Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Manuscript Monday: Four from the 1400s

November 24th, 2014

Earlier this month Mitch Fraas at the University of Pennsylvania wrote a fascinating blog post in which he mapped data from Melissa Conway and Lisa Fagin Davis’s Directory of Institutions in the United States and Canada with Pre-1600 Manuscript Holdings (2014). Though, as Fraas notes, that the highest institutional concentrations of medieval and early modern manuscripts are found on the East and West Coasts, KU is responsible for one of the largest dots on the map in the middle of the country. In fact, the Kenneth Spencer Research Library ranks among the top fifteen institutions for holdings of pre-1600 manuscript codices (volumes), with its approximately 220 manuscript books, and fares even better when our over 2100 pre-1600 manuscript leaves, documents, and rolls are taken into account.

In light of these numbers, this week we’re highlighting four fifteenth-century manuscripts, each from a different country. Medievalists and early modern scholars take note; it’s worth making a stop in Lawrence, KS!

1. Vosper Book of Hours

Detail from the miniature of David in prayer (f. 83r) from the Vosper Book of Hours, France, ca. 1470.

Detail from the miniature of David in prayer (f. 83r) from the Vosper Book of Hours, France, ca. 1470.
Call #: MS Pryce C1. Click image to view full page.

Spencer’s most ornately decorated manuscript is a late-fifteenth-century book of hours from Eastern France. Named in honor of Robert Vosper (1913-1994), a former director of KU Libraries, this devotional volume includes seventeen large miniatures (or paintings), as well as stunning foliate borders, featuring birds and insects. In the image above, the darkish, opaque wings of the dragonfly are actually silver which has tarnished with time.

2. Minden Codex

Historiated initial detail (St. George and the dragon) from the Minden Codex.

Detail from: Gallus’s Malogranatum (folio 2r), one of several texts in the Minden Codex. Germany, mid-to-late 15th century.
Call #: MS C164. Click Image to view full page.

The Minden Codex received its name from our catalogers because it once belonged to a Benedictine monastery in Minden, a city in the Westphalia region of Germany. It is a collection of more than fifteen religious texts that appear to have been copied out by different scribes in the mid-to-late 1400s and then bound together alongside a fragment of printed text. The codex begins with a portion of the first book of the Malogranatum, a dialogue intended as guidance for monks striving toward the perfection of their souls. This text is sometimes attributed to Gallus, an abbot of Königssaal (near Prague). The historiated initial in the detail above depicts Saint George slaying the dragon. Look closely and you’ll see that their entwined bodies form the letter “S” of the Latin word Sancta.

 

3. A Collection of Italian lyric poetry; primarily Petrarch’s Canzoniere

Opening of Petrarch's Canzoniere, featuring an illuminated initial containing white vine on a blue background, from A manuscript collection of Italian lyric poetry; primarily Petrarch’s Canzoniere. Italy, 15th century.

Opening of Petrarch’s Canzoniere in a collection of Italian lyric poetry. Italy, 15th century.
Call Number: MS C24. Click image to enlarge.

Though many of Spencer’s pre-1600 codices are religious in nature, the library also holds a wide range of secular texts, including classical and scientific works, legal and estate records, histories, and works of literature. The main text in this 15th century miscellany of Italian verse is Petrarch’s Canzoniere (Songbook), a sequence of poems that tells the story of the poet’s love for “Laura.” The text begins with Petrarch’s famous sonnet, “Voi ch’ascoltate in rime sparse il sono […],”  whose initial “V” is here illuminated and decorated with a white vine design.  Subsequent poems in the Canzoniere receive a simpler treatment: their smaller initials appear in alternating blue and red.  The manuscript book also includes poems by Jacopo Sanguinacci, Giusto de’ Conti, and others, as well as Latin sayings with Italian translations.

 

4. English Medicinal Recipe

Medicinal Recipe in Middle English, England, ca. 1400s

Medicinal Recipe. England, ca. 1400s. (Phillipps 40717). Call #: MS P541  Click image to enlarge.

Feeling under the weather now that the temperature has dropped? This medicinal recipe dating form the 1400s provides directions for distilling a mixture of spices, herbs, and wine to treat a variety of illnesses and wounds. This single leaf, with its top three lines partly torn away, is notable in that it is one of the library’s comparatively few pre-1500 manuscripts in English (or Middle English, as the case may be). Though Spencer holds several thousand English estate documents (circa 1200-1900), including papers from the prominent North and Kaye families, those that date from before 1500 tend to be in Latin.  This recipe or “receipt” stands as an instructive example of unornamented, vernacular writing.  However, despite being in English, its script presents a challenge for modern eyes.  Try to read a line or two and you may soon find yourself yearning for the more familiar humanist letterforms of the Canzoniere above (MS C24). Finally, this modest leaf also boasts an interesting provenance: it was once a part of the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872), an obsessive nineteenth-century collector who built one of the largest private collections of manuscripts.

For those who may have caught a little of Phillipps’s manuscript-mania, Spencer has plenty more to explore. You will find records (and images) for many of our medieval and early modern manuscripts in the Digital Scriptorium, an online database with holdings from a variety of institutions. To browse Spencer’s contributions, simply click on “Advanced Search,” select Lawrence, University of Kansas, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, Special Collection from the “Current Location” field and hit “Search.” Or, for a another short narrative tour, take a peek at Lisa Fagin Davis’s great post on Kansas in her Manuscript Road Trip Blog.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

 

Neither Fish Nor Fowl: A Printed Book of Hours

April 4th, 2014

The world of written information is changing.  We are in the midst of a major shift from print to digital culture (you are, after all, reading this online).  It seems timely, then, to look back at an artifact from another major revolution in the technology of writing — the shift from manuscript to print culture.  The first hundred years of printing offer many fascinating examples of  the overlap between the conventions of manuscript culture and the emergence of a new print culture.  One such example is this book of hours, Hore intemerate Virginis Marie secundu[m] vsum Romanum cum pluribus orationibus tam in Gallico [et] in Latino, produced in Paris circa 1505.

Image of a printed books of hours at an opening with two miniatures.

Image of an Opening featuring a miniature of the Adoration of the Magi in a Printed Book of Hours, ca. 1505.

Hore intemerate Virginis Marie secundu[m] vsum Romanum cum pluribus orationibus tam in Gallico
[et] in Latino
[Printed Book of Hours]. [Paris: G. Anabat, 1505.] Call Number: Summerfield C65

Squint and it looks like an illuminated manuscript (at least in the top image), but it is actually a printed volume, with hand-colored  illustrations and metalcut borders.   During the late medieval period, books of hours were among the most common manuscript volumes owned by laypeople (whether nobility or wealthy merchants).  Accordingly, it is not surprising that with the advent of moveable type, printers soon tried their inky hands at producing these devotional texts.  This particular volume draws upon several features of manuscript books of hours.  It is printed on vellum (treated calf skin) and contains hand-colored initials and miniatures (the latter literally painted on top of the metalcut illustrations).

Printed books of hours flourished roughly between the 1480s and 1530s, co-existing alongside their manuscript counterparts.  This volume from the Spencer Library’s collections was printed in Paris, a center for printed books of hours, by Guillaume Anabat for the bookseller Germain Hardouin and likely hand-colored in the Hardouin workshop (see the colophon pictured below).

Encountering a book like this makes one wonder which present-day artifacts will someday be seen as the products of a writing culture in transition.   In 500 years, will we look at early e-readers as strange hybrids: objects that apply the conventions of the “print world” to the digital environment?

See more….click thumbnails to enlarge.

Image of title page in printed book of hours with manuscript notations e of Almanac from a printed book of hours. Image of a printed book of hours featuring illustrations of Saint Christopher and Saint Sebastian. Image of colophon in printed book of hours

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

November scene, circa 1520

November 30th, 2012

How better to end November than with a manuscript leaf depicting swineherds knocking acorns off trees for pigs to eat, a typical November activity in late medieval France? The leaf is from a calendar of feast days that was formerly part of a book of hours (a volume of devotional readings). The Latin text was copied onto vellum (treated calfskin) by a scribe and then richly decorated with colored and gold pigments. This particular leaf dates from approximately 1520. It demonstrates the persistence of manuscript book production more than half a century after the Gutenberg Bible was printed using moveable type (circa 1455) in neighboring Germany. 

Image of Leaf from Calendar for November. France, vellum, ca. 1520?
Leaf from Calendar for November (likely from a Book of Hours). France, vellum, ca. 1520?
Call number: MS A28. Click image to enlarge!

Karen S. Cook
Special Collections Librarian