Medieval manuscripts 2010: The Oldest Illuminated Manuscript from Moldavia

Author portrait of St Matthew, from Bodleian Library MS. Canon. Gr. 122.

The first Medieval manuscripts masterclass of 2010, on Monday 18 October, was given by Dr Georgi Parpulov, Departmental Lecturer in Byzantine Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford. Dr Parpulov spoke about Bodleian Library MS. Canonici Gr. 122, a manuscript written and illuminated in 1429 AD.

The talk was aimed at presenting a brief introduction to the manuscript and suggesting directions for future research. The following new translation of its scribal colophon (fol. 312r) was offered: “Through the benevolence of the Father, instruction of the Son and action of the Holy Spirit this Gospel Book was made in the days of the pious and Christ-loving Lord Voivod John Alexander, ruler of the entire Moldowallachian land, and of his pious Lady Marina. Burning with eager love [and] solicitous for Christ’s words, she readily gave [i.e. paid], and it [was] copied in the year 6937 and completed on the 13th day of the month of March by the hand of the monk Gabriel, Uric’s son, who copied [it] in the Monastery of Neamţ.” The eighteenth-century scribe who added Greek text in the volume’s side margins remains to be identified. The precise date of the book’s modern binding is also unclear.

The text in MS. Canon. Gr. 122 belongs to the so-called “second (B) Athonite recension” of the Slavonic Gospel translation, abundantly attested in other manuscripts of the 14th to 16th centuries (including the “Gennadius Bible” of 1499 AD). The text alone appears to be of no great philological or textual-historical interest. The manuscript’s four miniatures, on the other hand, are of significant importance for the history of Byzantine art during the last decades before the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (1453). They need to be made better known through the publication of good-quality colour photographs.

During the discussion following the talk Dr Elena D-Vasilescu announced her discovery that the Venetian lawyer Giovanni Perissinotti (Pericinotti), to whom the present MS. Canonici Gr. 122 is known to have belonged in 1810, was a nephew of the renowned manuscripts collector Matteo Luigi Canonici S.J. (1727-1805).

[The colophon transcription and a select bibliography of the manuscript can be found in this document provided to the class by Dr Parpulov, attached as a PDF]

[Images of some of the illuminations and decorations in this manuscript, taken from 35 mm filmstrips, can be seen in the Bodleian’s online image library, under the heading, ‘Gospels of Gavril’]

Medieval Islamic maps of the world

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These are some of the painted maps illustrating two manuscripts of Muhammad al-Idrisi’s Kitab nuzhat al-mushtaq, a description of the known world from the latitude of the Equator to the Baltic Sea. The work was composed in the 12th century, and the earlier of the Bodleian manuscripts, MS. Greaves 42, was made in the 14th or 15th century. This is a partial manuscript, containing the first three of seven ‘climates’ described by al-Idrisi. The later one, MS. Pococke 375, was made in the 1550s and contains descriptions and maps of all seven climates.

All of the maps from the two manuscripts, MS. Greaves 42 and MS. Pococke 375, are available to view in the Bodleian’s image library, at Masterpieces of the non-Western book. Search ‘al-Idrisi’ to find them all.

Remember, these maps are drawn facing south — upside-down from the modern orientation.

Gough Map project

The Gough Map
14th-century map of Great Britain

Linguistic Geographies: The Gough Map of Great Britain and its Making

(Dr Keith Lilley, School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen’s University Belfast; Nick Millea, Map Library, Bodleian Library; Dr Elizabeth Solopova, English Faculty, Oxford University; Paul Vetch, Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College, London – the AHRC ‘Beyond Text’ programme award, April 2010 – July 2011)

This interdisciplinary project will focus on a medieval map of Britain known as the Gough Map, now kept at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. This manuscript, of national and international importance, conventionally dated to c.1360, contains the earliest surviving cartographic representation of Britain in a geographically-recognizable form. Recent research has demonstrated that the map is in parts a strikingly accurate depiction of the locations of places, yet very little is known about how it was made, why, where and by whom.

The project will attempt to answer some of these questions through a linguistic and paleographic analysis of the text on the Gough map. This work will be undertaken by Dr Elizabeth Solopova, English Faculty, Oxford University. This is an innovative approach to take with medieval maps, which will test transferability of techniques developed for the study of medieval manuscript texts to the study of manuscript maps. The project will investigate such questions as how many scribes worked on the present manuscript; where they were from; what their exemplars were like; what subsequent revision was undertaken, if any; and when did it take place. This will be achieved through a paleographic analysis of the map, but also through the study of the linguistic form of its place names, which reflects the dialect of its scribes and probably also the dialect of their patrons and the map’s original users. Since very little is known of the processes that were involved in medieval map-making, the insights achieved by the project will have significance beyond its immediate scope of study, and will contribute to ongoing debates about how maps were created and disseminated.

The project involves a group of researchers from three institutions and will be directed Dr Keith Lilley, Queen’s University Belfast. The work undertaken at the Bodleian will be overseen by Nick Millea, Map Curator, Bodleian Library. The project will have a website hosted at the Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College, London, where the work will be overseen by Paul Vetch. The website will feature a description of the research and technical development being carried out, with updates on progress, and a blog for project comments and discussion. It will also be the basis for the project’s online interactive Gough Map. This will be an enhancement of an existing version (created in 2005 as part of a British Academy funded project directed by Dr Keith Lilley), and will provide users with a means of accessing information on all of the places and features shown by the Gough Map. The online map will publicise the findings of this new research, and help disseminate the analytical results of the study both to academic and non-academic audiences, and across a wide range of subject areas. The project has an advisory panel comprising a linguistic historian (Professor Jeremy Smith) and a cartographic historian (Dr Peter Barber), both leading experts in their respective fields.

The award from the AHRC ‘Beyond Text’ programme provides funding for an exhibition and colloquium at Oxford which will be held at the end of the project. The two-day colloquium will be an academic occasion to stimulate further discussion on the ‘language’ of medieval maps and map-makers. An associated exhibition focusing on the Gough map will be aimed at a wider audience and will be part of the Bodleian’s popular advertised exhibitions.

The project will generate intellectual debate within its team and their institutions, as well as by extending this into the broader academic community and beyond through digital web-based media, the exhibition and colloquium. It will develop new ways of studying the ‘language’ of medieval maps to stimulate high quality interdisciplinary research across academic and cultural sectors.

For further information see the AHRC ‘Beyond Text’ programme website

— From Elizabeth Solopova