On Monday 25th October the Justin McKenzie Smith, the British Ambassador to Georgia, visited Oxford University’s Georgian Studies Programme and the Bodleian’s Wardrop Collection. During his time at the library he was shown some of the new materials added to the collection in May and learned more about plans for 2018, which include Nikoloz Aleksidze’s forthcoming book with Bodleian Library Publishing, Georgia: a cultural journey through the Wardrop Collection.
Recent months have brought an unprecedented interest in Ge’ez manuscripts of Ethiopia and Eritrea – a development that we welcome at the Bodleian. Study of this material has reached a new level, with further palaeographical and codicological knowledge, as well as a growing appreciation of art history. Studying, displaying, and digitising a variety of our little-known codices and scrolls with modern means help us better understand and disseminate our findings to new audiences.
With this in mind, on Saturday, the 17th of June we welcomed a small group of Ethiopians and Eritreans at the Bodleian to view a selection of Ge’ez manuscripts of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The material, which was studied and discussed with great excitement, included a magic scroll with miniatures of angels and demons, an illuminated seventeenth-century prayer book, fragments of a medieval gospel with evangelists’ portraits, a hagiographic work with copious illustrations to the text, an important textual variant of the Book of Enoch and the epic work Kebra Nagast (Glory of the Kings).
The experience of the day was that of beautiful exchange of ideas, as well as building bridges within and between communities. We look forward to future developments!
On May 17th descendants of the British diplomat Sir Oliver Wardrop visited the Bodleian to donate further items to the Wardrop collection on Georgia. The newly donated material contains correspondence by Sir Oliver written during his period as British High Commissioner for Transcaucasia, 1919-20, and letters written by his sister Marjory on her first visit to Georgia in 1894.
During their visit, family members were shown manuscripts already in the Library’s Wardrop collection by Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze, who is currently writing a book about the collection.
On Saturday, the 8th of April a group of bibliophiles from the Anglo-Ethiopian Society visited the Weston Library. Their trip from London to Oxford was intended as a study day, attending lectures and a photo exhibition on the illuminated Gospels from the Abba Garima Monastery. During the academic programme, Dr Judith McKenzie spoke about the themes of Garima illumination, while Professor Francis Watson gave a lecture on canon tables. The first part of the day took place at the Ioannou centre and was organised by Judith McKenzie, Miranda Williams, and Foteini Spingou, with photographs by Michael Gervers.
In the afternoon, a small display of Bodleian Ethiopian treasures was ready for the group in the Blackwell Hall. The two fifteenth century biblical codices on display were given to the library by Dr Bent Juel-Jensen in 2006. These exceptional codices come with a wealth of painted miniatures, representing biblical figures from the patriarchs to evangelists. MS. Aeth. c. 14, comprising the Four Gospels in Ge’ez script is thought to come from the Gojjam province in north-western part of Ethiopia. There are four colour miniatures of the Evangelists, one before each Gospel. These were made by Nicolo Brancaleone, a Venetian artist active in Ethiopia.
The other mid-fifteenth century illuminated manuscript, MS. Aeth. d. 19 includes Psalms, hymns of the Old Testament, Song of Songs and Praises of Mary.
The display at the Bodleian was received with great interest and there definitely was a sense of enthusiasm for promoting the collection also in the future. Many thanks to the colleagues in the Oriental collections, as well as Exhibitions department for their support. It was a great pleasure to meet the many members of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society and we look forward to welcoming all back in the future!
In April of 2015, the Trustees of the Simon Digby Memorial Trust deposited a large collection of Oriental Manuscripts belonging to the Late Simon Digby (1932-2010) with the Special Collections Department of the Bodleian Libraries. Almost a year later, the collection was officially donated to the Library.
Mr. Simon Digby, a descendent of Sir Kenelm Digby (d. 1665), whose Western and Oriental manuscript collection the Bodleian Library also holds, was a Fellow of Wolfson College, and a scholar, linguist, translator, and collector. He was Assistant Keeper of Eastern Art at the Ashmolean Museum from 1972. Above all a lover of India, Mr. Digby spent a great deal of time in that country (indeed, he was born and died there). However, the bulk of his collection was amassed in Britain at the auctions of manuscripts from the collections of Thomas Phillipps of Middle Hall (d. 1872); Sir Richard Burn, KCIE, ICS (d. 1947); A. H. Harley (d. 1951); and others.
The Simon Digby Oriental Collection consists of over 260 manuscripts the majority of which are in Persian, with a handful in languages such as Arabic, Urdu, Turkish, and some in Indian languages including Sanskrit and Gujarati. The collection contains important and rare works in the fields of Indian history, biographies of Sufi Saints, and biographies and poetry of the Persian Poets of the Sabk-i Hindī or Indian Style.
Upon arrival in the Library in April 2015, the entire collection was sent to a specialist conservation laboratory for thorough drying and cleaning. When the books returned, some months later, staff in the Oriental Department began work assigning new shelfmarks, making observations on the general condition of each book and measuring each volume for a custom made archival box. Certain items were also flagged up for extra care from the conservation department of the Library.
At the same time, work began on cataloguing the collection for which Mr. Digby’s extensive notes and handlist proved very useful. These notes together with information obtained through examination of the volumes were converted into online catalogue records in the Fihrist database – a UK based union catalogue of manuscripts from the Islamic world. Browse the S. Digby Oriental Collection on the Fihrist Database [work-in-progress]. To date, 168 entries appear on Fihrist, and work is currently underway to catalogue from scratch the remaining works for which no notes exist.
Speaking about the Library’s acquisition of the S. Digby Collection, Bahari Curator of Persian Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, Alasdair Watson, said, “Mr. Digby was, perhaps, one of the last of the true ‘gentleman collectors’, and his collection is substantial both in terms of numbers of items as well as richness of content. Acquiring a collection such as this is a really once-in-a-lifetime experience for any library curator and it is a great privilege to be involved in its long-term preservation and care as well as in helping to make it available for scholarly study.”
On 20th December, the Bodleian’s Clay Sanskrit Librarian, Dr. Camillo Formigatti, was pleased to be able to announce the launch of a complete digital version of the Index Catalogue of MSS. Chandra Shum Shere by T. Gambier Parry, revised and completed by E. Johnston. This small project was made possible by a generous grant from the Max Müller Memorial Fund.
The PDF files are available on the Finding Aids – Oriental Manuscripts & Rare Books: South and Inner Asia webpage of the Oxford LibGuides website. They are listed under the section Sanskrit. Dr. Formigatti has prepared a set of three different files:
• Index Catalogue of MSS. Chandra Shum Shere vol. 1 (A-Tarpaṇa)
• Index Catalogue of MSS. Chandra Shum Shere vol. 2 (Tarpaṇa-Muktāvalī)
• Index Catalogue of MSS. Chandra Shum Shere vol. 3 (Muktāvalī-Haumikaprāyaścitta-Modern Indian Languages)
Each file is available in two different resolutions: the first for fast internet connections and fit for printing, the second for slower internet connections and to be displayed on-screen. All files are provided with bookmarks for easy navigation.
We hope this basic navigation tool will help all manuscript lovers to find their way through the thousands of manuscripts in this valuable collection.
On 14th and 15th December staff from Bodleian Special Collections and Digital Library Systems and Services welcomed representatives from the Manuscript Conservation Association of Thailand. Delegates included Mr. Boonlert Sananon, President of the MCA, Mr. Boonlue Burarnsan, Vice President of the MCA, and Mrs. Phatchanun Bunnag, Registrar of the MCA.
During the first day of the workshop delegates discussed the latest developments in TEI /XML cataloguing standards for Thai manuscripts at the Centre for Digital Scholarship. On the morning of second day of the workshop the delegates visited the Conservation workshop. This was followed by a lecture by given Mr Saneh Mahapol, from the Fine Arts Department of the Ministry of Culture on the conservation of palm leaf books in Thailand.
The workshop ended with delegates helping the library to identify and make basic TEI descriptions of uncatalogued Thai manuscripts in the Bodleian’s collection.
Visitors to the Weston Library on Wednesday 30th November will have the opportunity to see two Georgian manuscripts from the Wardrop collection, which will be on display to accompany Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze’s lecture ‘Amiran Unbound’: Christ’s last foe in the Caucasus. From the early days of their 1894 stay in Georgia, Marjory Wardrop and her brother Oliver were fascinated by the abundance of tales of a chained hero Amiran, recounted throughout the entire Caucasian highlands. These stories bore a striking resemblance to the classical myth of Prometheus, meanwhile revealing a quasi-Christian influence. The Wardrops launched something of an ethnographic quest in attempts to discover the lost ‘Caucasian cousin’ of the Greek titan. The display will include Oliver Wardrop’s notes on a version of the tale told by a smith (MS. Wardr. d. 40/4, f. 2r). The legend says that when Amiran was chained to the rock, his faithful dog began licking the chain and by Maundy Thursday had made it so thin that it would have broken had it not been for a smith striking his anvil with his hammer that day, which caused the chain to become as strong as it was before. This gave rise to the tradition of smiths striking their anvils on Maundy Thursday to ward off the calamity of Amiran escaping his chain.
A 19th century manuscript of the Bežaniani, one of the many Georgian adaptations of the Shahnameh, will also be on display (MS. Wardr. e. 23, fols 24v-25r). Manuscripts of this type were used for oral performances in the public spaces of Tbilisi. The crude addition of the orthodox creed in the opening on that will be on show, suggests the religious zeal to suppress such ‘unchristian’ behaviour.
Registered lecture goers will also have the chance to view these manuscripts from 5pm in the Blackwell Hall before the start of the talk at 5.30pm.
One of the joys of working for the Bodleian is the capacity of manuscripts to surprise. During the final preparations for The hunt in Mughal India exhibition , I was asked to look at the mount of one of the manuscripts for display (MS. Ouseley Add. 171, f. 6r). The 1947 mount tightly framed the miniature, which is painted in subdued greens and browns. When folded back from the miniature, the artist’s border of warm pink and gold was revealed, bringing the whole composition to life. It was a pleasure to give permission for the old mount cover to be removed so the picture could be displayed as the artist had originally intended it to be seen.
A further hidden masterpiece that cannot be shown in the exhibition is the reverse of the painting of the nobleman hunting with a decoy blackbuck (MS. Douce Or. b. 3, f. 29r), which is covered with exquisite calligraphy. The relationship between the calligraphic panel and the painting has yet to be fully researched.
The hunt in Mughal India exhibition runs until the 8th of January and is open to the public. Readers at the Bodleian Oriental Institute Library can also see an associated exhibit of modern printed books relating to the theme of the Mughal hunt.
Visitors to the Weston Library on Wednesday 19th October will have the opportunity to see two 17th century manuscripts of Shota Rustaveli’s epic poem, which will be on display to accompany Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze’s lecture ‘Come, let us sit for Tariel’: The story of The Man in the Panther’s Skin. This 12th century work was dedicated to Queen Tamar, Georgia’s greatest ruler, and to this day remains a monument of Georgian national identity. The two manuscripts that will be on show were added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2014 as part of a joint nomination made with Georgia’s National Centre of Manuscripts. Registered lecture goers will also have the chance to view the manuscripts from 5pm in the Blackwell Hall before the start of the talk at 5.30pm.