Ms. Coll. 591: Fragments!

Last year we did two CWAC events working through Ms. Coll 591, which is one of our collections of fragments and cuttings from manuscripts. This week we dipped back into the box, to look at another set of manuscript leaves and binding waste.

Ms. Coll. 591 Folder 17 is a bifolium containing the continuous text of Psalms 44.5-47.15. Originally part of a psalter probably written and decorated in the diocese of Seville, in southern Spain, in the early 13th century, based on the saints in the calendar and litany of that psalter. It was sold at auction as part of an imperfect psalter at Sotheby’s, 12 December 1967, lot 37; the psalter leaves dispersed by Folio Fine Art.

This one is an example of a manuscript that has been the victim of biblioclasm, wanton destruction with the aim of financial gain; essentially, incomplete manuscripts taken apart and sold as leaves, because sellers can make more money selling individual leaves than they can selling an incomplete book. Biblioclasm is frowned on, but it continues to be done today.

The known context of Folder 17 gives us more information about its dating and location than is usual for individual leaves; for example, since the calendar was included in the incomplete book until 1967, information about the saints in there were


Ms. Coll. 591 Folder 18 is a leaf from a glossed Gospel of John, containing the text of John 7.25-39, written in northern France, probably Paris. The gospel text has both marginal and interlinear glossing. The manuscript from which this leaf was taken was formerly in the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps (probably Ms. 13805) and Spurgeon’s College, London (Ms. 1). It’s unclear when exactly the leaf was removed; it was sold to Penn by Bernard Quaritch in 2007. Another victim of biblioclasm in the 20th century.

Ms. Coll. 591 Folder 19 is binding waste. It is a leaf from a 14th-century copy of a mid-13th-century French treatise on diet and health, supposedly written at the request of Beatrice of Provence. The text on the leaf is from Book 2 of the Régime du corps, which addresses care for various parts of the body: it runs from the end of the chapter on the eyes, through chapters on the ears and teeth and gums, to the beginning of the chapter on the face. References to Aristotle and Avicenna appear in the manuscript. This leaf was later used as a binding for another volume, which isn’t unusual. Leaves from manuscripts that had reached the end of the useful life were often used in bindings, especially once printing became the norm.

Ms. Coll. 591 Folder 20 is another leaf that was used in a binding. It is from a late 13th-century manuscript written in France of Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on a Latin translation of the cosmological work De caelo et mundo, attributed to Aristotle. The leaf contains the end of lectio XIV and beginning of lectio XV, on the first book, eighth chapter of the Aristotle text, concerning the impossibility of an infinite body. A small diagram in the lower margin of the recto illustrates part of the argument. Due to the leaf’s later use as a wrapper, it is creased and labeled Manuel d’agriculture et réfutation de la methode de Thull, Paris, 1767.

Ms. Coll. 591, Folder 20, outer side of binding
Ms. Coll. 591, Folder 20, inner side of binding. Note how much lighter this parchment is than the other side.

Ms. Coll 591 is full of interesting leaves and cuttings! You can find out more by reading the records on Franklin; there is one record for the collection, but each item has its own record, which also link to digitized copies.

List of records on Franklin: https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog?utf8=%E2%9C%93&search_field=keyword&q=%22ms.+Coll+591%22

You can watch the recording of the March 23 Coffee With A Codex here.

We host Coffee With A Codex every Wednesday at 12pm ET / 5pm GMT on Zoom. For a schedule three weeks ahead, visit our main page here.

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