Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hoccleve on Chaucer

  Continuing with the mentally undemanding but nevertheless satisfying job of upgrading manuscript images on Medieval Writing with shiny colour reproductions from the web, the latest offering is a page from Hoccleve's Regement of Princes (British Library, Harley 4866, f.88r), which he wrote to instruct young Prince Harry how to conduct himself once he became King Henry V, then presented it to him. My God, wouldn't that be annoying. "Thank you my friend, I will surely treasure it." Exit stage left muttering "Daft old bugger!" Sorry, overimaginating history again.
  The script sample and paleography exercise display a Gothic bastarda script. I love it when you get into paleographic bastardry, because it just means that everything is getting mixed up and unclassifiable. This particular form of book hand is very English and owes part of its heritage to Gothic textura, and another part to chancery cursive. The English royal chancery had a great influence on scripts, not only in the legal domain, and also spelling and language in the later middle ages. Literacy escapes from being the exclusive preserve of the church and becomes a major part of lay life and government. Anyway, it looks like this.

  It looks a bit tricky at first, but once you get your eye in it is very neat and consistent. Just be prepared for some variant English spelling and be aware that what looks like a y with a straight tail is actually a thorn and represents th. The page is about Geoffrey Chaucer and the hand which is pointing to a line of script is attached to a portrait of said Chaucer. He looks like this.

  I think our image of GC as a benign and amiable old buffer with a bit of a naughty twinkle in his eye and smirk around his mouth probably comes from this image. Would we have read The Canterbury Tales differently if he had been portrayed as ugly, cantankerous and crosseyed?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Magdalen in Blue

  The latest updated graphics in Medieval Writing are to a script sample and paleography exercise of the Gothic rotunda script from the Melissande Psalter  (British Library, Egerton 1139), a 12th century manuscript produced in the Holy Land. The page displayed is a prayer to St Mary Magdalen, in rhyming couplets that would no doubt make it easy to remember.
  There are always surprises when upgrading from old black and white images to the beautiful colour reproductions that the British Library allows us to use today. This one was no exception.

  Mary Magdalen is more usually portrayed in medieval art wearing red, symbolising her sin. She was the patron saint of redeemed sinners. This example shows her in a beautiful blue robe, a colour usually reserved for the Virgin. Her sins truly are redeemed. And is that a purely decorative frieze behind her legs, or are those shadows of seated human figures? Maybe getting a little over-imaginative here.
  Also in relation to Medieval Writing, it has been notable that I have been steadily adding new websites to the Paleography Links page, as more material creeps its way online. I really thought things would happen more quickly in this area than they have. Some vintage presentations survive, and still work, but some others have vanished. Recently I have added several links to the Spanish and Portuguese section, which shows that things have improved since I once googled "Spanish paleography" and the first item listed was a page from my own website which said that the only things I knew about Spanish paleography came from a 19th century book which I had downloaded from The Internet Archive. The body of online knowledge in this area is steadily increasing.
  Now to my wish list. The steadily growing corpus of digitised manuscripts online, especially those allowing free access for use of the images, contains amazing numbers of beautiful illuminated books. It would be sooo nice to have some images of documents - charters, petitions, accounts, wills and the like - to be able to use. I think I get more emails from people trying to read documents than those wanting to read books, for a whole bunch of different reasons. Mostly I'm stuck with the old grungy black and white images from antique paleography books.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

It's Gothic Jim, But Not As We Know It

 The Luttrell Psalter (British Library, Add. ms 42130) is famed in song and legend for its illustrations, containing elaborate historiated initials, scenes of English country life and work which might be considered typical if the 14th century hadn't been rife with Black Death, rotten weather, famine and peasants revolting, and some very weird part human, part animal creatures cavorting in the margins. It also contains the most pompous portrait of a patron and book owner ever painted, Geoffrey de Luttrell. Well, perhaps with the possible exception of the Duc de Berry graciously acknowledging St Peter as he enters heaven.

  Talk about establishing ownership. Galfridus Louterell, as he is designated here, liked to spread his armorials around.
  The Luttrell Psalter also contains writing, which seems to get forgotten at times. The script is a form of Gothic textura, although it doesn't have that diagonal interwoven quality that gives textura, or textualis, its name by comparison with the appearance of a woven textile. Instead it is very upright, incredibly precisely drawn, and some of the letters are finished straight and flat at the bottom, without feet, which was much harder for the scribe to do accurately. It therefore gets called Gothic textura prescissa, or even Gothic textura prescissa sine pedibus (without feet). This particular example also has very fiddly, but somewhat ugly, little curly scrolls added to the ends of some letters.

  The letters are all carefully separated and somehow, although the letter forms are essentially Gothic, it doesn't really look Gothic at all. It's not too hard to read, and there is a script sample and paleography exercise for it on Medieval Writing. The pretty and wacky pictures from the page are also there for your amusement, courtesy of the British Library website. You can now work your way through the whole manuscript there if you can navigate the search facility. Worth the trouble.