The Art of Western European Manuscripts in the
5th - 16th Centuries
The State Hermitage and the National Library of Russia jointly present an exhibition of Western European manuscripts from the 5th - 16th centuries (Rotonda, Arab Hall) devoted to Western European manuscripts from the 5th - 16th centuries. The core collection in the Hermitage consists of extremely valuable manuscripts from the Tsarskoye Selo Arsenal, the Baron Stieglitz School of Technical Design, and also from the A.P. Bazilevsky collection and library of the Golitsyn princely family. A significant portion of the manuscripts held by the National Library of Russia is drawn from the collections of P.P. Dubrovsky, P.K. Sukhtelen and the Weissenau monastery in Germany
The passion for collecting manuscripts in Russia dates back to the reign of Catherine the Great. This was the time when collections were assembled by the Counts Stroganov, Princes Golitsyn and Yusupov, and by the secretary of the Russian embassy in France, P.P. Dubrovsky. During his period of service abroad, Peter Petrovich Dubrovsky (1754-1816) ñîllected around 400 medieval manuscripts. In 1805 he donated the manuscripts to the Imperial Public Library, where his collection became the basis of the "Manuscript Depository."
In 1852, some 175 manuscripts were transferred from the Imperial Public Library to the Imperial Hermitage, where they were displayed for a decade in the Manuscript Hall of the New Hermitage. In 1862 they were returned to the Imperial Public Library. Today the State Hermitage and the National Library of Russia possess a very rich collection of Western European medieval manuscripts. These are mainly of French and Flemish origin; there are significantly fewer from Italy and Germany. This correlation is maintained in the exhibition as well.
Visitors will become acquainted with medieval manuscripts of Western Europe in all their diversity.
The earliest work on display is the Compositions of Augustine Aurelius (St Augustine), one of the Church fathers and founder of Christian philosophy. It is believed by some that this manuscript, which dates from the 5th century, when the author was still alive, was written by him. The exhibition also displays a page from a sermon by Augustine Aurelius copied onto papyrus in the 7th century.
Until the mid-14th century Western European medieval manuscripts were made exclusively on parchment, which is a specially treated animal leather. The shape of manuscript books was close to modern form: stitched together sheets set within a binding.
The tradition of using colored parchment together with gold and silver as ink may be traced back to ancient Rome. It was later adopted by Byzantine and Western European book artisans. An example is the Four Evangels with Prologues of Hieronymus of Stridon created in the 8th-9th centuries on purple parchment with a text written in silver and gold ink. At this time only books of Holy Scriptures - the Gospel and Psalter - were made in this manner
One of the specific features of medieval manuscripts is flawless calligraphy. An outstanding example of this is the 9th century Gospel, which is the earliest manuscript in the State Hermitage collection. It is remarkable not only for the calligraphy, but also for the manner of its fabrication, which goes back to the Anglo-Irish style of the 8th-9th centuries.
Besides the traditional book format, in the Middle Ages manuscripts were made in the form of scrolls. This is precisely what we find in the Universal Chronology, a short chronicle of historical events from the creation of the world to the beginning of the 15th century. Made at the start of the 15th century in France, it appears to be two scrolls of parchment, each of which is wound on a wooden spindle and placed in a case.
The Romance de la Rose is an outstanding monument of medieval secular literature. Composed in the 13th century by Guillaume de Lorris and Jehan de Meung (Clopinel), it was one of the most popular allegorical romances written in verse. The copy displayed in the exhibition dates from the 15th century and is the best of the surviving copies of this romance. It has been decorated by a miniaturist whom we know as Master Boethius Lalman from Bourges
Several manuscripts are noteworthy due to the names of the owners who collected these rarities. Among them are historical personalities, statesmen and members of the royal families of Europe. The French king Charles IX (1550-1570) owned a Bible made of especially thin parchment called "girl's skin" and written in a very fine hand. The book bears the owner's inscription: "C'este biblie est a nos R. Charles".
In one Book of Hours, a 15th century manuscript, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542--1587) left the inscription: "Ce livre åst a moi merie regne, 1553".
The manuscripts on display are richly decorated with miniatures, initials and ornamentation. The real names of many miniaturists have not come down to us and we know them as the Master de Roland, the Lucon Master, the Master Bartholomew of England, Master Busico, and Master Bedford. However, we do have the names of Simon Marmion and Attavante degli Attavanti.
The exhibition is rounded out by works of applied art. These include leather bindings (without the books themselves) from little-known parts of the Hermitage collection and ivory plates which were fastened to book bindings during the 9th-11th centuries.
We gain an insight into the world of the scriptorium and the circumstances in which the manuscripts were created thanks to the displayed candlesticks, inkwells, and unique ball for warming the hands of the scribe. Religious utensils are placed in the display cases alongside the pages of manuscripts where they are reproduced: crosses, liturgical vessels, reliquaries, censers, potere and much else.
The State Hermitage and the National Library of Russia have prepared a scholarly illustrated catalogue which is published by the ARS Publishing House. Director of the State Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovsky and General Director of the National Library of Russia V.N. Zaitsev have provided introductory remarks to this publication.
The curators of the exhibition are E.I. Makarova, director, and O.G.
Zimina, deputy director, of the State Hermitage's Research Library; as
well as M. Yu. Liubimova, director, and L.I. Kiseleva, senior researcher,
of the Manuscript Department of the National Library of Russia.