Family Resemblances, Part 1

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 25/52
A guest post by University of Pennsylvania Manuscripts Cataloging Librarian, Amey Hutchins

  
Carta executoria de hidalguia de Agustin de Yturbe, vezino de la ciudad de Sevilla, Bethlehem, PA, Lehigh University, Linderman Library, Codex 22, fols. 1v–2r (Full-page miniature, Yturbe family praying before the Virgin Mary; Full-page miniature, John the Baptist and Saint Augustine)

One of the great outcomes of the BiblioPhilly project is how easy it is to discover similar manuscripts in multiple partner libraries. As a cataloger at Penn, I was aware of seven cartas executorias in the Penn Libraries: six in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, and one at the Library at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. These are sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century manuscripts celebrating the aristocratic genealogy of Spanish families and confirming the privileges of aristocracy, issued at the end of lawsuits brought in the chancillerías (royal chancery courts) in Granada or Valladolid to prove nobility. These privileges were worth having: they included exemption from taxes and protection from a variety of criminal punishments including torture and being sent to the galleys, and protection from imprisonment for debt.1 Through the BiblioPhilly project, I have made the acquaintance of six more cartas executorias in the region: one at Lehigh University (not described as a carta executoria prior to the project), one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and four in the John Frederick Lewis Collection of European Manuscripts at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The manuscripts often begin with two full-page illuminations, including images of their owners, sometimes with their families. Here we see Alonso Ximenez de Canizares and his wife Maria de Zuniga (1574):

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Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1923-17-1, fol. 1v

Juan de Londono and family (1587):

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Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 59, fol. 1v

and Agustin de Yturbe and family (1593):

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Bethlehem, Lehigh University, Linderman Library, Lehigh Codex 22,  fol. 1v

Some manuscripts also have historiated letters or small miniatures with portraits of the ruling monarch. The thirteen manuscripts in the BiblioPhilly region span the years from 1538 to 1606, issued in the reigns of Charles I (1516–1566):

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 263, Carta executoria a pedimiento de Alonso Mendez de Parada, fol. 48v
Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 263 (1538), fol. 48v

Phillip II (1556-1598):

University of Pennsylvania LJS 20: Carta executoria de hidalguia a pedimiento, fol. 65r
Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, LJS 20 (1578), fol. 65r

and Phillip III (1598-1621):

University of Pennsylvania LJS 21: Executoria de hidalguia a pedimiento, fol. 49r
Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, LJS 21 (1606), fol. 49r

In this group of highly formulaic manuscripts, one has a significant difference, which will be the subject of the next post.

Mapping (a) Manuscript(‘s) Migrations

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 24/52

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Book of Hours for the Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1967–30–120, fol. 19r (miniature of Saint Mark and beginning of text from the Gospel Lesson for Saint Mark; detail of miniature)

Books created in the Middle Ages can certainly travel vast distances in subsequent centuries. Projects such as Mapping Manuscript Migrations, a collaboration between the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, the Oxford e-Research Centre, the Bodleian Libraries, the Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes in Paris, and the Semantic Computing Group at Aalto University in Finland, will soon be able to harness the vast trove of later provenance information present in such repositories as the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, mostly garnered from sale catalogues, in order to tell us which manuscripts have moved the most since, say, 1750. But medieval books themselves frequently contain records of their perambulations that occurred long before the modern auction industry fed the appetites and shelves of collectors. A famous example is the so-called Morgan Crusader Bible (The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.638), produced in Paris or Northern France shortly before 1250, modified in Naples in the fourteenth century, brought to Poland by Bernard Maciejowski, Bishop of Kraków, then given by him to Shah Abbas of Persia as a diplomatic gift in 1608, transferred to a Persian Jew in the eighteenth century, purchased by a Greek antiquities dealer in Cairo, sold in London in 1833, and purchased (except for three leaves) by Belle da Costa Greene for the Morgan Library in 1916.

A much more modest example of a well-traveled manuscript is Philadelphia Museum of Art 1967–30–120, a Book of Hours for the Use of Rome with miniatures in a style that would suggest a place of production (or at least decoration) in the Berry region around Bourges. Though damaged, the miniatures have the deep, purplish palette and penchant for  landscape and architectural details reminiscent of the followers of the Bourges-based illuminator Jean Colombe (ca. 1430–ca. 1493). This manuscript is almost totally un-researched, but some details point to interesting later peregrinations. For example, after the Short Hours of the Holy Spirit and before the Penitential Psalms, a unique prayer in Italian simply titled “oratio devotissima” has been inserted in a rounded, humanistic script that must date from between about 1500 and 1525.

  

PMA 1967–30–120, fols. 106r–106v (prayer added in Italian)

Of course, this modification by an Italian speaker does not necessarily confirm that the book was in Italy, but an additional detail, the added Mass of the Virgin in meridional Rotunda Script on folios 172r–178r, corroborates the notion that the book was present in Italy at an early date.

  
PMA 1967–30–120, fols. 171v–172r (end of the Office of the Dead; beginning of the added Mass of the Virgin)

The book’s binding, which is damaged but quite finely tooled with a central crucifixion stamp, strapwork, and acanthus leaves, is typical of Italian bindings of the seventeenth century.


PMA 1967–30–120, front cover

However, the book appears to have returned eventually to France. The spine has been overstamped with bees, a distinctive detail typical of the library of Louis-Paul Abeille (1719–1807), lawyer to the Parliament of Brittany. At least, a later owner of the book identified the bees as such and noted this down in pencil on a flyleaf and cited the presence of the motif in Joannis Guigard’s Nouvel armorial du bibliophile: guide de l’amateur des livres armoriés, published in 1890.

http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0031/1967_30_120/data/web/9155_0380_web.jpg   9155_0380_web  
PMA 1967–30–120, spine, detail of bee motif, and recto of uppermost flyleaf

Above this pencil note is an older ownership inscription of a certain Samuel Tolfrey, dated 1869, likely identifiable with an English Army captain of the same name.

On the next flyleaf is a list of the manuscript’s miniatures, typical of a collector’s attitude to the contents of a Book of Hours. Interestingly, it is written in German. Based on the style of the cursive writing, it would appear to be as recent as the twentieth century.


PMA 1967–30–120, recto of second front flyleaf (with list of miniatures in German)

Currently, it is impossible to establish when and how the manuscript arrived in the collection of Samuel Stockton White III and Vera White, who bequeathed it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1967 along with two other Books of Hours (PMA 1967–30–121 and PMA 1967–30–122), several dozen illuminated leaves, and other objects.1 However, these scattered provenance elements show that the book had a convoluted journey to its most recent resting place, rivaling the wanderings of other, more famous fellow travelers.


 

A Mineralogist’s “Sword in the Stone”

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 19/52

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Choirbook, Italy (Siena?), c. 1300, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1883.53, fol. 247r and Neroccio de’ Landi, Panel with Saints Christina of Bolsena(?), Catherine of Alexandria, Jerome, and Galganus, c. 1470, Phipadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection, 1917, cat. 1169 (detail of Saint Galganus)

Though the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts is best known for the lavish codices received from the Philadelphia collectors Philip S. Collins and Mary Shell Collins in 1945, it possesses two items that came to the museum much closer to the year of its foundation, 1876. At the time, the institution was known as the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, before being renamed the Pennsylvania Museum of Art in 1929 (it would only acquire its current name a decade later). The first item is a Dutch Prayer Book received in 1882 (accession number 1882‑983), with no known prior provenance. The other book, received the following year, is a hefty but largely unadorned choirbook given to the museum by Clarence S. Bement, a Philadelphia philanthropist best known for his unparalleled collection of rare minerals (now mostly preserved at the Museum of Natural History in New York)!1 At least four other books in the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project, including the famous Lewis Psalter, were once in Bement’s collection.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art choirbook is notably less lavish than other manuscripts owned by Bement, which is perhaps why he gifted it to the fledgling museum rather than selling it on through A.S.W. Rosenbach or another local book dealer. There are, however, some quite beautiful initials that are worth reproducing here. Each of these decorated letters makes use of the three primary colors.

While the style of the script and these penwork initials suggest Italian work of circa 1300 or a little later, the choirbook is liturgically fairly nondescript. Nevertheless, a short chant on the final folio, added early on in the book’s history on three extra blank staffs at the end of the volume (and a fourth added in drypoint), is dedicated to Saint Galganus. As with the rest of the volume, it accords roughly with a date of around 1300, and can be compared to examples such as a late-thirteenth-century Gradual from San Pantaleone, Pieve a Elici, near Lucca (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, NAL 2605), listed in the Nota quadrata project.2 The text itself reads:

Ora pro nobis beate Galgane, ut digni efficiamur p[er]mi[s]/

sionibus Christi. evovae. Sancte Galgane confes/

sor Christi et conptemptor seculi deprecare Christum

famulos tuos et semp[er] esse devotos. evovae.

As far as I can tell, this is a unique prayer. It can be (roughly) translated into English as follows:

Pray for us, blessed Galganus, that we may be made worthy of Christ’s forgiveness. Holy Galganus, confessor of Christ, eternally entreat your servants to be devout to Christ.

The abbreviation “evovae” or “euouae,” used twice, is a notational device that occurs in Gregorian chant. It represents the musical setting of the vowels found in the words “saeculorum amen” at the end of the Gloria Patri doxology.

This is an image of fol. 247r from Philadelphia Museum of Art Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs 1883‑53, Illuminated Choral Manuscript (Tuscany?, Italy, 1300).
PMA, 1883.53, fol. 247r (detail of chant to San Galgano)

Galgano Guidotto (1148–1181), better known as Saint Galganus, was a young Tuscan knight who became venerated after his death on account of his spiritual visions. The most famous of these is associated with the tale of The Sword in the Stone. As his hagiography recounts, Galganus experienced a vision of Christ and the Twelve Apostles on the hill of Montesiepi. Following this event, he was compelled to erect a cross but had no suitable materials except for his sword. He thrusted his weapon into the ground, whereupon it became fused with the rock and impossible for anyone to remove. A round chapel was built around Galgano’s immovable sword, which still survives today. A large Cistercian monastery, today in ruins, was also erected nearby at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Galgano was widely venerated in the area around Siena in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and many images record him holding his famous attribute.3 The specificity of Galgano’s cult helps narrow our localization of the PMA’s choirbook to the region around Siena.

Perhaps the book’s more recent owner, the mineralophile Bement, acquired the manuscript because he appreciated the potential link to that most lithic of myths, the Sword in the Stone.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/Beccafumi%2C_testate_di_cataletto%2C_1511-12_%28siena%2C_pinacoteca%29%2C_san_galgano.jpg   https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/it/1/12/Spada_dell%27Abbazia_di_San_Galgano%2C_1986.jpg
Domenico Beccafumi, Saint Galgano, 1511–1512, Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale, and Saint Galganus’ Sword, Montesiepi province of Siena (detail)

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The nave of the ruined Cistercian abbey of San Galgano, Montesiepi, province of Siena


 

Vigilance and Prudence (and stickers): Books from the Brölemann Collection

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 16/52

 
Book of Hours for the Use of Rome (Hours of Étienne Thirion), Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1945‑65‑14, inside front cover (with Arthur Brölemann bookplate) and Book of Hours for the Use of Rome (Victorines d’Auxy Hours), Philadelphia Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1945–65–15, inside front cover (with Arthur Brölemann bookplate)

The motley assortment of bookplates, pencil-written price-codes, ballpoint pen descriptions, and, yes, stickers (or rather adhesive labels) that frequently populate the endpapers of many Medieval manuscripts in North American collections may seem extrinsic to the content of a book’s original text and illustrations. Yet there is an elite subset of manuscript scholars specializing in research on the later provenance of medieval codices that has devoted particular attention to such details. Often, their research can help us reconstruct the trajectory of a book that is otherwise lacking in historic ownership information.

Over the past two weeks, we examined the newly-named Hours of Étienne Thirion from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1945–65–14), both for the fascinating imprints left in the book by an early owner’s eyeglasses, and for the identity of the book’s original owner and the artist commissioned to paint its miniatures. As is well known, the book came to the PMA through the generosity of Mary Shell Collins, who donated this and seventeen other Medieval manuscripts to the museum in memory of her husband, Philip S. Collins, in 1945.1 All but three of the books from the Collins collection are Books of Hours, making it an especially rich trove for this genre.

But who owned these books prior to their acquisition by Collins? The answer is easily provided by the armorial bookplates present in both books illustrated above, as well as a third PMA Book of Hours likely made in Provence (1945–65–8). These are the bookplates of Arthur Brölemann (1826–1904), president of the Tribunal de Commerce of the French city of Lyon and an ardent bibliophile. His Latin motto, “Vigilentia et Prudentia,” could just as well be a maxim for the modern provenance researcher! Arthur had acquired over 4,000 volumes by descent from his grandfather, Henri-Auguste Brölemann (1775–1854), who had formed his own collection between 1824 and his death in 1854.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs 1945‑65‑14, Book of Hours, Use of Rome (Hours of Étienne Thirion; formerly the Champion‑Minard Hours), Inside front cover   Philadelphia Museum of Art Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs 1945‑65‑15, Book of Hours, Use of Rome (Victorines‑d'Auxy Hours), Inside front cover
PMA, 1945‑65‑14 and PMA, 1945–65–15, details of two different variants of the Henri-Auguste Bölemann labels

But how do we know for certain that the books first belonged not just to Arthur but also to Henri-Auguste? As it happens, the distinctive blue-edged octagonal number labels found in the lower left-hand corner of the inside front cover of each of these books can be identified thanks to a fascinating blog post by Peter Kidd. As Peter showed, these stickers (which exist in four variants) have handwritten numbers that refer to their position within Henri-Auguste’s collection, as well as price codes that remain to be deciphered. The “A” number refers to the book’s order within what was apparently a handwritten catalogue. A rare printed catalogue of Arthur’s collection, published in 1897 (and available on Gallica), provides a concordance of these “A” numbers as well as a further set of “B” numbers from another early catalogue. And indeed, a “B” number can be found written in pencil (probably by Arthur) on the bookplate of the Victorines d’Auxy Hours. These numbers allow us to locate each book within the 1897 publication with ease (and in fact, in the Étienne Thirion Hours, the 1897 catalogue number is written at the bottom of the bookplate too).

f37Catalogue_des_manuscrits_et_livres_[...]_bpt6k135462b_53

As we can see from the entry in the 1897 catalogue on the right for the Victorines d’Auxy Hours, “B. 71” is included at the bottom, but not the “A 122” number seen on the octagonal label. However, an additional piece of evidence is given in the catalogue entry, namely that the book was part of the famed Yéménitz collection. This is a reference to Nicolas Yemeniz (1783–1871), another great bibliophile based in Lyon. Thus, we now have an additional, earlier piece of provenance information for this book, all thanks to our understanding of a sticker!

All three Brölemann books now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art were sold by Henri-Auguste’s great-granddaughter Blanche Bontoux (Mme. Étienne Mallet according to the nomenclature of the day), on May 4 and 5, 1926, at Sotheby’s London. From there, they were acquired by various booksellers and eventually offered to Collins.


Introducing the Hours of Étienne Thirion, hyperopic Receiver General of Montréal

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 15/52

  
Book of Hours for the Use of Rome (here identified as the Hours of Étienne Thirion), Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1945‑65‑14, fols. 25v–26r (end of the “Ave cuius conceptio” prayer and beginning of the Hours of the Virgin; owner kneeling in prayer before the Annunciation)

Last week, we examined the fascinating imprints left by eyeglasses in this Book of Hours from the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA 1945-65-14). Today, we’ll take a closer look at the identity of the book’s first owner, and the artist he commissioned to paint the book’s miniatures.

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1945‑65‑14, details of fol. 1r and lower pastedown (catalog clipping from Sotheby’s, London, May 4–5 1926; handwritten 20th-century notes with erroneous identification of heraldry)

When the book was described in the auction catalogue of the Étienne Mallet collection (Sotheby’s, London, May 4-5, 1926, lot 55; catalog clipping on folio 1r), and around the same time on the lower pastedown, it was noted that it displayed the arms of a certain “N. Champion d’Auxerre” or “d’Avalon,” and of “Minard,” the latter interpretation probably based on a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century inscription found on folio 3r.

  
1945‑65‑14, fols. 3r and 12r (with coats-of-arms erroneously identified as “Champion,” gules, a warrior carnation/or armed with a club and a shield; and “Mignard,” sable a cat sejant argent)

This suspect ownership information was repeated when the book was gifted to the PMA as part of the Philip S. Collins Collection,1 and again shortly thereafter in the supplement to the de Ricci census.2 Also noted in the 1926 auction and subsequently repeated was the presence of a finely written Latin inscription of a certain Stephano Thyrion on folio 2r, thought to be that of a later owner (“Iste heure pertinent Stephano Thyrion Receptore de monte regali”).

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1945‑65‑14, fol. 2r and detail (inscription of Étienne Thirion: “Iste heure pertinent Stephano Thyrion Receptore de monte regali”)

Curious about the identity of this “Stephano Thyrion,” and not able to find any Champion or Minard heraldry comparable to that found in the book in any of the regular reference sources, I began to delve further into his name, which seemed to be a Latinization of the French Étienne Thirion. Indeed, some searching through La noblesse aux états de Bourgogne de 1350 à 1789, a nineteenth-century dictionary of Burgundian nobility (for the book’s miniatures appear to have been painted in Dijon–more on that below), reveals a certain Étienne Thirion II, whose father, likewise named Étienne, was “procureur” of Montréal (Monte Regali in Latin) in 1539. A procureur was a kind of public prosecutor or receiver general that can be equated with the Latin “receptore” title found in the inscription. The historic town of Montréal is located about eighty kilometers west of Dijon, today in the Yonne department. The collegiate church in that town contains choir stalls dating from 1522, vividly carved in a style that matches the miniatures of the Book of Hours. One can imagine Étienne coming close to these, when using his book at Mass, and remarking on his own good taste.

How can we be sure that this Étienne Thirion I was the man depicted in the book, and not just the early owner who inscribed its first folio? Crucially, the entry in La noblesse aux états de Bourgogne provides the heraldry of this family: “De… à un guerrier de carnation armé d’une masse et d’un bouclier.” (“Of… [unknown background color], a warrior carnation armed with a club and a shield”). While the fields in the coats-of-arms in our book are most definitely red and the color of the warrior gold and not carnation, this description is sufficiently close, and the presence of a warrior with a club and shield sufficiently unusual, to be able to identify the original owner of the book definitively as Étienne Thirion I, depicted kneeling in prayer with a book in the handsome miniature on folio 25v. Thirion’s coat-of-arms is depicted no less than three times in the manuscript: alone accompanying his portrait on folio 25v, hanging from a tree alongside that of his wife on the armorial frontispiece on folio 3r, and impaled with those of his wife on folio 12r. His wife’s identity remains a mystery, but her heraldry (sable a cat sejant argent) does not seem to be that of the Minard family as earlier descriptions of the manuscript had indicated. Perhaps a ailurophile heraldist will be able to find the answer.

As we already mentioned, the style of the manuscript’s decoration suggests that it was produced in Burgundy, likely Dijon, where in the early sixteenth century a rather scruffy, busy painterly style predominated.3 The presence on folio 3v of an almanac for twenty years beginning in 1518 confirms a date of production on or shortly before that year.

   The martyrdom of St John; with the saint being tortured in a vat of boiling oil on the right and the Roman emperor Domitian sitting on his throne on the left and Latin text in letterpress on the verso. One impression of the 1511 Latin edition of a series of 15 woodcuts. c.1496-7 Woodcut
1945‑65‑14, fol. 11v (full-page miniature showing the Martyrdom of Saint John the Evangelist) and Albrecht Dürer, Martyrdom of Saint John the Evangelist, 1496–97, London, British Museum, E,3.130

While the style of the book’s decoration and miniatures is somewhat rough, the overall effect is not without interest. The fanciful all’antica-style architectural frames are rendered in a thin wash of gold, with definition provided by highlights of reddish orange. Most eye-catching are the full-page miniatures of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Evangelist, the composition of which is based on Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypse woodcut print from 1496–97, and the Office of the Dead, which shows a group of Franciscan (?) monks and nuns and a man and woman mourning a naked dead body laid on a table.

  
1945‑65‑14, fols. 68v-69r (full-page miniature showing the Mourning over a Dead Body; beginning of the Office of the Dead)

The artist at work in the Book of Hours seems to be identifiable with the anonymous illuminator who decorated the Hours of Bénigne Serre (1482–1552), dated to 1524 and now in a private collection in Switzerland but fully digitized thanks to the work of the e-Codices project.4 Serre was the son of a Dijon merchant, and was from a similar background as Thirion, having risen through the ranks of local administration to obtain a barony and a seigneury around the time he commissioned his Book of Hours. Though the PMA manuscript is considerably larger and less richly illuminated, the two Books of Hours share some remarkable similarities. Compare, for example, the playful putti and bas-de-page vignettes in both books’ Annunciation pages, or the climbing putti and spiral columns likewise shared across both manuscripts. Thus, in addition to being a convenient resting-place for Thirion’s eyeglasses (we suspect), this Book of Hours also serves as a precious new element in our understanding of sixteenth-century book illumination in the Burgundian capital.5

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1945‑65‑14, fol. 26r; Book of hours of Bénigne Serre, 1524, Utopia, armarium codicum bibliophilorum (private collection, Switzerland), Cod. 103, fol. 33v

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1945‑65‑14, fol. 11v; Book of hours of Bénigne Serre, 1524, Utopia, armarium codicum bibliophilorum (private collection, Switzerland), Cod. 103, fol. 26v


 

A “Spectacular” Discovery: imprints of eyeglasses and their specific context in a Book of Hours

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 14/52

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A volume with a rust stain from eyeglasses, presented with an actual pair of eyeglasses in front of it (exhibited in Le verre, un moyen-âge inventif, Musée National du Moyen-Âge-Thermes de Cluny, 20 September 2019 – 8 January 2018); Book of Hours for the Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1945‑65‑14, fols. 106v–107r (eyeglass imprints in the gutter)

The recent exhibition on glass in the Middle Ages (Le verre, un moyen-âge inventif, at the Musée National du Moyen-Âge-Thermes de Cluny) exhibited a famous rust-stain in an incunable caused by a pair of eyeglasses long forgotten inside the closed book.  The differential condensation of the metal frames around the lenses caused traces of oxidation to transfer to the paper surface over time. Presented evocatively in front of the book in the exhibition was an actual pair of late-medieval eyeglasses, excavated archeologically in a different context. Unsurprisingly, the original pair of eyeglasses responsible for the stain is long gone. And, in any case, since the incunable is a rather dry theological volume with few annotations, and the eyeglasses were left in for years, or possibly even decades or centuries, this is clearly the product of one-time forgetfulness. After all, how many items have we forgotten in our own books over the years?

  
1945‑65‑14, fols. 106v–107r (eyeglass imprints faintly visible in the gutter)

Less distinct, but perhaps more interesting, are multiple imprints of a single pair of glasses repeatedly left in an early-sixteenth-century French Book of Hours belonging to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA 1945-65-14), which I discovered to my astonishment while showing the book to my students in October 2018. Though eyeglass frames could be made of metal or wood, the double-ringed imprints suggest that in this case the frames were made of leather: the six pairs of contemporary spectacles thought to have belonged to Willibald Pirckheimer (discovered behind a bookcase at Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany, in 1867) have hard leather frames with distinct ridges along their inner and outer radiuses.1 One can imagine such objects producing exactly the kind of pattern we see several times in our own book, the faint outlines perhaps caused by the transfer of accumulated dirt and oil deposited on the frames. As is often the case with such subtle features on the parchment page, these imprints are more easily visible in person than through digital images, excellent though they may be. Two artificially enhanced images below show the double-circle patterns more distinctly.

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1945‑65‑14, fols. 107r and 109r (eyeglass imprints, contrast adjusted with image-processing software)

What is most fascinating about our example is that these circular traces all occur after the end of the primary texts in the Book of Hours, within a gathering written in a different script but undoubtedly added very close to the date of the main texts’ production (see the collation model within the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis interface for more detail). The gathering contains prayers to be recited at specific points during the Mass: at Confession, before receiving the Host, and after receiving the Host. The absent-minded (or perhaps convenient) deposit of spectacles in the gutter of a book at such moments reminds us of Canon van der Paele’s famous likeness by Jan van Eyck.

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Jan Van Eyck, The Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele, 1434–36, Bruges, Groeningemuseum (detail), image from the Closer to Van Eyck project

More examples of spectacle imprints in manuscripts and early printed books survive than one might first imagine. As scholars begin to pay more attention to the usage histories of medieval and early modern books, discoveries of this sort continue to be made. One can assume that many more such traces, some fainter than others, survive undetected in books around the world. We even have numerous pairs of sixteenth-century eyeglasses that exist (outside of books), kept as souvenirs of distinguished users. The interest of the present discovery, however, lies in the fact that it occurs in a very particular point within a Book of Hours, and thus offers us the possibility to reconstruct a specific use context. While in the comfort of the user’s home there would presumably have been other places to leave one’s glasses, bringing the book to Mass required finding a safe place to put valuable spectacles between the recitation of Eucharistic prayers and the procession forward to receive the consecrated host.

  
1945‑65‑14, fols. 25v–26r (end of the “Ave cuius conceptio” prayer and beginning of the Hours of the Virgin; owner kneeling in prayer before the Annunciation)

As if this weren’t a specific enough context, the first owner of this book and the probable proprietor of these now-vanished spectacles is actually depicted in the book itself, in prayer, reading–glasses free–from a Book of Hours. What is more, his identity, never before pinpointed, can be deduced with near-certainty, along with that of the artist who painted the miniatures. But for this, you’ll have to wait for next week’s post!