August 25, 2016 in Seminars on Manuscript Evidence
1. “Illustrations in Manuscripts
As Evidence for Anglo-Saxon Life”
First in the Series of Seminars on the Evidence of Manuscripts
The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
20 May 1989
[Published on 25 August 2016, with updates]
With invitations to colleagues in various fields, a full day’s seminar took place on Saturday, 20 May 1989 at the Parker Library. This was long before the rise of digital imaging, digital facsimiles of manuscripts, and the proliferation of manuscript images on the internet. Let alone a website devoted to that manuscript collection. We had to, and wished to, look at the books.
That wish, plus application and dedication, had led to the gathering of resources, funding included, for full-time research in that place, alongside its major conservation programme. In the Spring of 1989, as the first 2 years of this research were rounding out, we were poised to begin, on 1 October, a five-year Research Project on “Anglo-Saxon and Related Manuscripts” supported by the Leverhulme Trust.
On the day of the Seminar, there gathered specialists in archaeology, linguistics, library history, architectural history, manuscript studies, Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, and related fields. There came R.I. Page (Parker Librarian), David Wilson, Christine Fell, Richard Gem, Martin Carver, James Graham-Campbell, Leslie Webster, and Mildred Budny (Senior Research Associate at the Parker Library and now the Director of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence). The aim was to bring together different forms of expertise, both “bookish” and practical, to consider illustrations in the manuscripts themselves as witnesses for daily life, Anglo-Saxon in particular.
Too often, we had observed, illustrations from manuscripts found their way into publications with accompanying texts and captions having little recognition of the complexity which the visual evidence might carry. Not necessarily could images from the “troves” of extensively illustrated manuscripts serve the appointed purposes, given a clearer awareness of the characteristics, or degrees of “veracity”, which those images possess. For example, however “convincing” or tempting, the scenes in some Anglo-Saxon manuscripts of the Psychomachia by the 5th-century Spanish poet Prudentius might be as illustrations for Anglo-Saxon life, it is worth knowing that those manuscripts derive, by definition, from earlier manuscripts, and that some of the surviving manuscripts made in Continental centers show very similar objects, costumes, hairstyles, gestures, buildings, weapons, and drinking vessels.
Seated around the reading table of the Library, the members of the Seminar could directly examine some manuscripts in the Library’s collection and some facsimiles of others. Thus, for example, we could compare Corpus MS 23, Part I, and its Psychomachia, skillfully illustrated with coloured-outline drawings, with the monochrome plates printed in the monumental publication of Die illustrierten prudentius-Handschriften by Richard Stettiner (1905); and with the printed facsimiles edited respectively by Israel Gollancz (1927) of the Caedmon Manuscript of Old English Poetry (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Junius MS 11); by C.R. Dodwell and Peter Clemoes (1974) of the Illustrated Old English Hexateuch (London, British Library, Cotton MS Claudius B IV); and by M.R. James (1935) of the Eadwine Psalter (Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.17.1).
Other Corpus manuscripts brought into view included:
- MS 41, with its initials showing secular figures (a hanged man included)
- MS 183
- MS 389, with its partly finished frontispiece figures of scribe, author, and king, plus scribal implements, hangings (that is, curtains, in the literal rather than the figurative sense), throne, and edifice.
Other manuscripts, too, brought to the table, revealed their flyleaf sketches, scribbles, and drawings of elements, finished or unfinished, which related to our theme.
Needless, perhaps, to say, given the gathering, frequent mention was made of artefacts, weapons, jewelry, and vessels of various kinds known from archaeological excavations (Sutton Hoo and its Ship Burial notably included). It was agreed that the experience of collective examination of the evidence, in the company of relevant expertise in diverse fields, was worth repeating.
And so was launched the vigorous series of Seminars, plus some Workshops, which took place at frequent intervals for the next few years at the Parker Library, with some held in other centers in England and Japan. Soon, the series took the theme of “The Evidence of Manuscripts”, partly as the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence itself took shape, designed its logo, chose its name, created its letterhead, and acquired momentum with “resident” members and Associates from elsewhere (whose names appeared on the footer of our letterhead, in increasing numbers).
The logo and the letterhead of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence at the Parker Library soon came to carry the Invitations to the seminars and workshops. The Research Group organized these events, sometimes in association with other organizations: the Cambridge College Consortium, the British Library, Pembroke College and the English Faculty of the University of Oxford, and several universities in Japan, along with the Japan Society for Medieval English Studies. Summary reports of almost all these events appeared within the pages of the Annual Reports to the Leverhulme Trust, that is, pertaining to the time span of the Research Project funded by that body from 1 October 1989 to 30 September 1994. (See our Publications.)
Now, for our upgraded website, we present illustrated Reports of the full set, as each of these events in the Series of Seminars on the Evidence of Manuscripts finds a place of its own.
The recipe was fairly simple, and effective. With hindsight, it could be described thus, although the order of the steps might vary or overlap:
Pick your Subject. To do with Manuscripts, of course. (We were researching manuscripts full-time, intensely and collaboratively, so subjects abounded.) Think of People working on It or interested in It. (By definition, It is a Good Thing.) Choose a date and place. Send out invitations. (Don’t forget lunch.) Set out the manuscripts for inspection and consultation. (Or, in other places, bring photographs, usually in the form of an exhibition.) Start talking. (Don’t forget to listen as well.) Ask and answer questions. Pose more questions. Refine the quest. Have another look. Repeat.
Bringing scholars and students together to look at the books, consider their challenges, confer about the questions, reconsider the materials in the light of new or reviewed evidence, and recognize the advances in knowledge, new questions included — this experience could enlarge understanding and refresh the quest for further exploration.
The Archives of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence, based in Princeton, New Jersey, since October 1994, preserve some records of this full Series of Seminars and Workshops. Most were called “Seminars”, but some were called “Workshops”.
All proceeded by Invitation, almost always in the form of a collective Letter, almost always generated by word-processing and laser-printed or photocopied for circulation. The text of the Letters usually occupies a single page, although some extent onto a second page. The Archive preserves the dot-matrix-printed “original”, sometimes with proof-corrections, for a few of the Invitation Letters, to be printed out on the letterhead. The letterhead itself varied over time, with the addition of names.
Usually the Letters include RSVP slips or full-page forms. The Archive retains the responses for some of the Seminars, with the signatures and sometimes also with comments by the respondents. It is noticeable that the full-page versions of the RSVP forms encouraged the addition of comments, extending them partly into the realms of correspondence.
The Archive also preserves some letters or cards which precede or follow a given Seminar, copies of the handouts which accompanied some Seminars, notes and outlines relating to the subjects, planning, and manuscripts for display. For a few Seminars there are handwritten Reports or “Minutes” prepared during the event.
Only for the first Seminar do our Archives lack an Invitation Letter. For that one, there are, however, the originals of the letters to the Librarian from Patrick Wormald, Richard Gem, and Leslie Webster, respectively responding to “your invitation”, “the invitation to your ‘Special Seminar’ “, or “your letter”. There also is the handwritten text of a telephone message on 19 May from Richard Sharpe at Oxford, with “apologies”, that he could not “attend the meeting tomorrow.” Leslie Webster’s letter, dated 7 April, states that “I would be delighted to stand and gloat, especially if we are going to argue about whether illustrations can be used as evidence for Anglo-Saxon life, or whatever passed for it in those days. Good lord, there could be something in all this.”
“Legal Manuscripts, Their Make-Up and Contents”.
That December meeting was the first Seminar in the Series to occur during the tenure of the Leverhulme Trust Research Project. Reports of the Seminars from that time forward appeared in the Annual Reports to the Leverhulme Trust, listed in our Publications.
Therefore, given that timeframe and set of obligations, this very Post (You Are Here) presents the first published report of the First Seminar, which turned into the first of a whole Series.
The Research Group Archives contain the handwritten Reports, in the form of Minutes or outlined Minutes, for several of the Seminars, as mentioned in their individual posts on this site.
Forum for Discourse
Another Seminar considered a similar theme to the very first Seminar, and in part arose from its focus and discussions:
Another Seminar focused upon Corpus MS 23, the subject of detailed study in connection with its conservation, its photography, and the advancing progress on the Research Project overall:
“Corpus Christi College MSS 23 and 223: The Corpus Prudentius and the Saint-Bertin Prudentius”
Parker Library, June 1992
Feedback and Publication
Over time, there accumulated a collective body of enhanced knowledge, including in-house knowledge, grounded upon close and long-term observation of the evidence of the manuscripts and their contexts. An important part of that growth resided in, and resulted from, the intensive series of Seminars and Workshops which accompanied the full-time research work, advised by many experts both on site and in other sites, conferences included.
By 1992, the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence began its preparations to sponsor its own Sessions at the Annual International Congress on Medieval Studies (which Mildred Budny had attended since the mid-1980s), starting with the 1993‒1995 Congresses. By such means, including the presentations, Photographic Exhibitions, and discussions as part of these multiple Congress Activities, it was possible both to disseminate knowledge about the research work, its progress, and its discoveries, and to gather feedback for enhancing and promoting that process.
In time, many results from such collaborative research and generous feedback could be reported in the co-publication of the 2-volume Illustrated Catalogue of Insular, Anglo-Saxon, and Early Anglo-Norman Manuscript Art at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (1997) by Mildred Budny.
- MS 23, Part I (the Corpus Prudentius) = Budny Number 24
- MS 41 (The Corpus Old English Bede) = Budny Number 32
- MS 183 (King Athelstan’s Presentation Copy of Bede’s Life of Saint Cuthbert and Other Texts)
= Budny Number 12
- MS 389 (The Lives of Eremetical Saints by Saint Jerome and Felix) = Budny Number 23
- MS 23, Part I (the Corpus Prudentius) = Budny Number 24
You, too, might have your very own copy of the Illustrated Catalogue. We invite you to consider the special Promotional Offer for the set of volumes, now that its distribution has been transferred to the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence, following changes in Direction at the catalogue’s co-publisher, Medieval Institute Publications. With the companion volumes of Text and Plates, designed as a pair, you might turn the pages, comparing text and image as they unfold across time and space. You might also like to admire its design, structure, and observations of, as well as cumulative reflections upon, a remarkable series of manuscripts, texts, and illustrations — medieval and early modern scribbles and doodles included.
Reflecting upon the processes of design and choices which led to the publication of the catalogue, and the processes which emerged, in part, from its achievement, we are preparing an Interview with our Font and Layout Designer (Bembino included). Coming soon to a screen near you.
We invite you also, on the Pages of this website, to stroll through the the Series of Seminars on the Evidence of Manuscripts, as well as our Congress Activities and other Events over the years since these beginnings, on a mild, clear day in May 1989, of a long-term and dedicated series of collaborative scholarly meetings organized by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence.