Category Archives: Manuscripts

Reformation 500: Luther autograph on display

Alexander Peplow

A Commonplace Reformation: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92 – Martin Luther’s Autograph Collection of Proverbs

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

This manuscript is one of two in the Bodleian’s possession which are written in Martin Luther’s own hand, and, running to 40 pages, is by far the more substantial – though, about the size of a postcard, it remains small. It is a collection of proverbs (Sprichwörter), mostly in German, and dating from some point in the later 1530s or early 1540s. It was acquired by the Bodleian for £45 in 1865 –the ‘carelessness and poverty’ of German libraries and museums for allowing this to happen was later lamented. (‘Sprichwörtersammlung’, ed. K. Drescher, in Luthers Werke: Schriften, 69 vols. (Weimar: 1883-), li, p. 634). This manuscript is the only version of this collection, which was never published or prepared for publication in Luther’s lifetime; indeed, its contents were not published until its preparation in 1900 by Ernst Thiele, which was then included in the Weimar edition of Luther’s collected works. It is not known why, other than an interest in proverbs, Luther began to write this work, nor why he stopped (the last six pages of the manuscript are blank) and did not publish it.

The format of the manuscript reflects Luther’s practice to cut up sheets of paper into smaller pieces to serve as notepaper, which would be small enough to carry around, or just to have ready on his desk to make notes on. The paper for the whole manuscript has the same watermark, an eagle (see image, from p. 22), and so was presumably all prepared at approximately the same time.

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p.22. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p.22. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

Thiele notes that this watermark is also found on the manuscript (also in this note-paper format) of Luther’s tract Wider Hans Worst, which was written and published in 1541, which gives some idea of when the manuscript might have been written. Being a notebook, many of the phrases win it are just brief notes – reminders from Luther to jog his memory. This means that many of the phrases are heavily abbreviated and make little sense to a modern reader, especially when many of the proverbs describe situations unfamiliar in the present day. The manuscript shows signs of composition and revision, too – Luther seems, perhaps with existing proverbs in mind, to be writing new proverbs, or at least variations of old ones. This manuscript can give a number of interesting insights, both into Luther, and his thought processes, and into the state of German literary culture of the period.

The sixteenth century was a time of considerable change for the German language. Once, Luther himself was regarded as the driving force of this change, but, while his importance in the development of the German language and German print culture should not be underestimated, he was part of a wider moment in which German changed. This included writers like Luther, but also merchants and printers, who all participated in changes in German literary culture. Proverb collections have been a focus for historians of popular culture trying to find a way in to oral culture which cannot be easily found through books. While this is attractive, there are significant problems with the use of proverb collections as examples of popular oral culture, since many collections of proverbs were used to give moral instruction. This is clear in the proverb collections of Luther’s contemporary, and sometime friend, Agricola, in which most of the proverbs are accompanied by brief moral instructions explaining how the proverbs can be used for personal improvement. Published proverb collections like Agricola’s provide an example more of what their authors think, or want, popular behaviour to be, than a reflection its reality. Moreover, the first, and most famous, of the sixteenth-century proverb collections, Erasmus’ Adages was emphatically not a collection of examples from popular speech: they were phrases to be learned and used for instruction, rather than as representative of folk wisdom and oral culture. These books of proverbs, then, reflect not popular opinions and beliefs, but the opinions and beliefs of the educated and of literary wits. To be included in such a collection was an indication, perhaps, not of the peasant-authenticity of a phrase, but on its aptness or elegance.

Luther’s collection, however, is somewhat different. It is not a neat and learned collection like that of Agricola or Erasmus. It contains no moral essays, nor citations of classical or contemporary authors. Few of Luther’s proverbs seem to be taken from noted literary sources at all. It was, of course, never published, and never arranged into a didactic text. It may, as Thiele argues, have originally been conceived as his own proverb collection in competition – or in dialogue – with other proverb collections of the time, but at some point Luther seems to have decided against this, and converted the aim into a work for purely personal use. Understanding these proverbs can be difficult, given that many of them are no longer part of contemporary culture, or refer to contemporary experiences or beliefs, or even to words which have since fallen out of use. For instance, a year regulated by religious festivals can be seen with the expression ‘zu pfingsten auff dem eys’ – something will happen ‘on the ice at Whitsun’, i.e. never (see image, from p. 10, at bottom).

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p. 10. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p. 10. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

Another proverb is just the short note ‘Blewel schleiffen’, where ‘Blewel’, in modern German ‘Bleuel’, is a piece of wood used to beat washing in running water to help clean it. Further, many proverbs rely on their context to be understood, and being in a list removes this almost entirely. This is made yet more difficult by the abbreviated form in which many of them are recorded. As Luther’s notes, they did not need to be complete, and may only stand for a prompt, intelligible to him, but not to anyone else. For example, ‘Hasen panier’ (flying ‘a hare’s banner’) probably is ironic for running away instead of advancing under a proper banner, as are the two words ‘ohren melcker’ (‘ear-milker’), which might be interpreted as way of saying ‘flatterer’. Many, though, are perfectly intelligible to the modern reader, and have close analogues with proverbs in English, as well as in modern German. For instance, ‘Er geht auff eyern’ (‘He goes on eggs’) can be read as ‘walking on eggshells’, while ‘Horet das gras wachsen’ (‘Listen to the grass grow’) and ‘Viel hende machen leicht erbeit’ (‘Many hands make light work’) are clear.

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

There are a number of features of this manuscript, many of which are typified on this detail from p. 23. The manuscript is written in an unusual red-brown ink; two versions of this ink can be seen, clearly demonstrating how the manuscript was written over time, and with no interest in internal consistency. The changes of ink suggest that the manuscript was composed over a period of time, with different inks showing as many as eleven periods of composition. The picture of a hand (a manicule) is used to indicate something of special interest. Here, it marks the phrase ‘Gott ist der narren furmunde’, meaning ‘God is the fool’s guardian’. ‘Fool’ here is not a term of abuse, but refers instead the Pauline idea of a ‘fool for God’ who is under special divine protection. This is, perhaps, a crucial theological proverb for Luther, expressing the ubiquity of faith, for even ‘fools’ can have it.

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p. 23. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p. 23. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

These pages also contain a number of proverbs which are abusive or scatological in nature, something quite typical of Luther’s polemical writings. For instance, amongst a series of proverbs on p. 9 relating to fish is ‘Bleib daheymen mit deinen faulen fisschen’ (‘Stay at home with your rotten fish’), while on another page there is the bald remark that ‘An armen hoffart wisscht der teufel den ars’ (‘the Devil wipes his arse on the pride of the poor’). This manuscript shows that such uses in Luther’s public writings were neither an aberration, nor actually spontaneous, since a number appear in this manuscript simply listed without anything to prompt them. Luther, it seems, worked out his insults in advance, ready to insert them into his other writings. Not all are abusive, though, and some quite homely, such as ‘Kuche uber den zaün, kuche herwidder’ (‘[offering] a cake over the fence receives a cake in return’).

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p. 9. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p. 9. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

Though this manuscript should not necessarily be considered as a direct record of popular culture of Luther’s time, for Luther, like his contemporary proverb collection, likely compiled his proverbs with some moral or didactic intent, it is useful in the understanding of Luther himself. This manuscript by no means revolutionises interpretations of Luther, his personality, or his preoccupations, which are already well-documented in the many sources which surround Luther’s life, but it does, perhaps, offer an unusually unmediated access to Luther, unaffected by the admiration or denigration of his followers and his opponents. It also lacks the public aspect of his polemics and letters, especially in the annotations which Luther apparently makes for himself alone. The private nature of this work, whatever its original purpose, gives insight into Luther’s working methods and what he wrote when he did not have an audience or a particular aim.

The manuscript will be displayed in the Weston Library from the 30th October to the 3rd of November.

Photographs taken by Alexander Peplow, and Professor Henrike Lähnemann, whose photos of the entire manuscript can be found here. Photos used with the permission of the Bodleian Libraries.

A description of its palaeographic features can be found on the Teaching the Codex website.

***

Alexander Peplow is a DPhil student in History at Merton College. The description of the Luther autograph was part of his course work for the Method Option ‘Palaeography and History of the Book’ with Henrike Lähnemann in the MSt. in Medieval Studies 2016/2017.

The French Prose Apocalypse in MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16: Transcription, Edition, and Palaeographical Commentary

Bodleian Libraries MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16, f. 166r

Bodleian Libraries MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16, f. 166r

Coline Blaizeau, M.St. in Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford

MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16 is a fourteenth-century English manuscript which has been held at the Bodleian Library since 1892, when it was deposited from Lincoln College, Oxford. It is composed of a commented Apocalypse of St John in Latin (ff. 1-138), and a commented Apocalypse of St John in French which also features numerous illustrations (ff. 139-181).

This Apocalypse in French, generally known as the French Prose Apocalypse so as to distinguish it from the French Verse Apocalypse, survives in around forty manuscripts. Despite its popularity and dissemination in the Middle Ages, this text has been largely overlooked by modern criticism, and fundamental questions remain unanswered concerning its date, author, origin and transmission.

Bodleian Libraries MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16, ff. 154v-155r

Bodleian Libraries MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16, ff. 154v-155r

This has caught the attention of Dr Daron Burrows, associate professor in medieval French at the University of Oxford, who argues that a critical edition of the French Prose Apocalypse – other than Paul Meyer’s, based mainly on the manuscript BnF 403[i] – is essential to our understanding of this text.[ii]

Through the ‘Apocalypse in Oxford’ project in particular, Burrows proposes to take a close look at MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16 as well as four other manuscripts containing the French Prose Apocalypse: MS. Bodley 401, MS. Douce 180, MS. Selden supra 38, and MS. University College 100.

More information can be found on the website http://apocalypse.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/.

My own work is a contribution to this project. In proposing the diplomatic transcription, edition, and palaeographical commentary of an excerpt from MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16, I hope to advance at my humble level our comprehension of the French Prose Apocalypse.

The chosen excerpt consists of ff. 170r-171r and offers a translation from Latin to French of the passage of the Whore of Babylon as well as its accompanying exegesis.

The writing is clear, as can be seen on the pictures above, yet greater care seems to have been given to the illustrations – a rather typical feature of French Prose Apocalypse manuscripts, which meant that I had to pay particular attention to scribal errors and imperfect correction. Segments of the text are often missing, and the other manuscripts of our corpus had to be used to fill in the gaps.

My work is accessible on the following page: http://apocalypse.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/home/lincoln-lat-16/.

[i] Paul Meyer, L’Apocalypse en français au XIIIe siècle (Bibl. nat. fr. 403): introduction et texte (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1901).

[ii] Daron Burrows, ‘Vers une nouvelle édition de l’Apocalypse en Prose’, in Anglo-français: philologie et linguistique, ed. by Oreste Floquet and Gabriele Giannini (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2015), p. 31.

‘His Majesty, Mrs Brown’: letters from the second catalogue of Bodleian Student Editions

Mike Webb (Curator of Early Modern Archives and Manuscripts) writes:

The second Bodleian Students Editions catalogue is now available online through Early Modern Letters Online (EMLO). These letters were transcribed in the second of the Bodleian Libraries Manuscript and Textual Editing Workshops, held in the Centre for Digital Scholarship in the Weston Library on 1 December 2016. (Details of the workshop programme, along with an account of the first workshop, can be found here.)

The letters used in this workshop were in a volume of the Carte manuscripts, which mainly comprises the papers of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond (1610-1688), Lord Lieutenant of Ireland three times between 1643 and 1685. Six letters written by women to Ormond in April and May 1660 were selected, all in MS. Carte 214. Women used italic script in the 17th century as most were not taught the ‘secretary hand’ used in legal and administrative documents of the period, and often in private letters also. Italic hands are easier to read for those not formally trained in palaeography, and so more suitable for these workshops, which offer a wide-ranging introduction to undergraduates and postgraduates of all disciplines, many of whom had never previously worked with original manuscripts.

 Read more….

Gazing on the moon

from Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections

‘We have watched this babe of four or five months, gazing on the moon with all the fixedness of attention belonging to an astronomer.’
Bodleian Libraries, Hopkins Mss
This note is written on the manuscript of a poem recently acquired by the Bodleian. Its author is Manley Hopkins and its subject his infant son, Gerard, who sadly saw little in print during his own short life but is now celebrated as one of our greatest poets. The poem was first published in 2010 in a special issue of the Hopkins Quarterly when the manuscript was still in private hands. It is now available for study along with another poem mourning the death in 1854 of Manley’s fourth son Felix and a letter of 1840 from Kate Smith (later his wife) to a member of their family. The manuscripts join the Bodleian’s extensive collection of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetical manuscripts.

Manley was at this time a prosperous twenty six year old, well established in insurance and fervidly developing his lack of formal education through reading, writing and music. His poetry is not technically distinguished but I find this hymn to his son moving in its mixture of fear, joy and humility. As it closes, the child becomes, rather recalling Wordsworth, a father to the man, thrilling his father’s soul with the purity of his devotion to light. The idea carries poignancy from where we stand, knowing that the son would die long before his parents, having blazed far beyond them in religious intensity and scintillating expression. The scene also curiously brings to mind Coleridge’s account of his son Hartley, hurt from a fall: ‘I caught him up crying & screaming—& ran out of doors with him.—The Moon caught his eye—he ceased crying immediately—& his eyes & the tears in them, how they glittered in the Moonlight!”

Manley’s verses of course bring to mind one of Gerard’s most ecstatic poems, sent as a present to his mother on her birthday in spring of 1877 when he was at his happiest, studying to become a priest at Beuno in Wales. That poem is ‘Starlight Night’. Was the son thinking of his father’s tender tribute, so carefully preserved in the manuscript?

IMG_0552

To my child, Gerard Manley.
Christmas Eve 1844

Hail! Little worshipper of Light!
Most sunny is thy sunny face at noon:-
Why dost thou fix so earnestly thy gaze
Upon the wandering Moon, –
And thy young eyes upraise
Adoringly to her that melts the night? – *
Why do thine impotent hands
Seek, – seek for ever
To clasp the lamp-flame bright
And everything that flings thee lucent rays?
Why if it chance in darkness thou awaken
Utter thy earnest, plaintive cry
As tho’ the fateful bands
Of thy imprisoning gloom to sever, –
While fancy gives thee words – ‘Mother, I die
By light, and thee forsaken!’

Does thy quick-beating heart
Back with an instinct start,
And own the tyrant fear –
Lest life, whose tenure is so frail and new, –
With nothingness so near –
Has snapped beneath thy tiny weight,
And thou relapsed into thy former state,
Like a young flower
Snatched in its opening hour
From where, upon its stem, so joyously it grew? –

Or, is it, child, that beauty and that light
Are infancy’s true nourishment? – its eyes
As steel unto the lode-rock bend their sight
In sympathy , to all of pure and bright; –
That clouds are afterthoughts; – darkness a blot
That in creation is, – yet should be not.
And childhood, like the Huma, has no feet
To settle mid the shadows of the earth,
But hovering o’er it, still drinks in the dew
Of heaven, its land of birth;
While its wings catch the all-surrounding hue
Of liquid sapphire, where they ever beat?

If so, then worship on. No Gebir’s best wrong creed
Stains thee with error. Drink of light thy fill:
And tho’ thy feet in after-life may bleed
As whose do not? – upon Time’s stoney way,
The first warm impulse of thy heart obey,
And love it still!
Yes! Love it as it rises o’er the East,
Love it in all the glowing hues of Even
Love it reflected over Earth’s wide breast,
And trembling in the starry lamps of Heaven.
Seek it in gemmy caves, and snowy mountain tips,
In Friendship’s eyes, on sweet Affection’s lips.
Thou’lt often find it where thou dreamest not, deep hid
‘Neath surging waves, in mines, – in human hearts.
And many a ray
Will meet thee on thy way
Cherished in bosoms that the world has chid, –
And which that chiding world has mainly turned astray.

Oh worship on! See yonder orient gates
Whose half-oped leaves the streaky dawn disclose;
Where soft, diffusive light impatient waits,
And on the verge, with tender lustre glows.
Behold! The Light of Light – the Righteous Sun upsprings
With balmy healing dripping from his wings!
Before His beams, all other radiance pales.
Fountain and Source of light, and heat and love
The dim horizon lift thyself above,
And haste to our dark world, that thy bright Coming hails!

Gaze on, my child, thy fill.
Yet stay! – an instant turn on me thy innocent sight,
Pour thro’ thine eyes my heart full of delight,
And all my being thrill –
Thou Worshipper of Light!

*We have watched this babe of four or five months, gazing on the moon with all the fixedness of attention belonging to an astronomer.

The Starlight Night

Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.
Buy then! bid then! – What? – Prayer, patience, alms, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.

An Angelological Scroll in the Bodleian Library

from Alexandra Marraccini. Alex is a PhD student in the History of Art at the University of Chicago. Her work focuses on alchemical/Hermetic images and their role in constructing Early Modern intellectual history. She is currently doing doctoral research and is a visiting member of Corpus Christi College.

Bodleian MS. German f. 5 (R)

Bodleian MS. German f. 5 (R)


For scholars in the Weston’s Rare Books & Manuscripts Reading Room, catalogue entries are our northernmost stars, the fixed constellations by which we arrange our research. My work typically considers alchemical and hermetic images in the Library’s Ashmole fond, and I can remember to the day and hour when I found the entry for each of my manuscripts in the fond catalogue. There they were, set in a rounded Victorian type and sometimes annotated by a neat scholar’s hand, each the promise of beauty or mystery or truth, each known but still inscrutable, until each manuscript came into my hands and unfurled onto my desk. If this language sounds swoony and romantic it is, because the experience of working with manuscripts truly is transformative; it is history at its must tangible, piercing immediacy, cradled in your own hands.

Of course, there are more prosaic days too. On just one such day, I was bent over MS. Ashmole 1423, dancing silently at my desk to Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” and staring at a clumped-up bit of 16th-century English handwriting. Fun pop songs are some of my favourite paleographic instruments, and I can often be found swaying along in my grey and pink noise-cancelling headphones at the long readers’ tables. There was a weird ligature, and then, a rather fateful email. Following an earlier discussion about my work on the Ripley Scrolls, Dr. Bruce Barker-Benfield, curator of medieval manuscripts here at the Bodleian, now told me about an Hermetic scroll that needed a description. It had been given to the Bodleian with the papers of E. M. Bickersteth and his family in 1976, but its mysterious contents had since then defied cataloguing. I was invited to take a look.

Bodleian MS. German f. 5 (R)

Shortly thereafter, one of the Bodleian’s grey storage boxes emerged from the circulation desk with my name on it. I was ecstatic but also nervous. A manuscript like this, a known unknown, is a rara avis indeed in this day and age. I unfurled it, all twelve feet of it, and gasped. Many manuscripts are beautiful. Many manuscripts are strange. This one is both. One side has stunning roundels of the genealogy of the Prophets starting with Old Testament creation and ending with Christ. There is dense ink, covering almost the whole of the writing surface, in black-brown, green, and red inks, in both German and Latin. The roundels are surrounded with angelic sigils, like those in the Clavicula Salomonis, and the back of the scroll is decorated as well, this time with dense fields of sigils, some of which bear signs of repeated touch and use. The Ripley Scrolls I work with at the Library have no illumination on their backs. The other comparanda in magical books (MS. Rawl. D. 252, MS. e Mus. 173, MS. Rawl. D. 253, and MS. Douce 116) aren’t even scrolls at all. This object is, to my knowledge, a total unicum.

For the uninitiated (in this case, perhaps literally), sigils are geometric symbols designed to call the angelic (or demonic) spirits from the heavens. Sigil comes from the Latin sigillum, which explains why many are round like the wax seals on letters. The sigils on the Bickersteth scroll usually appear in bound magical books called grimoires, some of which were on display in the Magical Books exhibition in the Bodleian in 2013. Some of the sigils on the back of the scroll appear to be worn down and perhaps damaged by oil, used to float and rotate a divining crystal along the surface. The sigils are also often round and with multiple tiers of directional writing because angelic magic is calibrated by both geography and the calendar, with certain months, times, and places being more suited to some angels than others. Sometimes a brass bowl filled with water is used to catch the incoming spirit.

Bodleian MS. German f. 5 (R)

The important thing to remember about magical scrolls like this one, though, is not the fact that they are magic. The strange looking symbols are exciting to look at, but what’s exciting about them intellectually is that they’re experiments with the warp and weft of language, of how it evokes, sometimes literally, aspects of the micro- and macro-cosm. While the images and the bulk of the text on the scroll are typically later 17th-century or after, and decidedly German in content and style, some of the sigils are not. They come from a diverse range of print sources including the works of John Dee, showing that Hermetic theologians in the period were transmitting crucial ideas across Continental/English boundaries. When Dr. Barker-Benfield and I met to discuss the manuscript, he held the scroll up to the window facing Parks Road. The light showed us what a table-bound viewing could not: the sigils on the back lined up in significant ways with the images on the front.

Bodleian MS. German f. 5 (R)

A curator holding the manuscript to the light to make the structure visible.

This is one of the most delightful aspects of book and manuscript studies. Somewhere like the Bodleian’s Weston Library, which is a temple to the historical, and by nature, old, is also a crucible for the new. My experience with the Bickersteth angelological scroll is by no means unique. Scholars make new discoveries here every day. While my scholarly article with a description of the manuscript is still forthcoming, soon a summary entry will go up online on the Weston/Bodleian catalogue website with the shelfmark MS. German f. 5 (R). A new star will blink into being, and a hundred years from now, another graduate student, just like me, can use it to guide her work, to enter the realm of the old that is always somehow new.

As for me? Well, I’ll be in the Reading Room, glowing from the experience of having been able to contribute in my small way to the catalogue, and listening to “Blank Space” on repeat. After all, I got to live the lyrics, at least with respect to this manuscript. Taylor Swift perkily croons: “I can show you incredible things/ Magic. Madness. Heaven. Sin.” I now have the pleasure of being able to say the same thing.

Star maps restored: conserving al-Sufi’s text

Conservation of the “Book of the Constellations of the Fixed Stars” by ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Sūfī

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

from Robert Minte, Bodleian Libraries Conservation & Collection Care

A project to conserve and digitise a 6th-Century AH/12th-Century CE Arabic manuscript is nearing completion, enabled by a generous grant from The National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and private donations.

The manuscript, believed to be the fourth oldest extant copy of this important and popular astronomical treatise, is particularly significant to scholars as not many examples of book art survive from the period, and it contains unique illustrations of Bedouin constellations superimposed over Ptolemaic ones.

The manuscript’s fragile condition had necessitated restricted access for study and display, the priority for conservation being the stabilisation of its fragile paint layers and repair of the paper support corroded by green copper-based pigment used to illuminate chapter headings.

After detailed examination and assessment of the manuscript’s condition, the delicate and time-consuming task of repair was carried out with careful consideration of appropriate materials to be used in its treatment. A number of materials for consolidation of powdery paint layers were investigated, bearing in mind the need to minimise any introduction of moisture, which acts as a catalyst to copper-green degradation. This also informed the choice of a suitable adhesive for the repair of the fragile, copper-corroded areas and infilling of losses, using Japanese papers dyed to match the tone of the original paper: a very light-weight tissue to repair and support fragile areas, and a heavier paper to infill areas of loss.

The conservation and digitisation of this highly important manuscript will once again enable it to be safely studied and displayed.

Colouring by numbers: botanical art techniques investigated

From Richard Mulholland

[Author Richard Mulholland will give a lecture on Ferdinand Bauer and his colour code at the Weston Library on 3 June at 1 pm]

With the end of the annual RHS Chelsea Flower show on Saturday, and the masses returning to their own English gardens inspired, it’s worth looking back to the 18th century, to the golden age of botanical exploration and to an artist who was arguably the finest botanical painter in history, Ferdinand Bauer. Now the Bodleian’s Conservation Research department are helping to unravel his meticulous and unusual painting technique.

Ferdinand Bauer, Iris Germanicus, watercolour on paper

Ferdinand Bauer, Iris Germanicus, watercolour on paper (MS. Sherard 245/70) © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford 2015

Outside of the natural sciences, Bauer (1760-1826), is little known. However, along with his equally talented brother Franz, he is certainly known to botanists. He has been called ‘the Leonardo of botanical illustration’, and is known in particular for the beauty and accuracy of his illustrations of flowers. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the paintings he made for the exquisite Flora Graeca, one of the most rare and expensive publications of the 18th century, and certainly one of the greatest botanical works ever produced.

Unprecedented in the quality of its illustrations, its printing and its attention to naturalistic detail, the Flora Graeca described the flowers of Greece and the Levant, and was published in ten lavishly-printed volumes between 1806 and 1840, purchased by an elite list of only 25 subscribers. It was the legacy of the third Professor of Botany at Oxford University, John Sibthorp (1758-1796) who funded much of the endeavour out of his own funds. Sibthorp met Bauer in Vienna in 1786, and immediately engaged him to join his expedition to collect and record specimens, and ultimately to paint the almost 1500 watercolours of plants and animals he sketched on his return to Oxford in 1787.

 

James Sowerby (after Ferdinand Bauer), Frontispiece [Mons Parnassus] for The Flora Graeca, 1806-40, hand coloured engraving (MS. Sherard 761).

James Sowerby (after Ferdinand Bauer), Frontispiece [Mons Parnassus] for The Flora Graeca, 1806-40, hand coloured engraving (MS. Sherard 761). © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2015

 What is of interest to us however is that Bauer used a particularly unusual technique to record his specimens in the field.

Bauer is exceptional among travelling botanical artists for the unusual techniques he employed for recording colour. He certainly observed and sketched live specimens, but he did not annotate these sketches with colour in the field as other artists did. Rather, subject to the limitations of working in the field – moving from place to place quickly in often difficult territory, and unable to carry large amounts of painting materials with him, he made only very basic outline sketches in pencil on thin paper.

He recorded the vital colour information, lost almost immediately after a specimen had been picked by annotating these with a series of numerical colour codes which likely referred directly to a painted colour chart, now lost. That Bauer’s paintings were created using only this colour reference system during his 6 years in Oxford, painting them sometimes up to five years after seeing the original plants, and that they are highly regarded even today for their botanical accuracy, speaks to his expertise as an artist and his astonishing memory for colour.

Page from sketchbook for Iris Germanicus showing numerical colour codes, graphite pencil on paper, 1786-7 (MS. Sherard 247/107). © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2015

Page from sketchbook for Iris Germanicus showing numerical colour codes, graphite pencil on paper, 1786-7 (MS. Sherard 247/107). © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2015

More pertinently, Ferdinand Bauer (and to a lesser extent his brother Franz) appear to be the only significant natural history artists to have used this kind of colour code in a practical way. Numerical codes of up to 140 different colour tones are found on early drawings by both Bauers from the 1770s. However, where Ferdinand seems to have continued to develop this initial system of some 140 colours into one of at least 273 colours for the Flora Graeca (and from then into a considerably more complex system of 1000 colours for a later expedition to Australia in 1801-5 – though how he could have used this practically is anybody’s guess), Franz Bauer, who was by then official botanical painter to Joseph Banks at the Botanical gardens at Kew, did not did not appear to use the system after he came to London in the late 1780s. Ferdinand of course, spent a significant amount of his time working in the field, and therefore much more in need of a system of shorthand than his brother. However, it’s interesting to note that no other travelling botanical artist used such a system to the extent that Bauer did.

An early colour chart (below) that appears likely to have been used by the brothers was found in 1999 at the Madrid Botanical Gardens, but Ferdinand Bauer’s 273 colour chart from the Sibthorp expedition and the 999 colour chart he may have used for the Matthew Flinders expedition to Australia, if they ever existed, have never been discovered.

Colour chart (c.1770s) discovered in the Archives of the Botanical Gardens in Madrid in 1999, and likely to have been used by the Bauer brothers © Archivo del Real Jardín Botánico, CSIC, Madrid.

Colour chart (c.1770s) discovered in the Archives of the Botanical Gardens in Madrid in 1999, and likely to have been used by the Bauer brothers © Archivo del Real Jardín Botánico, CSIC, Madrid.

This fact, however, presents a unique opportunity for us to carry out technical research into Bauer’s materials. The Conservation Research department at the Bodleian Libraries together with the Plant Sciences Department at the University are working on a three year Research project on Bauer’s techniques, funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant. Collaborating with the V&A, Durham University and the University of Northumbria the project aims to understand what the Flora Graeca colour chart may have looked like, and how Bauer might have used it. A large part of the project involves identifying the pigments used by Bauer in his magnificent Flora Graeca watercolours, cross reference these results with the numerical codes in his field sketches, and ultimately create a historically-accurate reconstruction of the lost colour chart.

Professor Andy Beeby from Durham University setting up a portable Raman spectrometer to analyse red pigments used on one of Bauer’s paintings © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Professor Andy Beeby from Durham University setting up a portable Raman spectrometer to analyse red pigments used on one of Bauer’s paintings © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

How will we do this? Often it is permitted to remove a minute sample of paint from a work of art in order to identify the material components. However this is rarely possible with works of art on paper, and is most certainly not possible for one of the treasures of the Bodleian’s collection! The work therefore is carried out in situ, bringing portable instruments to the object itself, rather than the other way around. For this we currently use three analytical techniques at Oxford: Raman spectroscopy, X-ray Fluoresce spectroscopy (XRF) and Hyperspectral imaging (Imaging spectroscopy).

Durham and Northumbria Universities have particular expertise in Raman Spectroscopy of cultural heritage objects, and Durham has built a portable instrument that is capable of positively identifying many of the pigments that Bauer used. The V&A Conservation Science section has a long history of collaborating with universities on technical research, and also has a great deal of expertise in Raman spectroscopy and its use in identifying pigments on artists’ watercolours.

In addition to the excitement of recreating Bauer’s lost colour chart, the project showcases the value of technical art history, a relatively new field that encompasses both scientific analysis and historical research into the materials and methods of the artist. It will go some way toward an understanding of Bauer’s extraordinary feel for colour and pigment, how he utilised his colour code, and ultimately how he was able to achieve such an impressive degree of colour fidelity in his work.

As we progress with the project, and as we learn more about Bauer’s materials and techniques, I’ll post again with more results. But should you find yourself in Oxford before September, a copy of both the Flora Graeca, and Bauer’s original illustrations for it are on display in the Marks of Genius exhibition at Bodleian’s Weston Library.

Missionaries bringing the word and taking images

Lantern slides, Archive of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Credit: USPG archive. Copyright Us.

Lantern slides, Archive of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Credit: USPG archive. Copyright Us.

Stuart Barnard (University of Calgary), RBC-Bodleian Visiting Fellow, writes:

The papers of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), an Anglican missionary organization formed in 1701, is a vast collection comprising items from the organization’s origins until the 1960s. The SPG was active around the world, and its network of missionaries and clergymen left a wonderful trove of correspondence and diaries of their work overseas. The records include executive minutes, financial records, books and catalogues, periodicals, and maps, representing a wide variety of historical materials. The collection provides an important lens into the Anglican Church’s global expansion and colonial encounters in the British Empire.

A unique item within the collection is an assortment of lantern slides that date from around the turn of the twentieth century. There are 75 boxes of varying sizes, many of which hold dozens of slides each. The square panes of glass typically measure roughly three inches on each side, and feature both black and white and colour images from around the world highlighting locations in which the Society was at work and the groups to whom they ministered. Several boxes contain slides showing Biblical scenes that may have been useful for teaching in schools established by SPG missionaries.

My particular interest lies in the SPG’s work in Canada in the nineteenth century, and the collection includes fascinating pictures of popular Canadian landmarks. Striking images of Niagara Falls, the Banff Springs Hotel, wildlife, and mountain scenes are all featured on the Canadian slides. Unlike many of the other sets of slides in the SPG’s collection which highlight the day-to-day work of missionaries in schools and churches around the world, most of these Canadian slides were likely used to highlight the famous places and familiar themes in order to pique the interest of British members and donors whose contributions sustained overseas missions. Nonetheless, the images are stunning and represent a wonderful treasure within the SPG’s collection at the Bodleian.

Stuart Barnard will be speaking about his research into the SPG archives on February 19, see event listing for details.

Cut Out for Colour: More Manuscripts in Unusual Places

In 2011, conservator Andrew Honey wrote about a frisket in the Bodleian’s Broxbourne collection. We repost Andrew’s piece here with a full image and with a link to further information on colour printing with friskets.

A frisket used for printing with colour. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. Broxb. 97.40.

A frisket used for printing with colour. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. Broxb. 97.40.

The Conservation Section is currently devising a new mount for a parchment frisket cover from the Broxbourne collection. A frisket is the part of a printing press that holds the paper in place during printing. Often covered with parchment, a frisket also acted as a mask to keep inky parts of the press bed from marking the printed paper.

The frisket cover (Broxb. 97.40), which is made from a recycled manuscript leaf, was framed behind glass when it came to the library and only one side could be seen. The library’s Rare Books curators asked whether it could be unframed and mounted so that both sides could be seen, and to make it more readily available for study. Once the Broxbourne frisket was released from its frame far more information about its early use and subsequent history could be seen.

A page of a manuscript

Manuscript writing can be seen on this piece of parchment, which has been identified as a page of an Italian fourteenth-century Canon Law text.

A “mask” for printing in colour

Two centuries later, this discarded piece of parchment from a law manuscript was used to make the frisket. The frisket was used to print the red portion of an octavo-format book in the early sixteenth century, and offers early evidence of two-colour printing processes. Here, areas of parchment were cut away to allow the red-inked type to print initials and so on, while the remaining parchment masked off the text which was to be printed in black. The attached photograph shows the upper side of the frisket cover and a detail of one page in raking light, which clearly shows impressions of type.

A lining for a bookbinding

Now that the frisket cover is out of its frame it can be seen that it was subsequently used as a board lining for a large folio bookbinding.

The final question remains – what was it used to print?

– Andrew Honey, Conservation, Bodleian Libraries. 2011.

‘A delicate attention’ from the suffragettes?

Re-blogged from the Historical Archives and Manuscripts blog : http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/ham/2014/06/09/a-delicate-attention-from-the-suffragettes/

By Matthew Neely   This entry from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt describes the discovery of a bomb hidden in a tree at his Oxfordshire home Nuneham Park in 1907. Harcourt was the First Commissioner of Public Works in the Liberal government of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. He was strongly opposed to the extension of the electoral franchise to women. Writing in his journal, Harcourt reasoned that the planting of the bomb was probably ‘a delicate attention to me from the Female Suffragists.’

… read more … 

Entry from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt, 23 February 1907.

Extracts from Harcourt’s political journal will be on display in the Bodleian Libraries’ forthcoming exhibition The Great War: Personal Stories from Downing Street to the Trenches.