particular interest of mine, so this fragment caught my attention.

Stanford Univ. Special Collections MS M1775

Stanford Univ. Special Collections MS M1775

First let’s look at the leaf itself. Although it is catalogued as  a breviary (a priest’s book for the daily Offices), it is actually an antiphonal (also an Office book, but for the use of the choir, not the priest). It preserves only musical chants, using the interlinear neumatic notation typical of Romanesque Austria. The notations in the left margin are “tonary letters,” a system also used in Romanesque Austria that essentially tells the choir in what key each piece was to be sung (there’s a much more complicated musicological explanation, but this will do for our purposes). The text is of some interest as it preserves the liturgy for Trinity Sunday, i.e. the Sunday after Pentecost, a feast that was not officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church until the papacy of John XXII (1316-34). Finally, the initial [G] (for “Gloria tibi trinitas”) is a typical Romanesque Austrian “white-vine” style, with the characteristic closed buds at the end of the vines and decorative bands squeezing the body of the letter.

The leaf was cut to the size of a smaller book (probably in the fourteenth or fifteenth century) to be used as a free flyleaf at the front or back. If there had been paste damage on the other side, I would have concluded that the leaf had been a paste-down inside the cover, but the other side is just as clean as this, indicating that it was a free flyleaf. The tab partially preserved along the bottom edge is where the flyleaf was sewn into the book, with the tab protruding after the first gathering. The triangular notch was a sewing hole. Finally, small brown dots in each corner are rust marks left by decorative bosses nailed to the cover of the book. At some point, the leaf was removed from the binding as a recognized collectible in its own right; Stanford bought it from dealer Bernard Quaritch in 2010.

Stanford Univ. Special Collections, Florentine Book of Hours

Stanford Univ. Special Collections, MSS Codex 1052 T

Lest you think that Stanford’s collection is all cut-up binding fragments, I will leave you with this beauty, a late-fifteenth-century Florentine Book of Hours.

Next week, we’ll virtually visit one of my favorite places to watch the sun set over the Pacific, visit old friends in the Impressionist Gallery and admire one of the greatest manuscript collections in the country: the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

p.s. there was an article in the Boston Globe yesterday about my blog, with a photo gallery here. My thanks to reporter Kathy Burge and photographer Lane Turner, as well as to the curators who kindly gave us permission to reproduce images from their manuscripts.

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Manuscript Road Trip: A 12th-Century Find in 21st-Century Pittsburgh

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

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

As we leave Buffalo, we’re going to head south into Western Pennsylvania, a part of the United States best known for its Amish communities. We’re not shopping for an artisan quilt today (maybe later); we’re going to “Steel City” to visit the University of Pittsburgh.Blog map

One of the best ways to get to know medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the United States is by exploring Digital Scriptorium, an ever-growing database of manuscripts in American collections. Currently, DS includes forty collections, a total of nearly 4,000 manuscripts. (here comes a sidenote for librarians only…the rest of you can skip to the next paragraph) Unlike MARC format, which was created for the electronic cataloguing of printed books and has been adapted for use with manuscripts and archives, the Digital Scriptorium database was developed specifically for use with pre-1600 manuscript material. In all of the ways that MARC struggles to capture the implicit inexactitude of some manuscript metadata (for example, there’s no way to input a searchable date of “s. XII med” into MARC), DS succeeds admirably (in the case of an uncertain date by allowing the record creator to input both an inexact date and a date range, both of which are searchable). And if you’ve ever tried to create a MARC record for a composite manuscript, you will really appreciate how the nested-table structure of DS allows for multiple searchable authors and titles in a single manuscript. All contributors agree to conform to a set of imaging as well as metadata standards, resulting in a lovely set of consistent and retrievable data, images and authorities. If you want to know more about the structure of data in Digital Scriptorium, you can read all about it here.

U Pittsburgh MS 9

Noted Missal, Germany/Austria, ca. 1175 (Unversity of Pittsburgh, Ms 9, recto)

OK, back to the University of Pittsburgh. The University has digitized the twenty-nine manuscript leaves in its collection and catalogued them through Digital Scriptorium; you can see the full list here. For my money, the most interesting of the bunch is this twelfth-century fragment of a noted missal, from Germany or Austria. I  love twelfth-century manuscripts, and I really love manuscript fragments, and I really really love twelfth-century manuscript fragments from Germany/Austria (seriously, this is true), so for me this leaf is a real treat, a great example of why manuscript fragments are so interesting and what they have to tell us about music, liturgy, material culture, and the paths manuscripts sometimes take to get from there to here.

First, its origins. The script is a late romanesque hand, not yet a true Gothic but far removed from the Caroline bookhands of the tenth and early eleventh centuries. I would date it around 1175 in part because of the mixed use of round- and tall-s.  It couldn’t be too much later than that because the top line of writing rests on the top line of the ruling, instead of sitting below it (the latter would suggest a date pushing into the thirteenth century). The musical notation – unheightened neumes of the St. Gall style – is typical of the twelfth century and is of the type used primarily in German-speaking lands. The manuscript is a missal, preserving text and music for Mass (as opposed to a breviary, which preserves text and music for the Divine Office). In this case, the leaf preserves choir music and priestly readings for Palm Sunday Mass: the antiphons for the Procession of Palms on the front, and the Gospel reading from Matthew narrating Judas’ betrayal of Jesus (Matthew 26:10-25) on the back. The manuscript was originally written in two columns; a tiny bit of text written in the upper margin of the second column is visible in the extreme upper right-hand corner of the recto (front) side of the leaf. The above image can be identified as the recto because of the original binding holes (in this case three slits) visible along the darkened left edge, which would have been the gutter of the book.

U Pittsburgh MS 9v

Noted Missal, Germany/Austria, ca. 1175 (University of Pittsburgh, MS 9, verso)

Unlike the leaves we’ve seen in previous posts that came from the Terence manuscript and other Ege-related books, this manuscript was not cut up to be sold as a work of art, but was rather the victim of an early kind of recycling. Most medieval manuscripts are written on prepared animal skin, or parchment, which was expensive and time-consuming to produce. Often, as liturgical norms became outdated and were replaced in the later Middle Ages, earlier manuscripts would be cut up to be used as structural components of a binding: a free flyleaf, a paste-down inside the cover holding the leather turn-ins in place, a spine-liner, gutter support, or even an entire wrap-around cover. This leaf appears to have been used as a pastedown inside a bookcover; you can clearly see damage left by paste on the verso. Along the outer edge (the right edge of the recto, the left edge of the verso), you can see a crease where the leaf was folded to be sewn into the binding. On the damaged verso (shown here), you can also see two rectangular parchment patches – one in the upper left corner and one on the lower edge – that probably covered the protruding nail-ends used to attached hardware such as bosses or clasps to the cover. Somewhere there is a book or manuscript with a mirror-image offset of this leaf inside the cover, an offset left when traces of the ink on the verso stayed behind as the leaf was pulled off to be sold separately. When (if!) that book is found, we will know much more about the history of this little vagabond. As it now stands, all we know is that the leaf was given to the University of Pittsburgh in 1972 along with the other leaves in the collection by Theodore M. Finney (1902-1978), a musicologist and collector of music manuscripts. It is worth noting that this fragment is reproduced and receives special notice in James P. Cassaro’s 2007 biographical essay, “The Discrete Charm of the Musical First Edition: Theodore M. Finney as Scholar, Collector and Librarian” in Music, Libraries and the Academy: Essays in Honor of Lenore Coral, pp. 105-117 (see pp. 109-110, fig. 2), where it is said to have a “St. Gall provenance.” The Benedictine abbey of St. Gall was an extremely important Swiss center of manuscript production and liturgical innovation, and a St.-Gall origin for this leaf would be spectacularly interesting if it could be substantiated; unfortunately, it can’t (and the script doesn’t look Swiss to me anyway). But this little wanderer needs no such honors to serve as a fascinating specimen.

Now we turn due west, cruising through Amish country on I-80 to get to one of the regions of the United States richest in pre-1600 manuscript holdings: the great state of Ohio!


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