A cataloger’s farewell — Diane Biunno

SkullSmackdown contestants Diane Biunno (l.) and Erin Connelly, with array of Day-of-the-Dead themed treats.
SkullSmackdown contestants Diane Biunno (l.) and Erin Connelly, with array of Day-of-the-Dead themed treats.
The Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis catalogers have enriched the project’s social media feeds since they began their work, tweeting the finds that surprise, delight, and excite them using the hashtag #bibliophilly. One of the most prolific of these has been Diane Biunno (@dianebiunno on Twitter). Based at the Free Library of Philadelphia, she has shared manuscripts large and small, glorious miniatures, charming marginalia, bindings, stains, repairs, and other examples of the weird and wonderful ways in which these manuscripts were created and used. She found a lot of images of skulls in those manuscripts, prompting a light-hearted #skullsmackdown competition with fellow cataloger Erin Connelly. (Diane won.)

 

Alas, we have just lost Diane to another assignment; she has moved to the Penn Museum to work on their Tikal project. We will miss her dreadfully, but are hoping that she will share new wonders from this iconic Maya site.

Here is Diane’s farewell message to the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project.

“Over the past eighteen months, I’ve cataloged and prepared for digitization almost 250 manuscripts at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Here are some of my favorite images from their amazing collection.

“One of the first manuscripts I worked on was a small 15th century book of prayers against the plague. Portions of the script were written right to left, instead of left to right, and could only be read by holding a mirror to the text.

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 175
Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 175

“The large ornate miniatures in many of the manuscripts are naturally very stunning and visually appealing. However, I found some of the most memorable gems tucked away in the margins. For example, hidden in a small corner of the parchment, a man in battle gear wages war against a giant snail (Lewis E 1), a hunter aims his bow towards his prey (Widener 9), and a dragon lets out a ferocious roar (Widener 7).  

 

“In present day manuscripts are often prized possessions that are treated with extreme care. In the past manuscripts were read and used by scholars, physicians, students, and even children. Previous owners attached their bookplates to flyleaves, cut out sections of texts, and left notes in the margins. One of my most memorable moments working on this project was when I found a little note left by a French child who was quite annoyed by his or her sister. The note reads: “I would like my little sister, if she wasn’t so foolish”.

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 164
Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 164

“…And lastly, to those of you that follow me on Instagram (or Facebook, or Twitter–ed.), you certainly know that I love posting images of devils, hell mouths, and of course skulls. #SkullSmackDownForever. However, I’d like to end this blog post on a more cheerful note. Take a look at the following watercolor illustrations from a French manuscript of carols. You can practically hear the music leaping from the parchment.”

Biunno6_FLPLewisE211

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 211
Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 211

 

–Diane Biunno

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