New, old, and missing digitized manuscripts

As you might have read in our previous post concerning the DMMapp 3.0, one of the best features is that now we can easily see which links in our database are broken, along with quickly adding what we receive via the missing library form.

Now you see me…

Let’s start with the good news: It took us a while, but we are happy to have added the Ruusbroecgenootschap and Universiteitsbibliotheek Antwerpen to the list. Previously we had already a link for the University Library of Antwerp, but we were kindly provided with a better links to the catalog, where you can access digitized versions of the manuscripts from both the collections. We have also removed a duplicate link we noticed, always from Antwerp.

But wait! There’s more!

We have also added nine new repositories:

  • Medievalia: Fundamental texts of medieval Romanian culture
  • Pomeranian Library of Szczecin
  • Christ Church College
  • University of British Columbia
  • Pembroke College
  • St Catharine’s College
  • Univerzitná knižnica v Bratislava (University Library, Bratislava)
  • Durham Cathedral Library
  • Rakow Library, Corning Museum of Glass
St Catharine’s College MS 4 (Cicero, Laelius de Amicitia)
St Catharine’s College MS 4 (Cicero, Laelius de Amicitia)

…now you don’t!

Repositories are like organisms: they evolve, they change, they improve, they move. Sometimes, unfortunately, they simply disappear. This month we noticed ten broken links in our database, and we went on to fix them.

In five cases we had no problem: we found where the new links were and we restored the accessibility (301 Redirect, webmasters!) In the remaining five cases we were unfortunately unable to find the new links to digitized manuscripts and we were forced to remove the links from the DMMapp [ 1 ]The change is documented on our GitHub

These are the repositories we were unable to find any longer:
• Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek
• Greenslade Archives and Special Collections
• Museum Plantin-Moretus
• Benediktinerinnenkloster (Neuburg a.d.Donau)
• Moravian Land Library

DCL MS B.II.9 St Jerome on the minor Old Testament prophets
DCL MS B.II.9 St Jerome on the minor Old Testament prophets

We are especially concerned for the Plantin Moretus Museum in Antwerp. The website reads: “The library of approximately 25,000 old printed books and 638 manuscripts can be explored in Antwerp’s Anet library network.” [ 2 ]Stated on their website This usually means that access to the digitized books is restricted to the people who are within a limited network, while the rest of the world can’t see the content. There is a highlight page where a single folio of three (out of 638!) manuscripts are shown. [ 3 ]The other three folios are here That’s quite little.
We did find some manuscripts in their online catalogue with a link to the digitized item, which, unfortunately does not load.

But we might be blind so, please, if you know where the digitized manuscripts from the repositories mentioned above can now be accessed, do let us know!

The code update is visible as always on GitHub. You can follow this specific file to be notified every time we update the DMMapp database.

Footnotes   [ + ]

DMMapp 3.0!

We have been working hard, and we are super-proud to announce that the DMMapp 3.0 is out there and available for everyone to explore and enjoy!

Critics say:

“It’s the best DMMapp yet!”
“It just works!”
“10/10 would DMMapp again”

No they don’t, but we like to imagine they do! Let’s go and see what has happened in the past months.

The new DMMapp 3.0
The new DMMapp 3.0

What has Changed in the DMMapp? And Why?

What we wanted to address in this release were two things: maintainability and usability of the DMMapp.

We’ll start with the latter: the DMMapp 2.0 worked fine; but “fine” was not good enough in our opinion.

We believed that there was no need for two different tabs [ 1 ]“Data” tab, and the actual “map”, but rather we thought that there should be a single tab where the user could choose what to see and explore. In our vision, the data and the map should have been in a single page, interacting with each other. Furthermore, we considered the filtering tool inadequate and rather clunky.

With these two problems in mind, we went to work: we implemented an omni-search box that replaced the old, clunky, filtering method: just type any text in the search box, and the app will start filtering instantaneously the results as you type: Searching for libraries in “London”? Type it in, and magically the list will display only the libraries from that city. Want to know which libraries are from Italy? Type “Italy”, and ta-daah! – only the libraries in Italy are displayed.

That took care of the filtering, but what about the “Single tab” dream? We addressed that too: The table interacts with the map now! [ 2 ]Datatable and Google Maps simply didn’t like each other. Google Fusion Tables is also a non-Mobile Friendly solution. A good 15% of the traffic ...continue After you find the library you want to browse in the table, you tap on the table and you will be taken to the map. The link to your library will appear, zoomed in and highlighted, on the map. All that is left to do is tap the button and off you go to the manuscripts from the institutions you chose!

If you simply want to browse the map you can still do that too!
Continue reading →

Footnotes   [ + ]

The DMMapp 2.0!

dmmapp 2.0

An improved DMMapp is on the way!

“We are dedicated to making digitized collections as easy to access as possible.” That’s the objective of the DMMapp Beta. Since its release, the DMMapp has been linking digital repositories to it users; but we believe it can always be better. That is why we have been reworking the app and are now releasing a public beta version for users to test and give us feedback.

With this release we particularly wanted to address various issues, mainly regarding performance and usability.

dmmapp 2.0
A sneak-peak behind the scenes!

The Map and the searchable database

The map is awesome, and we have lots of fun in randomly clicking on the pins to (re)discover a collection; but it can be impractical for users that are searching for a specific library (or city, or anything.) Yes, there are filters, but it is not the fastest, nor handiest way to go around. This is why we created the “Data-page” some time ago: no fancy graphics, but a super-fast filterable table.

The issue with the current version of the DMMapp is that its two souls (map and data pages) behave like two different entities: when you go to the DMMapp, and then click on “Data”, the page has to reload, instead of being a streamlined experience. A far from perfect. Plus, we are not on the fastest servers ever, and it can take quite some seconds before the page loads, and every reload means that server resources are being used, and that the whole blog will be slowed down.

Therefore, in the DMMapp 2.0 we have made it so that map and data load simultaneously, and that switching between map and data is instantaneous!

“You get to contribute! You get to contribute! Everyone gets to contribute!”

The DMMapp has been on GitHub for years, but we have never really promoted its presence there until now. GitHub is a place where people share their code. It’s where the base for the DMMapp was found.

Well, let it be know that it is there and it’s for you to play with. There are issues that you can help fixing (typos, dirty code, bugs…) We have dropped the foundations for the tool, but it is open to everyone to improve, like it should be! So, come and have fun with the code of the current DMMapp branch!

Even if you love codices more than code, you can give a look at what we are doing and where the DMMapp is going.

CDNs for a faster DMMapp

We have outsourced some the scripts necessary to make the DMMapp 2.0 run (jQuery, for example.) Again, we use dirt-cheap servers and we cannot use many resources from them (remember, we are just two guys with no founding from anyone!). In the original DMMapp we used our own scripts coming from our own server, now these are delivered by CDNs (content delivery networks) in order to put less strain on the server and leverage on their speed. The downside is that, in case of an update on these scripts, the DMMapp might break. This possibility is remote, and we believe that the advantages of using CDNs outweigh the risks, for now.

Desktop, tablet, and mobile

We want the DMMapp to be usable on every device: are you at special collections and need to check if another library has a digital version of a manuscript? IPad next to you? DMMapp! At home, bored, and feel like exploring some digital collections? Laptop? DMMapp! On the train, sudden urge to see how many libraries have digitized manuscripts in Spain? IPhone? Android phone? Windows phone? DMMapp!

That is the goal. We are almost there, but not quite. What’s not working? You can see it on GitHub, and try to fix it if you want!

“DMMapp 2.0? Cool, I want to try it!”

Feel like giving the DMMapp 2.0 a try? Please visit the public beta and let us know what you think about it!

Digitized Manuscript from the Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona

Devotionarium - Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona Ms. 1860
Devotionarium – Universitat de Barcelona. CRAI. Manuscrit. Ms. 1860

The Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona one of the many new digitized libraries to the DMMapp (we are now at 500+!). The link to the Barcelona University Library was given to us through a tweet from @Archivalia_kg (he also has an excellent blog in German!)

The Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona website

This is the second digital library from spain we review, with the first one being the Biblioteca Nacional de España. The Universidad de Barcelona (here) is home to 69 digitized manuscripts dating from the 10th century until the 18th. The interface is excellent: The link we provide takes you directly to the manuscripts. Here you can choose to have a “thumbnail” overview of the manuscripts along with the standard list. Manuscripts are completely digitized from front to back, and you are able to download them in rather high-resolution (1500×1200 circa, depending on the manuscript). The images present, in my opinion, an evident “blue” tint, meaning that the there is “too much blue channel” in the digital pictures. The images you see in this post have been processed. Something to keep in mind when looking at the miniatures for research purposes. Furthermore, there is no indication of which folio is being looked at, or being downloaded; only a generic indication of a “page”. The website is available in Catalan, Spanish, and English. The available metadata is quite standard and nothing more: no description of what is being looked at except the title, author, call name, copyrights, etc. A little description on significant folios or miniatures would have been nice to see, but it would be huge quantity of work to be done.

Copyright the Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona

The images from the the Barcelona University Library are public domain, that means that images can be downloaded and used for any purpose.and that’s always a welcome sight! You can share the images on your blog, publish them in your book or thesis, make videos out of them, or anything that comes to your mind. Very good!

Highlights from the Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona

The Universidad de Barcelona digital collection is full of interesting manuscripts to be explored. Here are some examples:

Psalterium - Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona CRAI. Manuscrit. Ms. 165
Psalterium – Universitat de Barcelona. CRAI. Manuscrit. Ms. 165
Liber horarum - Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona CRAI. Manuscrit. Ms. 1841
Liber horarum – Universitat de Barcelona. CRAI. Manuscrit. Ms. 1841

The digitized manuscripts of the Fitzwilliam Museum

Marlay cutting It. 12
Marlay cutting It. 12 – The Burial of St Monica at Ostia (left) and St Augustine Departing for Africa (right).

That little jewel in the in the center of Cambridge that is the Fitzwilliam Museum is home to an extraordinary collection of paintings, engravings, and most importantly for us, digitized medieval manuscripts. These manuscripts are available online (and linked in our app) so we went to give a look to see what wealth is available to us.

The Fitzwilliam Museum’s website

Following the link in on the DMMapp, you are taken directly to a list of all the digitized objects made available from the Fitzwilliam Museum that contain the keyword “manuscript”. As you will notice, on the left there is the possibility to further refine this search by showing objects that contain images, by maker, production place, etc., giving you plenty of control over what you would like to find.

Master of the Murano Gradual
Master of the Murano Gradual, The Dormition of the Virgin from the Gradual of San Mattia in Murano, Venice, c. 1420

Manuscripts are partially digitized and in most cases you will not be able to browse from front to back cover, but you will still be able to look at more than 700 digitized and described objects. The metadata is of alternating quality. In some cases you can read through a detailed description of a manuscript (MS McClean 172 is a perfect example), in others you might find the title and some basic information only (see MS CFMurray 15).

The technical problem with the images is that they are “responsive”. This means that the smaller your screen is, the smaller the digitized image shown will be. Furthermore there is no direct way to view the images full size, or to zoom in and out. That is a bit inconvenient; although a user-friendly solution (you will always see a good image, no matter on what device you are on), it doesn’t help a researcher that might be interested in the small details.
Finally, the size of the images themselves are not amazing. They are actually rather small: with the long side hardly ever going above 720 pixels, one could say they are “HD Ready” more than “Full HD”.

Although rather small and not perfect to navigate, the digitized pages are still an excellent starting point for both researchers and manuscript enthusiasts.

What can I find there?

Fascinating to us is the presence of an inhabited letter attributed to the Master of the Murano Gradual. If you have visited the Getty Museum’s collection after reading our post about it, you will note a striking resemblance to one of the digitized images available there. To prove the quality the descriptions available there, we strongly recommend that you give a look at the notes available on the Fitzwilliam Museum’s page regarding their initial. It narrates a very fascinating story about miniature painting in Italy in the late 14th century.

And don’t forget the miniatures by the “Masters of the Beady Eyes”! Awesome!

Masters of the Beady Eyes
MS 1-1974 – Illumination in the style of the Masters of the Beady Eyes (Maîtres aux Yeux-Bridés), who were active mainly in Ghent during the third quarter of the fifteenth century.

Overall, the Fitzwilliam Museum’s website and its digitized collection is most certainly worth more than a visit. There is a lot of content worth viewing, and navigating through it is a pleasure. Go and see for yourself!

The digital collection of the Openbare Bibliotheek Brugge (Public Library of Bruges)

DE NATURA RERUM [MS. 411] - Detail from the Public Library of Bruges
DE NATURA RERUM [MS. 411] – Detail
As someone who loves manuscripts and medieval culture, you might one day end up in Belgium, exploring Flanders, and you might go to Bruges, which was flourishing in the Middle Ages. The area has produced countless beautiful manuscripts with a very typical and recognizable style of  illuminations now preserved at the Public Library of Bruges.

Bruges’ golden days were in the Middle Ages when it was a very prosperous harbor city that attracted many merchants. The historical city centre today is still much like it was in the Middle Ages which makes it an amazing place to visit for every medievalist (or everyone. Period).

While you are there, there is also a library you should visit: the Openbare Bibliotheek Brugge (OBB) – Public Library of Bruges and its extensive collection, which you can visit here or here.

About the Openbare Bibliotheek Brugge – Public Library of Bruges

Situated in the city center, the OBB is home to volumes that once belonged to various monastery libraries in the area; in 1798 the French government gathered these books into one collection and in 1804 this was handed over to the city of Bruges, where it is now housed in the Public Library of Bruges. The library also possesses manuscripts from the Cistercian abbeys of Ten Duinen and Ter Doest not too far from Bruges.

The Public Library of Bruges is currently doing an excellent job digitizing their manuscripts, and many of these are already available online. Unfortunately, at the moment the databases can only be consulted in Dutch because of government decrees, but worry not! We are here to help you on your way navigating through the collection and find awesome manuscripts!

As always, you can access the Openbare Bibliotheek Brugge via the DMMapp, or you can start by looking at the manuscripts on this page, clicking on them and discovering the rest of the collection on their website. There are various places where you can view the manuscripts, and find information about them:

Over at Flandrica, if you are viewing the full entry of a particular manuscript you can click the images on top to view them bigger. Or you can also view it online if there is the orange button with “Bekijk online”.

A look at the digital manuscripts

The viewer for the manuscripts gives a nice thumbnail overview in the left sidebar to make it easier to navigate and find what you are looking for. It gives a bit the experience of ‘leafing’ through the book. Unfortunately, at the moment the images can be only zoomed to a small degree (click right to zoom) and the images cannot be downloaded or directly shared.

What is very good about the library’s own website is that they give a direct link not only to the digitized manuscript but they also refer you to various other sources about the book such as books, articles or blog posts. Also, the full descriptions of the manuscripts are rich, and in the future they will be expanded with iconographical descriptions.

Under ‘media’ you can see some pictures of the manuscripts, the complete work can be seen through the “Bekijk hier de digitale versie” link. The images in ‘media’ are of good size and quality and can easily shared and/or saved.

In this library you will not only find beautiful examples of the best of medieval Bruges illuminated books of hours. For instance they also preserve a manuscript of the Liber Trotula (work on women’s medicine), an early printed edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses with illuminated borders, a work by Augustine, De Natura Rerum (by Thomas of Cantimpré), a legal manuscript (Justinian) possibly from Bologna, and much much more.

The collections of the Openbare Bibliotheek Brugge are a beautiful showcase of the  treasures from this part of Flanders and are certainly worth visiting, both in real life and digitally.


For some manuscripts you cannot find the digital version, but you can find some images in the blog posts, if they have written about this manuscript in particular.

Finally, we leave you with this fantastic video made by them:

400+ links on the DMMapp!

We are extremely proud to communicate that the DMMapp has now reached (and surpassed… we are adding a few in the next days!) the 400 links milestone! This means that, thanks to everyone’s submissions, we can link to more than 400 libraries, archives, repositories, etc. that are home to digitized medieval manuscripts! You can find the latest additions on our tidy list. Also, here’s a short list of the latest additions:

The DMMapp, as it used to be a year ago.

Does this milestone mark the end of our project? Does the DMMapp project ever end? No and no. The DMMapp is fueled by passion and not by money and that makes all the difference in the world. We managed to create a system that allows us to update the links very quickly and effortlessly, so it is easy for us to update the DMMapp when we receive a new link or an update. It’s very cheap to support and works well. The development of other projects (iPad / iPhone app, Android app, world conquest) takes more time; unfortunately Sexy Codicology and the DMMapp are not our full-time jobs and many things can get in the way.

The DMMapp
The DMMapp today!

The DMMapp: made by its users!

But thankfully we are not in this alone! If you are an active user of the DMMapp, you will have noticed that there are broken links here and there. That is unavoidable as repositories often change web addresses or disappear. We do our best to keep everything updated, but you can help too! If you encounter a broken link, please report it. We will take care of either removing the link completely (since the digitized manuscripts are gone, for example) or update the link with the new address. We are working on creating a button just for that purpose!

Remember, the DMMapp is a crowdsourced project. My colleague and I added the first few links but the ones who made it a really useful resource are its users; it’s you!

A week in Paradise: the Cassino Summer School

Cassino Summer School

How does one describe an amazing experience that involves history, Italy, pizza and a ton of amazing medieval manuscripts coming from the most famous monastery in southern Italy? Let’s try starting from the beginning: From June the 29th until July the 3rd we had the privilege of attending the first Cassino Summer School, or better, the first International Summer School in Cassino (Italy): Trends in Manuscript Studies – Sources, Issues and Technologies, organized by Liber, Libro e Ricerca. It was great, and we would like to share the experience with you readers.


Let’s start from the basics: where did we sleep? We stayed at the hotel “La Pace”. A perfectly fine hotel not too far from Cassino’s town center, decorated with memorabilia from the battles of Cassino during the Second World War. Our room was rather big, with a window pointed directly at the monastery. It was rather special to wake up every morning and see Montecassino up the hill, shining in the sun. A beautiful sight to wake up to. Our only complaint was the Internet connection: We guess everyone was trying to connect to the Web at the same time, but it was super slow, and most of the time we were unable to connect at all. Cassino Summer School
Cassino Summer School

Hands on experience

Although for many Cassino is a synonym of World War Two battles, as the hotel testifies, but for us manuscript lovers it is synonym of Beneventan Script and beautiful books. And that’s just what we got during the Cassino Summer School. It is difficult not to emphasize how extraordinary the manuscripts we had the chance to view, touch, and admire were. In front of us were the most extraordinary treasures of Montecassino. Not behind glass cases, not unturnable pages, not slides. The real, amazing deal. Nowhere else have we had such a display of precious manuscripts only a few centimeters away from our eyes, ready to be explored and studied. It is difficult to describe the emotions and feelings these books bring up. Not only were the manuscripts amazing, but also the locations where the viewing would take place. Imagine this: a warm, sunny summer day in southern Italy, in a monastery full of history, with the sound of cicadas coming in from the windows overlooking the valley down below where you could spot wild boars. All of this while masterpieces a thousand years old lay on a long desk, with passionate lecturers explaining them in every detail possible. It was, and there is really no other word for it, a great experience. Let us stress though, the manuscripts were there to be inspected and browsed (of course, with all the precautions necessary.) Manuscripts that very few people have had the opportunity to see in their lives!

Cassino Summer SchoolExultet Roll from Montecassino

Cassino Summer School’s Classes

Viewing manuscripts during the mornings was awesome, but it is called Cassino Summer School for a reason: there are classes you must attend. They took place at three in afternoon at the Facolta’ di ingegneria in Cassino, at the Aula Magna. The first lecture was given by Francis Newton, author of The Scriptorium and Library at Monte Cassino, 1058-1105, essentially the bible about Beneventan Script and the scriptorium of Montecassino; a wonderful person who keeps on inspiring us in many aspects of our lives. The lectures we placed directly after lunch while everybody had either a pizza or a good lunch into them, in the warm south Italian climate… very high risk of falling asleep! But the lecturers were spoken with true passion which kept us awake. The only real critique that can be made to the Cassino Summer School is this: some of the classes were in Italian only, without a complete translation available, therefore a couple of the classes were difficult to follow for the non-Italian speaking audience. But in any case, the lecturers made sure that everyone could follow the lessons: other lecturers present during the classes in Italian would help translating, and also the students were very helpful to each other.

Cassino Summer School

Given materials

We were given a super-handy 8gb USB key containing all the materials for the course (readings, images of manuscripts, links, contacts, etc.) The only problem was that many had no laptop or a device that could have a USB key connected to it. Some were therefore unable to view the materials. Nothing dramatic in any case; the contents were very interesting but not essential to the enjoyment of the course. We were also given two books for free, maps, and a CD containing interactive eBook on the Desiderian age at Montecassino. Again, in this case, most people didn’t have DVD reader and could not enjoy it.


OK, this has really nothing to do with the Cassino Summer School itself, but it might be interesting to know for people that might be interested going there next year: the food in Cassino is, well, divine. You’ll have to find your eating places by yourself. We were given a handy list of places with an indication of prices. We can’t give a better example than the pizza that some of us students had the last evening: a margherita pizza, Neapolitan style (with the thick border, opposed to the Roman style with the thin crust) which costed only 3 euros. Sandwiches and other local specialties were also available for cheap. A dinner was organized on the first evening in the neighboring town of Atina at a restaurant called ‘Le Cannardizie’, a lovely restaurant with a panoramic terrace over the Comino Valley. We will not start talking about the wine and the food… The dinner really helped break the ice between us students.

Cassino Summer School


One of our team members being Italian himself and having little faith in the way Italian things are organized, he was truly pleased about how everything was handled by the Cassino’s hosts. No issues whatsoever as far as we can say: The trips up to Montecassino, the dinner at the excellent restaurant on the first evening, the classes, the visit at the museum of the Abbey, etc. they all flowed and, except the broken air conditioning on the first day, there were no problems at all.

Until next year!

It was an amazing experience. The quantity, quality, and rarity of the manuscripts you have the occasion to look at closely during the Summer School is extraordinary. We repeat ourselves: Nowhere else did we have the possibility to admire such rare pieces from so up close. Yes, it can be better, and having this been the first edition, we have no doubts it will be next year. We strongly, strongly recommend it. Not only if you are a fan of the Beneventan script, but also if you love manuscripts of every kind, along with miniatures and art history. It is such a unique experience that expands beyond the manuscripts themselves: you are in Cassino, in Italy, a place with kind people, where a divine pizza still only costs 3 euros. You get to meet amazing teachers and people coming from all kinds of fields: digitisation, codicologists, palaeographers, etc. It will enrich both your culture and your network. If you get a chance to go, do it!

Cassino Summer School

Ad Astra – The Leiden Aratea and the constellations in the early Middle Ages

Aries Leiden Aratea 34v


One of my biggest passions has always been astronomy: studying the names of the stars, the constellations’ myths, the planets’ movements. This passion has often met my other big love, medieval manuscripts, in the form of awesome astronomical manuscripts. The combination has always been fascinating to me: “Wow, someone hundreds (or thousands) of years ago was looking at the same stars I am looking at today, and was in love as much as me with the spectacle!” If you have ever had a chance to browse through an astronomical manuscript, you will have certainly noticed one thing: the constellations represented on parchment only seldom resemble the ones we see in the night sky. Sometimes, they look just like random dots.

Let’s go and give a look at one of such books; an extraordinary one, to be precise, created more than a thousand years ago: the Leiden Aratea.

The Leiden Aratea’s history

A manuscript dated between 816 and 840, the Leiden Aratea was created possibly near Aachen (other say the Lorraine region.) For over a thousand years it has traveled around northern Europe, eventually ending up at Leiden University Library:

But what is the Leiden Aratea about?  It is an astronomical treatise written by Germanicus Julius Caesar (15 BCE –19 CE), also known to be the father of Caligula. The Aratea is a Latin translation of the Greek Phaenomina of Aratus (c. 315-240 BCE); a didactic poem used to describe the constellations and other astrological phenomena to the Macedonian court. It was never meant to be considered an accurate description of the night sky. The books (both the Aratea and the Phaenomina) were intended more for “entertainment”. At the core of the Leiden Aratea there are 38 full-page miniatures, possibly copies of a 4th-century work.

A beautiful and interesting description of this book is available on this article written by Jenneka Janzen.

Compare and contrast

If it’s true that the book was not intended for scientific observation, how much artistic freedom did the illuminator take? It’s simple: let’s compare the miniatures with contemporary imagery of the sky! We begin with something easy to identify to us all: the constellation of Orion. The first thing we have to know is that the constellation is represented looking towards left, while the real constellation in the sky has the hunter looking towards the right. In order to better compare the two, the Aratea’s miniature has been turned to the right.


As you can see from the slider above, the depicted constellation does recall the real counterpart, but sometimes it is simply impossible to correctly identify the individual stars. For example, the “sword of Orion” is depicted as being on the right side of Orion’s Belt, while in truth it is found directly under it. Also the miniature appears to have a “backbone” made of three different stars which find not real counterpart. Betelgeuse,  Meissa, Bellatrix (the stars that constitute “head and shoulders” of Orion, together with Rigel and Saiph (the “knees”, or “feet”) and Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka (the “belt”) are there, and easy to identify. Curious to see that the constellation “Lepus” is also represented running between the legs of Orion, while in the sky it actually runs further down towards the horizon, chased by “Canis Major”.

IAU Orion chart
IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg)

Let’s take for another example the representation of the Pleiades. According to the legend these were the seven daughters of the titan Atlas:

• Maia, eldest of the seven Pleiades, was mother of Hermes by Zeus.
• Electra was mother of Dardanus and Iasion, by Zeus.
• Taygete was mother of Lacedaemon, also by Zeus.
• Alcyone was mother of Hyrieus, Hyperenor and Aethusa by Poseidon.
• Celaeno was mother of Lycus and Eurypylus by Poseidon.
• Sterope (also Asterope) was mother of Oenomaus by Ares.
• Merope, youngest of the seven Pleiades, was wooed by Orion. In other mythic contexts she married Sisyphus and, becoming mortal, faded away. She bore to Sisyphus several sons.

The way they have been represented in the Aratea is, well: nice and tidy, possibly to accommodate the aspects of the seven sisters. If we compare it to the way the stars look nowadays, it is difficult to indicate with certainty which real star belongs to the faces in the miniature.

Pleiades in folio 42v Leiden Aratea
Pleiades in folio 42v.

So, why are the stars placed in a rather imprecise manner?
Well, the answer appears to be that the stars themselves didn’t matter that much. What mattered in the Aratea was the poem, the iconography, the mythology; not the scientific accuracy.
The Aratea was not meant to be taken outside on a starry night, to compare the stars with what was drawn in the book as we do today with our tablets and smartphones.
Even in manuscripts that had more to do with the stars themselves (CLM 210), the stars were depicted in an apparently random manner.

Truth is, who drew the illuminations wasn’t an astronomer, someone who actually had the will to go outside at night, find the constellation and draw it again. They were illuminators: they were told to draw the constellations, and so they did. But not by looking at the stars in the sky, but by looking at other books. Older books. “That’s how the old masters drew them, they must be correct!”; “Well… the text says there is a star in the Dog’s tongue in the Dog’s constellation. I’ll draw a dog; a tongue; a star!”. This creative decision suggests that miniaturists who copied the Aratea, and many other manuscripts dedicated to stars, considered the drawing of any similar form of a constellation an adequate copy of that constellation. If we follow this principle then we can explain some of the diversity displayed by these pictures of the constellations.

This is clearly a very, very, simplified explanation of what was going on. For example, we also have to consider all the theological/philosophical influence that would have had an impact on the whole manuscript and its miniatures. An extremely intriguing aspect that would make a solid base for another blog! There are entire books dedicated to this matter. I particularly found the following dissertation “illuminating” and helpful while writing this blog: Ramirez-Weaver, Eric. “Carolingian Innovation and Observation in the Paintings and Star Catalogs of Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Ms. 3307.” Order No. 3312920 New York University, 2008. Ann Arbor. Highly recommended, have fun reading it!

The Bamberg State Library’s Digital Collection

De natura rerum - Staatsbibliothek Bamberg Msc.Nat.1
De natura rerum – Staatsbibliothek Bamberg Msc.Nat.1

Today we are going to give a look at the Digital collection of Bamberg State Library. A fantastic collection of manuscripts, fully digitized, in high quality, and available for everyone to browse, explore, and study. Actually, we should be speaking of collections, plural, since two collections are present: The collection “Manuscripts of Henry II” is traced back to the emperor Henry II, who founded the bishopric of Bamberg in 1007; and the new digital collection. Let’s see!

The first horseman, Conquest on the White Horse
Bamberger Apokalypse – 14r – The first horseman, Conquest on the White Horse – The text reads:
Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. – Revelation 6:1-2˄

Manuscripts of Henry II

The first collection derives from the many precious manuscripts Henry II and his predecessors had collected or commissioned. Manuscripts from various spiritual centers of the West were brought to Bamberg as a result. Completed since 2013, this collection contains all this 165 manuscripts associated with Henry II, which originated in or before his lifetime.

Staatsbibliothek Bamberg; photo: Gerald Raab
Msc.Can. 13 – Staatsbibliothek Bamberg; photo:
Gerald Raab

Treasures of the Bamberg State Library

The new digital collection, part of the website “Treasures of the Bamberg State Library”, also contains the aforementioned collection of Henry II, along with a constantly updated collection of newly digitized medieval manuscripts.
In the ensuing period many books were written and illuminated in the town, notably in the 12th century by the Benedictine monks of Mount St. Michael. All that remained of these manuscripts in the monasteries of the town and bishopric up to 1802/1803 was incorporated into one library (now the Bamberg State Library) during the period of German Mediatisation. Among the incredible manuscripts you can find in the Digital collection of Bamberg State Library you can find a medical manuscript from 1300 with a lot of medieval medical equipment; the “Bamberger Psalter” with its magnificent illuminations; the “Bamberger Apokalypse” with imagery in 49 incredible fascinating miniatures (49 is a multiple of 7, a number with particular importance in Christian religion.)

The Bamberg Psalter

The Bamber Psalter - 9v
9v – The Baptism of Christ
The Bamber Psalter - 117r
117r – Judgement
The Bamber Psalter - 115v
115v – The Resurrection
The Bamber Psalter - 115r
115r – The Crucifixion
The Bamber Psalter - 63r
63r – Initial Q – David and Goliath
The Bamber Psalter - 62v
62v – Judas’ Kiss
The Bamber Psalter - 61v
61v – The entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem
The Bamber Psalter - 61r
61r – The Devil tempts Jesus

Final Words

A real treasure-trove, the website is easy to navigate, and so are the very well digitized manuscripts, which are enjoyable in high-resolution. The manuscripts are can be listed by signature, date of origin, and place of origin.

Worth a thousand visits.

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