Overlooked Texts, Overlooked Images (Part II): Mystery Engravings

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 41/52
A guest post by National Gallery of Art Associate Curator of Old Master Prints, Brooks Rich

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Album of Engravings and Devotional Texts by Erasmus, Marco Girolamo Vida, and Prudentius, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 179, fol. 11r, Annunciation (detail); Albrecht Dürer, Annunciation from The Small Woodcut Passion, probably ca. 1509/1510, Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art, Rosenwald Collection, 1943.3.3635

The first part of this blog post examined the interesting selection of texts, previously unidentified, that were included in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Lewis E 207 prayer book. Today, our subject is the series of engravings found within that same book. From the very beginning of their production in the late fourteenth century, single-leaf prints were pasted into prayer books and other private volumes and sometimes even further painted and gilded as inexpensive substitutes for illuminated miniatures.1

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Overlooked Texts, Overlooked Images (Part I): An Erasmian Album

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 40/52

  
Album of Engravings and Devotional Texts by Erasmus, Marco Girolamo Vida, and Prudentius, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 179, fols. 46v–47r, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Prayer for Seious Illness; engraving, Christ breaking bread with the Apostles

Sixteenth-century books that combine manuscript text with engraved or woodcut images can sometimes fall through the cracks of scholarship. On account of their hybrid character, they are often neglected by manuscript specialists in favor of entirely hand-written books. At the same time, scholars of early printing, on the lookout for editions by recognizable publishers, tend to cast aside these complex combined works in the search for more easily classifiable items. However, over the past several decades these tendencies have started to change. Increasingly, scholars have taken on the complex interface of early printing and handwriting as a fascinating subject in and of itself.1

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A Professor’s Personal Copy

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 39/52

  
Regiomontanus, Tabulae directionum et profectionum; University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, LJS 172, pp. 146–47

Johannes Müller von Königsberg (1436–76), better known as Regiomontanus, was a Central European astronomer whose peripatetic career brought him into dialogue with some of the key humanist thinkers and patrons in the period following the fall of Constantinople in 1453. He was one of the founders of modern observational astronomy; his works exerted a profound influence on Nicolaus Copernicus and were used by Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama as navigational aids. As we’ll see, this particular manuscript turns out to be quite closely linked to Regiomonatnus’ activity. But first, some background.

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Repainted Miniatures in the Frédéric Spitzer Hours

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 38/52

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Book of Hours for the Use of Paris, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1945-65–5, p. 351 and 363 (detail of retouched miniature of Saint Michael; detail of unretouched miniature of Saints George and Lawrence)

The Austrian-born, Paris-based dealer-collector Baron Frédéric Spitzer (1815–1890) is well known to those who study medieval and Renaissance art on account of his famed collection of over 4,000 items, which was sold off after his death, and also on account of the numerous deceptive objects that passed through his hands at one point in time or another. In partnership with the restorer Reinhold Vasters, Spitzer orchestrated the production of misleading objects that he sold on the art market for enormous profit.  These ran the gamut from outright forgeries, fakes, and pastiches to historicizing originals and honest replicas. A contemporary overview of his collection, before it became notorious for containing questionable objects, is provided here. Recently, Paola Cordera has written a monograph dealing with Spitzer’s wider role in the broader culture of the time, which also includes a list of the 3369 items in the 1893 auction, 508 items in the 1895 auction, and 686 items in the 1929 auction.1

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Nau, Naulet, Noël: Part II (a fragment of the Chanson de la Grue)

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 37/52

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Noels (Book of Christmas Carols in French), Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 211, fol. 5r (detail)

Last week, we looked at the lively pen-and-ink illustrations in this remarkable anthology of French Christmas carol lyrics from the 1520s, and discovered the lyrics to a poem by the famous Franciscan preacher, Olivier Maillard. This week, we will look at another text within the book, before finishing with a quick overview of some of the splendid penwork initials that embellish the book as well.

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Nau, Naulet, Noël: Part I (a poem by Olivier Maillard)

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 36/52

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Noels (Book of Christmas Carols in French), Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 211, fols. 17v (detail).

As the holiday season approaches, it seems appropriate to devote a pair of posts to a lovely, if little-known gem of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s collection of manuscripts. This charming and well-used manuscript on paper contains an anthology of lyrics for Christmas carols, or Noels, written principally in French and dating to the 1520s.

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