Tag Archives: Sir Thomas Phillipps

Manuscript Road Trip: Ege and Phillipps in Saskatchewan

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

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

Most of the time, this road trip is virtual, an exploration of digitized manuscripts and their associated metadata and platforms in collections throughout North America. But sometimes I take an actual road trip, visiting medievalists at institutions and heritage sites far from my home in Boston to study their manuscripts in the flesh, as it were. Last week was one of those times. I spent two delightful days in Canada, visiting the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and collection in a small private school three hours from there. These are among the northernmost pre-1600 European manuscripts in North America and, in the case of the school, some of the most remote.


Saskatchewan is the prairie of Canada, much like my home state of Oklahoma. Flat, big sky, beautiful serene scenery, windy, with glorious sunsets. Everyone I met was friendly and curious and eager to talk about and learn about the province’s medieval manuscripts. I was invited to Saskatchewan by Prof. Yin Liu and the University’s Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance Studies program, and I am very grateful to Yin and CMRS for the invitation and for the warm welcome.


Prof. Liu discussing Ege leaves with University of Saskatchewan students

My first stop was, of course, Special Collections at the University, where curator David Bindle had laid out a selection of manuscripts, early printed books, and facsimiles for a visiting class in Bibliography taught by English professor Lisa Vargo. The room was full of old friends (by which I mean VERY old), including the University of Saskatchewan’s Otto Ege portfolio, one of the rare and extraordinary “Fifty Original Leaves of Medieval Manuscripts” sets of which forty were produced and only twenty-eight have been located. No. 15 in the set is a leaf from my old and dear friend, the Beauvais Missal. It was a great joy for me to have the opportunity to speak to the students about Otto Ege and his impact on the American market in single leaves in the first half of the twentieth century (if Ege is new to you, you can read about him in several of my blogposts).


U. Saskatchewan students getting to know the Voynich Manuscript

And guess what I saw nestled among the shiny golden facsimiles of glorious late fifteenth-century French manuscripts made for nobility: the shy and smudgy and outwardly humble but extremely detailed and accurate Siloé facsimile of the Voynich Manuscript! Naturally, I had to invite the students to come over and take a look as I walked them through the mysterious manuscript’s history and contents. An added and unexpected treat!

After the class, I had lunch with a group of faculty and students, mostly from the English department, many of whom were working with Profs. Barbara Bordalejo and Peter Robinson on the massive and long-term Canterbury Tales project. Robinson has been working on the project for decades with the goal of transcribing all of the known manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales and using computer algorithms to analyze the variants among the manuscripts to refine the received wisdom about the transmission of Chaucer’s work. Hundreds of students have worked on the transcriptions over the years as the project has migrated through various formats. Currently, the transcriptions are encoded using the Text-Encoding Initiative, with customized tags and a custom backend that uses IIIF-compliance to display images alongside the TEI transcription. Check out the project website for more details!

The original plan had been for me to head back to Special Collections after lunch to spend some time with the Library’s codices, but after Prof. Robinson and Prof. Bordalejo invited me to visit the Canterbury Tales Project workroom, I couldn’t resist the chance to be in the room where it happens. They even went so far as to set up an account for me so that I can participate in the transcription and encoding.


Univ. of Saskatchewan MSS 14.1 (the “Brendan Missal”), f. 98v. The red circle circumscribing a Greek cross is an “osculatory target.”

My time was limited, so after an hour or so Yin walked me over to Special Collections where I spent some time with this early fifteenth-century Missal recently purchased by the University. Although the codex is lacking several dozen leaves, it includes enough evidence to provide a rough localization to the Low Countries. One piece of this evidence is a fascinating later addition on the opening leaf, an inventory of the treasures of an “Altar of St. Brendan” written in Dutch and Latin that is most definitely worthy of further study. Line 5 of the inventory records a “Misboeck op perghemynte ghescreven” (“a Massbook written on parchment”) that may refer to this very codex. The inventory is witnessed by the notary Bernardus tor Schuren and is dated 1532. In the original portion of the manuscript, the Canon and the mass for Easter each include a fascinating detail, roundels in the bottom margin in red and orange encircling a Greek cross. These are almost certainly “osculatory targets,” meant to be kissed by the Priest as a sign of veneration.

But I wasn’t in Saskatchewan just to look at the books. That evening, I delivered the opening lecture of the CMRS annual colloquium series. The title of my presentation was “Scattered Leaves and Virtual Manuscripts: The Promise of Digital Fragmentology,” essentially a history of the study of fragments and the development of efforts to digitally reconstruct dismembered manuscripts. The lecture was well-attended with a lively discussion afterwards and a show-and-tell of Otto Ege leaves on display. My thanks to curator David Bindle for facilitating the display of Ege leaves.


Off on a road trip with Yin at the wheel!

The highlight of my trip took place the following day when I embarked on the ultimate manuscript road trip, driving deep into the plains of Saskatchewan to visit a small private collection of rare books and manuscripts at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox. This was, without doubt, the most remote collection I have visited in North America. We were two carloads of eager explorers: Yin and myself, Prof. Courtnay Konshuh, and three students (Tristan, Amanda, and Chloe). We drove through the rural towns of Craink, Moose Jaw, and Rouleau (familiar to Canadians, I’m told, as the fictional town of Dog River in the popular Canadian television show “Corner Gas”) before reaching our destination, the small railside town of Wilcox three hours from Saskatoon. The collection belongs to a small Catholic boys’ school founded in 1920 and now best known for its hockey team, although its extraordinary rare book collection should certainly put it on the map.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the archivist, who gave us a brief tour and introduction. The rare book collection is part of a museum dedicated to the history of the school and its founder, Father Athol Murray. Several relics of Father Murray’s life are part of the collection, including his old suitcase and scarlet vestments. The books came to Father Murray from several different sources; some were bequeathed by his father or other family members, others were gifted by friends or devoted students. For example, his copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle


The Nuremberg Chronicle

was a gift from a group of former students. According to the story, Father Murray – a Catholic Priest – had been saving his money to buy the volume but when he learned that a student was in need, he used that money to help the student instead, in what was clearly a typical act of generosity for the man commonly and lovingly known as Père. When the word spread of his decision to reallocate the money he had saved, a group of former students banded together to buy the Chronicle for him.

The collection was catalogued in 2003 by University of Saskatchewan student Michael Santer, as his Master’s thesis. The catalogue’s introduction serves as a biography of Father Murray, while the catalogue is focused on the printed books and their provenance. It was the appendix that caught my eye: the manuscripts. Santer worked with several University of Saskatchewan professors to create a handlist of the handful of manuscripts in the collection. In addition to several documents, the collection includes three incomplete but interesting codices: a thirteenth-century manuscript of the Legenda Aurea (Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend, a lengthy collection of saints’ lives that was extremely popular throughout the Middle Ages); a late thirteenth-century collection of the Decretals of Pope Gregory X; and what appeared at first glance to be a late-twelfth or early-thirteenth-century fragmentary manuscript of several saints’ lives.

IMG_20180928_154831967In its current state, the latter codex includes extracts from the Life and Miracles of St. Martin of Tours (attributed to the fourth-century French chronicler Sulpicius Severus) and the Lives of the Seven Sleepers (a Rip van Winkle-esque saga spuriously attributed to Gregory, Bishop of Tours) (Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina no. 2320; for the full text, see Patrologia Latina 71:1107B-1110C). The manuscript has an esteemed provenance: at the bottom of the first flyleaf is the signature and shelfmark of none other than Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792 –1872), arguably the most prolific collector of all time, a man who has made his way into this blog several times. IMG_20180928_144201372 This is Phillipps MS 22049, acquired by Phillipps in the late 1860s (see Munby, A. N. L., The Formation of the Phillipps Library Between 1841 and 1872 (Phillipps Studies No. IV), p. 208) and sold from the collection at Sotheby’s on 6 June 1898, lot 841. It’s not clear when Father Murray acquired the manuscript, but it was likely in the early decades of the twentieth century.

At first sight, I ascribed the manuscript to early thirteenth-century France based on the style of the script and the gorgeous, elaborate red and purple penwork.


Initial [T], The Lives of the Seven Sleepers (f. 21)

I say “at first sight” because after a more careful examination, several features of the manuscript struck all of us as unusual: the form of the [g], the complete lack of ampersands (“et” is not abbreviated in the manuscript, which is nearly unheard of), the occasional (i.e. inconsistent) appearance of biting bows, the use of a Romanesque-style script with Gothic features such as below-top-line formatting, the overly-elaborate penwork historiated initials, and, as Tristan and I discovered during our examination of the structure of the codex, the unusual collation.

The manuscript is fragmentary, currently consisting of only twenty-two leaves. A French manuscript from the thirteenth-century should be constructed of quaternions, signatures made up of four nested bifolia, i.e. eight leaves. These twenty-two-leaves, however, are comprised of a quire of twelve (with at least one bifolium missing, so originally at least fourteen) and a quire of ten. This format is EXREMELY unusual in northern Europe, especially in the thirteenth century. So I did what I always do when I have a difficult manuscript problem. I turn to Twitter, #MedievalTwitter in particular. I posted an image of the manuscript and within minutes was engaged in a conversation with paleographers from both sides of the Atlantic. In the end, expert paleographer Erik Kwakkel suggested that the manuscript was likely written in the fourteenth-century by a scribe attempting to imitate an earlier script, something that, while not exactly common, is not unheard of. We cannot know if the archaizing script was intended to deceive or to pay homage. Modern forgers, such as the Spanish Forger, are usually in it for the money. Our late-medieval scribe, on the other hand, may have been copying an older manuscript or simply practicing a different kind of script than the one he was used to. There is much more to learn about this lovely manuscript, including piecing together its journey from France to Phillipps to Sotheby’s to Saskatchewan.

IMG_20180928_185007834 As we drove back to Saskatoon, dazzled by a blazing prairie sunset, we found ourselves wondering what Sir Thomas Phillipps would have thought about the fate of his MS 22049. I suspect he would have been puzzled at first (after all, the province of Saskatchewan didn’t exist until just a few years before his death). But as a collector himself, Phillipps would certainly have appreciated that the manuscript had found a happy home, first in the hands of the students’ beloved Père and now in the collection of the school he loved.

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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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