Tag Archives: Oriental Collections

Additions to the Wardrop Collection

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.

Descendants of Sir Oliver Wardrop with Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze showing their additions to the Wardrop collection

The Simon Digby Oriental Collection – curation and care

 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.

MS. S. Digby Or. 210 – A 15th-century illuminated manuscript of poetry from Herat in Afghanistan.

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.

Each manuscript is housed in its own custom-made archival box.

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.

Detail from MS. S. Digby Or. 129 – A history of the coinage of India.

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.”

 

 

 

 

Index of Chandra Shum Shere manuscript collection now digitized

Chandra Shum Shere1On 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.

Thai Manuscript Conservation Association Workshop at the Bodleian

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.

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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.

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Christ’s Last Foe in the Caucasus

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.

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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.

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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.

A Mughal Hunt Manuscript shown as the Artist Intended

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.

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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.

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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.

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Georgian Manuscript Treasures on Display

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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.

 

Newly Digitized Arabic Astronomy Manuscript Now Online

The Bodleian Libraries’ important 12th-century copy of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī’s Book of Fixed Stars, an illustrated Arabic treatise on the Constellations is now available online via Digital Bodleian and Fihrist.

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MS. Huntington 212, folio 1r, detail

Bodleian Libraries MS. Huntington 212, an early copy of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī‘s book Kitāb Ṣuwar al-kawākib al-thābitah or Book of the Constellations of the Fixed Stars was made in 566 AH/1170 CE for the treasury of Sayf al-Dīn Ghāzī II, Zangid Emir of Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq. This is attested to by a gilded dedication panel on folio 1r. The panel is virtually illegible now to the naked eye as it was apparently defaced by a subsequent owner; possibly to efface the memory of a rival (see left).

 

 

The manuscript, which is part of a large collection bought by the Library in 1693 from the Orientalist Robert Huntington, is believed to be the fourth oldest surviving copy of the treatise and has recently been the object of a large scale conservation project by Robert Minte of the Conservation team at the Bodleian Libraries.

This copy’s importance and significance has increased since doubts were raised about the authenticity of the date of Bodleian Libraries MS. Marsh 144, the colophon of which states that it was made in 400 AH/1009 CE. It is likely to have been made more than 150 years later than this.

Al-Ṣūfī’s treatise was originally composed in about 964 CE and contains images of most of the 48 Classical Constellations both as they appear on the celestial sphere and on the celestial globe – each being a mirror image of the other –  together with tables of data on the position (latitude and longitude) and magnitude of each star which makes up the constellation. Al-Ṣūfī’s observations represent an advance on those made by Ptolemy in the 2nd century CE.

The Huntington Collection copy also contains two rare images of so-called Bedouin Constellations superimposed over the Ptolemaic ones, and these appear on folios 40r-40v, and also on folio 74v, where a constellation in the form of a camel appears drawn in red ink alongside the classical constellation of Andromeda  (see below).

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A Bedouin Constellation in the form of a camel alongside the Classical Constellation of Andromeda.

Thanks to the conservation work done on the manuscript it is now available for scholarly study once again, and will also travel to an exhibition in New York later in 2016.

John Clay Sanskrit Librarian

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The library welcomes Camillo Formigatti  who will take up the position of John Clay Sanskrit Librarian on 1st February. Camillo has a doctorate in Indology from the University of Hamburg and has previously worked as a Research Associate on the Sanskrit Manuscripts Project, Cambridge.  He is extremely excited at the opportunity to promote the world of Sanskrit literature, which is brought to life in the Clay Sanskrit Library series and which is preserved in the Bodleian Libraries’ historic collections of manuscripts and books. Describing it as, ‘the type of job I always hoped I might one day be able to do,’ Camillo looks forward to sharing insights into this rich and ancient literary heritage over the coming months.