The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at Penn brings manuscript culture, modern technology and people together.

Who wrote Penn MS Codex 1070?

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Megan Cook, an Assistant Professor of English at Colby College, spent a week in July at the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies as one of the students in The Medieval Manuscript in the Twenty-First Century, a course under the auspices of Rare Book School, headquartered at the University of Virginia.  Here she shares her experience of that week, working with Penn Ms. Codex 1070.

Although it might be considered cheating, given the theme of the course, during my week as a student in Will Noel and Dot Porter’s Rare Book School class, the Medieval Manuscript in the Twenty-first Century, I spent most of my time working on a sixteenth-century heraldic manuscript. While Penn Ms. Codex 1070, isn’t medieval, my experiences with it show how open access to digital images of early books can facilitate new answers to old questions.

Penn MS Codex 1070 is a small manuscript on paper, bound in vellum, written in the 1570s. Its front leaf summarizes its contents:

The Genelogies of the Erles of Lecestre & Chester wherein is briefly shewed som part of their deedes and actes with the tyme of their raignes in their Erldoms, and in what order the saide Erldoms did rightfully descend to the crowne, and in the same is also conteyned a lineall descent shewing how the right honorable Robert Erle Lecestre and Baron of Denbigh knight of [th]e Garter and Chamberlen of Chester is trewly descended of Margaret second sister and one of the heires of Robert fitz Pernell the first Erle of Lecestre and of Maude and Agnes the first and third doughters to hugh keuelock the fifte Erle of Chester, sisters and coheirs to Randolf Blondeuile the sixt Erle of Chester. Note that the lynes and descent[es] come from those rondells in the margent which be stayed by two leaues, and the other rondells that are stayed but by one leafe are the colaterall children.

Portrait of Robert Dudley with the collar of the Order of St. Michael and the Garter. Via Wikimedia Commons

This passage tells us that the book describes the ancestry of Robert Dudley (1532-1588), the first Earl of Leicester. It was created in 1571 or 1572, perhaps in honor of Dudley’s appointment to the Order of the Garter in that year. Dudley was a favorite of Elizabeth’s and, although he was no longer a contender for Elizabeth’s hand by the 1570s, he remained an important political figure until the end of his life. While the book is a fine production, it contains several factual errors, and Robert Dudley himself does not appear in the genealogy alongside his siblings—a strange error that was noted by one later reader.

Robert Dudley afterwards Erle of Leycester is strangely left of here, so as wth him there should be 9. sonns

Robert Dudley afterwards Erle of Leycester is strangely left of here, so as wth him there should be 9. sonns

Deluxe heraldic manuscripts like this were a way for families and individuals to both assert and display their pedigree by documenting the complex maneuvers by which titles (and the land and wealth associated them) were transferred over the generations through inheritance and marriage. Genealogy was just one way of using heraldry (the collection and display of coats of arms): the 2014 Folger Shakespeare Library exhibit Symbols of Honor explores the range of contexts and uses for heraldic display in early modern England.

Detail of fol. 2r

Detail of fol. 2r

After looking through Penn MS Codex 1070 and admiring its elegant design and naturalistic depiction of the eleventh century earls (complete with period-appropriate armor), I wondered: who created this book?

A production like MS Codex 1070 would require a combination of artistic skill and access to the historical sources necessary to trace five centuries of Leicester ancestors. There were only so many people living in England in the 1570s with the requisite background; many would have been professional heralds associated with the College of Arms who, in addition to researching and adjudicating official grants of titles, undertook deluxe manuscript productions for wealthy patrons.

Penn Codex 1070 tells us nothing about who made it, or to whom it was originally presented, but it is clearly is a professional production, not the work of an amateur. Flipping through its pages (see for yourself here), it is easy to appreciate how much careful planning the manuscript would have required: whoever created the manuscript had to arrange his pages so that there was sufficient room for both the text and the accompanying roundels. The roundels needed to be appropriately sized for the text they contain, but also leave room for the carefully detailed shields and the branches that link them. At certain points, branches merge with, or diverge from, one another, and getting this right would have required special attention when the pages were laid out.

Codex 1070 is unusual in that the branches extend all the way into the upper and lower margins, creating them impression of vertical continuity from page to page. By doing so, I think whoever created the manuscript meant to take a well-established format for displaying genealogical information—the armorial roll, or scroll (see, for example, Penn MS 1066)—and adapt it to the codex format, which would have allowed for easier reading, storage, and transportation.

The image below shows how the maker of this book worked in stages, assembling each page in layers: First, he ruled the page using plumb line; then he wrote the text. Next, he added illustrative details, including the naturalistic branches and leaves, and the more formalized depictions of coats of arms. Finally, he added decorative red lining around the margins.

Fol. 11v

Fol. 11v

The completed manuscript tells the story of Leicester’s ancestors in a number of distinct and reinforcing ways: there is the explanatory text itself; the abbreviated version of that text found in the roundels; the visual connections created by the branches and leaves (which, as the opening note tells us, reflect the status of the branch of the family being depicted); and finally the more standardized and stylized coats of arms which, as they are impaled and quartered over many generations, become increasingly complex. Much of what is described verbally in the text could be extrapolated from the last, largest and most intricate coat of arms displayed in the manuscript:

Fol. 17v

Fol. 17v

In my quest to learn more about this manuscript, I needed to go beyond what the book alone could tell me, so I turned to its provenance. Before the manuscript came to Penn, it was owned by Madeline Pelner Cosman, who was a medievalist, medical lawyer, and anti-immigration activist, as well as book and gun collector. The last lines of her 2006 New York Times obituary state, “Ms. Cosman also leaves behind a vast library of illuminated manuscripts and a large collection of handguns.”

While the manuscript was in her possession, Barbara McGeogh, a graduate student at CUNY, wrote a masters thesis about the manuscript in 1974. McGeogh suggests three candidates for authorship:

  • Robert Cooke, Chester herald and later the Clarenceax King of Arms
  • John Cocke, a Dudley family servant
  • Edmund Knight, who succeeded Cooke as Chester herald

I wanted to see if I could test McGeogh’s hypotheses by looking for manuscripts created by Cooke, Cocke, and Knight and determining whether they looked anything like the Penn manuscript. I began by looking at digital images from archives that I knew held heraldic manuscripts, including the Folger Shakespeare Library and the British Library. Neither contained any materials associated with John Cocke or Edmund Knight.

At the Folger Shakespeare Library, I found Folger MS V.b.76. This is a copy of a text written by Robert Cooke, but the hand doesn’t match the one in the Penn manuscript. It is not an autograph manuscript.

At the British Library, however, I found several images from MS King’s 396, a genealogy of Queen Elizabeth I on vellum, created around 1567.

British Library MS King's 396 f. 24v

British Library MS King’s 396 f. 24v

Like the book at Penn, this manuscript doesn’t explicitly say anything about the people involved in its production. But a comparison of some key features across the books leads me to conclude that both were made and illustrated by the same person or persons.


We can see this when it comes to:

The similarity of specific letter-forms in frequently used words like “doughter”:
        Kings 396 fol 24v

As well as words like “maried” and “Erle”:
Maried and Erle           Kings 396 Maried and Erle f24v

We can also see the similarity in the appearance of the leaves.
flourishes             Kings 396 heraldic flourishes f20v

And even in the line fillers that the scribe uses to use up extra space.
Line fillers             Kings 396 Line fillers 24v

Now, as the British Library catalogue of Western manuscripts notes, there is no evidence of authorship in this manuscript either, but the New Year’s Gift Roll for 1567 (London, British Library, Additional MS 9772) includes a description of a manuscript that matches King’s 396. (On this point I am grateful to Sonja Drimmer for sharing her recent and fascinating essay, “Questionable Contexts: A Pedigree Book and Queen Elizabeth’s Teeth,” in Scholars and Poets Talk About Queens, ed. Carole Levin and Christine Stewart-Nuñez [New York: Palgrave, 2015], 203-24.)

Since they are housed in archives on opposite sides of the Atlantic, it is unlikely that I will ever get to Penn MS Codex 1070 and British Library MS King’s 396 side-by-side. Nonetheless, thanks to the British Library’s recent decision to make thousands images of their holdings freely available online, I was able to perform research from my desk in Philadelphia that affirms the hypothesis offered up by Barbara McGeogh more than forty years ago. An even larger archive of heraldic images, including the ones mentioned in the British Library catalogue and held at the Bodleian, might have allowed for an even more concrete answer.

This exercise shows that quite a lot might be learned from even a simple comparison that might never have been possible without digital images. The power of visual comparison on a larger scale is demonstrated in projects like Late Medieval English Scribes, which allows users to compare samples of all scribal hands that appear in the manuscripts of major Middle English authors and, in so doing, to produce new knowledge about the circulation of vernacular texts in late medieval England. A larger database of images from heraldic manuscripts might, similarly, offer new insight into the development, usage, and propagation of a highly codified system of genealogy and heraldry in the sixteenth century and beyond.


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Manuscript Studies in Action: RBS at SIMS

Kyle Ann Huskin, a Ph.D. student in English at the University of Rochester, spent a week in July at the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies as one of the students in The Medieval Manuscript in the Twenty-First Century, a course under the auspices of Rare Book School, headquartered at the University of Virginia.  Here she shares her experience of that week and its impact on her work.

Historiated initial D, Isidore lecturing to two monks, LJS 184, f. 1r (detail)

LJS 184, f. 1r (detail)

I never expected to be accepted to RBS course M-95: The Medieval Manuscript in the Twenty-First Century, taught at the University of Pennsylvania by Will Noel and Dot Porter, and I certainly never expected to have a life-changing experience (academically speaking) over the course of just five days. The class introduced us to just some of the ways digital technology can be used to enhance traditional codicological research endeavors. Although my experience seemed to be more traditional than other students’ in its reliance on paleography and internal “detective work” on a manuscript, my discoveries would not have been possible without UPenn’s open-source digital images, photo enhancement software, and open-access academic journals. I hope that my account of what Will and Dot put together in M-95 will encourage other institutions to take similar steps as SIMS towards producing open-source data and also encourage more students and scholars to conduct hands-on research in archival collections.

Will and Dot tried to find manuscripts to suit our interests based on our personal statements. I had said I was interested in representations of material texts in popular medieval literature, and accordingly, they had planned to give me a mid-fourteenth-century French copy of the Roman de Sept Sages (Ms. Codex 931). Due to its lack of binding, however, they decided on LJS 184, a late thirteenth-century Spanish copy of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae. I doubt they knew about my fascination with the Etymologiae, but their decision turned out to be perfect for my interests because LJS 184 actually contained a text within the text — a legal document that had at one point been glued to the manuscript’s wooden back cover. Stating only that LJS 184 contained a “loose pastedown,” the catalog record in Penn in Hand made no mention of the fact that there was writing on this parchment. I could tell that it was some kind of Latin legal document written in a later hand than the main text. Hoping that it contained valuable provenance information, I became obsessed with deciphering it. Continue reading

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Digital Manuscripts as Critical Edition

The following post is the written version of a presentation that Christoph Flüeler, Director of e-codices and Professor at the University of Fribourg, presented at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI, May 2015. It has been very lightly edited by Dot Porter. Prof.  Flüeler has long been a leader in digital manuscript studies, and in his talk he proposed an exciting vision of digital manuscripts as critical edition. With Prof. Flüeler’s permission, we are very pleased to share his talk here on the SIMS blog. He will soon develop these thoughts into a longer article, which will be published in a more formal venue.

The point of departure for my contribution is as follows: in coming years an enormous number of manuscripts, tens of thousands of them from thousands of manuscript collections throughout the world, will be digitized and made available on the Internet. A few years from now perhaps a majority of all manuscripts of great cultural, artistic, and scientific value will be accessible online. As this happens, quality requirements regarding image quality, metadata, and user interfaces will markedly increase, and standards will be established, so that all over the world metadata and images can be processed and annotated via comprehensive and specialized manuscript portals and interoperable image viewing platforms. This presumption is based on careful observation of developments during the past ten years and of the large number of projects currently planned or in progress. Everyone who attended yesterday’s session entitled “All Medieval Manuscripts Online: Strategic Plans in Europe” with presentations by the British Library, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München, and e-codices knows that I refer here only to concretely planned projects.

If digital manuscripts become ever more important for scholarly research in future, the following question arises: whatis the “scholarly research value” of digital manuscripts?

Discussion of the matter has thus far been conducted in an undifferentiated manner by persons interested in defending the exclusive status of the originals and who in some cases go so far as to question whether digital reproductions have any scholarly research value at all. This point of view strikes me as rather unconstructive, because it simply dismisses as unreliable these resources on which most researchers already rely, and on which they will in future base their work to an ever greater degree.

My perspective is a bit different. What we need to do is to ask the following question: what preconditions must be met in order for a digital manuscript to be understood as a reliable resource for scholarly research, such that a scholarly researcher can, without any great misgivings or doubts, utilize the digital object as the basis for serious research and make use of it to the fullest possible extent?

Central for my reflections is the different status of the physical manuscript and the digital manuscript. The fact that the relationship between physical manuscript and digital manuscript has barely been examined up to this point is rather astonishing. It is probably because a serious theoretical consideration of the immediate precursors of the digital manuscript was never undertaken; I speak here of print facsimiles and microfilms. Facsimile editions are hugely popular with collectors. The production of facsimiles is normally understood as a work of fine craftsmanship. While scholarly researchers are employed in their production, they contribute only the accompanying commentary. Theory has obviously been considered out of place when it comes to the production of facsimiles.

Microfilms, on the other hand, have always been seen as not particularly attractive research aids, are often incomplete, often contain errors, and are as a rule only black-and-white. They are still maintained as archival copies, but for scholarly researchers their usefulness as reproductions has (for the most part) been superseded.

In this context I will not raise the matter of the qualities that distinguish a digital manuscript from a facsimile edition or a microfilm. The advantages of the digital manuscript are too obvious to require enumeration here.

I would like to ask, instead, how a digital manuscript stands in relation to a critical edition of a text. Can the publication of a digital manuscript on the internet be understood as an edition? Further: could such an edition even be regarded as a critical edition?

I would like to consider again the statement I made earlier, in which I asserted that for scholarly research purposes a digital manuscript must be understood as a reliable resource to the extent that medievalists from various disciplines (for ex. History, Art History, History of Law, History of Philosophy, Classical Philology, etc.) can utilize the digital object as the basis for serious research and make use of it to the fullest possible extent.

This echoes the proper purpose of a critical text edition. A critical text edition does exactly this, and the science of creating editions has since the 19th century developed methods for achieving this goal. A critical text edition aims to create an authoritative and easily accessible text. Its usefulness is, however, often far greater: a critical text edition can, for example, highlight the historical dimensions of the transmission of a text and use a critical apparatus to tease out intertextual aspects of the text in ways that far exceed simple transcription. In addition, a critical text edition can drill down to a more original text, identify errors in transmission, and provide a text so convincing in its authenticity that it comes to be accepted in the scholarly research community as an authoritative version of the text.

If we do not insist that the definition of edition can only be applied to a traditional text edition, we can in point of fact understand the publication of a digital manuscript on the Internet as a scholarly edition.

In the meantime there are already thousands of texts which have received their first publication as digital manuscripts. This is also true of hundreds of texts found on e-codices. It is important not to underestimate the usefulness to scholarly research of this additional method of editing, especially for texts that have never been edited previously and that would perhaps otherwise never have been critically edited.

What scholars need are good, scientific editions. This is true for both text editions and editions of digital manuscripts. We can only regard as serious critical editions those that follow established scientific criteria, developed with a firm grounding in the concept that the publication can substitute for the original as a resource for research, up to a certain point and for specific purposes, and that it offers some type of added value beyond that of the original. A digital manuscript, like a traditional critical edition, is not merely a cheap copy, but ideally can show aspects of the primary resource, i.e. the original manuscript, that were not visible in such a way when viewing the original.

It is obviously important to note that the critical edition of digital manuscripts is a different task from the critical edition of texts transmitted in manuscripts. It is, however, not any less exacting.

No edition theory has yet been written concerning digital manuscripts. I can only briefly enumerate some relevant themes and desiderata.

A digital manuscript edition should, like a critical text edition, follow documented scholarly research criteria and not produce a plain, unexamined reproduction of the material object—in this case a physical manuscript, but should—as I already emphasized—create some added value and bring out new aspects of the manuscript that have not previously been observed or recognized; and a digital manuscript should obviously provide a reliable foundation for current research of the original manuscript.

The most authentic possible scientific reproduction is the first step. Completeness, high image quality, and true color must be provided. Measurability and verifiability are fundamental to access for all purposes of scholarly research. Digital manuscripts consist of digital reproductions. It is therefore essential to provide not only metadata about the manuscript, but also metadata about the digital object. The colors must be measurable, not only by using a simple color sample strip, but by employing a complex Color Management System. This is actually already standard these days, but as soon as the files are uploaded to the Internet, all the care that goes into this is often ignored. Image metadata, such as IPTC metadata, should be available together with the digital image, and should be linked closely enough that when images are transferred—for example, into another image viewing platform—the image metadata are automatically attached. Dimensions should be measurable in every part of a manuscript. Simply including ruler in an image is here, as in other cases, not sufficient; a digital measuring tool with flexible usability would always be preferable. In practice, we are for the most part still a long way from such precise, reliable and measurable digital images at this point; however, they are fundamental for serious scientific work. How is one to conduct serious research with images, if the images on the screen are often slightly distorted, the colors are not accurate, and no reliable measuring tool is available? Not to mention poor resolutions of less than 300 dpi! Products like this are simply a waste of money.

Digital manuscripts do not consist merely of digital reproductions though. A digital manuscript is a virtual product that reproduces a tangible object in its entirety. This includes the proper sequencing of images. A data model must ensure that the image sequence remains intact when displayed in other viewing platforms. The same is obviously true for metadata regarding the physical manuscript and the digital manuscript, which aid in understanding the manuscript as manuscript, but also as digital object. I am referring to metadata in the broad sense. This includes: basic metadata, structural metadata, scholarly descriptions, image descriptions, metadata regarding codicology, digital object metadata, reports about additional restoration, and ideally even the full range of existing research literature. Finally, this includes—and very importantly—the transcriptions and editions of the text contained in the manuscript. If a critical edition of a digital manuscript is to comprehend the physical manuscript in its entirety, then text editions form part of it. In the future, text editions should not be understood as separate from digital objects, but as integral parts of them. I regard these integral parts not as competing or the edition as an absolute condition, but rather that these are complementary pieces of the ideal whole. Metadata can be added as desired—the richer the data included, the greater the usefulness and the scholarly research value.

A digital manuscript can and should be used to show more than is visible or explicitly contained in the original. Illustrations can be enlarged. Structural elements of the codex and the text can be accentuated. Individual illustrations or parts of the text can be annotated, and transcriptions and editions can be set next to the page images. Codicological features such as quires, watermarks, and color analysis can not only be provided, but can even be analyzed and interpreted within a digital manuscript. The research area of Image and Text Recognition is hard at work on tools to recognize and analyze layout, script types, scribal practices and eventually even texts.

It is important to emphasize that a digital manuscript should display a manuscript in its entirety. But we should even go a step further. A critical edition of a digital manuscript should not treat only a single manuscript, but should include as much data as possible about other related manuscripts and sources, in order to promote viewing the special qualities and features of the particular manuscript in a broader context. In this area as well the established methods of scientific editing aid me in developing criteria that can be applied to digital manuscript editions.

One fundamental task when editing critical editions of medieval texts transmitted in manuscripts is to collate individual transcriptions of texts and thereby obtain new information. The critical apparatus presents variations of the text as transmitted by the manuscripts used for the edition. This critical apparatus delivers indications of explicit and implicit references to other works as well and unfolds the intertextuality of the text. This means that a critical text edition goes beyond transmission of the text found in a single manuscript.

A critical digital edition of a manuscript can for example expand quire analyses, descriptions of illustrations, script analysis, structural analysis, water mark analysis of a single manuscript via metadata for another digital object, or other objects can be incorporated for the purpose of gaining new information. Let me offer just one example: quire composition and layout analysis can be performed across manuscripts from the same scriptorium or other scriptoria in order to recognize features peculiar to a particular manuscript, a scriptorium, or an entire epoch. A digital manuscript is thus more than just a digital version produced from a single physical object. It effectively has the potential toincorporate the entirety of manuscript transmission contained in all medieval manuscripts.

The publication of medieval manuscripts on the Internet has made amazing progress during the past ten years. Digital manuscript libraries have transcended the status of pilot projects. Digital manuscript libraries have become more professional and have by now become an essential part of the research infrastructure. This is surely due to the fact that not just a few individual manuscripts, but over 15,000 medieval manuscripts have been presented online up until now.

However the success and importance of digital manuscript libraries depend not so much on the number of digitized manuscripts as on the scientific quality of those digital manuscripts, which can only achieve fundamental change in the area of manuscript research through a critical theory of the digital manuscript.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Kalamazoo, May 15, 2015

Christoph Flüeler


OPenn:  Primary Digital Resources Available to All through Penn Libraries’ New Online Platform

The Penn Libraries and the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies are thrilled to announce the launch of OPenn: Primary Resources Available to Everyone (, a new website that makes digitized cultural heritage material freely available and accessible to the public.  OPenn is a major step in the Libraries’ strategic initiative to embrace open data, with all images and metadata on this site available as free cultural works to be freely studied, applied, copied, or modified by anyone, for any purpose.  It is crucial to the mission of SIMS and the Penn Libraries to make these materials of great interest and research value easy to access and reuse.  The OPenn team at SIMS has been working towards launching the website for the past year.  Director Will Noel’s original idea to make our Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts open to all has grown into a space where the Libraries can collaborate with other institutions who want to open their data to the world.

OPenn launches with the entire corpus of manuscripts donated to the Penn Libraries in 2011 by SIMS founder Lawrence J. Schoenberg and his wife Barbara Brizdle Schoenberg.  The Schoenberg Collection features manuscripts from all over the world, with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  To interest the public in the visual splendor of materials on OPenn we have uploaded some images from the Schoenberg Collection onto Flickr at, with links in the records to OPenn.

More datasets, including manuscripts from the University of Pennsylvania’s own holdings and items from other institutions, will be added to the site in the near future, so stay tuned.  Historic diaries from a variety of institutions belonging to the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) are next in line for inclusion on OPenn.  Many of these documents are unknown while others are celebrated, such as the Union League’s Tanner manuscript: a firsthand account of the events surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Images of the manuscripts are currently available on OPenn at full resolution, with derivatives also provided for easy reuse on the web.  Downloading, whether several select images or the entire dataset, is easily accomplished by following instructions or recipes posted in the Technical Read Me on OPenn.  The website is designed to be machine-readable, but easy for individuals to use, too.

SIMS’ very own Dot Porter has already used the dataset to create e-books from the images and metadata on OPenn.  You can download the e-books in the free and open epub format at Penn Libraries’ Scholarly Commons.   She has also used the Internet Archive BookReader, an open source online page-turning book reader, to generate online versions of each manuscript.  An example using LJS 225, Litterarum simulationis liber, can be seen at: .  You can search and browse manuscripts in OPenn (along with digitized manuscripts from The Digital Walters) here:  These formats serve as excellent tools for raising awareness of manuscript culture and for showcasing manuscripts’ unique graphics and aesthetic appeal.  OPenn also enables rigorous study and scholarly discovery by increasing ease of study for researchers interested in these manuscripts.  For instance, images of individual pages can be manipulated to re-create the order in which the pages were written, as opposed to the order in which they were collated for binding, providing leeway in exploration that researchers might not have otherwise.

These are just a few ways the data can be manipulated, but we anticipate surprises once scholars and researchers begin using data on OPenn.  We hope you are inspired to reuse OPenn data and to share your project with the world.  If you have any questions or comments, send us an email at

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Manuscript Road Trip: Reconstructing the Beauvais Missal

The latest Manuscript Road Trip post by SIMS friend Lisa Fagin Davis announces a new adventure in digital fragmentology.

Manuscript Road Trip

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

If you’ve been travelling with me on this virtual road trip around the United States, you have almost certainly come to know the dismembered beauty known as The Beauvais Missal. I’ve mentioned it many times and shown you several different leaves found in various collections. And I’ve ruminated about the possibility of digitally reassembling this masterpiece of thirteenth-century illumination. Well, it’s time to stop dreaming and start doing.

Cleveland Museum of Art, ACC. 1982.141 verso Cleveland Museum of Art, Acc. 1982.141 verso

Working with the “Broken Books” project at the St. Louis University, I have begun a digital reconstruction of the Beauvais Missal. The “Broken Books” project will result in the development of a platform for reconstructing broken books as well as the establishment of a metadata structure designed specifically for manuscript fragments and leaves. My Beauvais Missal project will serve as one of several case studies in…

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Ms. Codex 909, [Le livre des Eneydes]: A Fine Example of Lettre Bâtarde

My interest in Ms. Codex 909 began last summer while I was taking a non-credit course, Introduction to Paleography, offered by the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies and taught by Penn manuscript cataloger Amey Hutchins and Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts project researcher and English doctoral candidate Alex Devine.  I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in paleography, whether you’re a graduate student, librarian, or independent scholar.  Each student was asked to give a final presentation on the script used in a manuscript of his or her choosing.  While there were many intriguing manuscripts to choose from, I landed on [Le livre des Eneydes], the first French translation of Virgil’s Aeneid.  It is, in fact, one of four extant manuscripts known to contain Octovien Saint-Gelais’s translation.  Of the other three manuscripts, two are located at the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris, while the remaining codex can be found at The Hague.

While I transcribed the first two folios for the project, I did not attempt a reading of the entire manuscript due to time constraints; however, an article written in 1990 by Thomas Brückner goes into some detail about Saint-Gelais’s groundbreaking translation.  According to Brückner, the translation is a loyal reproduction of the narrative, but the Virgilian style of the epic poem is not painstakingly interpreted, as later Renaissance translators would attempt under the influence of the ancient poetic concept of imitatio.  Saint-Gelais often omits words, usually descriptive words that were used by Virgil for the sake of embellishment, but rarely an entire verse.  He injects numerous Latinisms into his text, taking a Latin word and giving it a French ending.  Brückner also notes that he draws words from the gloss of Servius at times, and not from the original Latin.  In a way, Saint-Gelais edits Virgil’s text too.  He inserts explanations that do not appear in the original epic for the sake of the reader, due to the fact that he is translating from hexameter into decasyllabic couplets and details may get lost from one line to another.[1]

The manuscript begins with a beautiful sloping ductus written in lettre bâtarde, sometimes called lettre bourguignonne.  Its namesakes are the Dukes of Burgundy, Philip the Good and Charles the Bold, who were patrons of the arts in the 15th century and who commissioned many deluxe manuscripts in the French vernacular.  Penn’s manuscript itself may have been meant for a noble audience, as the large blank spaces left for illumination may indicate.  The script’s other name, lettre bâtarde, refers to the hybridity of the script that displays characteristics of Gothic Textura but incorporates calligraphic features as well.  The Gothic influence can be seen in the single compartment a, the minims that are hard to tell apart, quadrangles that are sometimes formed at the bottom of the minims, and the inclusion of spiky details like horns.  The scribe uses calligraphic technique to create the looping ascenders of the b, h and l.  The letter f and the straight s slope from right to left across the page and are a tell-tale sign of lettre bâtarde.  They are created using a quill with a flexible nib, which can create great differences in the width of strokes.  The f and straight s are thin at the top, with a broad thick stroke in the middle that thins again to a pointed descender with a thin hairline stroke.  The calligraphic technique also includes many flourishes to the letters.


The minims are reminiscent of Gothic Textura


The sloping straight s is typical of lettre batarde

As I was flipping through the manuscript for the first time, I noticed what appeared to be two changes in the scribal hand.  I decided to focus my presentation on a comparison of the three hands to determine if my initial thought was correct.  For the sake of ease, I’ll call the hands the first hand, the second hand and the third hand based on where the change occurs in the book.  The change from first to second occurs around f. 50v and the switch from the second hand to the third hand occurs at f. 63r.

The reason that I estimate where the second change occurs is because it is much harder to tell where the first switch in hand happens.  It isn’t until f. 50v that I feel most certain it’s another hand.  There are a number of differences that become apparent as you move closer to f. 50v, but the change seems to happen gradually.  The script becomes smaller and the o, a, and d become rounder.  The minims are more reminiscent of Gothic script and the loops on the ascenders are smaller.  The l, f and straight s become shorter.  The first hand is more angular and the f and s are more slanted, more like archetypal lettre bâtarde.  The first hand has more cursive thin hairline strokes and the highest level of execution of the lettre bâtarde of all three hands.  The gradual change in the appearance of the script could mean a few things, and begs the question of whether it is truly two distinct hands.  It could mean that there was only one scribe, but they are slowly modifying their hand until it comes to look quite different by the time you reach f. 50v.  On the other hand, no pun intended, a second scribe may have been trying to imitate some of the features of the first scribe but slowly reverted to their own stylistic idiosyncrasies.  I would be interested to hear the opinions of more learned scholars than myself who might want to take a look at Codex 909.


First hand


Second hand


Third hand

The change from the second hand to the third hand is much more noticeable and I have more confidence that it is another scribe altogether.  Only after f. 63r do the ascenders of each top line of every page double in size, taking up the height of almost an entire line (see f.62v-63r below).  The hand looks a bit sloppier, as if it was written more hastily, and in fact there are some erasures and added lines that suggest this may have been the case.  The writing also takes up more space on the page and the lines often run past the ruled lines.  The strokes are thicker and there is more embellishment to the letters, especially compared to the second hand, which is the most spare of the three.  Of all the letters, the easiest ones to look at to identify differences were the d and the straight s in this codex.

62v1_16 63r1_16

I really enjoyed my time looking closely at this manuscript, which is a fine example of lettre bâtarde.  As Albert Derolez reminds us, “the impact of the individual scribes on the appearance of [lettre bâtarde] was quite strong, and, whilst the main characteristics remain the same, the visual impression produced by different pages of Bastarda script can be very varied.”[2]  This is certainly the case with Codex 909 and it was what made it such an interesting manuscript for my final project.  I hope this post piques your interest in my findings.  I invite you to take a look at the Le livre des Eneydes on Penn in Hand or come see it in person in the Kislak Center reading room.

[1] Brückner, Thomas.  Un traducteur de Virgile inconnu du XVIe siècle : Jean d’Ivry.  Les lettres Romanes, XLIV, n.3, August 1990, pp. 171-180.

[2] Derolez, Albert.  The Paleography of Gothic Manuscript Books from the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, p.160.

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Manuscript Road Trip: The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies

Manuscript Road Trip

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

As we head north out of Baltimore on I-95, we’ll cross the Delaware River and head into Wilmington, where there are manuscripts to be found at the University of Delaware.

The pre-1600 manuscripts at the University are part of a collection with the shelfmark “MSS 095.” There’s a list of the relevant records here and some highlights are described here. Of particular interest to me is a relatively recent acquisition, U. Delaware MSS 095 no. 31, a Book of Hours for the use of Noyon. There aren’t any images on the Special Collections website, but there are a few on this blogpost written by a Special Collections staff member, as well as a little information about the manuscript’s history. But I’d like to know more…how did it get to Delaware, and what can be gleaned about its history before…

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