The first two sumptuous volumes of Illuminated Manuscripts in Cambridge (IMC) have arrived. The series of catalogues covers, and will cover, medieval manuscripts in the Cambridge Colleges and the Fitzwilliam Museum (although excluding the manuscripts in the University Library, which will be catalogued separately). Part One, Volume One includes the Frankish Kingdoms, the Northern Netherlands, Germany, Bohemia, Hungary and Austria, with a total of 142 manuscripts; and Part One, Volume Two includes descriptions of the 110 manuscripts produced in the Meuse Region and the Southern Netherlands. The volumes have the look and feel of exhibition catalogues, with one or more crisp full-color reproductions illustrating each entry.
Some of the items will be familiar to readers of this journal who attended the spectacular Cambridge Illuminations exhibition held in 2005 at the Fitzwilliam Museum, where many of the manuscripts held in Cambridge colleges were exhibited and published for the first time. The manuscripts included in that exhibition were all thoroughly described by Paul Binski, Rosamund McKitterick, Teresa Webber, Nigel Morgan, Jonathan Alexander, Christopher de Hamel, Nicolas Rogers and Stella Panayotova in the accompanying exhibition catalogue, which was also published by Brepols. The volumes under review here draw upon that research and present much shorter catalogue entries. They present not just the lavishly decorated gems included in the exhibition, but all the manuscripts with even modest illumination, which will be published systematically for the first time. Many others have not been published since M.R. James produced a series of descriptive catalogues of manuscript holdings at the Fitzwilliam Museum (1895) and selected Cambridge colleges (1895-1913). To synthesize them all by region, incorporating the scholarship generated in the last century, and to have them all freshly photographed is an immense and worthy undertaking.
The first two volumes of IMC contain nearly 750 images, all in color. Within each regional category, the manuscripts have been arranged in approximate chronological order, beginning with a West Frankish Psalter from 883-884 (Cat. 1) and finishing with a book of antiphons made in the “Southern Netherlands” in the sixteenth century, in which dozens of illuminated fragments have been cannibalized from other manuscripts and pasted into the borders and initials (Cat. 252).
The usefulness of these volumes can be measured by the extent to which they stimulate the production of new scholarship; and isn’t “measuring outcomes” what matters most to the overlords of the humanities funding in the UK these days? Let those bean counters know this: because IMC has been published, Cat. 252 (Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 46) can now be connected to a corpus of manuscripts produced at the convent of Soeterbeeck. The contributors to IMC were mostly correct when they wrote that “the book is probably intended for Augustinian canons as suggested by the note “ ousen [sic] heylighen vader Augustinus (fol. 25r)” (IMC I, 2, p. 254). However, if, as the comparison with the image reproduced here suggests, the Fitzwilliam manuscript co-originates with the Soeterbeeck manuscript, then both were made for – and possibly by – the female canonesses rather than male canons. There are 45 other manuscripts that were kept in the Soeterbeeck priory in Deursen near Ravenstein until 1997, when the Augustinian sisters gave the entire conventual library to the Radboud University Nijmegen. (See Hans Kienhorst,Verbruikt verleden. Handschriftfragmenten in en uit boeken van klooster Soeterbeeck, Edam: Orange House 2010). Because Illuminated Manuscripts in Cambridge brought Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 46 out of obscurity, this most richly illuminated specimen in the group can now be studied in its proper context.
Likewise, the reproductions and description in IMC of a German manuscript preserved in Trinity College (MS B.15.24, Cat. 109) make it possible to connect it to Paris, Bib. Arsenal, Ms. 212, which has a closely related miniature depicting the five animals in Hildegard of Bingen’s vision described in the Scivias. The two manuscripts are related in size (Paris, Bib. Arsenal, Ms. 212 measures 275 x 205 mm, and Trinity College, MS B.15.24 measures 278 x 205 mm, but both manuscripts have been trimmed), script, decoration, and content. Both manuscripts contain a text in Latin for undertaking a virtual pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Studying them in conjunction with one another may reveal further clues about their origin, original audience, and function.
Undoubtedly other students of Northern European medieval manuscripts, upon perusing the bountiful images and brief but useful descriptions, will be able to make further connections with existing manuscripts and other cultural documents. One of the functions of Illuminated Manuscripts in Cambridge – in which it succeeds admirably – is to make accessible a previously hidden body of manuscripts, which will certainly serve our scholarly community well.That having been said, I wonder whether an expensive (€200 or $290 for the two volumes) illustrated printed catalogue is the best tool with which to present a collection of manuscripts in the twenty-first century. Publishing the material on-line would have been less expensive (probably for the institution, and certainly for the user), no doubt faster, and would have allowed the editors to incorporate a continuously updated bibliography and attributions. A web version covering the same material would have allowed 7500 images instead of 750.
Among the many manuscripts that had not been adequately known and available until the publication of IMC are Cat. 200 (Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 108), a Book of Hours from the Southern Netherlands or Northern France made for Gauvain Quiéret (ca. 1433-before July 1470), who is pictured at least twice in prayer in grisaille miniatures. Although several scholars have published important studies about female owners of prayer books, their male counterparts have received less attention, and a student of gender studies interested in lay male piety might be able to build on the groundwork laid by IMC to assemble a relevant corpus and delve into this topic.
These volumes will also facilitate the study of manuscripts that have curtains sewn above their miniatures. Although many miniatures have a row of needle holes above their frames, indicating that they once had curtains attached above them, very few examples of the actual curtains survive, and two of the three fifteenth-century examples known to me appear in IMC. These are Cat. 163 (Trinity College B.11.14), a Book of Hours for Sarum Use, and Cat. 96 (Gonville and Caius College, MS 769/822), a German Psalter written for a Cistercian community dedicated to St. Maurice, in which someone has sewn curtains over the modest historiated initials. The Fitzwilliam also holds an example from the twelfth century (Cat. 66, MS McClean 22). Although Christine Sciacca has recently addressed this phenomenon for Ottonian manuscripts, more work is yet to be done for manuscripts of the later period. If curtains were sewn in to protect the miniatures they cover, why do we often find them (or traces, in the form of needle holes) in such modest manuscripts? What was their real function?
Most of the entries are quite good and solid, with only a few occasional slips. While I feel quite petty pointing some of these out, they should alert readers that the catalogue was written quickly by the editors’ own admission (“Jonathan Alexander encouraged the Cambridge Illuminations project from the start and advised: ‘Keep it short and bring it out quickly,’” Introduction, p. 7). Correspondingly, the wise scholar will not repeat facts printed in IMC without checking them carefully. For example, the entry for Cat. 21 (Fitzwilliam MS 38) describes the script as textualis when the photo reveals it clearly as hybrida. Cat. 32 (Fitzwilliam Museum MS 271), in usefully listing manuscripts copied by Peter Zwaninc for the female Tertiaries at Weesp, lists one as “Haarlem, Episcopal Museum, MS 105.” However, the manuscripts from that collection were transferred to the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, most of them in 1976, and the correct signature should read “Utrecht, Museum Catharijneconvent, BMH h 105.” The entry for Cat. 29 (Trinity College, MS O.1.75) correctly indicates that the manuscript’s female noun and pronoun forms suggest that it was made for a female user, and that it has penwork associated with Delft; the entry does not, however, mention that St. Augustine is listed as the first confessor in the litany and St. Agnes as the first virgin, clues which connect the Psalter to the convent of canonesses regular in Delft called Sint Agnes in het Dal van Josaphat. These Canonesses demonstrably wrote and illuminated manuscripts, including, most likely, this one.
Each entry includes a useful section headed “Comments.” Many of the opinions presented in the comments of the Northern Netherlandish manuscripts are based on conversations and personal correspondence. This process is honest in so far as it gives credit where credit is due, but the procedure is problematic because the opinions presented have then been memorialized in a printed catalogue of overwhelming gravitas and authority but without having been filtered through the judgment of blind peer review. They have arrived there by some other alchemical process to which the average reader could not have had access and therefore cannot adequately evaluate. To be fair, the research team could not possibly have included sub-specialists in every region and era of manuscript production exemplified by the Cambridge colleges. The authors and editors must have found themselves in a Catch-22 situation, as very little has been written about many of these manuscripts, and they were correct to seek advice from members of our community. The corrective to this situation will be that the volumes will stimulate an abundance of new ideas, opinions, and literature, which the regular peer-review system will filter and evaluate.
One regrettable error in which the oral or written correspondence seems to have overshadowed published work appears in the comments of Cat. 42 (Fitzwilliam Museum, MS McClean 95), in which Klaas van der Hoek’s published work has been unfairly minimized and misrepresented. It should be noted that he wrote: “Although there is no reason to attach Spierinck’s name to [Amsterdam, Koninklijk Oudheidkundig Genootschap, MS unnumbered], Henkel did see aright, for it has been illuminated entirely by Master A of Ms McClean 95. In particular, comparison of the border decoration with the borders of Master A in MS McClean 95 leaves little doubt about the identity of its illuminator. Being consistently divided into panels filled in with stiff, coiled-up acanthus transferring into straight-pen-strokes with little petals, the borders in the KOG Book of Hours make an even more schematic and symmetrical impression. Two peculiar elements are added: a gold devil’s head and a gold, tufted pig’s head from which acanthus springs. Codicological data confirm the shared origin of both manuscripts: their justification, number of lines and script correspond” (K. van der Hoek, “The North Holland Illuminator Spierinck: Some Attributions Reconsidered,” Masters and Miniatures 1991, 277-278). The person who wrote the entry for Cat. 42 gives a false summary of Van der Hoek’s article. It was Van der Hoek drawing upon Henkel and not Korteweg in correspondence who first drew the relationship between McClean 95 and the KOG Book of Hours; likewise, it was Van der Hoek who enumerated the hands in McClean 95.
These squabbles will be ironed out as students of manuscript illumination read, digest, and apply these immensely useful volumes, as I am confident they will do with deserved gusto. The first two beautifully designed volumes of Illuminated Manuscripts in Cambridge have all the indices and finding aids (including an index of biblical and non-biblical iconography) to facilitate further research. They are brimming with ideas, are full of dissertation topics, and are testaments to the bounty – intellectual and sensuous or even sybaritic – spread out before students of medieval manuscripts.
Kathryn M. Rudy
University of St Andrews