Friday, May 18, 2012


A color illustration of a man by a tree, interrupted by a doodle of a face.We recently digitized one of our nicest humanist manuscripts: a copy of Terence's Comoediae sex cum argumentis produced in Ferrara in 1462, just a few years prior to the introduction of the printing press in Italy. You can see it in its digital glory, or come in and feel the vellum for the full sensory experience.

A manuscript page beginning with a single ornamented initial.
 We have another 15th-century Terence that is worth looking at for comparison: Comodiae (Strassburg: Johann Gruninger, 1496). While the manuscript has a simple design connoting a quiet dignity, with many annotations in a contemporary hand, the printed copy from 1496 is far more extravagant and theatrical. Not only does it contain dozens of hand-colored woodcuts and ample rubrication, it also has a prankster's doodles (date unknown) throughout.

A color illustration at the bottom of a printed page. Several doodles decorate the margins and the illustration.
The manuscript is Codex MS 001999, and the book is Incun 125.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Order of the Golden Fleece

A page of handwritten text with a blue and gold initial.We continue to build our collection of vernacular secular manuscripts with our latest acquisition, The Statutes of the Order of the Golden Fleece. It was most likely produced in 1531 at the request of Charles V to be distributed to all of the knights of the Order. This copy is utilitarian in that it was meant to be used, but also had enough decorative flourish to make it a treasured object.

At first, it seems the manuscript is an anachronism: 80 years after the invention of moveable type, it is still entirely done by hand. But printing in the early hand-press era demanded scale to make it profitable. If you only needed 50 copies (and the Order of the Golden Fleece was limited to 50 members) then it would have been cheaper to produce manuscript copies than set the type and print them. Generally speaking, printing only pays for itself after about 200 copies, but then it can become quite profitable. Still, members of the Order would have expected something more dignified than print, and this manuscript fits the bill.

A page of handwritten text with colored initials.
The description of the manuscript from Les Enluminures included this account of the Order and the manuscript in hand:
The most renowned of all chivalric orders, the Order of the Golden Fleece was founded in 1430 by Phillip the Good, duke of Burgundy (1396-1467) "out of respect for God and for the advancement of the Christian Faith." It was instituted as a Burgundian alternative to the influential Order of the Garter, founded in 1348 by Edward III, and designed to strengthen the allegiance of Phillip's vassals and friendly foreign states to his realm.

The Order of the Golden Fleece, whose first chapter was held in 1431, came to be considered the highest order of knighthood. It originally included twenty-four knights; the 1431 statutes fixed the number admitted to 31 (later increased to 51 by Charles V in 1516, and then to sixty-two by Philip IV) and four officers (Chancellor, Treasurer, King of Arms, and Greffier). Upon being inducted as a member, each knight received, in addition to the famous collar from which a gold enameled pendant of the Golden Fleece was suspended, a copy of the Statutes—also referred to as a "quayer de l’ordre"—most often in manuscript form and copied on vellum. The official language of the Order, and therefore of the manuscripts, was the langue bourguignonne, but from the sixteenth century some manuscripts were copied in Latin. Following the death of a knight, the copy of the Statutes and the collar were supposed to be returned to the Archives of the Order, but this rule was not rigorously respected and numerous copies of the Statutes remained in circulation.

This manuscript is a copy of the Statutes enacted in 1531 after the chapter held in Tournai; it includes the thirteen additions made to the statutes up to that year. The manuscript was certainly copied before 1545, the year of the chapter held in Utrecht where a new draft of the Statutes was instituted with 68 articles rather than the traditional 66. During the chapter of 1531, complaints were voiced concerning the numerous copies of the Statutes in circulation whose content was both erroneous and incomplete. Hence the greffier Laurent de Blioul was ordered by Charles V (1500-1558) to have 50 new exemplars copied, some in French, others in Latin, complete with thirteen added articles, to be distributed to all the knights (Reiffenberg, 1830, p. 382-7, and de Lannoy, 2000, p. 38). Payment for sixteen copies was recorded in October, 1532 (Korteweg in Cockshaw and Van den Bergen-Pantens, 1966, p. 43, note 48). The present manuscript is probably one of these "revised" copies (Korteweg, in Cockshaw and Van den Bergen-Pantens, 1966, p. 43, note 50 lists nine additional copies in public collections). Presumably most of the existing knights already owned luxury illuminated copies of the text, which they would not want to discard, so they would have needed relatively plain, practical volumes (such as the present one), with an accurate text, rather than a new lavishly illuminated copy. 
You can see it by asking for  Codex MS 003234.