The Early History of the Lewis Psalter

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 17/52

  
Gallican Psalter with Canticles, Litany, and Prayers (he Lewis Psalter), Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 85, fols. 1v–2r (historiated initial B with King David Playing the Harp and King David Slaying Goliath; blank page with later prayer to Saint Martial)

One of the glorious treasures of Philadelphia is the so-called Lewis Psalter (Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 185), produced in Paris in the first half of the thirteenth century, likely between around 1225 and 1230. Digitizing and cataloguing this sumptuous book anew was a real thrill, made much easier by the existence of Elizabeth A. Peterson’s excellent Ph.D. dissertation which describes the content all 150 of the manuscript’s historiated Psalm initials (the manuscript is in fact one of only eight surviving French manuscripts from the period to include illustrations for every psalm).1 

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Beware the Spanish inscription: A French Book of Hours, an Admiral, and an Iberian patron(?)

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 13/52

  
Book of Hours, Use of Rome, France, ca. 1475, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 212,  fols. 31r and 210v (beginning of the Hours of the Virgin with miniature of at Annunciation, and subsidiary scenes from the Life of the Virgin; suffrage of Saint Catherine with small miniature, showing rotunda-style script and the work of a second artist)

The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Lewis E 212 is a quite finely produced and well-preserved French Book of Hours of around 1475. Looking closely at its miniatures, we can determine that they are by two distinct artists: a more skilled and possibly younger artist, likely trained in Tours, was responsible for the pastel-like calendar vignettes and thirteen small miniatures; another artist, likely trained in Paris, produced the eleven large miniatures and their borders, as well as the small miniature for the Obsecro te. We prefer the luscious style of the former, as evidenced by the lovely calendar scenes. But who are we to judge?

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What “Use” is it? A Book of Hours rightfully restituted to the Walloon city of Mons

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 10/52


Book of Hours, Use of Mons, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 89, fol. 1r (beginning of the Hours of the Virgin)

The “Use” in a Book of Hours generally refers to the specific, regional variants found in the central devotional text, the Hours of the Virgin. Because these variants are often specific to a city or region in Europe, determining the “Use” of a Book of Hours can, at least in theory, help us determine where the book was intended to be read and prayed from. This can be helpful information indeed when faced with a Book of Hours that otherwise has no ownership or localization information! Use can be determined by comparing the Antiphon and Chapter readings for two of the Hours of the Virgin–Prime and None–to lists established by scholars on the basis of firmly-situated manuscript Books of Hours or early printed editions, most actually printed in Paris, that nonetheless state explicitly for which town they were meant to be used. 

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Murder in Lombardy! The original owner of a rare Italian Book of Hours identified

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 9/52

http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0023/lewis_e_206/data/web/5506_0039_web.jpg   http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0023/lewis_e_206/data/web/5506_0040_web.jpg
Book of Hours (here identified as the Hours of Cornelia Rhò), Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 206, fols. 16v-17r (full-page miniature of the Virgin and Child, and beginning of the Hours of the Virgin with historiated initial and coat-of-arms)

Though in rather poor condition, a closer look at this neglected Renaissance Book of Hours from Lombardy, Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 206, can tell us a great deal about its original context. Despite bearing a Lewis shelf mark, the manuscript was a gift to the Free Library from Simon Gratz (1840–1925), a Philadelphia lawyer, education reformer, and autograph collector. Like an item we examined several weeks ago, this manuscript never belonged to John Frederick Lewis and therefore was not described in the 1937 catalogue of the Lewis Collection’s 200 western manuscripts.1 Prior to being owned by Gratz, the book had been in the possession of another lawyer, George T. Strong of New York (1820–1875), who had acquired the book by 1843, when he inscribed his name on one of the flyleaves. Incidentally, Strong’s notoriety stems from the survival of his 2,250-page diary, rediscovered in the 1930s, which records nearly every day of his adult life in great detail, including the purchase on 30 May 1837 of a “a vellum MS., very splendidly and elaborately illuminated, and several large pictures of the Crucifixion, etc.,” which could plausibly refer to this manuscript, if we interpret the Crucifixion pictures as separate items.2 The manuscript thus came to the New World relatively early on, but that is certainly not where its story begins! 

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A helping hand: barely discernible instructions for a miniaturist

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 5/52


Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 107, fol. 100v (miniature of the Crowning of Thorns with instructions in left margin)

Marginal directions for illuminators—be they in written or in sketch form—are relatively common in the thirteenth century, and though they could no doubt be studied further, a very useful discussion of them is provided in Jonathan J. G. Alexander’s landmark Medieval Illuminators and their Methods of Work, published in 1992 (chp. 3, “Programmes and Instructions for Illuminators,” pp. 52–72). However, such notations become quite unusual as time goes on, especially in Books of Hours. The thinking is that standardized iconographies and massive workshop production made the usual iconographical cycle found in a Book of Hours so familiar to miniaturists that they needed no guiding words to help them. Those who (today) handle Books of Hours on a routine basis will surely understand how the typical iconography found in the various sections of these books quickly becomes almost entirely predictable. 

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The Star of Salvation, an unknown Franciscan devotional dialogue in Italian with a lost sister copy in Croatia

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 4/52


Stella di Salute, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 205, fol. 1r (introductory rubric with the name of the author and date of composition)

John Frederick Lewis’ wonderful collection of two hundred Western Medieval codices, dozens of non-European manuscripts, and thousands of cuttings and single leaves is justly famous. This outstanding ensemble has been housed at the Free Library of Philadelphia since it was gifted to the institution by John Frederick’s widow, Anne Baker Lewis, in 1933. Four years later, the two hundred codices were the subject of a summary catalogue authored by Edwin Wolf.[1] And yet the Free Library is home to more than fifty additional manuscripts, which were somewhat confusingly given “Lewis E” shelfmarks of 201 and above, that made their way to the Rare Book Department on the third floor of Parkway Central Library by other means. Because they were not published in the 1937 catalogue, these manuscripts are generally less well-known. Some, including the subject of today’s post, were in fact acquired earlier; in this case, through the William Pepper Fund seven years prior to the Lewis donation, in 1926. 

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