In case you missed it: earlier this summer, the video team at the University of Pennsylvania followed a manuscript from the Free Library of Philadelphia through the imaging process at the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text & Image at the Penn Libraries. The Free Library holds the majority of the manuscripts being digitized by the project, and imaging for these is largely complete. Over the next several months, these images will be uploaded to OPenn and freely available to anyone.
This is a “very evil fox,” according to Les regnars traversant les perilleuses voyes des folles fiances du monde, a Middle French poem by Jean Bouchet. Monsieur Reynard had done all the bad things, and now he is paying for it in the very hot place. The manuscript is part of the collection of the Rosenbach of the Free Library.
Bouchet’s text and the nine accompanying miniatures have been digitized and are available online as part of the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources. The text and images employ the fox as a metaphor for the vices of contemporary man. They denounce all estates of society: the king, the nobility, the clergy, the merchant class, and the common people. The fox and his friends cavort through the poem polluting a badger’s lair, carrying a flaming torch, dressed as clergymen carrying rosaries, knocking down a church, and dressed as noblemen.
Eventually our fox dies and his soul lands in a cauldron of boiling water, “regretting the hour and day he was born.”
Bouchet was a law clerk and rhetorician from Poitiers, France, but this manuscript copy of his text was produced for Philip the Handsome, archduke of Austria, while he was duke of Burgundy and count of Charolais.
A slightly different version of this text was published, with woodcuts, by the Parisian publisher Antoine Vérard in late 1503 or early 1504. The copy in the Rosenbach survives as the only illuminated manuscript of the text.
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.
CLIR postdoctoral fellow and BiblioPhilly cataloger Erin F. Connelly is known in the history of science community for her work on medieval medicine, especially #ancientbiotics, but she also has a scholarly appetite for stains. Here she is with the subject of her dissertation, The Lylye of Medicynes, and with some of the stains that grace its pages. [Click to reach her actual tweet.]
Since last fall, Connelly has been part of The Stains Project, also known as Labeculae Vivae (Stains Alive), together with colleagues Alberto Campagnolo (CLIR fellow, Library of Congress) and Heather Wacha (CLIR fellow, University of Wisconsin – Madison). The project focuses on “dirty” old books and the stains found in them, using them as a tool for gathering scientific data that will provide clues to how previous generations used and stored their reading material. This project examines a variety of stains found on parchment, paper, and bindings from medieval manuscripts, in some cases using multispectral imaging to yield even more information.
Notes project co-founder Wacha, “The Library of Stains project is conceived broadly as a first foray into providing a fixed dataset for characterized stains that are commonly found on manuscripts, a sound methodology for the replication of gathering and analyzing the data, and a clear explanation for how to implement and use the database as a means to further the study of medieval manuscripts and their conservation. In so doing, the Library of Stains hopes to equip scholars with additional tools for analyzing their manuscripts vis à vis provenance, use, transmission, preservation and materiality.”
Like our own books, which are likely to carry the remains of yesterday’s lunch and other nonliterary evidence of our reading habits, the more than 400 BiblioPhilly manuscripts include many messy texts — not surprising, considering that many of them have been used regularly as working texts by teachers, students, and scientists. Working on the metadata for some of these manuscripts provides a natural hunting ground for Connelly: spills, wax drippings, fingerprints, dead bugs, and other enhancements of well-thumbed manuscripts (she also keeps an eye out for tears and repairs). Here are a few of her recent BiblioPhilly finds:
When Dot Porter, co-principal investigator on the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project, sends you an email saying “I made a thing, ” you know it’s going to be glorious and you also know you’re about to head down the rabbit hole. Her current “thing” is a BiblioPhilly Randomizer, a sweet little script that pulls up a random image from among the tens of thousands of pages of medieval-y goodness currently on OPenn.
And oh, my, didn’t bibliophilly get lucky! The first random image to come up, pictured here, was The Temptation of Adam and Eve from Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E123 (fol. 22v). Just feast your eyes on that! Eve is flaky, Adam needs a shave, and the serpent has breasts! (Late fifteenth-century French Book of Hours, more info at the link below.)
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.
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  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.