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Posts Tagged ‘British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts’

One of my earliest memories is receiving from First Sibling a beautifully illustrated copy of Disney’s retelling of Sleeping Beauty, which, of course, featured many of the highly detailed images from the 1959 film. I’ve watched this film repeatedly over the years, every time I see that it’s to be on television, and am always struck by the medieval beauty of the illustration style, full of patterns and rich colours, like the pages of an illuminated manuscript. The cartoon does in fact open as an illuminated manuscript telling Aurora’s story:

Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" as an illuminated manuscript (Image via A Book Hunter's Holiday blog).

Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” as an illuminated manuscript (Image via A Book Hunter’s Holiday blog).

The pages above remind me of the Chroniques d’Angleterre, specifically of the miniature below:

F.16 of the Chroniques d'Angleterre,, depicting the marriage of Diodicias (British Library, Royal 15 E IV ). Image via British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

F.16 of the Chroniques d’Angleterre,, depicting the marriage of Diodicias (British Library, Royal 15 E IV ). Image via British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

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Sitting Ducks posterOn Saturday, I visited John Byrne‘s exhibition Sitting Ducks, at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. There were only two days of the exhibition left – sadly, it ended yesterday, else I would have encouraged you readers to get yourselves along to it forthwith. John Byrne has fascinated me since first I saw some of his work at the People’s Palace in Glasgow. What child could fail to love the banana boots designed for Billy Connolly? (more…)

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It’s been great to get home in time for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, one of the biggest events to hit my homeland, and it’s going so well – I’m thrilled. My tastes lie more to the cultural side of things than the sporting, but I defy you all not to find Erraid Davies inspirational and utterly adorable. However, today’s post is not about the current Commonwealth Games competition. Following extensive top-secret research, I have discovered that these games are not the first to have taken place in Glasgow. Follow me back into 1314……….. (more…)

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Given this post is more an announcement of future regular posts resuming, as opposed to an actual post in itself, I thought I’d post some of my favourite pictures of medieval angels – on the basis that they act as heralds, and so tie into the theme of announcing. (more…)

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I succumbed to the lure of the BBC Being Human series one boxset this evening, so my usual Medieval Monday post is of necessity somewhat shorter than usual, and, unfortunately, somewhat tardy.

Collection of poems including fables and musical, calendrical, and medical texts - the first page of Bisclavret, beginning 'Quant de lais faire mentremet..', f.131v, Marie de France, Lais, England, 3rd quarter of the 13th century, Harley MS 978.

Collection of poems including fables and musical, calendrical, and medical texts – the first page of Bisclavret, beginning ‘Quant de lais faire mentremet..’, f.131v, Marie de France, Lais, England, 3rd quarter of the 13th century, Harley MS 978.

Inspired by the character George, a werewolf, you’ll see above the opening lines of one of my favourite medieval werewolf tales, Marie de France’s ‘Bisclavret’, one of her Lais. If you wish to find out how the story ends, or to read some other lais, you can find them (in English) here. Much to my surprise, I couldn’t find the original Anglo-Norman text online, so will refer you to my most trusty and beloved edition from Lettres Gothiques (the Livre de Poche medieval collection)

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Writing desk. England, chip-carved oak, 1659, Victoria and Albert Museum

Writing desk. England, chip-carved oak, 1659, Victoria and Albert Museum

Carved in England by an unidentified craftsman. This box was made for Richard Cromwell (1626-1712), son of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). After his father’s death in 1658 he was briefly Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. Boxes like this were usually sold plain and then decorated to suit the purchaser. The carving has been carried out with a chisel and a gouge.

Desk, gift of Mr & Mrs Tony Gomme, grandchildren of Lady Gomme
Notes from R.P. 31/1096, 31/11600, 95/1550

28/10/31 letter Lady Gomme to Mr Wace
asks his advice re “an old carved oak desk dated 1659…with Oliver Cromwell’s arms. The desk is in fairly good condition – one inside drawer has gone and the old lock…” She wonders if a museum would be interested. She thinks it genuine but only knows what she was told by Edward Sully FRS 40 years ago. It has been in the Gomme family for years and years and was once shown at the Jeffrey Museum.

9/11/31 letter Lady Gomme to Mr Wace
includes thanks for referring her to Mr Brackett regarding “our old desk”.

11/11/31 letter same to same
suggests Aylesbury might like her “O.Cromwell desk if it turns out to be genuine and a fairly good article”.

12/11/31 Brackett letter to Lady Gomme
expresses interest in seeing the desk.

16/11/31 Minute paper by Ralph Edwards
reports on his inspection of the desk. He finds it similar in style to the box in the Museum dated 1648. The desk is dated 1659 with Cromwell’s arms over the Royal Arms of England. It was exhibited at the Geffrye Museum (which wanted to retain it). It was left to Lady Gomme by her husband and she wishes to loan it to a museuml. Edwards saw nothing to make him doubt it belonged to the period; Lady Gommes has known it for 60 years.

17/11/31 Mr Van der Put
reports on the heraldry. The desk bears the arms of the Commonwealth as borne by Richard Cromwell (Oliver died in 1658).

17/11/31 Brackett
accepts the loan of the desk. Lady Gommes replies 19/11/31 that she is pleased to offer it but must await the consent of her sons before it is sent to the museum.

12/2/31 Lady Gommes
writes to say she is ready to send the desk.

3/12/31 H. Smith and O. Brackett
support acceptance of the desk as a loan as it is a “very interesting piece of English Furniture”…”an interesting and unusual object”. Both express the hope that it will ultimately be given.

23/12/31 Lady Gommes
writes to report her sons’ consent to the desk being on loan to the V & A and she agrees that the desk must be associated with Richard, not Oliver, Cromwell. She has no information to the contrary.

Later correspondence dated 1995 relates to the conversion from loan to gift.

Source: Victoria and Albert Museum item record

Christine de Pizan, Collected works ('The Book of the Queen'), vol. 2, f. 259v (Harley MS. 44311, British LIbrary)

Christine de Pizan, Collected works (‘The Book of the Queen’), vol. 2, f. 259v (Harley MS. 44311, British LIbrary)

I’ve always loved these small portable desks, since first I began reading Regency novels; it took me some time to realise that they had been around for some centuries before then. I’ve loved them so much more since discovering them in illustration after illustration in medieval art. Some use them for reading, as on the left, while others use them for writing, as on the right. But you need not only look to art to find examples of such items of furniture. Several have survived, from several different time periods, some of which are now on display in museums, as in the case of the desk donated by Lady Gomme and her grandchildren to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1995.

Saint John the Evangelist Writing, German, about 1340–50. Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, 17 7/8 x 12 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 108, verso

The portable desk. like the portable altar featured in an earlier Mid-Week Museum post, exists as a private space. Who knows what may be hidden beneath the lid? I don’t think it an exaggeration to thus compare the closed desk to the three mysterious caskets that will seal Portia’s fate in The Merchant of Venice. It would be interesting to compare the evolution of such caskets and portable desks, in terms of shape and style.

I’ve always wanted such a desk of my own. Living in rented accommodation and moving around the country has made it seem like the most practical option. However, I’ve ended up with three bureaux instead – two inherited from my grandparents and one a customised piece commissioned from the wonderful Lora Jones (website currently being updated). I’ve written this blogpost sitting at the third example. Looking at it now, it resembles a larger portable desk sat atop a chest of drawers. What can it then tell me about the evolution of private study and contemplation?

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A portable shrine in the form of a tabernacle – a painted wooden box, (alabaster, polychrome, gilt, wire, Nottingham, 15th Century – Burrell Collection, Glasgow Museums, accession number 1.34)


I came up with the idea of building my own virtual museum two weeks ago today. The actual museum opening has had to wait until today because I was mightily conferencing last week. You can find out more about my intentions behind and aims for the Mid-Week Museum from its inaugural post. (more…)

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