03.04.09, Scott , An Index of Images in English Manuscripts

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Maidie Hilmo

The Medieval Review baj9928.0304.009


Scott, Kathleen, ed.. An Index of Images in English Manuscripts, from the time of Chaucer to Henry VII, c.1380 - c.1509: The Bodleian Library, Vol. 1: MSS Additional - Digby; Vol. 2: MSS Dodsworth - Marshall; Vol. 3: MSS e Musaeo - Wood. Turnhout, Belgium: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2000. Pp. 143. ISBN: 1-872-50115-X. Vol. 1: 1-872501-15-x, Vol. 2: 1872501176, Vol. 3: 1-872501-27-3.

Reviewed by:
Maidie Hilmo
University of Victoria

Including all pictorial representations in English manuscripts from c. 1380-1509 now in the Bodleian Library, these 3 volumes, or rather, fascicles, contain a treasure trove of information useful to students and specialists whose interests range from generally cultural to scientific topics. It is one of the great advantages of this project that there has not been any subjective attempt to include only illustrations judged to be aesthetically pleasing to modern tastes. Rather, as stated in the Introduction to the first fascicle, the pictorial subjects in these manuscripts are the ones originally intended for an appendix to the manuscripts catalogued in Kathleen Scott's two-volume Later Gothic Manuscripts 1390-1490 (A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, vol. 6 [London: Harvey Miller, 1996]). There she aimed to include manuscripts "of exceptional artistic quality" (I.10), but here "any kind of representative image, regardless of artistic quality" was included (III.12). The extensive amount of this material not subsequently destined as an appendix of Later Gothic Manuscripts formed the basis of the work by the scholars collaborating on this project under the general editorship of Kathleen L. Scott.

Accordingly, Fascicle I, alphabetically covering the manuscripts in the Bodleian collections with shelf mark titles from Additional to Digby, was catalogued by Ann Eljenholm Nichols, Michael T. Orr, Kathleen L. Scott, and Lynda Dennison; Fascicle II, covering MSS Dodsworth to Marshall, was catalogued by Lynda Dennison, Martha W. Driver, Ann Eljenholm Nichols, and Kathleen L. Scott; and Fascicle III, covering MSS e Musaeo to Wood, was catalogued by Lynda Dennison, Michael T. Orr, and Kathleen L. Scott. What is striking about this organizational principle is that it makes apparent how the interests of various collectors often determined which works have survived.

An insight into the immense task involved is given in the Preface to the first fascicle that describes how the librarians provided each of the researchers a "daily allowance of ten manuscripts week after week with unstinting friendliness, patience, and humor" (8). Such a project would have been impossible without securing the cooperation and, indeed, expertise, of the librarians concerned, as well as that of the many other scholars consulted in the process. In total, some 1057 works were examined page by page.

In addition to the catalogue itself, each fascicle includes extensive aids to its use. This means that every book is self-contained and does not require an additional supplement; but it also means that a large proportion of the pages of each these fascicles is devoted to such aids which are repeated with only minor changes from one to the next. Each has a Users' Manual ranging from 12 to 14 pages in length. This is divided into 7 sections: Scope of the Search, Cataloguing the Manuscripts, Principles of Pictorial Description, The Template: Opening Headings, The Template: Pictorial Information, The Template: Costume of Specialized Interest, and Headings under 'Other Information'.

These are subdivided still further. For instance, the Scope of the Search defines an English manuscript as one written by an English scribe and decorated in an English style anywhere from the late fourteenth century until the death of Henry VIII. The pictorial scope includes recognizable representations of people, animals, imaginary figures or objects. Each catalogue entry, as mentioned in Cataloguing the Manuscripts, lists the shelf mark, contents, and date (admittedly one of the most difficult to ascertain in many cases). Not included are physical descriptions of the manuscript such as the material, script, or binding, nor are the names of scribes or artists mentioned. Interestingly, for those readers concerned with various forms of iconoclasm or censorship, an attempt has been made to include, in the relevant catalogue entries, reference to erased or rubbed miniatures. Under the Principles of Pictorial Description section on excluded works, it is stated that Irish, Scottish, and Welsh manuscripts are not included. Neither crosses occurring within a text nor diagrams without representational elements are mentioned.

It is important for the reader to pay attention to the Template that immediately precedes the highly condensed catalogue because it gives the order and specific information that is itemized. This includes not only the shelf mark, author/contents, and dates lines, but also pictorial information about the types of miniatures, from full-page miniatures to historiated initials and from representations in ascenders to those in line endings. Costumes of special interest are noted -- for example, those of estates, occupations, religious, and secular women -- but only their presence is affirmed with a "yes." The same is true of Coats of Arms, which are also listed together in a special Index of Manuscripts with Coats of Arms, but the particular arms are not specified A valuable Glossary of Subjects and Terms immediately follows the catalogue entries.

The User's Manual explains that since "it is not always feasible to indicate the language of a text through its title (e.g., when using "Miscellany"), the language of a text will be shown by the following: (Lat.), (Eng.), or (Fr.) at the end of the Author/contents line. The language of Missals, Brevaries, Psalters, Pontificals, and Books of Hours can be assumed to be Latin, unless otherwise noted" (I.21). Sometimes the titles or Incipits indicate the language. Occasionally, when the language is not given, it is difficult to ascertain the language, especially when the subject/title is in modern English. The Index is sometimes frustratingly inconsistent concerning the language of the manuscripts. For example, Add. B. 60 (29179) is described as a "Miscellany, medical," but its language is not stated. On the other hand, the entry for Ashmole 1397, which is a "Miscellany, medical and herbal," gives the added information that it is in "Lat. and Eng." In her Introduction to the third fascicle Kathleen Scott rightly observes that the following manuscripts continue "to show strong interest in the popular contemporary vernacular writers of the fifteenth century" (9). Accordingly, because this subject is of particular concern to modern scholarship, it would be most useful if future fascicles were to make clear, in each case, which language(s) a manuscript contains. In addition to the Indexes of Authors and Texts, of Pictorial Subjects, and of Manuscripts with Coats of Arms that appear at the end of each fascicle, an Index of Manuscripts containing English (and perhaps also, one for French) would be desirable.

The Index of Authors and Texts lists authors by their first name, followed by their family name or place name. This, incidentally, produces a great many items following "John." These range from John Acton to John Wyclif. The latter is cross-listed under Wyclif, but the former is not cross-listed under Aston. Texts without an author or title are slotted in alphabetically under Incipits, which also gives an indication of their language, as in the item "For the flyx tak plantain" (I.110).

Perhaps of greatest assistance to scholars, in addition to the catalogue, is the meticulously itemized Index of Pictorial Subjects. This makes fascinating reading on its own, gives a good overview of the subjects chosen for illustration and, often, indicates the preoccupations characterizing this historical period. There is no doubt it will be mined extensively for future research. To give a small, and perhaps an amusing example, the reader perusing the catalogue of the third fascicle might be struck by the number of times mention is made of representations with a "protruding tongue." In Fascicle III, for the relevant Index entry for "Profile head(s)," and under the subcategory "with tongue protruding," there are no less than 14 manuscripts containing such representations; Fascicle I has the same number and Fascicle II has 19. That is not the end of it -- still in Fascicle III. under "Animal," there are further subcategories listing protruding tongues for dog (1), dragon (4), horse (1), lion (2), non-specific animal heads (4), and, if one checks, the relevant catalogue entry, an apocalyptic beast with a protruding gold tongue. In the section for edge-of-text images in the User's Manual the suggestion is made that profile heads "probably served a nota bene function," which is likely true, but context would determine a great deal more. One cannot but wonder if the profile heads with protruding tongues emphasized a speech function more dramatically, often but not necessarily indicating defiance on the part of the text's scribe/illustrator or speaker, as is perhaps the case of Trajan, whose profile head mocks book learning in this way on folio 56 of the Douce 104 manuscript of Piers Plowman. Suggestively intimating the scribe's attitude upon having finished another quire, a profile head sticks out his tongue, which is extended through a scroll with a catchword, as shown in Fig. 22 (Fascicle II), which illustrates a Brut Chronicle in Douce 323. This item is not indexed under the subcategory of "protruding tongue" but rather, under the sequence: "Profile head" / "with tongue" / "extended through scroll." In Fascicle I, Fig. 18 [Fig. 20 (sic) in Cat. No. 112], from Barlow 11 containing the "Form and Order of Profession of Benedictine Nuns," the protruding tongue demonstrates an instance of calligraphic whimsy and cleverness in that it forms the middle bar of the calligraphic initial "E." Such instances demonstrate the level of detail in the Index (and I haven't touched upon the instances of, simply, "Head" with "protruding tongue", nor, in Fascicle II, tongues that are "pointed," "spotted," "striped," or "twisted"). The Index of Pictorial Subjects is obviously a tremendous resource not only for scholars already interested in a particular topic but for those browsing its contents.

The black and white illustrations at the end of each fascicle -- 24 at the end of the first two and 12 at the end of the third -- demonstrate some of these pictorial subjects and integrate well with the explanations given in the User's Manual. The inscriptions for each illustration give the shelf mark, subject, and catalogue number, but it would have been advantageous to identify the work, author, and date as well (where these are known).

In her Introduction to the third fascicle, Kathleen Scott summarizes some findings that resulted from the work on these Bodleian manuscripts. "Perhaps the most interesting," she suggests, is that "the majority of images were made either by scribes or by extracurricular artists adding to a manuscript with pen and ink rather than by a professional artist using colors and gold and hired to do the job" (11-12). A further implication of this, it seems to me, is that we need seriously to reconsider the function of many such additions by scribe-illustrators as more than just thoughtless decoration or doodles made by artists unfamiliar with the texts. Scott astutely emphasizes that the importance of the scribe with his pen, observing that "pen and ink were fundamental to the creation and to the full and proper functioning of a book" (12). The empty spaces, she notes, "invited the medieval reader or owner either to add aspects of his or her personality or to make up for perceived failures in the book in the form of images or further text" (12). Unique hand-made medieval manuscripts appear to have stimulated participation in the reading process to a far greater extent than did mechanically printed books, coming into production during the latter part of the period covered by these fascicles.

This project involved a labor of love and extraordinary stamina and dedication on the part of all who contributed. Scholars will find these fascicles indispensable and will continue to benefit as future fascicles in the Index of Images project tackle the images in manuscripts in other collections in Great Britain and America.

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Author Biography

Maidie Hilmo

University of Victoria