Behold our one-hundredth manuscript — an amazing Dutch hybrid!

We’ve reached a major project milestone, with one hundred Western European medieval and early modern manuscripts now online in our Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis curated collection. The images and metadata are hosted by the Penn Libraries’ OPenn repository.

This represents a little less than 25% of the 450-plus manuscripts that will eventually be digitized and placed on OPenn. Currently more than half of the manuscripts have been imaged, with cataloging undergoing refinement and quality control.

All the BiblioPhilly images are free for the downloading in glorious high resolution or leisurely leafing through with a page-turning interface on the Library of Congress’ ViewShare site.

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis MS E 257, Book of Hours.
Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis MS E 257, Book of Hours.

The actual one-hundredth manuscript, Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 257, is remarkable in a number of ways. Let us count them:

First, it’s written in Middle Dutch — unlike many of the Latin or French Books of Hours collected in Philadelphia-area institutions.

But wait — there’s lots more! It was displayed as part of PACSCL’s 2001 exhibition, “Leaves of Gold.” Curator and catalog editor James R. Tanis [1] explained the many other ways this manuscript is special:

“Uncommon in several respects, this Dutch Book of Hours begins with the Hours of the Trinity, which, like the more common Hours of the Eternal Wisdom, are almost exclusively found in manuscripts from the northern Netherlands. Three different mediums meet in this unusual opening. On the right is a traditional, fully illuminated opening initial in the so-called aubergine style, with accompanying border decoration. In the upper right corner of this page a colorful bird looks down on a monkey riding a dog in the lower margin. On the facing page a very simply drawn and colored GnadenstuhlI (Throne-of-Grace) Trinity is surrounded by a metal-cut border. The popular monkey appears in the lower border, with a deer to the left of the miniature and a bird to the right.

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis MS E 257, decorated initial.
Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis MS E 257, decorated initial.

“Following the invention of the printing press, European makers of books embarked on a period of experimentation. The earliest printers designed many of their books to be illuminated, hoping to give them the appearance of manuscripts. Likewise, creators of manuscripts occasionally dressed up their handwritten texts by inserting a print or a series of prints.[2] … As a transitional work, looking back to the labors of scribes and illuminators and forward to the emerging products of printers and their presses, the volume holds a unique position in the Philadelphia region.” Tanis also noted that no similar work had been located in the United States or the Netherlands.

This was one of James Tanis’ favorite works in the exhibition, and he would pull people over with great glee to make sure they didn’t miss it.

This manuscript has been digitized and cataloged with the generous support of a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources as part of its Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives initiative (with additional cataloging and hosting support from the University of Pennsylvania Libraries).


[1] Dutschke, Consuelo Wager, and Tanis, James R, Leaves of gold: Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections. (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2001) no. 29, pp. 98-99

[2] Fritz Oskar Schuppisser, “Copper Engraving of the ‘Mass Production’ Illustrating Netherlandish Prayer Manuscripts,” in Masters and Miniatures: Proceedings of the Congress on Medieval Manuscript Illumination in the Northern Netherlands (Utrecht, 10-13 December 1989), ed. Koert van der Horst and Johann-Christian Klamt (Doornspijk, Netherlands: Davaco, 1991), pp. 389-400.