Lynn Ransom

title.none: Kidd, Medieval Manuscripts (Lynn Ransom)

identifier.other: baj9928.0402.029 04.02.29

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Lynn Ransom, The Walters Art Museum,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Kidd, Peter. Medieval Manuscripts from the Collection of T.R. Buchanan in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Oxford: Alden Press, 2001. Pp. xliii, 209. 1-85124-059-4. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.02.29

Kidd, Peter. Medieval Manuscripts from the Collection of T.R. Buchanan in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Oxford: Alden Press, 2001. Pp. xliii, 209. 1-85124-059-4. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Lynn Ransom
The Walters Art Museum

Many catalogues of medieval manuscripts succeed in giving precise and informative descriptions of individual books. A good catalogue description should allow the reader to make a virtual examination of a manuscript before trekking off to see it, saving valuable research time and expense. Details of codicology, binding structures, contents, decoration, provenance, and supportive bibliography are de rigeur in such catalogues these days. The keenness of the cataloguer's eye and his or her range of knowledge and experience will determine the success of the catalogue in accomplishing the aforementioned goal. Peter Kidd's catalogue of a small collection of manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Medieval Manuscripts from the Collection of T. R. Buchanan in the Bodleian Library, Oxford is in this way successful. His entries provide clear, informed descriptions of each manuscript, and his attention to detail is remarkable. Rarely, however, are a cataloguer's talents also turned toward putting an entire collection of books under similar scrutiny, resulting in a sense of where those books have been and how they came to be together. Kidd does exactly this with the small collection of twenty-four medieval manuscripts given to the Bodleian Library in 1939 and 1941 by the widow of Thomas Ryburn Buchanan, Mrs. Emily Octavia Buchanan.

Kidd's study of the collecting habits of the Buchanan family between c.1857 to the time of the donation offers a glimpse into the practice of nineteenth-century booksellers and collectors, a fascinating area of study not only for the history of book collecting but also for the historiography of medieval cultural artifacts. The vogue for things medieval in the nineteenth and twentieth century led to the formation of several very important private collections of medieval art in which illuminated manuscripts were some of the most avidly sought after and highly prized objects. Not the least to be recognized are those that now reside in the United States, two of the greatest being the collections of J. Pierpont Morgan of New York and Henry Walters of Baltimore. These collectors made access to a wide range of material possible for modern audiences, either through opening their private libraries to the public or through bequests to established libraries, as the widow Buchanan did with her husband's collection.

Relying primarily on evidence found within the manuscripts themselves, Kidd is able to reconstruct the Buchanan family's collecting practices and to identify the dealers, arguing that Thomas Buchanan's father and uncle actually started the collection. Kidd's evidence for the acquisition history of the books includes remaining signatures, inscribed dates, and a small notebook in the possession of Mrs. Buchanan that was transcribed by Noel Denholm-Young, Keeper of Western Manuscripts at the time of the donation. He also makes use of the distinctive price-codes and other annotations inscribed on the pastedowns as well as old catalogue entries found in the manuscripts to identify booksellers and trace provenance. Photographs of some of these annotations and the full pastedown of one of the manuscripts, MS. Buchanan c.1, showing the posthumous book label of William Morris made by the English collector Richard Bennett, nicely illustrate his argument and provide visual documentation for further research.[[1]]

In truth, Kidd's reconstruction of the acquisition history forms only the introduction to the catalogue (xiii-xxix). The rest of the book is devoted to the catalogue. As mentioned above, the catalogue describes the twenty-four medieval manuscripts in the Buchanan collection. [[2]] Over half of the manuscripts, sixteen to be exact, are books of hours from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a typical proportion reflecting the tastes of nineteenth-century collectors. Most of these are French, but there are notable exceptions in a late fifteenth-century Italian hours, illuminated by an artist following the style of Giovanni di Giuliano Boccardi and Mariano del Buono di Jacopo (MS. Buchanan g.1), and a Flemish hours attributed to the illuminator William Vrelant (MS. Buchanan e.18). Two Dutch hours in the translation of Geert Grote, founder of the Devotio moderna movement, and a Brigittine breviary produced in the diocese of Liege offer fine examples of fifteenth century Netherlandish illumination (MSS. Buchanan f.1, f.3, and f.2, respectively). Also of note are a late thirteenth-century Flemish psalter, possibly from Ghent, with remains of the original binding (MS. Buchanan g. 2), and three Italian humanist texts (MSS. Buchanan c.1, d.4, and e.15).

The entries are meticulously written, thorough observations of each manuscript. The body of each entry is divided into six sections: Text, Decoration, Physical Description, Binding, Provenance, and Bibliography. Kidd's keen eye lets no detail go unmentioned, resulting in an extremely precise picture of the manuscript. I could give examples here, but by the grace of modern technology and a grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which stipulated that the catalogue be made available electronically (xxxvi), one may go directly to the Bodleian Library's website and find an electronic copy of this catalogue at the following address: The electronic text reproduces everything in the print version with the exception of the illustrations and the general index and the index of incipits. It is curious to me why those things are not included since they are quite useful, but the author does note that a cumulative electronic index of this and other catalogues of the medieval and post-medieval materials is in the works (xxxvi).

The printed version of Medieval Manuscripts from the Collection of T. R. Buchanan in the Bodleian Library, Oxford does little more than the electronic version other than offer one or two black and white illustrations per manuscript and the indices. The illustrations are not of the best quality, and therefore do not provide much more than a visual reference. This reviewer is hard-pressed to recommend one version over the other, especially when one of those versions is free to anyone with access to the internet. Regardless of which version is used, the catalogue will appeal to those interested in historical collections. Although there are no particularly spectacular manuscripts, many will find the contents of the collection well worth a look. Kidd's descriptions are masterful and filled with archaeological precision, granting his audience a virtual tour of each manuscript.


[[1]] Bennett purchased Morris' collection after his death in 1896, then later sold it to various buyers.

[[2]] The whole of the Buchanan manuscript collection consists of seventeen later manuscripts, previously catalogued in Mary Clapinson and T. D. Rogers, Summary Catalogue of Post-Medieval Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, acquisitions 1916-1975 (SC 37300-55936), 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991).