Tag Archives: medieval texts

Medieval beasts in the stacks

For this year’s Halloween post, I wanted to share some of my favorite books from the rare book collection in Special Collections. I am not a Medieval scholar, but I do enjoy looking through the various books on animals, mythical or real, from the Middle Ages. Books of beasts, or Bestiary, went beyond use as a scientific observation of animals. Rather the descriptions included for each animal where meant as elaborate metaphors littered with colorful language. The most well known were written in Latin and included stories as well as illustrations.
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Book of Beasts: a facsimile of MS Bodley 764. Written in Latin in the 13th Century. PR275.B47 H36 2008
 Though we now know that a considerable amount of animals described in these books are mythical in nature, Bestiaries more importantly served to reinforce teachings on virtue and proper behavior. Each animal’s characteristics were tied to a purpose in the moral of each story. For example, ants, known for creating elaborate underground dwellings and working in unison, reflect on the importance of people working together for a common good. Graceful swans are described as singing a beautiful song before their death, or swan song. Given that these books were vested in Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition, it is understandable to see why Bestiaries were second in popularity to the Bible.
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Illustration of a Fairy Dog from A Scottish bestiary: the lore and literature of Scottish beasts (1978) from the Scottish Collection. QL259.T48 1978
Drawing on the tradition of Medieval Bestiaries, contemporary works are meant to capture whimsy and intrigue. A Child’s Bestiary, found in our Shaw Collection of children’s book, was published in the late 1970s. The book’s purpose is to educate children on a variety of animals found in different countries. Each entry contains a humorous description or poem followed by a drawing of the animal.
There are also fictional Bestiaries based on popular media such as the magical creatures in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from the Harry Potter book series. As well as a fantasy bestiary created by graphic designer Swann Smith for the MTV series Teen Wolf. 
For further reading on Medieval Manuscripts in general, take a look at the research guide created by our Rare Book Librarian Kat Hoarn. There is also a fun website dedicated to sorting through metaphorical descriptions of the animals in Medieval Bestiaries.

Bedford Book of Hours

In addition to our three newest medieval facsimiles, Special Collections & Archives has recently acquired a high-quality facsimile of the Bedford Book of Hours.

Bedford Book of Hours
An illustration of the Tower of Babel from the Bedford Book of Hours (image credit: Wikipedia)

The Bedford Book of Hours is a lavishly-illustrated early fifteenth century French prayer book made for John, Duke of Bedford, and his wife, Anne of Burgundy. Anne later gave the book to her nine-year-old nephew, Henry VI, as Christmas present. The original manuscript is now in the British Library (Add. MSS 18850). The illustrations were produced in Paris in the workshop of an unnamed artist known to art historians as the “Bedford Master.” The Bedford Book of Hours exemplifies the type of high-end manuscripts produced in secular bookmaking shops for European nobility in the late Middle Ages.

More information about the Bedford Book of Hours and other medieval facsimiles can be found on the Facsimiles of Medieval Manuscripts and Incunabula Research Guide.

New Acquisitions: Medieval Facsimiles

By Marco di Bartolomeo Rustici (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Image from the Codex Rustici, via Wikimedia Commons
FSU Special Collections & Archives is pleased to announce that three new, high-quality facsimiles have been added to our rare books collections and are ready for use in our Research Center Reading Room.

  • Codex Rustici – an Italian manuscript from Florence (circa 1444) depicting a pilgrimage from Florence to the Holy Land. This codex, currently housed at the Library of the Archbishop’s Seminary of Florence, is famous for its ink and watercolor illustrations of the architecture of early 15th century Florence. It was recently restored and made into a complete facsimile through a grant from Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, and a video about the codex can be viewed at their website.
  • Splendor Solis – a sixteenth-century German treatise on alchemy, featuring 19 illuminations of the creation of the philosopher’s stone. It is thought to be the earliest known alchemistic treatise and is an important work for scholars of the history of science.
  • Officiolum di Francesco da Barberino – a richly illuminated early 14th century Italian manuscript, considered one of the oldest Books of Hours produced in Italy. The original manuscript, thought lost for centuries, is now in private hands and can therefore only be studied through facsimile.

Visit our Facsimiles of Medieval Manuscripts and Incunabula LibGuide for more information on these and other facsimiles in our collection.

My Year in Special Collections

As I sit down to write my final blog entry as the Special Collections and Archives graduate assistant, I can’t help but think about the pivotal moment that started me down this whole career path.

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It was the Fall semester of 2011 and I was the nerdiest college sophomore that you’ve ever met. I was completely obsessed with a class I was taking called Illuminated Manuscripts, which my brother still, to this day, jokingly refers to as “laminated manuscripts.” Once a week, our class would meet in one of the classrooms in Strozier Library to study the medieval facsimiles from Special Collections. The rare books librarian, who I thought had the greatest job in the whole world next to Alex Trebek, would administer over these extraordinarily recreated works of art as we students examined the pages with the unflinching attention of a neurosurgeon and took notes (in pencil, of course) on our discoveries.

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The Book of Kells, 800, ND3356 .B7S8 1914

The facsimile I found the most impressive was the iconic Book of Kells. Likely created around the year 800 CE on the Scottish island of Iona, the Book of Kells is widely regarded as the finest European medieval manuscript to survive. Comprising of the four gospel books of the New Testament, it is created in the Hiberno-Saxon, or Insular, style, which refers to a time period in post Roman Britain before the Viking Age when indigenous artistic conventions, such as stylized interlacing knot and animal motifs, were popular. There are a total of ten full page illustrations, including a whimsically blonde Christ and a vignette of cats eating the Eucharistic host, with numerous decorated initials and smaller abstract illustrations surrounding the text. The manuscript is massive, lavishly decorated, and constructed from the finest materials. Its pages are made of vellum, the highest quality calfskin parchment, and the colorful inks are made from a wide variety of imported materials. Ultimately, this manuscript is a showstopper. It’s the medieval equivalent of a modern day Ai Weiwei or Damien Hirst masterpiece.

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And now as I wrap up my assistantship and prepare to graduate I realize I’m sincerely going to miss my friend, the Book of Kells, who sparked my interest in medieval manuscripts and beckoned me to pursue this opportunity in Special Collections. It’s true; those of us who seek a career in libraries envision being surrounded by the materials that we feel the most passionately about. And as great as blonde Jesus is, it’s the people of Special Collections that really make the department so special. Looking forward to commencement and the nebulous unknown of the “real world” that will follow graduate school, I honestly hope that I can find a work environment as supportive and team as cohesive as the one I’ve spent the last year with.

Cheers!

Secrets from the Rare Book Vault

FullSizeRender (2)When I applied to the Special Collections & Archives graduate assistantship, I had one thing in mind: rare books. As an undergrad at FSU, I frequently visited Special Collections for class projects and assignments related to medieval manuscripts and early printed books, knowing that someday I wanted to work with rare material like these. So naturally when I received the news that I was selected for the assistantship, my first thought was of all the rare books I would get to “work with.”

The concept of “working with” rare books was always a very abstract one to me. I assumed rare book librarians got to study the materials, give lectures to visiting classes, and create exhibit displays. A very glamorous position in academia. As a young and naive soon-to-be graduate assistant I really had no idea what rare book maintenance would entail because my only previous job experience included retail, banking, and an archives internship. Now that I’m slightly older and much more experienced, I can say I have insight into “working with” rare books. The epitome of rare books. The vault books!

That’s right, I left my career as a community banker to find myself auditing yet another vault. Just like the huge quantities of money safeguarded behind lock and key, the rare books that live in the Special Collections vault are the most valuable items in the collection. And I was tasked with examining just over 1,000 of them to determine their condition and assess whether or not they needed any preservation treatment. Most of them (71%), I’m happy to report, are holding up just fine considering their age. The other couple hundred are in need of various types of enclosures that will preserve all of their fragile, decaying, or detached parts. 

This naturally led to a practicum in box making. Under the high-quality tutelage of the Uppsala University Rare Books YouTube channel, the Rare Books Librarian and I tried our hand at custom box making. This turned out to be much more difficult than the 5-minute duration of our video lesson implied. And if rare book box making was an Olympic sport, our Swedish friends at Uppsala would take home the gold. But in the end, with a lot of time spent practicing, we were able to construct several excellent enclosures to protect some of the most deteriorated books in the vault.

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These days my glamorous vision of rare books librarianship still includes spontaneous bouts of paging through incunables to appreciate the illustrations, hand binding, and old book smell. But the reality of the job entails a lot more dust, red rot, and wormholes. Ultimately, the basis of “working with” rare books is preservation; removing the dust, and stopping the red rot and wormholes so that librarians and patrons alike may continue to marvel at illustrations, hand binding, and old book smell for centuries to come.

A Few of My Favorite Things

As my graduate assistantship in the Special Collections & Archives Division nears its end, I thought I’d say good-bye to Special Collections by sharing a few of my favorite items from our collection.

My previous MA focused on medieval religious and intellectual history, and unsurprisingly, my favorite items in FSU Special Collections & Archives relate to that field.

Anulus Nuptialis

“The Nun’s Book:Anulus Nuptialis , Vault BT769 .A56

From the catalog: Written in a humanistic hand by a single scribe on parchment. Initials in red with gold, blue with gold and green with gold ornament. Written by nuns in a convent.

Why I love it:  Anulus Nuptialis is notable for its binding (thought to be the original Renaissance binding).  But I also love its topic.  Written by Venetian nuns during the Renaissance, it describes the nun’s mystical union with God.  This was a popular theme among medieval religious women, and I love seeing its continuity through the Italian Renaissance.  For more information about this volume, see here.

“The Chained Book:Sermones Discipuli, Vault BX1756 .H448 S4**

From the catalog: Written in one hand, in Gothic cursive script. Rubricated. Contemporary monastic binding, heavy wooden boards with remains of leather covering, brass cornerpieces and 10 brass bosses, clasps wanting; leaves from an earlier manuscript on vellum have been used for linings; hubbed spine exposed; heavy metal ring with three links of chain attached.

Why I love it:  The chained book is a show-stopper, and draws attention in every class we brought it out for.  More than that, it illustrates a very different idea on the value of books and knowledge than we consider in our age of open access, intellectual freedom, and circulating libraries.

17th century BreviaryBreviarium Romanum, Vault BX2000 .A2 1600z**

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From the catalog: Latin text, without musical notation, beginning with last part of Psalm 29 and ending with hymn: Aurora iam spargit polum, and verse. Includes most of the psalms 30-108, 142.  Large breviary of the type used by a choir for readings for Church services. Large signatures of heavy paper, stitched together with heavy string, with leather headband sewn over stitching. Covers of wooden boards, covered outside with leather and glued to inside of covers, with parchment endpapers glued over them. Holes and impressions on covers indicate metal ornaments were formerly there. Repairs in folio made with strips of plain or Spanish printed paper and verso strips of musical notation (neumes) glued over center edges of pages near binding. Some pages show erasures with letters printed over them and dusted with a white powdery substance.  Rubricated ms., possibly hand-printed or stenciled in large black letters, with verses and sections each beginning with 1 or more red letters.

Why I love it:  This breviary is huge!  It’s large enough to have been seen and read by a monastic choir during their daily recitation of the Divine Office.  I love being able to interact with this centuries old breviary and actually experience how the monks would have recited their daily prayers.

Vellum AntiphonalsRoman Catholic Church Antiphonals, Vault M2147 .M36*

From the catalog: Twelve examples of manuscript music scores used by the Roman Catholic Church in Europe. The texts are in Latin. The music notes are a type of mensural notation. The media is ink on vellum.

Why I love it:  During the Middle Ages, vellum was the preferred substrate.  Though this antiphonals were made in the 16th century, it is illustrative of the difference between vellum and paper.

A Book About All the Things

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1485 imprint of De proprietatibus rerum (Vault oversize AE2.B27 1485)

The Liber de proprietatibus rerum Bartholomei angelici (On the Properties of Things) is a medieval encyclopedia that was written by the 13th century Franciscan scholar Bartholomeus Anglicus, who sought to gather the rapidly expanding corpus of knowledge of the Late Middle Ages into a single volume. As Bartholomeus himself says in the epilogue to De proprietatibus rerum, he wrote his book so that “the simple and the young, who on account of the infinite number of books cannot look into the properties of each single thing about which Scripture deals, can readily find their meaning herein – at least superficially.”¹ A single source for surface-level knowledge about everything? In other words, medieval Wikipedia. De proprietatibus rerum is arranged into nineteen books, moving in order of importance from spiritual beings, to human beings, to the natural world.

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Little pointing hands, called manicules, in the margins indicate lines that were of interest to a former reader.

Over one hundred manuscript copies of De proprietatibus rerum survive, indicating its popularity and widespread use, and it continued to be printed into the seventeenth century, purportedly being used over the years by the likes of Shakespeare and Dante.² FSU Special Collections & Archives has two printed copies of De proprietatibus rerum – the first edition in English printed in London in 1582 (Vault oversize AE3.B313 1582) and a 1485 imprint from Strassburg (Vault oversize AE2.B27 1485), which is featured here.

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Manuscript waste used as endpapers inside the front covers to protect the text block.

The 1485 imprint is a stellar example of an incunabule, a book printed before 1501 in the first half-century after Gutenberg’s invention of movable type. FSU’s copy is in its original binding of alum-tawed pigskin decorated with blind fillets and stamps of popular Gothic imagery such as the griffin and the Agnus Dei (the sacrificial Lamb of God). The cover is also stamped with a small banner tool of Gothic lettering (unfortunately illegible) that could be the name of the bookbinder. The endpapers inside the front and back covers are made from re-purposed medieval manuscripts on vellum. In early printers’ shops, paper was always at a premium, and it is not uncommon to find fragments of older manuscripts used as endpapers, bindings, and sewing supports in newer books. Discoveries like these are one of the great joys of working with rare books in-person. In fact, fragments of yet another medieval manuscript have also been re-purposed on FSU’s copy of De proprietatibus rerum to make tabs, which aid the reader in turning directly to specific sections of the encyclopedia.

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A tab made of manuscript waste and an unfinished decorative capital.

The study of incunabula provides a fascinating glimpse into a period of history when the book was adapting to the challenges and demands of new technologies. On the opening page of the 1485 De proprietatibus rerum, the capital letter “C” is sketched in, perhaps in preparation for illumination that was never completed; on early printed books, decoration and rubrication (red lettering) was still done by hand. Throughout the rest of the book, however, the space where a decorative capital would have been drawn is left blank and marked by a small, printed letter. As printing increased the output of new books, forms of decoration that were routine for scribes and illuminators fell to the wayside. This is not to suggest that a total break with the past occurred, however. To the contrary, the very act of printing De proprietatibus rerum is an example of new technology being used to spread old ways of thinking. The presence of manuscript waste and marginalia on FSU’s copy are physical manifestations of the links between the old and the new that can be discovered in early printed books.

Katherine Hoarn is a graduate assistant in Special Collections & Archives. She is working on her Master of Library and Information Science degree at Florida State University.

References

1. Quoted in R. J. Long, Bartholomaeus Anglicus On the Properties of Soul and Body, Toronto, 1979, p. 1.

2. R. J. Long, Bartholomaeus Anglicus On the Properties of Soul and Body, Toronto, 1979, p. 2.