Medieval Manuscript Illustration of the Nativity

Medieval Manuscript Illustration of the Nativity

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Medieval herbal iconography and lexicography of Cucumis (cucumber and melon, Cucurbitaceae) in the Occident, 1300-1458

Background: The genus Cucumis contains two species of important vegetable crops, C. sativus, cucumber, and C. melo, melon. Melon has iconographical and textual records from lands of the Mediterranean Basin dating back to antiquity, but cucumber does not. The goal of this study was to obtain an improved understanding of the history of these crops in the Occident. Medieval images purportedly of Cucumis were examined, their specific identity was determined and they were compared for originality, accuracy and the lexicography of their captions.

Findings: The manuscripts having accurate, informative images are derived from Italy and France and were produced between 1300 and 1458. All have an illustration of cucumber but not all contain an image of melon. The cucumber fruits are green, unevenly cylindrical with an approx. 2:1 length-to-width ratio. Most of the images show the cucumbers marked by sparsely distributed, large dark dots, but images from northern France show them as having densely distributed, small black dots. The different size, colour and distribution reflect the different surface wartiness and spininess of modern American and French pickling cucumbers. The melon fruits are green, oval to serpentine, closely resembling the chate and snake vegetable melons, but not sweet melons. In nearly all manuscripts of Italian provenance, the cucumber image is labelled with the Latin caption citruli, or similar, plural diminuitive of citrus (citron, Citrus medica). However, in manuscripts of French provenance, the cucumber image is labelled cucumeres, which is derived from the classical Latin epithet cucumis for snake melon. The absence of melon in some manuscripts and the expropriation of the Latin cucumis/cucumer indicate replacement of vegetable melons by cucumbers during the medieval period in Europe. One image, from British Library ms. Sloane 4016, has a caption that allows tracing of the word 'gherkin' back to languages of the geographical nativity of C. sativus, the Indian subcontinent.

A Note on Obstetrical Illustrations in Medieval Manuscripts and Their Origins

Pictures showing abnormal foetal presentations intended to help the midwife in case of difficult labour – often accompanied by short texts suggesting the appropriate procedure to follow – can be found in a wide range of medieval medical manuscripts. This important iconographical tradition, as the large bibliography on this subject shows, is related to the gynaecological treatise in four books written by Soranus, a physician born in Ephesus probably in the second half of the 1 st century C.E.

Soranus studied in Alexandria, which was still a great centre of scientific medicine in his time, and practiced the medical profession in Rome in the first half of the 2 nd century. Few of his works survive in the original Greek version, and among them the four-books Gynaikeia is the most important. In spite of the influence this work exerted on Greek, Arabic and, above all, Latin medicine, the text, badly corrupted and interpolated with chapters from the medical compilation of Aetius of Amida, survived only in a 15 th century byzantine manuscript, ms. Par. Gr. 2153, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris.

Notwithstanding the poor manuscript transmission of its Greek text, some of Soranus’ theories and practices, as well as the obstetrical drawings related to his name, survived through the western middle ages thanks to the work of translators and abbreviators, mostly of north-African origin (Theodorus Priscianus, Caelio Aurelianus, Mustio). The influence of Soranus is evident also in the medical collections of Greek compilers (Oribasius, Aetius of Amida, Paul of Egina). The text that mainly transmitted Soranus’ work in the West was the Gynaecia of Mustio or Muscio. Although no other information exists about this author, the analysis of his vocabulary suggests that he was probably of north-African origin, while his date is difficult to determine, and should be tentatively indicated around the 5 th or 6 th century.

The chapters dedicated to labour and delivery are illustrated with drawings showing the normal and abnormal positions of the foetus, and the success of Mustio’s compilation was probably also related to this set of pictures.

Mustio’s Gynaecia survives in a few manuscripts, and some of them are not illustrated. The oldest illustrated copy is ms. 3701-15, Bibliothèque Royale, Bruxelles, a Carolingian manuscript that contains a remarkable collection of medical extracts from Hippocrates, Herofilos, Galen, and several epistulae on bloodletting and other medical subjects. While the manuscript that mostly contributed to the diffusion of Mustio’s obstetrical iconography is an 11 th century south Italian manuscript, now ms. GKS 1653, Kongelike Bibliotek, Copenhagen. The codex contains a slightly different version of the text, and has 15 foetal malpresentations drawings instead of 13.

Mustio’s illustration emancipated themselves from its text around the 13th century. They were later included in other obstetrical texts in Latin, Hebrew, and modern languages, with or without captions, and were finally included in several printed works.

The aim of this paper was to investigate the origin of Mustio’s illustrations, and their relation with other medical or technical illustration created in the antiquity.

When the knowledge of the Greek language faded away in the north-African region, (a region that preserved the medical knowledge of the antiquity and in particular of the methodics writings well into the byzantine period), Mustio and other authors translated Soranus’s gynaecological books into Latin.

Mustio’s work was written in order to provide midwives unable to read a Greek text with a translation of Soranus. According to his informative introduction, Mustio’s intent was to create an easily understandable text, written in a very simple language in order to be understood also by the less instructed midwives. In his introduction Mustio gives precious remarks about his sources and the composition process he claims that he started translating from the ‘Triacontas’ by Soranus (the Thirty books), but, seeing that such a large work ‘could strain women’s mind’, he decided to ‘follow the brevity of the Cateperotiana, were everything is said without taking too much space’. In order to deliver an exhaustive work, he states that when things are too briefly exposed, he will add chapters from the main treatise. The term ‘Cateperotiana’ probably derives from the Greek ‘kat’ eperotesin’, and indicates a question-and-answer-style manual. Since the illustrations in Mustio’s Gynaecia are all located within the question and answer text, and since there is no direct mention of illustration in the chapter dedicated to difficult labour in Soranus’ treatise, it seems highly probable that the foetal malpresentations pictures were taken from the epitomized manual and not from the main treatise.

Mustio’s illustrations clearly provided a useful didactic support, and had probably a valuable mnemonic function, helping the midwife to visualise which part of the body of the foetus had to be repositioned in order to promote its release through the birth canal, and to better understand the instructions written in the short texts above them.

The successful obstetrical iconographies that Mustio included in his manual are in my opinion related to changes occurred around the 2 nd – 3 rd century both in the medical literature and obstetrical practice.

Soranus’s treatise deals with labour in two places. The normal delivery is described in his second Book, and is completely entrusted to the midwife, while the difficult labour is discussed in two long chapters in the fourth Book (How in general to treat difficult labour, and the detailed care of difficult labour and On the extraction of the dead foetus by hooks and on Embryotomy).

Describing how to deliver a child in case of dystocia, Soranus mentions the presence of a physician alongside the midwife, and he even mention a surgeon. Moreover, in the following chapter, the midwife is not even mentioned, and is the physician who carries out the surgical extraction of the death foetus.

Mustio’s manual was apparently created in a context that saw the complete exclusion of the male physician from the birth scene and the consequent need to instruct the midwife to deal with the most difficult deliveries. Papyruses evidence show the existence of obstetrics manuals in question-and-answer format circulating between end of the 2 nd century and the 4 th century CE (the flourishing period of erothematic literature). An epitomized version of Soranus’ text, or a new text based on his chapters dedicated to labour and delivery, accompanied by some illustrations, may well have been created for this purpose.

In that period the codex (in papyrus or vellum) gradually replaced the scroll: by the 4th century, the codex had gained wide acceptance. A few precious fragments show that papyrus manuscripts were sometimes beautifully illustrated. For example, The Antinoopolis Herbal (recently studied by David Leith), has been dated around the transition from the fourth to the fifth century CE. The papyrus leaves of this codex had been made in double thickness probably for the purpose of painting on them. In fact, the stronger leaves may have provided a more secure surface to receive and preserve the illustrations. At any rate, the composition of this codex was of a rare quality, and it was clearly an object of some value. By contrast, the very general content of the text and relative lack of detail of the Antinoopolis Herbal would not have been of great practical utility from the therapeutic point of view. The special manner of composition and the beautifully and carefully rendered illustrations that this codex enjoyed, might also suggest that it had a predominantly aesthetic value for its owner, which went beyond its practical use.

Moreover, Mustio’s Greek illustrated source showed a use of illustration attested in the Hellenistic period, as a few other ancient illustrated texts show. Among them, the most relevant is Apollonius of Citium’s illustrated manual on the cure of dislocations according to the Hippocratic tradition. In the Introduction to its work, Apollonius clearly states the importance of the illustrations to help the reader to understand the quite sophisticate Hippocratic procedures. The Hippocratic passage describing each method are quoted and briefly analysed: Apollonius adds some remarks about the best way to perform the procedure and finally introduces its visual representation. Here, as well as in Mustio, the illustration is a medium for the transmission of a quite sophisticate although practical knowledge, acquired thanks to the direct practice of a specific medical art.

The effectiveness of the illustrations copied by Mustio from his Greek source and the necessity to instruct midwives in the most straightforward way in procedures not so much affected by the changes in the medical paradigm, and, later, their rarity and antiquity, ensured the survival of this set of illustrations through all the middle ages up to the modern era.

A reproduction of Mustio’s manuscript at the Royal Library of Belgium (ms. 3701-15) is available here:

Christian allegory and humorous legends

According to the accompanying text, a unicorn is a savage beast that can only be caught via a clever stratagem. If a virgin sits alone in the forest, the unicorn will come willingly to her lap and lay down its head. A hunter can then safely approach and kill the beast. The story was seen as a Christian allegory for the Incarnation of Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and his subsequent vulnerability as a human at the hands of men. The unicorn was thus seen as a natural-world counterpart for Christ. In this illustration, the maiden grasps the unicorn by its horn, which was valued for its miraculous ability to purify water. The woman puts up her finger in a gesture of warning to the approaching hunter and sits on a throne, likely in reference to her link to the Virgin.

Although a number of the animals featured in the bestiary have a Christian allegory attached to them, many of the others have no meaning attached to them at all. One such in the group of land animals is a beast called the bonnacon, now known to be mythical.

Bestiary, with extracts from Gerald of Wales

The bonnacon sprays fiery dung at soldiers in an English bestiary (British Library, Harley MS 4751, f. 11r, detail)

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

The text explains that the bonnacon has curled horns that render it incapable of defending itself. Instead, it protects itself by spraying fiery dung across a three-acre area. In this image, the bonnacon lets loose on a group of unsuspecting soldiers, who ineffectually block the effluence with spears and shields. One can only imagine that medieval audiences found the story as funny as modern ones (think of Pumbaa in The Lion King as a contemporary bonnacon!).

Medieval Manuscript Illustration of the Nativity - History

The shimmer of gold and the brightly colored pages of medieval handmade books inspired some of the most creative artists in Britain in the late nineteenth century. Six illuminated manuscripts (so called because they were often embellished with gold or silver leaf), on loan from the renowned J. Paul Getty Museum collection and included in the exhibition Truth & Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters (on view at the Legion of Honor through September 30), give us a luminous glimpse into this connection that spanned centuries.

The Annunciation, Master of the Llangattock Hours and Willem Vrelant, in the Llangattock Hours, Ghent-Bruges, Belgium, 1450s. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig IX 7 (83.ML.103), fol. 53v

Although the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded in 1848, was better known for its affinities with artists of the Italian Renaissance, their principles equally drew from fifteenth-century Netherlandish painting, including the Annunciation (1434–1436), by Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390–1441). In this work, Van Eyck depicted an archangel visiting the Virgin Mary to tell her she will bear the son of God, an event similarly pictured in the illuminated manuscript Llangattock Hours (ca. 1450).

Mariana, John Everett Millais, 1851. Oil on panel. Tate, London, accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery, 1999, T)7533

Though its subject is secular, the 1851 painting Mariana, by Pre-Raphaelite cofounder and artist Sir John Everett Millais (1829–1896), aesthetically echoes these two earlier works. Inspired by the character from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Millais’s Mariana wears a dress in the same vivid blue as Mary’s. Standing with her back arched above a work table, she emits a solitude as palpable as the divine presence by the Virgin’s side. Mariana’s chamber features a Gothicizing stained-glass window that depicts The Annunciation, while the draped cloth on the table and painted walls recall the floral borders of the Getty’s Llangattock Hours. This new medievalism, as scholars refer to it, was in vogue at the time of Millais’s painting.

Initial D: The Nativity Initial V: A Monk in Prayer from the Ruskin Hours, French, about 1300. Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, 10 1/8 x 7 1/16 in. (26.4 x 18.3 cm). The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig IX 3 (83.ML.99), fol. 76

Living during a period of great mass production, Victorian art critic and collector John Ruskin (1819–1900) turned to the Middle Ages for inspiration. An influence on and champion of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Ruskin once owned an early fourteenth-century French book of hours filled with delicately painted narrative scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary. The manuscript now bears his name as the Ruskin Hours.

Of the False Ideal, in John Ruskin’s Modern Painters, vol. 3, pp. 52-53. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, ND1135.R8 1903

Ruskin used an image of The Nativity from this medieval devotional manuscript (above left) to illustrate the third volume of Modern Painters (1843–1860). In the five-volume book, Ruskin praised the skill, imagination, and clear narratives of early medieval and Renaissance painting while celebrating the tempera revival of the Pre-Raphaelites and the carefully observed paintings of J. M. W. Turner.

Medieval Manuscripts on the Web

Please update your bookmarks. My other pages are also gradually migrating to my new domain, but it will be a while before they all relocate. I'll try to indicate on each page once it has moved.

The list below is intended to offer quick access to various digitization projects on the web: clicking the project title will take you directly there. Listings are alphabetical by country, then city, and then by originating institution. Some cooperative projects are to be found at the relevant top level so, a consortium of American libraries will appear as the first entry under the United States, for example. Sometimes a manuscript is physically located in one country, but has been digitized in another in these cases, the sponsoring institution is used (so, for example, the British Library manuscript Cotton Nero A.x, because the images are housed at the University of Calgary, appears under the listings for Canada).

When I began this list many years ago, there were very few manuscript sites on the web. There are now so many that the list below has become extremely unwieldy, but I still use it, and hope it might be useful to others as well. I have included some notes about contents, formats, and intended audiences.

Related Projects

Digitized Medieval Manuscripts is an ongoing project to present digitizations of medieval manuscripts on interactive maps.

A digital project that is also of potential interest professional users of this page is the Seymour de Ricci Bibliotheca Britannica Manuscripta Digitized Archive, a searchable database of the notes made by De Ricci towards his planned census of medieval manuscripts in British libraries.

Manuscripts Online : Written Culture 1000 to 1500 allows users to search a range of online primary sources related to Britain. Useful for finding resources, but note that many of these are subscription-based databases, rather than direct links to images.

Monastic Manuscript Project is a very complete, specialized list of manuscripts relevant to the study of early monasticism, maintained by Albrecht Diem

Manuscript Apps

There is an increasing number of manuscript-related apps for the iPad. Sometimes these appear in relation to exhibitions, and are subsequently discontinued. I include here a list of a few apps that are currently (January 2017) available. I have not linked these to the iTunes store, because results will differ depending on your country of origin. You should be able to use this list to search your own particular iTunes store, however.

  • The Book of Kells: a complete, high-resolution digital facsimile, with 21 highly zoomable pages.
  • E-book Treasures: a British Library app that allows in-app purchases of complete facsimiles of books and manuscripts, including the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Bedford Hours, the Luttrell Psalter, and other manuscripts also featured on the British Library site (see below). Last updated in 2013.
  • E-codices: this is the app version of the Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland (see below). Access to over 450,000 high-resolution pages.
  • Famous Books: Treasures of the Bavarian State library. 52 books. Last updated in 2012.
  • Gallica: an app interface for the digitized collections of the BNFr (see below)
  • Imaging the Iliad: a digitization, dating back to 2011, of the Venetus A copy of the Iliad. Includes an English translation in facing-page format.
  • Medieval Handwriting: an app developed at the Institute for Medieval Studies at the University of Leeds to teach palaeography. Last updated in 2013.
  • Turning the Pages mobile: from the US National Library of Medicine. A range of books and manuscripts can be downloaded from within the app.

I am always happy to hear about projects I might have missed, as well as about broken links: please feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]

Last updated (partially! not all links checked!) January 6, 2017.


National Library of Australia Digital Collections : most items in this ongoing effort are related to Australian history, but there are images from two Books of Hours (MSS 1097/9 and 1097/6).


ALO: Austrian Literature Online: Die digitale Bibliothek : complete digitizations of Austrian documents from the 11th C to the present. The easiest way to find the medieval and Renaissance manuscripts is via the Year Index. In German and English.

The Digital Reading Room is a portal to various digitised holdings, including Manuscripts . The landing page is in English or German, but the search and catalogue pages are in German only. Currently holds almost 1500 manuscripts. Images in full digitizations are large, so navigation can be a bit slow.



Belgica : the digital library of the Bibliothèque royale de Belgique/ Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België. Includes complete digitizations of 38 medieval manuscripts (access through the Collections tab). Site is in French or Flemish, but catalogue material is in English. There are also 41 manuscripts available through the Europeana Regia project.

The ULg Library has digitized 49 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, accessed through Gallery page. From there, you can choose access via DONum, which provides catalogue detail and low-resolution images, or you can choose to flip through manuscripts (a rather slow process, including animated page turns and the sound of a page turning). Whole manuscripts can be downloaded.



The Cotton Nero A.x. Project : includes images of every folio of Cotton Nero A x (the Gawain-manuscript). Note that this is not a flippable facsimile - each image must be accessed individually. Be sure to click the "full browser" icon after clicking on an image, in order to be able to display the whole folio in a zoomable format.


University of Toronto Fisher Library

Collection of Manuscript Fragments : 190 pieces of vellum in Greek and Latin, to show development of handwriting from the 4th century to the end of Middle Ages.

Fisher Digitized Manuscripts : 22 manuscripts in full digital versions.

DEEDS: Documents of Early England Data Set : a growing corpus of over 30,000 medieval Latin charters, some with digital images can be browsed in various ways, including by map includes other features, such as a dater


University of British Columbia

Western Manuscripts is the access point to digitizations of both fragments and a few complete manuscript (including a 13th-century theological miscellany a 13th-century Bible a 15th-century Book of Hours and a Spanish chant manuscript) organization is confusing, and access to the images themselves is frustratingly slow


Digital Collections: Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts offers access to a range of documents, manuscripts, charters, fragments, and so on: searching is not optimal, but there is an inventory as another point of access

Bartholomeus Anglicus' De proprietatibus rerum : complete (older) digitization, recently ported into a new reader here

Lydgate's Fall of Princes : complete (older) digitization, recently ported into a new reader here


Manuscriptorium : an aggregator site for digital projects coordinated by the National Library of the Czech Republic. Organization/ searching is a bit mysterious, but there is a list of Medieval Manuscripts of the National Library of the Czech Republic that offers access to digital facsimiles. This is version 3.0 of the site, and currently (November 2015), there are some access issues and lags.


There is a list of digitized manuscripts from the Research Library in Olomouc, in Czech this generally points to small, selected images.


The Copenhagen Maimonides : complete digitization of 14th-century copy of Moshe ben Maimon’s Guide for the Perplexed. In Danish or English.

E-manuscripts : portal to digitizations of manuscripts from the Kongelige Bibliotek/ Royal Library of Copenhagen. Many complete manuscripts. In Danish or English.

Treasures in the Royal Library : archived version of treasures exhibition from Kongelige Bibliotek, Copenhagen, includes many images from medieval manuscripts. In Danish or English.



Antiphonarium Tammelense : musical/ liturgical manuscripts from Åbo Akademi University Library in Finnish


Bibliothèque virtuelle des manuscrits médiévaux : database of images from medieval manuscripts in libraries across France. Most manuscripts are represented by only a few images. Advanced search not particularly helpful (no author/ title searches). In French.

Europeana Regia : a project to reconstruct three important royal collections: Carolingian manuscripts, the Louvre collection at the time of Charles V and Charles VI, and the library of the Aragonese Kings of Naples. There is a complete list of repositories under the Manuscripts tab.

Enluminures : older database of images from medieval manuscripts in French municipal libraries. Casual users can access images via thematic strands expert search is also available. Images are generally small, and of a few folia per manuscript only. In French. Note that many French municipal libraries also have complete digital facsimiles on their websites.

Liber Floridus : a growing collection of images from manuscripts in French university libraries. Can be searched by iconographic classification, or accessed by library. Images are generally small, and of a few folia per manuscript only. In French.


BMI Epinal includes full digitizations of several important manuscripts, including an Anglo-Saxon glossary that can be flipped through on its own, or read next to a transcription. Site text is in French or German.

Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon

Numelyo is the digital library at Lyon: it includes full digitizations of 55 Merovingian and Carolingian manuscripts


Bibliothèque de la Mazarine

Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Gallica: la bibliothèque numérique : portal to French digital collections, includes access to many medieval manuscripts. Some facsimiles are black and white, while others are in colour. In French, English, Spanish, or Portuguese.

Mandragore : older searchable iconographic database of catalogue records and images for illuminated manuscripts in the BnF collection. Aimed at scholars uses Iconclass system to categorize images. In French.

The landing page for Expositions points to many exhibitions that include medieval material. See also the direct links below for some past exhibitions.

al-Idrîsî : la Méditerranée au XIIe siècle : exhibition organized around the Geography of al-Idrîsî. Includes images from other medieval manuscripts. In French.

L'Art du livre arabe : exhibition about Arabic book arts, with many medieval images. In French or English.

L'Atlas Catalan : focussed on a 14th-century atlas. CD-ROM available. In French.

Bestiaire médiévale : exhibition about medieval bestiaries. In French, English, or Spanish.

Enluminures en Islam : exhibition about Islamic illumination, including medieval Islamic manuscripts. Some content appears to be missing/ faulty (June 2012). In French.

Gastronomie médiévale : exhibition about medieval cooking and dining, with many manuscripts images includes recipes. In French or English.

Jean Fouquet, peintre et enlumineur du XVe siècle : exhibition of the work of medieval illuminator Jean Fouquet includes various ways to page through samples from his work (navigation somewhat confusing). In French or English.

Jeux : exhibition about games, including section on medieval games, with images of manuscripts, cards, game boards and pieces. In French.

La légende du roi Arthur : exhibition about King Arthur includes many images from medieval manuscripts. In French.

Les mappemondes: Une image médiévale du monde: exhibition built around the Ebstorf mappa mundi, with images from other medieval manuscripts in the thematic material (navigation somewhat confusing). In French.

Miniatures Flamandes : online exhibition of Flemish illumination, in cooperation with the Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België. Includes interactive books. IPad app available. In French or Flemish.

Splendeurs persanes: online exhibition drawing on manuscripts from 12th - 17th centuries. In French or English.

Trésors Carolingiens: online exhibition of Carolingian manuscripts includes some pageable books (such as the Sacramentary of Drogo) and some zoomable images. French or English.


There are over 200 medieval manuscripts and fragments currently in the Bibliothèque Numérique, some in colour and some scanned from black and white microfilm. Not easy to see what is included in the collection (try searching by limiting to medieval manuscripts before the 16th century). French.


There are selections from over 100 MSS from the Rouen collection accessible through the BVMM, here. The BM site used to have complete digitizations of some 20 MSS, but now (November 2015) I can no longer find these.


The Bibliothèque numérique has pageable colour digital fascimiles of complete manuscripts: choose navigation by list to avoid a very distracting spinning thumbnail gallery. French.


There are more than 20 complete manuscripts available through La Mystique rh énane . Navigation is awkward.


Médiathèque Grand Troyes included thousands of complete digital facsimiles, scanned from black and white microfilm. Searching was not easy. Used Zoomify. French. For some years now (November 2015), a notice has stated that materials are unavailable, due to technical difficulties.


The patrimoine section of the Bibliothèque Valenciennes site includes pageable colour facsimiles of 8 medieval manuscripts. There seem to be plans for a new digital library, but this particular placeholder has been in place for at least several years now (November 2015). French.


Manuscripta Mediaevalia : a portal site bringing together German-led manuscript digitization projects: links to full digitizations of manuscripts from a growing list of sites, including Bonn, St Gall, Munich, Greifswald, Heidelberg, as well as from outside Germany. Apparently in German or English, but the English tab has been unresponsive for some years.


Digitale Sammlungen : full digitizations. Some of the main library text is in English, but the text around the manuscripts is in German only.


Codices Electronici Ecclesiae Coloniensis : complete digitizations of some 400 manuscripts from the Episcopal and Cathedral Library of Cologne. Some of the framing text in the site is translated into English (access from the “Optionen” button), but most of the navigation and all of the cataloguing material is in German. It can be perplexing to figure out how to find a manuscript, but once found, the facsimiles are easy to use.


Digitale Bibliothek : portal to digitizations of complete manuscripts from the Bibliotheca Palatina (such as the famous Codex Manesse), the Codices Salemitani (monastic libraries of Salem and Petershausen), Heidelberg (western and oriental manuscripts), and the Bibliotheca Laureshamensis (monastic library of Lorsch see entry below). Site framework in German or English, but some manuscript-level material is currently (November 2015) in German only. It can be difficult to find specific items, but once found, the facsimiles are easy to use. Manuscripts can be downloaded in PDF form.


ORKA : is the portal to digital materials, including medieval manuscripts. It is not particularly easy to zero in on the medieval material via the available browsing and searching tools: date-limited searches and year-limited browsing are most successful. Once found, facsimiles are complete and zoomable, though navigation is very slow. German, English, and Spanish.


Bibliotheca Laureshamensis is a project to reconstruct digitally the monastic library of Lorsch. Lorsch manuscripts from all over the world are made available here in complete, pageable facsimiles. It can be difficult to get at the facsimiles begin with the Virtual Library menu item, and then persist. In German, English, Italian, or French.


MDZ Digitale Bibliothek : portal to projects of the Munich Digital Centre includes complete digitizations of medieval manuscripts as well as early printed books. Site framing material available in German or English, but catalogue-level material is in German only.


e-sequence Digital Edition of the Saint Gall Corpus of Sequences by Notker Balbulus : includes a digital facsimile with sound files reconstructing the music. While an English project description has been promised for some time, currently (November 2015) much of the text is in German only.


Wolfenbüttel Digital Library : full digitizations of over 500 manuscripts from the Herzog August Bibliothek. In German or English parts of the site are also available in Latin.


Libri sancti Kyliani : full digitizations of manuscripts from the Dombibliothek. There is a visualization option for searching, but the list tab is more approachable. German or English.


National and University Library of Iceland : database almost 1000 historical manuscripts. A “quick group” link opens a list of 219 pre-1500 manuscripts not all are digitized, however, and the search function is currently (November 2015) a bit fussy. In Icelandic, English, or Danish.



Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

Irish Script on Screen : database of digitized Irish manuscripts from many institutions, with catalogue descriptions. The Google search used on the site is not particularly helpful, but there is a useful index page that groups manuscripts by institution. Low-resolution images accessible to all (free) registration allows scholarly users access to higher-resolution images. In Irish or English.

Saint Patrick's Confessio is a site that includes pageable colour facsimiles of 8 medieval manuscripts of the text.

Digital Collections is a portal to the Library’s growing number of digitizations. It is not easy to see what the collection includes, given a very poorly designed search function, but there is, for example, a complete digitization of the Book of Kells (note that this can be a bit slow to load - be patient).


Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts Catalogue : the National Library of Israel online catalogue now includes links to thousands of digitized Hebrew manuscripts from around the world. The announcement page I have linked here describes the scope of the project, and various ways of accessing the manuscripts.


Manus online is a database of catalogue descriptions and digital images of manuscripts (and other archival materials) in Italian libraries. The advanced search option is the best way to find material, though this still requires a fair bit of drilling down. Most useful if you already know what you are looking for. In Italian and English.


Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana

Teca Digitale : includes complete reproductions of the manuscripts in the Fonds Plutei, along with the 18th-century catalogue records while the Laurenziana has an English option on the home page, the search page linked here is in Italian only. Display of images requires Java.

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze

Biblioteca Digitale : many complete digitizations of manuscripts. The site is entirely in Italian. The home page features direct links to several manuscripts, and also has a tab that opens a list of all digitized manuscripts by shelfmark (click on Inventario).


Biblioteca Nazionale Di Napoli

The Biblioteca Digitale includes complete digitizations of medieval manuscripts. Searching and navigation can be difficult (the site is in Italian only), but there is a complete list of all digital material, and manuscript highlights at I Manoscritti della BNN.


The Biblioteca Digitale includes complete digitizations of medieval manuscripts click on a subcategory, and then on the Documents Index, to get a full list. Uses the DjVU plug-in viewer, which is a bit clunky, though one can download bundled versions of entire manuscripts for offline viewing. In Italian and English.

National Central Library of Rome

Virtual Library Nanontolana seems to be an orphan project there are a few images from three manuscripts, and the site was last modified in 2010.


Vercelli Book Digitale is a project to digitize the whole of the Vercelli Book. A beta version is now (November 2015) online, with at present only two sections of the text. The facsimile includes an edition. Italian and English.

Vatican City

Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana

Manoscritti digitalizzati offers direct links by shelfmark to over 3000 colour manuscript facsimiles. Some navigation text available in German or English. See also the Polonsky Foundation Digitization Project , a collaboration between the BAV and the Bodleian Library to digitize ancient texts (focussing on Hebrew Manuscripts, Greek manuscripts, and incunabula).

Bibliotheca Palatina digital is a project to reconstruct virtually the Heidelberg Bibliotheca Palatina, much of which went to the Vatican as the spoils of war in 1623. Complete facsimiles. In German and English

NETHERLANDS : this portal for Dutch literature includes an extensive medieval section, with many images of medieval MSS. A site aimed at Dutch students, written entirely in Dutch.


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Beeldbank : the image bank of the university library includes complete digitizations of 18 medieval manuscripts, with plans to add more. In Dutch.

The Hague

There is a list of Digitized Books (November 2015, a new list is being promised), and a Highlights of the KB Collection landing page. Searching is not currently easy - the promised list should help. Medieval material accessible via the landing page includes:

Beatrijs : selected images from the manuscript of the Middle Dutch legend of Beatrijs in HTML or Flash. In Dutch or English.

De naturen bloeme : complete digitization of Jacob van Maerlant’s encyclopedia, in HTML or Flash. In Dutch or English.

Egmond Gospels : complete digitization of one of the oldest surviving Dutch manuscripts. In Dutch or English.

The Gruuthuse Manuscript : in Dutch only.

The Trivulzio Book of Hours : complete digitization in HTML or Flash. In Dutch or English.


The homepage of Special Collections points to many digitizations of manuscripts and printed books in the collection. It is not easy to get a sense of just how many items there are in any one convenient place: users must read through the various themed topics and news items, and often click on a List button to reveal what is available. There is an alphabetical list of Digitized Objects , but it is overwhelming. Many famous manuscripts available, such as the Utrecht Psalter documents can be downloaded as colour PDFs.



Rossdhu Book of Hours : searchable version, including complete online digitization, of Med.Ms G146, from the Sir George Grey Collection.



University of Bergen and Bergen Research Foundation

Virtual Manuscripts : a project to reassemble, in the virtual realm, fragments from about a thousand medieval manuscripts from Norway. The reassembled fragments can be leafed through by means of an flip reader.



Polona is the digital portal of the National Library of Poland the site is in Polish, but if you go to the Search page and select Rekopisy from the tabs on the search page, you will see a selection of manuscripts, some of which are medieval.


The Digital Library of the University of Wroclaw has many medieval manuscripts available in digital form. For a complete list, go to the Publications List: Manuscripts. In Polish, Czech, English, German, and French. Defaults to the DjVu browser plugin, which can be fiddly.



Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal

Biblioteca nacional digital : portal to digitizations of books and manuscripts from the collection of the National Library of Portugal. To find medieval manuscripts, begin with the Index page that lists digitized items by date. Some English, but most of the site is in Portuguese.

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian

Art of the Book : a few images from 8 manuscripts. In English or Portuguese.



Some full digitizations through Manuscripta Mediaevalia (much of this site is in German) click Bibliotheksorte, then scroll down to Moskau.

Saint Petersburg

National Library of Russia

The Exhibitions link includes some images of manuscripts. There is a Digital Library , but it is entirely in Russian, and I have not been able to determine if the "manuscripts" referred to in the brief English description are medieval.



Manuscrits de la Biblioteca de Catalunya : many fully-digitized manuscripts, but the medieval manuscripts are mixed in with later works, and the search function and filters are very limited. In Spanish.

Biblioteca de l'Orfeó Català


Biblioteca Nacional de España

Biblioteca Digital Hispánica includes thousands of completely digitized manuscripts. The Discover page points to material by themes. The advanced search function can be used to limit by date. In Spanish and English.

The Real Biblioteca Digital homepage currently (November 2015) has only a few digital facsimiles I have noted that these seem to change with the passage of time.


Universitat de València, Biblioteca Històrica

This collection is included in the Europeana Regia project there are 92 fully-digitized manuscripts.

There is a list of manuscripts by author in RODERIC with over 200 items.


St Laurentius Digital Manuscript Library : complete digitization of 70 manuscripts in the Library collection. Navigation a bit awkward. In English.


Kungliga Biblioteket - Sveriges Nationalbibliothek

Codex Gigas (the Devil's Bible) : complete digitization. Images can be made very large, but viewer is quite slow. In Swedish, Czech, or English.

Uppsala University Library

Codex Argenteus Online : complete digitization of both the manuscript and of important early printed editions. In English.


e-codices: Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland : portal site for a very large collection of complete digitizations of medieval manuscripts in Swiss libraries. In German, English, French, or Italian. A notable collection accessible through this site is

Codices Electronici Sangallenses : complete digitization of 436 manuscripts from the Library of the Abbey of St Gall. In German, English, French, or Italian.

Grand-St-Bernard : fragments and complete digitizations. In French.


DIAMM: Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music : massive database of European sources of medieval polyphonic music. Thousands of records, most with high-resolution images. Aimed at the expert. Free registration required.

The Online Froissart: A Digital Edition of the Chronicles of Jean Froissart : a scholarly editing project offering access to the manuscript tradition of the first three books of Froissart’s Chroniques, with digital images of many manuscripts.

The Schøyen Collection : a privately-maintained collection of manuscripts and fragments. Many images, with extensive annotation.


The Aberdeen Bestiary : complete digitization, with transcription, commentary, and translation of the Latin text. To access the images, go to the section Bestiary, and from there, to the section Commentary. From this point it is possible to page through the manuscript.

The Burnet Psalter : complete digitization. Images can be accessed through the Index to the Manuscript.

The St. Albans Psalter : complete digitization. Includes commentary, transcription, and translation. Images can be accessed from the Commentary or Transcription pages.


National Library of Wales

The Battles of Alexander the Great (Peniarth 481D) : complete digitization, with the option to view the illustrations only as a gallery. In Welsh or English.

Bede's De natura rerum (Peniarth 540B) : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

Beunans Meriasek (Peniarth 105B) : complete digitization of Middle Cornish play. In Welsh or English.

The Black Book of Basingwerk (NLW 7006D) : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

The Black Book of Carmarthen (Peniarth 1) : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

The Book of Aneirin (Cardiff MS 2.81) : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

The Book of Llandaff (NLW 17110E) : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

The Book of Taliesin (Peniarth 2) : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

Brogyntyn ii.1 (Porkington 10), a Middle English miscellany : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

The Chronicle of the Princes (Peniarth 20) : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

Dafydd ab Gwilym and the Cywyddwyr : a selection of images from manuscripts containing one or more poems by Dafydd ab Gwilym. In Welsh or English.

De Consolatione Philosophiae (Peniarth 393D) : complete digitization of Chaucer’s translation, believed to have been copied by Adam Pinkhurst. In Welsh or English.

The De Grey Hours (NLW 15537C) : complete digitization, with the option to view the illustrations only as a gallery. In Welsh or English.

A Gutun Owain Manuscript (NLW 3026C) : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

The Hendregadredd Manuscript of the Gogynfeirdd (NLW 6680B) : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

The Hengwrt Chaucer (NLW Peniarth 392D) : complete digitization.

The Laws of Hywel Dda, Latin (Peniarth 28) : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

The Laws of Hywel Dda, Welsh (NLW 20143A) : complete digitization, with option to view illustrations only as a gallery. In Welsh or English.

The Llanbeblig Book of Hours (NLW 17520A) : complete digitization, with the option to view the illustrations only as a gallery. In Welsh or English.

Medieval Astronomy Manuscript NLW 735C : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

Piers Plowman (NLW 733B) : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

The Roman de la Rose (NLW 5016D) : complete digitization, with option to view illustrations only as a gallery. In Welsh or English.

The Sherbrooke Missal (NLW 15536E) : complete digitization, with option to view illustrations only as a gallery. In Welsh or English.

The Vaux Passional (Peniarth 482D) : complete digitization, including of original binding.

The White Book of Rhydderch (Peniarth 4) : complete digitization. In Welsh or English.

The Stair Society displays a complete digitization of The Ayr Manuscript, a fourtheenth-century legal manuscript.


Cambridge University Library

The Cambridge Digital Library is now the portal to a growing collection of digitized manuscripts, and incorporates some of the earlier, free-standing projects. Some of the contents include

The Book of Deer : the older complete digitization is now accessible via the Cambridge Digital Library

The Cairo Genizah collection : ongoing digitization of the Taylor-Schechter Cairo Genizah collection, the world’s largest single collection of medieval Jewish manuscripts.

Codex Bezae (Nn.2.41) : pageable, zoomable complete digitization.

Islamic Manuscripts : pageable, zoomable complete digitizations of collection of medieval Islamic manuscripts (whole and fragmentary).

The Life of Edward the Confessor (Ee.3.59) : pageable, zoomable complete digitization.

Treasures of the Library : portal page to ongoing efforts to digitize important manuscripts and books from the Library's collection.

Parker Library on the Web : complete digitization of most manuscripts (well over 500) in the Parker Library, along with professional-level cataloguing. Many aspects of the site (specialized search functions, larger images) are available by institutional subscription only.

Faculty of English, University of Cambridge

Scriptorium : digital archive of medieval and early modern manuscript miscellanies and commonplace books many pageable fascimiles, and many resources for teaching and learning, including materials for studying English handwriting

The Cambridge Illuminations : exhibition of images from illuminated medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam collection.

Collections Explorer : the catalogue of images from the Fitzwilliam collection includes many illuminated manuscripts. Entries include full catalogue-level data and multiple images.

Illuminating the Law : older exhibition of images from legal manuscripts.

The Macclesfield Psalter : older exhibition of selected images from the manuscript.

The James Catalogue : some years ago, Trinity digitized the M.R. James catalogue of the college manuscripts. A program is currently (November 2015) underway to digitize the manuscripts themselves, and the James catalogue is being used as the portal. It is not at present possible to see a list of the manuscripts that have been digitized, but searching the catalogue will produce entries that include direct access to images (complete, pageable digital facsimiles), where they are available. Famous manuscripts currently online include the Eadwine Psalter, theTrinity Apocalypse, the Romance of Alexander, and Piers Plowman.



Durham Priory Library Recreated is a project to digitize all of the books associated with Durham Priory Library. In the first phase, the material still held in Durham (341 manuscripts and 52 printed books) is being digitized. Very high-quality, zoomable, clickable facsimiles note that these are currently somewhat slow to load.


National Libary of Scotland

The Auchinleck MS (NLS Advocates 19.2.1) : complete transcription and digital facsimile of the manuscript. The transcription is the focus of the project: image viewing is awkward (click to individual folia from the transcription), and images are very small, though zoomable within a small window. This is an older project.

The Murthly Hours : complete digitization of a 13th-century Book of Hours. Images are very small, though zoomable within a small window. This is an older project.

Image Collections : thousands of images, displayed using LUNA software. There is also a Centre for Research Collections Flickr stream. It can be difficult to get a sense of the scope of the medieval offerings: Western Medieval Manuscripts is the main category. As with most LUNA interfaces, searching is difficult, and navigation is clumsy. Notable items include the whole of MS 56, the 11th-century Celtic Psalter. Most items are displayed as a gallery of images, but there are also a few pageable facsimiles, including MS 12, an 11th-century Gospel book, and MS 19, a Bible Historial.


Glasgow University Library

Book of the Month archives : archived list of pre-2010 web pages. Many of the books of the month were manuscripts and early printed books. Stories typically offered general introductions and a selection of images.

A Corpus of Late Middle English Scientific Prose : digitizations, most of whole manuscripts, of scientific manuscripts from the Hunter collection, hosted at the University of Málaga. Includes diplomatic transcriptions. Free registration required. This is an old project.

Fifty Treasures from Glasgow University Library : archived exhibition of images from important books in the GUL collection.

The World of Chaucer: Medieval Books and Manuscripts : archived exhibition of images from medieval manuscripts and early printed books related to Chaucer.

The Hunterian Psalter: MS Hunter 229 : archived exhibition of selected images.

Ranulf Hidgen/ John Trevisa, Polychronicon (Hunter 367) : complete digitization at Senshu University website. Painfully slow and buggy viewer.

The Romaunt of the Rose: MS Hunter 409 : older project allowing one to compare digitized images of the whole of the GUL manuscript with digitized images of William Thynne’s 1532 edition of Chaucer’s works. Also offers transcription next to manuscript images.

Special Collections Flickr stream : hub page for photos posted by GUL Special Collections. Includes many photos of medieval manuscripts and early printed books.


Mappa Mundi is a new digitization of the Hereford mappa mundi, offering three clickable versions of the map: the original, a colour-enhanced version, and a 3D scan. Extensive annotation.


Manuscripts of Lichfield Cathedral : the St Chad (Llandeilo Fawr) Gospels and the Wycliffite New Testament. Cooperative project between the Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral and William F. Endres of the University of Kentucky. Galleries for each manuscript include images of every page, and offer the user the ability to overlay an image with a range of spectral bands.


The Medieval Manuscripts Blog features many stories, and images, about manuscripts in the collection of the British Library.

The Collection Care Blog often includes stories about medieval manuscripts.

Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts : searchable database, with many images, of western illuminated manuscripts in the British Library. Currently (November 2015) contains records for Arundel, Burney, Egerton, Hargrave, Harley, Henry Davis, Hirsch, King’s, Lansdowne, Sloane, Royal, Stowe, and Yates Thompson collections, and for some Italian cuttings in the Additional collection.

Codex Sinaiticus Project : an international collaboration to bring together digital images from various institutions that hold parts of this 4th-century Greek Bible manuscript. The site includes high-resolution images, transcriptions, and a variety of viewing options. In English, German, Greek, or Russian.

Digitised Manuscripts : fully digitised, pageable and zoomable manuscripts with professional-level cataloguing. Began as The Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project. Ongoing work is adding non-Greek medieval manuscripts to the collection, including the newly-acquired St Cuthbert Gospel (Additional 89000), and such famous manuscripts as the Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton Nero D iv), and the Old English Hexateuch (Cotton Claudius B iv), and many others. Note that at present, Cotton Nero A x, the Gawain-manuscript, is fully digitized, but available only through the University of Calgary website listed above, under Canada. Periodically, an updated master list is published in the Medieval Manuscripts blog click here to access the most recent list (from September 2015).

Images Online : the Library’s commercial image bank. Users can search for and purchase images here. Includes many medieval manuscripts.

Lindisfarne Gospels Exhibition : an older exhibition, that includes introductory material and a “Turning the Pages” version of selections from the manuscript. The whole of the manuscript (Cotton Nero D iv) can be viewed through the Digitised Manuscripts site.

Magna Carta : from the Treasures in Full collection. Viewer uses a Shockwave plugin. Visitors can zoom the document, view video clips, and read an English translation.

The Malory Project : includes complete digital facsimiles of the BL’s Winchester Manuscript, and the John Rylands Library copy of William Caxton’s first edition.

Online Gallery : portal to online content, including individual images of manuscripts, pageable digital facsimiles, exhibitions.

Treasures in Full : portal to full digitizations. Emphasis is on early printed books (Shakespeare in Quarto, the Caxton editions of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, two copies of the Gutenberg Bible, and 253 Renaissance festival books). Navigation is straightforward, and the interface allows comparison default view is small, but images can be enlarged.

Virtual Books at the British Library: the hub page for “Turning the Pages” versions of famous items (including manuscripts and early printed books) in the British Library. The pageable facsimiles with audio commentary offer selections only, and are aimed at the general reader.

Currently (November 2015) available Virtual Books include Sultan Baybar’s Qu’ran (Additional 59874), the Bedford Hours (Additional 18850), the Codex Sinaiticus (Additional 43725), Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings (Royal 14 B vi), the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Additional 24098), the Golden Haggadah (Additional 27210), Psalter of Henry VIII (Royal 2 A xvi), the Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton Nero D iv), the Lisbon Bible (Oriental 2626), the Luttrell Psalter (Additional 42130), a Bestiary (Royal 12 C xix), the Sforza Hours (Additional 34294), and the Sherborne Missal (Additional 74236).

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Search the Collections function can, with some patience, be persuaded to turn up several hundred images from medieval manuscripts most of these are leafs and cuttings. The collection also includes facsimiles of medieval manuscripts by such artists as Henry Shaw and Caleb Wing, as well as examples of the work of the Spanish Forger.

Wellcome Arabic Manuscripts is a database of about 1000 Arabic manuscripts related to the history of medicine.


John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog : news related to manuscripts and other rare books stories frequently include images.

The University of Manchester Library Image Collections : includes many images from the Special Collections division of the John Rylands University Library. Uses LUNA.

Rylands Genizah : images of items (10th - 19th C) from the Genizah of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo. Uses LUNA.

Rylands Medieval Collection : images from the medieval MSS in the Rylands collection, emphasizing Middle English. Uses LUNA.


University of Nottingham Library

The department of Manuscripts and Special Collections has a variety of online Exhibitions , many of which include medieval items. There is also a pageable partial facsimile of the Wollaton Antiphonal (there are both plugin and images and text only versions).


Balliol College Medieval Manuscripts is a gallery of images, usually covering whole manuscripts, of books in Balliol’s collection: there are currently over 100 manuscripts, and a note indicating that digitization is proceeding according to user demand (with a contact link). Images are displayed in Flickr albums. The catalogue of Balliol MSS by R.A.B. Mynors has also been photographed and mounted in full.

Digital Bodleian : the new portal for digital projects from the Bodleian. Full digitizations are gradually being pulled into the portal: as of now (July 2015) there are 48 western manuscripts in full, high resolution, pageable and zoomable facsimiles. Free registration allows the creation of collections and notes. Easy downloads.

Bodleian LUNA Image Library : thousands of images from manuscripts in the Bodleian collection, scanned from film and slides, and searchable using LUNA software.

Images of Medieval Manuscripts : older collection of selected images, scanned from film, from western manuscripts in the Bodleian collection.

The Polonsky Foundation Digitization Project , a collaboration between the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana and the Bodleian Library to digitize ancient texts (focussing on Hebrew Manuscripts, Greek manuscripts, and incunabula).

The Romance of the Middle Ages : exhibition of objects and books related to medieval romance. Many images of manuscripts. Includes audio and video clips related to exhibition materials.

The Vernon Manuscript : exhibition celebrating the publication of the digital facsimile. While the full facsimile must be purchased, the exhibition does include quite a few images.

Christ Church has recently (May 2014) begun a project to digitize many of its manuscripts and rare books. As of November 2015, there are 4 complete facsimiles, accessible via the Western Manuscripts landing page: click the hyperlinked titles to access the facsimiles.

Digital Image Library : portal page to various University of Oxford digitization projects

Early Manuscripts at Oxford University : an early digitization project. Complete digitizations of over 80 early manuscripts from the collections of Balliol College, the Bodleian Library, Corpus Christi College, Jesus College, Magdalen College, Merton College, St John’s College (complete list here). Images are very large, so navigation can be difficult.

Medieval Libraries of Great Britain: currently (November 2015) in beta, this resource is based on the work of Neil Ker and his collaborators. The plan is to bring together Ker's Medieval Libraries of Great Britain and the Corpus of British Medieval Library catalogues. Some images are included, with the collecting and mounting of more underway.


The Textus Roffensis : complete digitization of the Book of the Church of Rochester.

Late Medieval English Scribes : online catalogue of all scribal hands appearing in the manuscripts of the works of Chaucer, Gower, Trevisa, Langland, and Hoccleve. Most entries include sample pages. Uses Zoomify.


Digital Scriptorium : growing, searchable database of selected images from medieval and Renaissance manuscripts from over 30 American institutions. Currently contains over 27,000 images. Aimed at expert users, but includes a Highlights page for casual readers.

Ann Arbor

Brut Chronicle is a complete digitization of a text of the Middle English Brut.


Roman de la Rose Digital Library : a joint project of Johns Hopkins and the BNFr. Large database of Rose manuscripts from many institutions, with many pageable digitizations of complete manuscripts (the Popup option gives the largest images).

Walters Art Museum Online Collection : images from medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the Walters collection can be accessed through several thematic threads, or through simple or advanced search. The Walters also has a Flickr photostream: Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts' Photostream. You can browse and download complete sets of high-resolution images of the manuscripts that have been digitized through The Digital Walters.

Bethesda, MD

National Library of Medicine

Islamic Medical Manuscripts at the National Library of Medicine : many selected images. Older exhibition, with some updating. Framing material aimed at both the general visitor, and at a scholarly audience.

Medieval Manuscripts in the National Library of Medicine : very old exhibition, with selected images.


University of Indiana, Lilly Library

Four Thousand Years of Miniature Books : older exhibition, with images from manuscripts and early printed books.


Book of Hours : older project complete digitization. Images are small.

Cambridge, MA

Digital Medieval Manuscripts at Houghton Library : images of Harvard’s medieval and Renaissance manuscripts are available throught the Digital Scriptorium project, but the Houghton Library has set up this portal page to offer strategies for searching, as well as ongoing news about digitizing projects.

Chapel Hill, NC

The Mackinney Collection of Medieval Medical Illustrations : hosted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library, this is a browsable/ searchable collection of over 1000 images, digitized from slides created and collected by Loren C. McKinney, a medieval historian.


The Goodspeed Manuscript Collection : an ongoing project to digitize 68 Biblical manuscripts, dating from the 5th to the 19th centuries. Many full digitizations. Uses Zoomify.

Rose and Chess (Roman de la Rose and Le jeu des échecs moralisés) : complete digitizations of MS 1380 and MS 392. Uses Zoomify.

Collegeville, MN

Hill Monastic Manuscript Library

Vivarium, the online image collection of Saint John’s University and the College of St Benedict: this includes material from the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library manuscript microfilm collections. Various methods for searching can be accessed at the HMML Research page.

Columbia, SC

University of South Carolina

Pages from the Past: A Legacy of Medieval Books in South Carolina Collections : digital record of all medieval manuscripts in South Carolina collections. Many images, of both full manuscripts and leaves and cuttings.


Southern Methodist University

The Exhibitions of the Bridwell Library include many images from manuscripts and early print emphasis on religious material.

Lexington, KY

The University of Kentucky

Electronic Beowulf 4.0 is the latest version of the pioneering digitization project, including access to images of the manuscript, as well as of many related materials.

Los Angeles

Illuminating the Renaissance : exhibition of Flemish manuscript painting. Older exhibition with zoomable images.

Past Exhibitions : a long list, including many exhibitions based on manuscripts in the Getty collection see also Explore Art: Manuscripts , for an overview of manuscripts in the Getty.

New Haven

Beinecke Library, Yale University

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library: Digital Library : includes many images from papyrus, medieval and Renaissance MSS, and early printed books.

New York

Jewish Theological Seminary

Special Treasures of the Jewish Theological Seminary Library : includes images from The Prato Haggadah (JTS 9478), The Rothschild Mahzor (JTS 8892), the Esslingen Mahzor (JTS 9344), and the Maimonides and Cairo Genizah fragments.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Collections database can be searched in various ways, and contains many images from medieval manuscripts. In addition, there are various exhibitions archived on the site, including:

The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry : exhibition site includes video introductions to the manuscripts, as well as a link to a blog with some images.

Choirs of Angels: Painting in Italian Choir Books, 1300 - 1500 : exhibition site includes links to almost 40 images from the manuscripts in the exhibition.

Early Buddhist Manuscript Painting: The Palm-Leaf Tradition : exhibition site includes only a few images.

Lisbon’s Hebrew Bible: Medieval Jewish Art in Context : exhibition site includes images from the Cervera Bible.

Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages : exhibition site includes one video, and a link to a blog with quite a few images.

Search the Collections : searchable database of items in the Museum collection. Includes images of medieval manuscripts.

The Washington Haggadah: Medieval Jewish Art in Context : exhibition site includes videos introducing the manuscript, but few images.

The Morgan Library and Museum

Corsair: Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts : catalogue of images from medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the Morgan collection.

Apocalypse Then: Medieval Illuminations from the Morgan : images from exhibition emphasizing the Las Huelgas Apocalypse (M.429), with other Morgan Apocalypse manuscripts included.

The Black Hours (M.493) : complete digitization. Zoom view or quick view.

Demons and Devotions: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves : digitization of all 157 miniatures from M.945, in zoom view or quick view format. Exhibition includes multimedia introductions to the manuscript.

Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands : includes complete digitization of a French Instruction for Kings (M.456), in quick or zoom view.

Illuminating the Medieval Hunt : exhibition built around a copy (M.1044) of Gaston Phoebus’s Livre de la chasse. Images from this manuscript and from related manuscripts.

The Morgan Picture Bible : images from M.638.

Opening the Geese Book : a multimedia presentation of M. 905, a gradual from St. Lorenz in Nuremberg. A complete digization of the manuscript, accompanied by video and audio files.

The Prayer Book of Claude de France : complete digitization of M.1166, in quick or zoom view. Exhibition includes virtual lecturs.

Treasures of Islamic Manuscript Painting from the Morgan : images include complete digitizations of several manuscripts, available in zoom view or quick view format.

Two Masterpieces Illuminated by Jean Poyet : images from the Hours of Henry VIII, and the Prayer Book of Anne de Bretagne.

NYPL Digital Gallery: Renaissance and Medieval Manuscripts : index page with links to over 1500 images from medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the NYPL. Online images are low resolution, but users can buy higher resolution versions.

The Artz Hours : complete older digitization of Book of Hours belonging to Oberlin College.


Free Library of Philadelphia

The Edward IV Roll : images can be accessed in various sizes, including large images using Zoomify.

Gallican Psalter (Lewis E 185) : images can be accessed in various sizes, including large images using Zoomify.

Medieval Manuscripts : hub page for complete and partial digitizations of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. Images from this collection are also part of Digital Scriptorium.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Leaves of Gold : older, collaborative exhibition of manuscripts in Philadelphia collections. Images are small.

University of Pennsylvania

Penn in Hand: Selected Manuscripts : portal to catalogue information and digital facsimiles of manuscripts in the University of Pennsylvania collection. Hundreds of complete digitizations, pageable and zoomable to actual size.

Petrarch at 700 : older exhibition of manuscripts and early printed books related to Petrarch.

Roll 1066: Genealogical Chronicle of the Kings of England to Edward IV : wonderful presentation of the whole roll, with full transcription appearing on click. Extensive index.

Bibliotheca Schoenbergensis: An Exhibition from the Collection of Lawrence J. Schoenberg : older exhibition of medieval and early modern manuscripts.

Plano, TX

Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts : the project’s goals include digitization of extant Greek New Testament manuscripts from many institutions around the world. Index page lists manuscripts, but the View button does not necessarily indicate that images are available online, though there are many manuscripts for which images are freely available.


The Charrette Project : older site containing texts and manuscript images witnessing Chrétien de Troyes’s Chevalier de la charrette.

Princeton Digital Library of Islamic Manuscripts : contains complete digitizations of some 1600 Islamic manuscripts, some of which are medieval most digitizations are from black and white microflim.

Yemeni Manuscript Digitization Initiative : complete digitizations of Arabic manuscripts from the 10th century to the present.

Provo, UT

DScriptorium : older, small collection of digital images of medieval manuscripts.


Rochester Institute of Technology

St Benedict, OR

The Abbey is digitizing its manuscripts: the List of Currently Digitized Manuscripts points to complete facsimiles, in PDF, of at present (November 2015) 12 manuscripts, mostly Books of Hours.

San Marino, CA

The Huntington Digital Library is a growing selection of fully digitized items from the collection (medieval and otherwise). Highlights include the Ellesmere Chaucer. The Browse All tab allows filtered searching.

South Bend, IN

University of Notre Dame Hesburgh Libraries

Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts : images of manuscripts owned by Notre Dame and by Notre Dame in conjunction with the Newberry Library can be accessed through the Digital Scriptorium, but they can also be found via this page.


Washington, DC

Creating French Culture: Treasures from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France : older exhibition. Images are quite small.

Library of Congress Bible Collection : older exhibition, with many images from manuscript and print Bibles. While images can be flipped through and zoomed, they remain small.

Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library and Renaissance Culture : very old exhibition, with quite a few small images.

The Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection : includes significant medieval and early modern material. Many complete, pageable digitizations, with high-resolution images available.


Users of this page might also be interested in these online resources for palaeography:

VIII - Bible Illustration in Medieval Manuscripts

Biblical illustration in the middle ages is a vast subject whose study is still very much in its infancy. It is, therefore, impossible to give more than a brief sketch of the variety of forms which it takes. By now it is clear that illustrations of the books of the Bible were already in use by the fourth century of our era and that certain Jewish communities also had access to representations of biblical subjects. This is indicated by the paintings in the synagogue at Doura Europos which date from the middle of the third century and have scenes from the stories of Moses, Elijah, Esther and the vision of Ezekiel. The Moses series at Doura suggests that these may occasionally have been fairly complete cycles. It is difficult to be certain whether the Jewish communities of this period possessed bible picture-books. Naturally the scrolls of the Law bore no decoration, and early illustrated Jewish books have not survived. Christians seem to have been less reluctant to illustrate their bibles, though the earliest examples are by no means lavish in their provision of pictures.

In this chapter an attempt will be made to indicate something of the various methods of providing bible pictures in manuscripts between about 600 and about 1450. If the material were to be confined to the Bible as a composite work this would produce an extremely incomplete picture, since some of the fullest series of illustrations are to be found in volumes devoted to a single book or a group of books such as the book of Genesis, the Pentateuch or the four Gospels.

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The "Golden Age" of the book of hours in Europe took place from 1350–1480 the book of hours became popular in France around 1400 (Longnon, Cazelles and Meiss 1969). At this time many major French artists undertook manuscript illumination.

Duke of Berry Edit

John, Duke of Berry, is the French prince for whom the Très Riches Heures was made. Berry was the third son of the future king of France, John the Good, and the brother and uncle of the next two kings. Little is known of Berry’s education, but it is certain that he spent his adolescence among arts and literature (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988). The young prince lived an extravagant life, necessitating frequent loans. He commissioned many works of art, which he amassed in his Saint Chapelle mansion. Upon Berry’s death in 1416, a final inventory was done on his estate that described the incomplete and unbound gatherings of the book as the "très riches heures" ("very rich[ly decorated] hours") to distinguish it from the 15 other books of hours in Berry's collection, including the Belles Heures ("beautiful hours") and Petites Heures ("little hours") (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).

Provenance Edit

The Très Riches Heures has changed ownership many times since its creation. The gatherings were certainly in Berry's estate on his death in 1416, but after this little is clear until 1485. A good deal is known about the lengthy and messy disposal of Berry's goods to satisfy his many creditors, which was disrupted by the insanity of the king and the Burgundian and English occupation of Paris, but there are no references to the manuscript. [5] It seems to have been in Paris for much of this period, and probably earlier some borders suggest the style of the Parisian Bedford Master's workshop, and works from the 1410s to the 1440s by the Bedford workshop — later taken over by the Dunois Master — use border designs from other pages, suggesting that the manuscript was available for copying in Paris. [5]

Duke Charles I of Savoy acquired the manuscript, probably as a gift, and commissioned Jean Colombe to complete the manuscript around 1485–1489. Sixteenth-century Flemish artists imitated the figures or entire compositions found in the calendar (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988). The manuscript belonged to Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy (1480–1530), Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands from 1507 to 1515 and again from 1519 to 1530. [6]

After this its history is unknown until the 18th century, when it was given its present bookbinding with the arms of the Serra family of Genoa, Italy.

It was inherited from the Serras by Baron Felix de Margherita of Turin and Milan. The French Orleanist pretender, Henri d'Orléans, Duke of Aumale, then in exile at Twickenham near London, bought it from the baron in 1856. On his return to France in 1871 Aumale placed it in his library at the Château de Chantilly, which he bequeathed to the Institut de France as the home of the Musée Condé. [7]

Recent history Edit

When Aumale saw the manuscript in Genoa he was able to recognize it as a commission of Berry, probably because he was familiar with a set of plates of other manuscripts of Berry published in 1834, and subsidized by the government of the duke's father, King Louis Philippe I. [8] Aumale gave the German art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen breakfast and a private view of the manuscript at Orleans House, just in time for a 10-page account to appear in Waagen's Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain in 1857, so beginning its rise to fame. [9] He also exhibited it in 1862 to the members of the Fine Arts Club. [10]

The connection with the "très riches heures" listed in the 1416 inventory was made by Léopold Victor Delisle of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and communicated to Aumale in 1881, before being published in 1884 in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts it has never been seriously disputed. [11] The manuscript took pride of place in a three-part article on all of Berry's manuscripts then known, and was the only one illustrated, with four plates in heliogravure. [12] However the manuscript was called the "Grandes Heures du duc de Berry" in this, a title now given to another manuscript, based on its larger page size. The name "Heures de Chantilly" was also used in the next decades. [13]

A monograph with 65 heliogravure plates was published by Paul Durrieu in 1904, to coincide with a major exhibition of French Gothic art in Paris where it was exhibited in the form of 12 plates from the Durrieu monograph, as the terms of Aumale's bequest forbade its removal from Chantilly. [14] The work became increasingly famous, and increasingly reproduced. The first colour reproductions, using the technique of photogravure, appeared in 1940 in the French art quarterly Verve. Each issue of this lavish magazine cost three hundred francs. [15] In January 1948, the very popular American photo-magazine Life published a feature with full-page reproductions of the 12 calendar scenes, at a little larger than their actual size but at very low-quality. Catering to American sensibilities of the time, the magazine censored one of the images by retouching the genitals of the peasant in the February scene. [16] The Musée Condé decided in the 1980s, somewhat controversially, to remove the manuscript completely both from public display and scholarly access, replacing it with copies of a complete modern facsimile. [17] Michael Camille argues that this completes the logic of the reception history of a work that has almost entirely become famous through reproductions of its images, with the most famous images having been seen in the original by only a very small number of people. [4]

There has been much debate regarding the identity and number of artists who contributed to the Très Riches Heures.

The Limbourg brothers Edit

In 1884, Léopold Delisle correlated the manuscript with the description of an item in an inventory drawn up after Berry's death: "several gatherings of a very rich book of hours [très riches heures], richly historiated and illuminated, that Pol [Paul] and his brothers made". [19] Delisle's resulting attribution to Paul de Limbourg and his two brothers, Jean and Herman, "has received general acceptance and also provided the manuscript with its name." [2]

The three Limbourg brothers had originally worked under the supervision of Berry’s brother, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, on a Bible Moralisée and had come to work for Berry after Philip’s death. By 1411, the Limbourgs were permanent members of Berry's household (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988). It is also generally agreed that another of Berry's books of hours, the Belles Heures, completed between 1408 and 1409, can also be attributed to the brothers. It is thought that the Limbourg contribution to the Très Riches Heures was between about 1412 and their deaths in 1416. Documentation from 1416 was found indicating that Jean, followed by Paul and Herman, had died. Jean de Berry died later that year (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988). Apart from the main campaign of illumination, the text, border decorations, and gilding were most likely executed by assistants or specialists who remain unknown.

The choice of castles in the calendar is one factor in the dating of the brothers' contribution. The Château of Bicêtre, just outside Paris, was one of Berry's grandest residences, but does not appear in the calendar. It seems likely that this was because no image had been created by October 1411, when a large mob from Paris looted it and set it on fire in the Armagnac–Burgundian Civil War. However the châteaux at Dourdan (April) and Étampes (July) are both shown, although Berry lost them to the Burgundians at the end of 1411, with Étampes being badly damaged in the siege. [20]

Jean Colombe Edit

Folio 75 of the Très Riches Heures includes Duke Charles I of Savoy and his wife. The two were married in 1485 and the Duke died in 1489, implying that it was not one of the original folios. The second painter was identified by Paul Durrieu as Jean Colombe, [21] who was paid 25 gold pieces by the Duke to complete certain canonical hours (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).

There were some miniatures which were incomplete and needed filling in, for example, the foreground figures and faces of the miniature illustrating the Office of the Dead, known as the Funeral of Raymond Diocrès. [22]

There are other subtle differences between the miniatures created by the Limbourgs and Colombe. Colombe chose to set large miniatures in frames of marble and gold columns. His faces are less delicate, with more pronounced features. He also used a very intense blue paint that is seen in the landscape of some miniatures. Colombe is worked in his own style without attempting to imitate that of the Limbourgs (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988). In folio 75 he followed the Limbourgs by including a depiction of one of his patron's castles in the Duchy of Savoy in the landscape background.

The Intermediate Painter Edit

The "intermediate painter", also called the Master of the Shadows, as shadows are an element of his style, is often thought to be Barthélemy van Eyck (strictly the miniaturist known as the Master of René of Anjou, who is now normally identified with the documented painter Barthélemy van Eyck) [23] who would probably have been at work in the 1440s. Other scholars put his work as early as the 1420s, though there is no documentation for this. [6] At any rate, the intermediate artist is assumed to have worked on the manuscript sometime between 1416 and 1485. Evidence from the artistic style, as well as the details of costume, suggests that the Limbourgs did not paint some of the calendar miniatures. Figures in the miniatures for January, April, May, and August are dressed in styles from 1420. The figures strolling in October are dressed in a sober fashion indicative of the mid-fifteenth century. It is known that the gatherings fell into hands of King Charles VII after Berry's death, and it is assumed that the intermediate painter is associated with his court (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).

Catherine Reynolds, in an article of 2005, approached the dating of the "intermediate painter"'s work through the borrowings from it visible in the work of other Parisian illuminators, and placed it in the late 1430s or at the start of the 1440s. This is inconveniently early for what she describes as the "generally accepted" identification with Barthélemy van Eyck, and in any case she detects a number of stylistic differences between van Eyck and the "intermediate painter." [24] Jonathan Alexander sees no stylistic need to hypothesize an intermediate painter at all. [25]

Attribution of the calendar miniatures Edit

The artists of the calendar miniatures have been identified as follows (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988):

  • January: Jean
  • February: Paul
  • March: Paul and Colombe
  • April: Jean
  • May: Jean
  • June: Paul, Jean, Herman, and Colombe (?)
  • July: Paul
  • August: Jean
  • September: Paul and Colombe
  • October: Paul and Colombe (?)
  • November: Colombe
  • December: Paul

Pognon gives the following breakdown of the main miniatures in the Calendar, using more cautious stylistic names for the artists: [26]

  • January: the courtly painter
  • February: the rustic painter
  • March: the courtly painter (landscape) and the Master of the Shadows (figures)
  • April: the courtly painter
  • May: the courtly painter
  • June: the rustic painter
  • July: the rustic painter
  • August: the courtly painter
  • September: the rustic painter (landscape)? and the Master of the Shadows (figures)
  • October: the Master of the Shadows
  • November: Jean Colombe
  • December: the Master of the Shadows

In addition Pognon identifies the "pious painter" who painted many of the religious scenes later in the book during the initial campaign. The "courtly", "rustic" and "pious" painters would probably equate to the three Limbourg brothers, or perhaps other artists in their workshop. There are alternative analyses and divisions proposed by other specialists.

A breviary consists of a number of prayers and readings in a short form, generally for use by the clergy. The book of hours is a simplified form of breviary designed for use by the laity where the prayers are intended for recital at the canonical hours of the liturgical day. Canonical hours refer to the division of day and night for the purpose of prayers. The regular rhythm of reading led to the term "book of hours".(Cazelles and Rathofer 1988)

The book of hours consists of prayers and devotional exercises, freely arranged into primary, secondary and supplementary texts. Other than the calendar at the beginning, the order is random and can be customized for the recipient or region. The Hours of the Virgin were regarded as the most important, and therefore subject to the most lavish illustration. The Très Riches Heures is rare in that it includes several miracles performed before the commencement of the passion (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).

Fuller descriptions are available at a University of Chicago website. [3]


For our 2006 festive book of the month we feature a small fifteenth century Book of Hours. Like many examples of these private prayer books, this manuscript's scheme of illustration incorporates a beautiful sequence of illuminated miniatures portraying scenes from the Christmas story. Produced in the Netherlands in about 1460, this book is from the Euing Collection.

To the left is the illustration accompanying Sext (the sixth hour), to be said at noon. It shows the Adoration of the Magi - that is, the pilgrimage of the three wise men (or kings) who brought the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh after following a star from the East that signified to them the birth of Christ their guiding star can just about be made out to the left of the stable's roof. Note the very Renaissance red and white coloured hosiery of the king at far left.

Found next in the pictorial Christmas sequence of the Hours of the Virgin is a miniature of Christ's Presentation in the Temple. Anna and Simeon stand to the left and right, prophesising the greatness of the baby. This accompanies the Hour of None (the ninth hour), recited at 3pm.

The illustration for Vespers (evensong), The Massacre of the Innocents, is shown to the left. This was the slaying of all the children under the age of two in the vicinity of Bethlehem, ordered by King Herod in an attempt to murder the newly born Christ.

Although the Hours of the Virgin is central to any Book of Hours, these books typically contain a varied mix of other devotional texts. The complete contents of this manuscript are as follows:

Folios 2r-13v: Calendar.
Folios 14v-20r: Hours of the Holy Cross (prefaced by a full page miniature of the Crucifixion).
Folios 20v-25v: Hours of the Holy Spirit (prefaced by a full page miniature of the Pentecost).
Folios 26v-31v: Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary (prefaced by a full page miniature of the Madonna enthroned).
Folios 32r-36v: Gospel lessons.
Folios 37r-40r: Prayer: Obsecro te.
Folios 40r-42r: Prayer: O intemerata.
Folios 42v-47v: Memorials/Suffrages of prayers to the Saints (including the Holy Trinity, Michael, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, Andrew, Laurence, Christopher, Katherine and Barbara).
Folios 48V-96v: Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for use of Rome (with eight full page miniatures, as illustrated here)
Folios 97v-113v: Penitential Psalms & Litany (prefaced by a full page miniature of King David in prayer).
Folios 114v-138v: Office of the Dead (prefaced by a full page miniature of monks praying around bier).

Our manuscript is an example of the output of such a workshop. Pocket sized, it is competently produced but relatively modest. It has thirteen fairly formulaic full page illustrations (or 'miniatures'), seven of which were painted on single leaves ('singletons') that could have been produced separately from the rest of the book and inserted at the relevant sections when the book was assembled. There are a further fourteen smaller pictures found in other sections of the book. The script is a standard set cursiva and the larger initials are embellished with gold, making it truly an 'illuminated' work.

Opening of folios 46v - 47r (Memorials for SS. Katherine and Barbara)

One element of this manuscript that may not be truly conveyed by this presentation on the web is its small size. The illustrations of the Evangelists, for example, each measure c. 24 x 26 mm in reality. The images shown above are blown up to over three times their actual size. In its binding, the manuscript itself measures only 124 x 90 mm. Such a small size made this book eminently portable. This is surely practical in a book that would have had to have been carried about if its original owner were to stop at set intervals in every day to read the Hours at the allotted times. But there are very few signs of wear and tear to indicate that the manuscript was actually used as intended. Indeed, there is some debate as to how Books of Hours actually were utilised by the ordinary people for whom they were made: according to Wieck, evidence suggests that, in fact, most people did not stop to pray seven times during the day, but rather used their books at home during the morning for private prayer or in Church at Mass.

Other items of interest

Other manuscript Books of Hours in Special Collections:

MS Hunter 512: English Books Hours, 1386 (in Latin and English)
MS Gen 288: Flemish Book of Hours, c. 1460 (in French)
MS Hunter 268: English Book of Hours, mid fifteenth century (in Latin)
MS Hunter 186: Dutch Book of Hours, early sixteenth century (in Flemish)
MS Hunter 188: French (?) Book of Hours, seventeenth century (in Latin).

The following were useful in compiling this article:

Christopher de Hamel A history of illuminated manuscripts (2nd ed.) London: 1994 Level 11 Bibliog B160 1994 (especially chapter 6, 'Books for everyone').

N.R. Ker Medieval manuscripts in British libraries (Vol. 2) Oxford: 1969 Level 11 Bibliog D92 1969-K and Sp Coll Ref.

Nigel Thorp The Glory of the Page London: 1987 Sp Coll Hunterian Add. f59 and Sp Coll Ref.

Roger S. Wieck Painted prayers: the Book of Hours in Medieval and Renaissance art New York: 1997.

Roger S. Wieck Time Sanctified: the Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life With essays by Lawrence R. Poos, Virginia Reinburg & John Plummer New York: George Braziller, 1988.

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The Strange and Grotesque Doodles in the Margins of Medieval Books

Manuscripts can be seen as time capsules,” says Johanna Green, Lecturer in Book History and Digital Humanities at the University of Glasgow. “And marginalia provide layers of information as to the various human hands that have shaped their form and content.” From intriguingly detailed illustrations to random doodles, the drawings and other marks made along the edges of pages in medieval manuscripts—called marginalia—are not just peripheral matters. “Both tell us huge amounts about a book’s history and the people who have contributed to it, from creation to the present day.”

On medieval pages, marginalia can run from the decorative to the bizarre, which Green engagingly documents on her Instagram account. There are two broad categories of marginalia: illustrations intended to accompany the text and later annotations by owners and readers. Both can be vehicles for delight, disgust, and befuddlement.

An example of useful intentional illustrations can be found, for those with a strong stomach and an interest in medieval medicine, in John of Arderne’s Mirror of Phlebotomy & Practice of Surgery, which is located at the Glasgow University Library. Known as the “Father of English Surgery,” Arderne produced several important medical texts in the 14th century. Fortunately, he was also a prodigious illustrator. His textbooks contain ample amounts of delightfully detailed (and occasionally rather gruesome) illustrations.

Hanging out in the margins. Public Domain

“The margins are full of images of disembodied body parts, plants, animals, even portraits of cross-eyed kings, which relate to the main body of text and act as a mnemonic for the reader,” Greene says. “Even though you open the manuscript knowing it is a medical text designed for practical use, nothing quite prepares you for seeing a disembodied leg, posterior, or penis pointing at salient parts of the text!”

In Arderne’s texts the marginalia has a clear purpose, but in other manuscripts the meaning of the drawings can be indecipherable. There are countless examples of unusual marginalia—monkeys playing the bagpipes, centaurs, knights in combat with snails, naked bishops, and strange human-animal hybrids that seem to defy categorization.

Beyond these weird and wonderful illustrations, random doodles from later readers are also significant. “Each time we find an annotation in the margin, the form it takes gives us an insight into the kinds of encounters or interactions those people had with these books,” says Green. For medieval texts, “a gloss, biblical reference, or some commentary suggests the user was reading the text closely, compared with pen trials which show scribes breaking in a new nib, while other marks and illustrations often give the impression of a bored reader using the blank parchment of the book as we might use scrap paper. It is essentially a form of archaeology, but for books.”

Pen trials of various letters in the margins of Life of Our Lady. Glasgow University Library Hunter 232 (U.3.5)

If the idea of doodling in a book either appeals to you or repulses you, then consider the pages of a copy of the long 15th-century poem Life of Our Lady, by John Lydgate. It is adorned with pages of doodles from the 16th century: “illustrations of dogs, defecating goats, peacocks with stick-figure riders, boats with tiny passengers aboard, and other marginal marks that look like very young children’s scribbles.”

Atlas Obscura has compiled a selection of doodles and drawings from medieval manuscripts. They are, by turns, silly, dramatic, and puzzling—but always illuminating about the way scribes and readers connected with the texts.

A unicorn. Public Domain A portrait of King Edward III from Arderne’s treatise. Glasgow University Library MS Hunter 251 (U.4.9) A collection of animals and hybrid creatures. Public Domain An illustration of a medical procedure from Arderne’s treatise. Glasgow University Library MS Hunter 251 (U.4.9) Possible children’s doodles of two peacocks (one unfinished, at left, and one with a human rider, at center), from Life of Our Lady. Glasgow University Library Hunter 232 (U.3.5) A disembodied penis in a basket in the margin’s of Arderne’s treatise. Glasgow University Library MS Hunter 251 (U.4.9) Swordfights and spearing what looks like a giant fly, early 14th century. Public Domain Arderne engages in some Latin wordplay with this drawing of an owl. “Bubo” is both the Latin word for owl, and the word to describe swelling from rectal cancer. This would help those with a knowledge of Latin find the relevant section. Glasgow University Library MS Hunter 251 (U.4.9) Doodles in Life of Our Lady appear to depict a ship with rigging. Glasgow University Library Hunter 232 (U.3.5) One of the cheekier examples of marginalia. British Library/Public Domain A sad-looking dog being roped by a four-armed, two-headed creature. Public Domain Some vengeful rabbits. Public Domain

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