Notes on some manuscripts

Some interesting points about a couple of manuscripts from the earlier period.

I have mentioned one that was first noted by Ellie Velinska – in which the ‘funnel’ motif refers to the winds and, I suggested, in this case particularly to the Mistral.

wind motifs Occitn MS & Voynich f.86vA similar motif occurs in Romanesque manuscripts, as you see from the following example. All the following examples are taken, for convenience, from the site of Les Enluminures.  If any reader makes it to their exhibition, I hope you’ll come back and leave a review. 🙂

f86v funnel

Note the love of interlace in that example , compared with its complete absence from MS Beinecke 408.

1. Northern Italy.

I recently mentioned another manuscript from Les Enluminures, one associated with the Hermits of St. Jerome in Fiesole. The Hermits’ original centre was in Spain, in the Pyrenees.  Of interest to us, too, because they placed emphasis on scholarship, in emulation of the learned Jerome.  The Fiesole manuscript  is interesting not only because I’m interested in Fiesole, but because that manuscript measures 161mm x 110 mm, which is fairly much what you’d get if you halved the VMs’ height. The Vms measures 225 x 160 mm.  Like the Vms, this manuscript uses long lines, not double columns, which is certainly a practical format for a small manuscript,  but still fairly unusual for its late date: 1518.

The parchment (not vellum) is described by ‘Les Enluminures‘ as “.. of Italian preparation“, I think you can see that its finish is much better than the Vms’.  For higher magnification, and more folios from it see the site, (here).

Fiesole ms Enluminures

MONASTIC RITUAL AND PASSION SEQUENCE In Latin, decorated manuscript on parchment Italy, dated 1518. Les Enluminures Ref. no. 162  folios 8v-9r. (flesh side)

Fiesole Hermits Enlumiers hair side

MONASTIC RITUAL AND PASSION SEQUENCE In Latin, decorated manuscript on parchment Italy, dated 1518. Les Enluminures Reference Number: 162 folios 21v-22r. (hair side)


2. Constance

A number of people think the Vms inscribed in or near Lake Constance, during the time of a three-and-a-bit year ecumenical Council (1414 to 1418).  A great proportion of its attendees were academics and foreign delegates who’d come from a distance, so one could well imagine that a new text might be introduced, and copies ordered by various members from nearby monastic scriptoria.  At the same time, the Council was being held in a centre where there were some very ancient monastic centres and libraries, another source of wanted copies.

(The Shøyen site has a brilliant list of all the regional scriptoria to which its manuscripts have been ascribed.  see here.)

From that region, then, a Franciscan manuscript. As you see, its script is rather larger than the Vms’.  Its dimensions offer no comparable measure, or ratio but a couple of the ornamental motifs are worth mentioning.  The “X” motif filling the initial ‘B’  is ubiquitous throughout the medieval world, and beyond it, employed as ornament in metalwork, architectural ornamentation, woodwork and so forth – so not particularly informative. More interesting is this use of the small arch-and-dot.

Constance w_755_f14v-15_L

Les Enluminures. MS attributed to the Cistercians of Constance. Dated c. 1475-1500.

Here’s a closer look, compared with use of the motif in MS Beinecke 408, folio 86v.

slab dot Constance and f.86v

left: detail of fols. 14v-15 (Psalm 1), Les Enluminures Ref.755. [1475-1500];  right: detail of MS Beinecke 408, folio 86v [1404-1438]

Not quite the same feeling, is there? I’d describe that difference as one of focus and intent. What I mean is that the first uses the motif superficially, ornamentally, and pretty casually- regardless of whether it was accorded any metaphorical meaning. It looks hasty, even a little slap-dash – at least by comparison with this use in Vms, where one can hardly miss noticing its intense exactitude, an air of total and meticulous concentration, and of clear intent to convey meaning through every line. Its precision speaks of such .. well, such intent… that you could never mistake the milieu of the first for that of the second. Latin scriptoria, of themselves, just didn’t turn out work which looks like this – as generations of commentators on the Vms have noticed, to their grief.

You may wish to compare for yourself the style and finish of the Constance membrane with that of the Vms.

The Shøyen collection has a manuscript from the same region, from the  Benedictine Abbey of Weingarten (MS 602). Not digitised, unfortunately.


3. Franciscan handbooks

The next example I’d say is the sort explains why, as Wilfrid Voynich said, he assigned the Vms instantly to the thirteenth century and to a Franciscan. The manuscript shown below is a Franciscan handbook inscribed partly or wholly during Roger Bacon’s lifetime. Not made in England, but in northern Italy. More than one scribe was involved – as many as six – and  if you enjoy reading a near-perfect description of a manuscript’s codicology and palaeography, the details are all here on the ‘Les Enluminures’ site. MS in Latin, on parchment, Franciscan, Northern Italy, thirteenth century.

ms Enlumineurs English

Franciscan miscellany, [c. 1260-1280; and c. 1280-1300] Les Enluminures ref.675. fols 136v-137

and here’s another, this one attributed to southern Italy, or perhaps Southern France. Again, Franciscan, thirteenth or fourteenth century and on parchment, not vellum. (c. 1300- ?1350).

Les enlumineurs w_779_f172v-173_L

Les Enluminures Ref.779


All these have one striking difference from the Vms.  All of them show the set custom of the Latins in preparing their bifoliums in advance – usually by ruling, though in some cases by pricking down the margins.

The Vms’ folios show absolutely no sign of that custom, and since I am informed that the folios were not trimmed, we may assume the pages neither ruled nor pricked.

Many Jewish manuscripts were written with the aid of a frame and wire, thus leaving no marks of preparation on the page.  It’s one of the many reasons I ascribe our manuscript or, more likely, its exemplar(s) to the Jewish community.   I think we have a very faithful copy indeed from one or more earlier source(s), even if the result is ‘odd’-looking in terms of Latin manuscripts, their customs, visual language and general ‘air’.


Before I finish, I must show you a nice example of a fifteenth century German handbook, on paper. Its layout is identical to that used for any contemporary German manuscript on membrane, too:  two columns, page prepared… and so on.

German Enlumieurs w_456_59v_60_L

dated 1489. Les Enluminures Ref. No: 456



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