Saturday, 26 November 2016

Curious Cuttings with Zodiac and Secular Scenes

A private collector has sent me images of the very curious cutting above. The upper ⅓ has Sagittarius, and the lower ⅔ has a scene with pairs of men in conversation, a man splitting wood with an axe and a wedge, and a man propelling peat(?)-barges along a river.

The reverse has part of a life of St Plectrude, who is said to have founded S. Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (note "venerabilus vidua Plectrudis", line 4; "cives Colonienses", lines 11-12), but it has not been possible to identify the text. The script looks typical of the general Lower Rhineland area, and uses the punctus flexus punctuation typical of Cistercian and Carthusian scribes (last character of line 4):

Another cutting, clearly from the same manuscript, was sold in the Korner sale at Sotheby's, 19 June, 1990, lot 27:
Here the zodiac sign is Pisces, and the Sotheby's catalogue interprets the lower scene as the Battle of the Austrasians and the Thuringians, because the text on the reverse is part of the life of St Ignatius of Antioch, whose feast-day was 1 February (and thus Aquarius would be appropriate); the miniature could therefore relate to St Sigebert of Austrasia, whose feast-day was also 1 February.

St Plectrude's feast was on 11 August, however, whereas Sagittarius belongs in November and December.

A possible connection with the Rhineland/Cologne area is provided by labels on the back of each cutting. I only have a picture of the back of the Sagittarius one:
but the Sotheby's provenance description states:
"Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872); there is a sticker on the back with the number 388 (not a Phillipps number but presumably his source), as on lot 10 above."
The provenance of Lot 10 begins:
"Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872); there is a sticker on the back with the number 388 (not a Phillipps number but presumably his source), as on lot 27 below."
The Sotheby's catalogue does not provide any support for the statement that these lots were owned by Sir Thomas Phillipps (except that they had been acquired by Korner from the Robinson brothers, who acquired and sold a large quantity of ex-Phillipps material), but if lots 10 and 27 both had "388" it is plausible that the third digit of in the image above is also an "8". Further, lot 10 (now in a private collection in London) is in the style associated with Johannes von Valkenburg, providing a second strong connection with Cologne:

The existence of two cuttings with two signs of the zodiac suggests that there are ten more waiting to be recognised. Does any reader know where any of them are?

Edit, 4 Dec. 2016
I have had a very interesting response from Prof. James Marrow, who writes:
"The cutting you posted in your most recent blog looks to my eyes to be a work by the Master of Evert van Soudenbalch, a Dutch miniaturist with roots in Cologne who was active ca. 1460-70, or just possibly by his close collaborator, the Master of Gijsbrecht van Bredrerode. The style is close to works by the Soudenbalch Master's hand in the Bible of Evert van Soudenbalch in Vienna (ONB Cod. 2771-72), as well as to some of the painter's work in the manuscript of De natuurkunde van het geheelal in Wolfenbuettel, HAB Cod. Guelph. 18.2. Aug. qu., which also has Zodiacal signs. If I had to guess, I would suspect that the fragment was from a manuscript somewhat like the Wolfenbuettel codex, which mixes religious with secular texts.  
The subject matter of the cutting seems to be activities of the months -- or rather, the activities of those born under different signs of the Zodiac -- as found, for example, in the famous manuscript of the Hausbuch. The section below includes what I suspect is a relatively rare depiction of rafting (Flösserei), which was the scheme used to float heavy materials down rivers by lashing tree-trunks together to form floating rafts and linking them together fore and aft. As the Flösser reached larger rivers, they lashed the individual floating units side by side and lengthwise to form larger rafts, so by the time they reached major rivers, such as the Rhine, the rafts were large enough to live on until they reached their destination. As you may know, Amsterdam was built on massive tree trunks that were floated down the Rhine from areas such as the Black Forest in this manner. The Flösser had their own guilds, which faded into obscurity only with the invention and spread of railroads in the 19th century."

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

What does the "e" refer to?

Looking at leaves and cuttings recently at the V&A Museum I looked again at one I had not seen in person for more than a decade:

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Full-Page Crucifixion from a Missal(?) dated 1480

UPDATE, 5 Sept 2016
I now have some slightly better, and significantly larger, images (click each image to see the large versions):

It no longer looks as if John has a large halo, but it is clear the Christ does have one.
The Cross is 'T'-shaped.
Mary is wearing a veil and has her hand to her cheek.
John appears to have his hands clasped in front of his chest.
A skull is clearly visible at the foot of the Cross.
There is a coiling acanthus border around the image.

[original post:]


The blurry images above are variants of my only visual evidence for the appearance of a large full-page miniature from the same Christie's sale as in a previous post.

It appears that Mary has her left hand to her cheek, and it looks as though John has an unusually large halo, or perhaps there is a figure standing behind him wearing a pale cloak.

Here is the Christie's description:

Even though the image is not at all clear, the presence of the date "1480" and letters "J.K." should make a definitive identification possible. If anyone has a better image, or knows where this leaf is now, please let me know.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Unidentified Heraldry, Perhaps of a Patron Named Anthony or a Knight of the Order of Saint Anthony?

Beth Morrison at the Getty Museum hopes that someone can identify the heraldry that appears several times in the borders of their manuscript of the Invention et translation du corps de Saint Antoine:

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Medieval Manuscripts Questions ... And Answers?

I have often thought that it would be a good idea to have a site like CERL's "Can You Help?": this allows people to seek help in identifying the provenance of (mainly printed) books. It seems to me that there should be another version of this concept, tailored for those of us interested mainly in medieval manuscripts, and addressing a wider range of questions.

Such a site could set out to address different kinds of questions, such as:
  • dating or localising a manuscript by its script or decoration
  • identifying artists or scribes
  • identifying unusual iconography
  • reading difficult handwriting or partially erased inscriptions
  • identifying the text of a fragment
  • interpreting provenance evidence such as heraldry
  • and so on.
We all need help with such issues at some time or another, and in my experience other people are usually very willing to share their expertise

As an experiment, I therefore thought that I would start a new blog, where I would post occasional questions of my own, and also those of anyone who sends them to me. In particular, I currently need help identifying and locating some manuscript leaves and cuttings -- for reasons I will reveal later in the year -- of which I only have old photographs. I think that there is a very good chance that readers will recognise some of them.

I will start by posting a few of my own questions, as examples, but welcome submissions from readers for me to post on their behalf. Please fill out the Contact form below, or email your questions to me at with the following:
  • a title in the form of short summary of your question
  • a photograph of the manuscript in question, of adequate size and quality
  • all known relevant contextual information (e.g. present location, link to online description or images, recent publications, etc.)
  • a series of terms that I can use as tags to make your query findable as the number of blog-posts grows, including if possible the physical form, country, century, language if not Latin, and genre of expertise needed, e.g.:
    • fragment, Italy, 13th-cent., iconography
    • codex, France, 12th-cent., localisation
    • cutting, England, 13th?-cent., date
    • miniature, Netherlands, 15th-cent., attribution
    • leaf, Germany, 14th-cent., heraldry
I may edit your text and your photo for clarity, and change the tags. If I get a cluster of new enquiries in quick succession, I may spread-out their posting over a longer period.

I will not post questions if it seems that the enquirer is just too lazy to do some basic checking, or if it seems that they are trying to get help with school homework!

I will leave Comments open, so anyone who provides answers will get public recognition for their contributions, but I will moderate them, so that subscribers do not receive spam. Apologies in advance if your comment does not get published quickly; this may be due to time-zone differences, etc.

I will use a tag "unsolved" for questions that require more input and "solved" if a question is definitively answered: this will allow people to filter searches only for unsolved/solved questions.

If the Comments on a particular question become numerous I will try to summarise the current state of knowledge near the top of the post, so that readers do not spend time re-doing work that has already been done by someone else.

I welcome suggestions for how to improve the usefulness of this experiment.