Tag Archives: England

New Illuminated Manuscript Digitisation Project with British Library & BnF: Polonsky Foundation

The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200

A new project is underway to open up further the unparalleled collections of illuminated manuscripts held by the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. In a ground-breaking new collaborative project the national libraries of Britain and France will work together to create two innovative new websites that will make 800 manuscripts decorated before the year 1200 available freely. The Bibliothèque nationale de France will create a new bilingual website that will allow side-by-side comparison of 400 manuscripts from each collection, selected for their beauty and interest. The British Library will create a bilingual website intended for a general audience that will feature highlights from the most important of these manuscripts and articles commissioned by leading experts in the field. Both websites will be online by November 2018.

Before the introduction of printing to Europe, all books were written by hand as manuscripts. The most luxurious of these were illuminated, literally ‘lit up’ by decorations and pictures in brightly coloured pigments and burnished gold leaf. All manuscripts — whether they are luxurious biblical or liturgical manuscripts, copies of classical literature or patristic, theological, historical or scientific texts — are valuable historical documents that can deepen and expand our understanding of the political, social and cultural life of the eras in which they were made. Their research value is inestimable.

The British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France have two of the largest collections of medieval manuscripts in the world. As a result of France and England being so closely entwined through periods of war, conquest and alliance and, in the medieval period, both nations claiming territory in France at times, both libraries have particularly strong holdings of French manuscripts produced in France or in Britain (but written in French or Latin).

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Decorated initial ‘I’(nitium) from western France, perhaps Brittany or Tours, 9th century (British Library Egerton MS 609, f. 46r).

 

This new project will add to the growing numbers of manuscript material available in full online as part of wider programmes to make these cultural treasures available to everyone around the world. At the British Library, over 8,000 items are currently available on our Digitised Manuscripts website. Similarly, thousands of items are available from the Bibliothèque nationale de France collections on its website, Gallica.

This exciting project is made possible by a generous grant from The Polonsky Foundation. Dr Leonard Polonsky remarks that ‘our Foundation is privileged to be supporting these two leading institutions in preserving the riches of the world’s cultural heritage and making them available in innovative and creative ways, both to scholars and to a wider public’.

The Polonsky Foundation is a UK-registered charity which primarily supports cultural heritage, scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, and innovation in higher education and the arts. Its principal activities include the digitisation of significant collections at leading libraries (the British Library; the Bibliothèque nationale de France; the Bodleian Library, Oxford; Cambridge University Library; the New York Public Library; the Library of Congress; the Vatican Apostolic Library); support for Theatre for a New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, New York; and post-doctoral fellowships at The Polonsky Academy for the Advanced Study of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. Its founder and chairman, Dr Leonard S. Polonsky, was named a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for charitable services in 2013.

The focus on the digitisation project will be on manuscripts produced on either side of the English Channel between 700 and 1200. The manuscripts from this period open up a window on a time of close cultural and political exchange during which scribes moved and worked in what is now France, Normandy and England. Decorated manuscripts containing literary, historical, biblical and theological texts will be included, representing the mutual strengths of the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Online access to these manuscripts will support new research into how manuscripts — and people — travelled around Europe in this period. New connections will be made possible by studying the two collections side by side.

For example, the manuscripts selected will include a number of illuminated Gospel-books, providing a witness to the changing tastes, influences and borrowings reflected in the books’ design and script. So a 9th-century, a 10th-century and a late 12th-century Gospel-book all have colourful illuminated initials with geometric patterns, floral decoration or animals heads, yet their execution is very different. The script, colours, style and subjects of the illumination all provide clues to the time and place of their composition. With the digitisation of manuscripts all these features may be studied and enjoyed in detail.

As well as making 800 manuscripts freely available online, the project will be part of a wider programme of activities aimed at researchers and the general public. A number of the manuscripts digitised will be displayed in a major international exhibition on Anglo-Saxon England to be held at the British Library from October 2018 to February 2019, which will highlight connections between Anglo-Saxon England and the Continent.

A conference at the British Library will coincide with the Anglo-Saxon exhibition (December 2018), and a project conference will be held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. An illustrated book showcasing beautiful and significant manuscripts from the collections will also be produced. Another output will be a film on the digitisation project that, together with the other aspects of the public programme, will open up new paths into collections for a variety of audiences.

The original version of this blog post in the British Library Medieval Manuscripts Blog can be found here.

Adapted for Medieval Art Research blog by Amy Jeffs

Original text by Tuija Ainonen

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Looking back: Medieval & Early Modern Festival, University of Kent, June 2017

The 16th-17th June 2017 was the third annual MEMS Festival, a two-day celebration of all things Medieval and Early Modern at the University of Kent. Papers covered all kinds of topics, from art and literature to politics, identity, and everyday life from the entire period. The range of material meant that lots of different areas of expertise were brought together, leading to interesting discussions and comparisons. There were also lots of exciting practical workshops, such as a “mystery trail” in the Special Collections and Archives and workshopping a scene from the York Corpus Christi play with Claire Wright (University of Kent).

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Kent undergraduate students present their final year dissertations

The two dedicated medieval art sessions covered objects from far and wide. The first panel looked at style and symbolism over the artistic networks in England and France. Cassandra Harrington (University of Kent) gave probably a paper on foliate head keystones, looking at a particular example from the chapter house at Cluny, and distinguishing them from the usual interpretation of such heads as “Green Men”. Angela Websdale’s (University of Kent) paper on the “lost” wall paintings at Faversham Cathedral investigated a potential Westminster workshop moving between London and Kent, while Alice Ball’s (University of Kent) considered images of the Prodigal Son, in particular how the iconography of the windows at Chartres cathedral may have influenced the Bibles Moralisees.

The second medieval art panel was made up of three students who had just finished their undergraduate degrees at the University of Kent, who all presented on their recently-completed dissertations. Michael Gittins gave a fresh look at a well-known object, considering the heraldry and weapons pictured in the Morgan Picture Bible to make a convincing argument that Walter of Brienne may have been the original patron. In contrast, Lucy Splarn’s paper turned towards a tiny and much less well-known pilgrimage badge of St Thomas Becket, looking at the unusual iconography of the saint riding a peacock (see embedded 3D model). This could have been a representation of Thomas’s personality, and the idea that he was arrogant in his outward appearance but humble inside, which tied in well with Paul Binski’s paper at the Thomas Becket study day on the concept of personality in the Middle Ages. Catherine Heydon gave the third paper, on the idea of Purgatory in the thought of St Augustine, thinking about the way in which the imagery of Classical thought influenced the theology of the early Church.

Medieval and Early Modern art made an appearance in other sessions as well. Hannah Straw (University of Kent) gave a paper on the imagery of Charles II’s escape in the Boswell Oak tree and how it was used to shape the king’s public identity. Emily Guerry (University of Kent) also looked at public identity and the use of history, by examining the significance of James Comey’s (mis)quotation of Henry II in his testimony, and the way in which the past can be used in the public imagination.

Each afternoon of the conference was taken up with activities and workshops, which was a great opportunity to get some hands-on work with objects and new technologies. This included a set of workshops and a tour of Eastbridge Pilgrim’s Hospital, which would have been a stopping point for hundreds of visitors to St Thomas’s shrine. Despite the ancient surroundings, two of these were on new technologies for approaching medieval objects and buildings, using GIS mapping and 3D modelling to see medieval art in a new way. Amy Jeffs (Digital Pilgrim Project) led a workshop on digitising pilgrim souvenirs and using software to enable better study and public appreciation of objects which are usually difficult to access, leading to a discussion on the benefits and potential issues of digitalisation. Tim Beach also used technologies to explore medieval art, but on a much larger scale, demonstrating how 3D laser scanning can be used to make a perfect 3D digital representation of medieval buildings, performing a live demonstration on the undercroft of Eastbridge Hospital itself.

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Attendees take part  in a workshop in the Eastbridge Hospital Chapel

The whole conference was an exciting look at new research and approaches to medieval and early modern history, and the diverse mix of papers meant that lots of interesting discussions were happening all through the weekend, finishing up in the beautiful space of Eastbridge Hospital. The festival showcased the new research in the History of Art emerging from the University of Kent, both in relation to the wealth of local art around Canterbury itself, and the international nature of work being done, with a particular focus on the art of France and networks between France and England.    

Review by Han Tame

Postgraduate, University of Kent

New Exhibition and Events: Opus Anglicanum, Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery, V&A Museum, 1 October 2016 – 5 February 2017

opus anglicanum to deleteNew Exhibition: Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1 October 2016 – 5 February 2017

From the 12th to the 15th centuries, England enjoyed an international reputation for the quality of its luxury embroideries, and were frequently referred to as ‘Opus Anglicanum’ (English work). Often featuring complex imagery, and ambitious in their scale and intricacy, they were sought after by kings, queens, popes and cardinals across Europe. This exhibition is the first opportunity in over half a century to see an outstanding range of surviving examples in one place. Paintings, illuminated manuscripts, metalwork and stained glass will be shown alongside, to explore the world within which these exquisite works were created.

Luxury embroideries were made by professional craftsmen and women living in the City of London, some of whom we can still identify by name. London was a hub for commerce, and the embroiderers formed part of an international mercantile network. The rare survivals of this extraordinary period of English art are today scattered across Europe and North America. Some of the embroideries have not been seen in Britain since they were produced.

Book now: vam.ac.uk/opus


 

lossy-page1-1024px-web2c_grevens_sc3a4ngkammare-_detalj2c_grevens_sc3a4ng_-_skoklosters_slott_-_88043-tifEnglish Medieval Embroidery Unpicked, day course, The Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre @V&A Museum, Saturday 12 November 2016

STUDY DAY: This study day explores the world of England’s Medieval luxury embroideries, known as Opus Anglicanum. We will examine their materials, techniques and design; the patrons and artists involved; and the extraordinary images depicted on them.

During the later Middle Ages, England enjoyed an international reputation for its luxury embroideries, produced for Europe’s greatest patrons including kings, queens, cardinals and popes. This study day will put embroideries in the exhibition Opus Anglicanum: Masters of Medieval Embroidery under the microscope, examining their materials, techniques and design; the patrons and artists involved; and exploring the extraordinary images depicted on them. Leading experts in the field will discuss these questions in what promises to be a fascinating afternoon.

With exhibition curators Glyn Davies and Sally Dormer.

14.00 – 16.30, Saturday 12 November 2016

£35 full, £30 concessions, £15 students


 20160719161621_170Opus Anglicanum: An Introduction to Silk & Gold Embroidery, Workshop, Art Studio @V&A Museum, Saturday 12 November, 10.30 – 16.30

WORKSHOP: Learn the secrets behind the beautiful embroidery techniques of Opus Anglicanum as seen in this exhibition. Sarah will guide you step by step through split stitch fillings, surface couching and underside couching with gold threads on an Opus Anglicanum inspired piece of your own, in this one day introduction to medieval embroidery. All materials included.

Saturday 12 November, 10.30 – 16.30

£92.00, £73.60 concessions

(Lead Image: The Steeple Aston Cope 1330-40 (detail). The Rector and Churchwardens of St Peter and St Paul, Steeple Aston, Oxfordshire. On long term loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.)

Nearness|Rift: Art and Time in the Textiles of Medieval Britain (16 April 2016)

Opus-AnglicanumNearness | Rift: Art and Time in the Textiles of Medieval Britain will gather a multidisciplinary group of scholars to address a range of historiographical and methodological problems implicit in the study of textiles, and to discuss new case studies from medieval Britain.

The colloquium will take place during the morning and afternoon of April 16, 2016 in Cochrane-Woods 157 on the University of Chicago campus. (Please enter the building through the north doors rather than through the Smart Museum courtyard.)

9:30 – 10:00 AM: Coffee.

10:00 – 10:15 AM: Introduction by Luke A. Fidler (Doctoral Student, Department of Art History, University of Chicago).

10:1511:15 AM: Keynote lecture by Thomas E. A. Dale (Professor of Art History, University of Wisconsin-Madison): “Materiality, Metaphor and the Senses: Elite Textile Cultures of Medieval England in their Global Contexts.”

11:30 AM12:15 PM: Valerie Garver (Associate Professor of History, Northern Illinois University): “Garments as Means of Communication Between Anglo-Saxon England and the Carolingian World.”

Respondent: Tristan Sharp (Doctoral Student, Department of History, University of Chicago).

12:15 – 1:30 PM: Lunch.

1:30 – 2:15 PM: Christina Normore (Assistant Professor of Art History, Northwestern University): “The Outlier as Exemplar: The ‘Bayeux Tapestry’ in English Textile History.”

Respondent: Carly B. Boxer (Doctoral Student, Department of Art History, University of Chicago).

2:30 – 3:15 PM: Claire Jenson (Doctoral Candidate, Department of Art History, University of Chicago): “Exeter’s Vesture: John Grandisson on Vestments in the Liturgy.”

Respondent: Karin Krause (Assistant Professor of Byzantine Theology and Visual Culture, University of Chicago).

3:15 – 3:30 PM: Coffee.

3:45 – 4:15 PM: Nancy Feldman (Lecturer in Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago): “Cultural Politics and the Term Opus Anglicanum in Late Medieval England.”

Respondent: Julie Orlemanski (Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature, University of Chicago).

4:15 – 5:00 PM: Closing remarks by Aden Kumler (Associate Professor of Art History, University of Chicago) and final discussion.

 

Murray Seminars on Medieval and Renaissance Art at Birkbeck, Summer 2016

bern_muensterAll seminars are held at 5pm in the Keynes Library at Birkbeck’s School of Arts (Room 114, 43, Gordon Sq., London, WC1H OPD). A break at 5.50pm is followed by discussion and refreshments.

22 April
Bernd Nicolai: Modes of Artistic Expression and Representation. The facade of Bern Minster and fifteenth-century church building programmes in imperial cities

Bernd Nicolai examines the late-gothic west facade of Bern Minster and its extraordinary sculpted portal featuring scenes of the Last Judgement, considering the power of change in this and other church-building programmes in imperial cities during the fifteenth century.

1 June
Clare Vernon: Pseudo-Arabic in Medieval Southern Italy
Pseudo-Arabic script appears in both Islamic and Christian Mediterranean art in the central Middle Ages. Clare Vernon examines the use of pseudo-Arabic motifs in the region of Puglia in southeast Italy over the course of the eleventh century. Focussing attention on the mysterious pavement in the basilica of San Nicola in Bari she explores how the script-like motif relates to Bari’s role as capital of the Byzantine provinces in Italy.

29 June
Laura Slater: Talking Back to Power? Art and Political Opinion in Early Fourteenth-Century England.

‘Spin’ and reputation management were an established part of medieval politics. Laura Slater explores the role of art and architecture in challenging political ideas and opinions in early fourteenth-century England, focussing on the activities of Queen Isabella of France during the 1320s. Successful in invading England, deposing her husband Edward II and establishing herself as de facto regent in place of her teenaged son, Edward III, Isabella managed to use art and architecture to present herself as a loving, loyal and virtuous wife. Yet the queen’s subjects may still have ‘talked back to her’ responding to these PR efforts in a similarly public and permanent setting.

Book roundup: Medieval architecture

All is thriving in medieval architecture publishing from the Romanesque to the Late Gothic: here are some very special books that have been published in the last few months.

As always do let us know of any recently-published medieval art history books you would like us to include in a book roundup – we would be happy to let people to know about them!

 

978-0-271-06645-5[1]Tom Nickson – Toledo Cathedral: Building Histories in Medieval Castile (Penn State University Press)

Medieval Toledo is famous as a center of Arabic learning and as a home to sizable Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities. Yet its cathedral—one of the largest, richest, and best preserved in all of Europe—is little known outside Spain. In Toledo Cathedral, Tom Nickson provides the first in-depth analysis of the cathedral’s art and architecture. Focusing on the early thirteenth to the late fourteenth century, he examines over two hundred years of change and consolidation, tracing the growth of the cathedral in the city as well as the evolution of sacred places within the cathedral itself. Nickson goes on to consider this substantial monument in terms of its location in Toledo, Spain’s most cosmopolitan city in the medieval period. He also addresses the importance and symbolic significance of Toledo’s cathedral to the city and the art and architecture of the medieval Iberian Peninsula, showing how it fits in with broader narratives of change in the arts, culture, and ideology of the late medieval period in Spain and in Mediterranean Europe as a whole.

Tom Nickson is Lecturer in Medieval Art and Architecture at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London.



1400.medium[1]Costanza Beltrami – Building a Crossing Tower: A Design for Rouen Cathedral of 1516 (Paul Holberton Publishing)

Prompted by the recent discovery of an impressive three-metre tall late Gothic drawing of a soaring tower and spire, this book offers a rare insight into the processes of designing and building a major Gothic project. The drawing’s place and date of creation are unknown, and it corresponds to no surviving Gothic tower. Equally mysterious is the three-quarter, top-down perspective from which the tower is represented, without parallel in any other medieval drawings. Who drew this? When? And what did he hope to convey with his choice of a top-down representation of the tower? Building a Crossing Tower explores these questions, and uncovers the dramatic circumstances in which this drawing was created.

Costanza Beltrami is a PhD student at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London.


9781783270842[1]Ron Baxter – The Royal Abbey of Reading (Boydell and Brewer)

Reading Abbey was built by King Henry I to be a great architectural statement and his own mausoleum, as well as a place of resort and a staging point for royal itineraries for progresses in the west and south-west of England. From the start it was envisaged as a monastic site with a high degree of independence from the church hierarchy; it was granted enormous holdings of land and major religious relics to attract visitors and pilgrims, and no expense was spared in providing a church comparable in size and splendour with anything else in England.
However, in architectural terms, the abbey has, until recently, remained enigmatic, mainly because of the efficiency with which it was destroyed at the Reformation. Only recently has it become possible to bring together the scattered evidence – antiquarian drawings and historic records along with a new survey of the standing remains – into a coherent picture. This richly illustrated volume provides the first full account of the abbey, from foundation to dissolution, and offers a new virtual reconstruction of the church and its cloister; it also shows how the abbey formed the backdrop to many key historical events.

Ron Baxter is the Research Director of the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland.

Taking architectural history to the bridge: International Bridges Group inaugural meeting report

The study of architecture largely focuses on the study of buildings: constructions with their most essential function as shelter for the human body. But architectural history can forget that constructions with other functions are also ripe for interpretation of their structure and ideologies. This is what the ambitiously-named International Bridges Group intends to promote for crossings of all kinds, but beginning with a focus upon the medieval. Hence we at MedievalArtResearch.com were invited to their inaugural meeting at Westminster Hall on the banks of the Thames, followed by a day of in-depth (hopefully not literally) investigation of medieval bridges in the Nene and Great Ouse valleys. It as an opportunity to experience the fledgling sub-discipline of gephyrology: a neologism which currently only returns fifty results on Google.

Delegates assembled under the flying buttress of Westminster Hall

As the current writer specialises on ecclesiastical architecture, one thing that emerged in the day in Westminster Hall was how similar working on the English bridge is to studying English parish church. Opening lectures from John Blair and John Chandler established thinking about English bridges is closely linked to unravelling the origins and operation of the English parochial system. Many current bridges can be traced back to the increasing importance of kingdoms in the late eighth century, and the establishment of centres of power. Just like churches, sometimes the opportunity to build a bridge was seized upon by institutions, monastic, parochial or secular to make a powerful architectural statement. Equally, institutions could be less responsible: maintenance neglected and pontage tolls embezzled.

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David Harrison addresses delegates

Also like English churches, English bridges are uniquely weird and wonderful in equal measure. John P. Allan showed us, via the Exe bridge at Exeter, how independent masons may have been happy to meet in the middle with rounded and pointed arches; while Peter Cross Rudkin showed the English fondness for soffit ribs under the arches, akin to the complicated mouldings of English churches. The rib may have originally had a functional purpose centring the arch before it was built up: especially important for a rounded arch that cannot support itself. But since the ribs are often spaced wider than the length of the stones on top, it would appear that they have assumed the status of a skeuomorph: a decorative form derived from a practical necessity. Having a bridge that had distinctively bridge-like forms was clearly as essential as its structural practicality.

Jana Gajdošová and the tower of the Charles Bridge, Prague

Jana Gajdošová and the tower of the Charles Bridge, Prague

Just as a church spire provided an opportunity to dominate the sky, a bridge provided a powerful opportunity to assert ideology through these unique architectural semiotics. Susan Irvine used Anglo-Saxon literature to consider the bridge as a liminal space: a meeting point between two places. The potential of using this category of space was explored by Jana Gajdošová and Gerrit Jasper Schenk, both presenting papers on bridges rebuilt after disaster. The Gothic Charles Bridge in Prague, with its enormous bridge-tower and scheme of regal architectural sculpture, Jana showed to be a powerful expression of the megalomaniacal ambition of the Holy Roman Emperor. Gerrit compared the rebuilt Ponte Vecchio to the Florentine Bapistery: a pagan monument to Mars reclaimed for John the Baptist, expressed through inscriptions that speak of the enlightened commune of the city.

The final session brought us to how the established concept of a bridge worked in larger societal concepts: Jacopo Turchetto took us to medieval Anatolia, demonstrating how magnificent Ottoman bridges represented much older meeting places of travelling caravans. Roberta Magnusson and David Harrison both gave rich lectures about the bridge in the frameworks of English urban infrastructure and society that proved vital for enlightened conversation on the group’s trip out the Nene and Great Ouse Valleys the next day.

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Great Barford, Bedfordshire

Great Barford (Bedfordshire), c.1428

After an early Sunday-morning start, the first bridge the delegates encountered was Great Barford in Bedfordshire, dated by a major bequest of 1428. Much of the problem of looking at bridges is that, unlike a building, it faces not just the usual climatic elements, but also heavy traffic, perpetually flowing water, and wandering boats. Therefore it is inevitable that they fail and are rebuilt. Great Barford was also slightly spoiled by the 1874 widening – a common solution to the problem of increasing road traffic in the Modern age – here achieved by building out the bridge on the west side with a brick refacing.

Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire

Irthlingborough (Northamptonshire), 13th or 14th century

Many medieval bridges are isolated from the main traffic flow: Irthlingborough now has a rather precarious-looking 1930s concrete Art-Deco bypass running alongside it. But in the Middle Ages it was a main road: therefore it was an inevitable structure unlike the grand statement at Great Barford, and probably with much earlier origins. Ditchford, on the other hand, had no such modern rerouting and was very much in use, with signal lights controlling the two-way traffic not used to a group of architectural historians examining its structure (see featured image). This bridge, made largely of attractively-tinged ironstone, was funded by the two parishes of which it lay on the boundary line: charmingly expressed on the central cutwater by the symbols of churches’ dedicatees, St Peter and St Catherine.

Huntingdon, Huntingdonshire

Huntingdon to Godmanchester bridge, corbel table, c.1300-20

Two major urban bridges finished the trip. The very handsome bridge over the Great Ouse outside Huntingdon, called ‘lately built’ in 1322, reveals at close inspection its English eccentricities: different mouldings, designs and widths for every arch. It has the most attractive feature of a trefoil-arched corbel table, very much confirming the early-fourteenth-century date, which may have marked the place of a bridge chapel. Very few of these survived the Reformation: Wakefield, Rotherham, Bradford-upon-Avon and St Ives being the exception. However, we found the chapel over the Great Ouse locked, but had plenty to admire in the St Ives bridge itself: built in the 1420s at the behest of some generous Benedictines.

St Ives, Huntingdonshire

St Ives bridge and chapel, 1420s

While very rich and informative, this meeting established only mere stepping stones to the establishment of gephyrology as an active discipline. If you are a budding gephyrologist, especially of the medieval period (or at least, initially, hanging around with a bunch of medievalists) and would be interested in attending future meetings of this research group, then email Jana Gajdošová with your name, institutional affiliation and a brief description of your studies.

For the full resumé of pictures of the day (including cheeky opportunistic solo church visits) see the Flickr set.