Burgess collection illuminated letter

Burgess Collection

Burgess Collection MS 9

Rabanus Maurus, Commentary on the Book of Numbers

Scanned images:


I. Material
II. Construction
III. Preparation of the Page
IV. Text
VII. Binding


I. Material

The manuscript contains 85 leaves of thick, suede-like vellum with little hair/flesh contrast and one front and one back flyleaf, each of paper. The edges of most of the leaves are soiled from use and many of the corners are stained. There are holes on many leaves and the upper corners of the first two leaves have been torn off. Certain tears in the vellum have been sown with string (e.g., f. 70). 41.1 x 31 cm.

II. Construction

18- 108 1-80 Rabanus Maurus, Commentary on the Book of Numbers
115 81 - 86

III. Preparation of the Page

VII. Binding

Pricking marks for the lines of the double vertical frame are clearly visible at the top and bottom of every leaf. Pricking marks for the lines of the text are visible in the inner and outer margins of each leaf. The writing space varies from an area of 28.7 x 22.2 cm. to an area of 28.7 x 22.5 cm.

The ruling in brown is clearly visible on every leaf. Two vertical lines on each side of the writing space (0.4-0.5 cm. apart) extend the length of the page and form a double frame. Both the ruling and the vertical lines were drawn by an instrument known as metal point. The mark made by the instrument varied in appearance according to the type of metal used. The brown lines of MS 9 were made by a ferrous point. Sometimes the metal was contained in a holder. This was the precursor to the modern pencil. This type of instrument began to be widely used in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. (Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts, pp. 78, 86; E.M. Thompson, p. 43) The text is written in two columns of 40 lines each. The space between each column is standard throughout at 1.6 cm. The lines of the text are 0.7 cm. apart.

IV. Text

A. Contents

Rabanus Maurus, Commentary on the Book of Numbers

1. Preface, f. 1r
Inc. Incipit prefatio Rabani mauri expositionem libri numerorum. Numerorum librum multiplicibus mysteriorum.
Ex. Explicit prefacie.

2. Contents of Book I, f. 1
Inc. Incipiunt capitula libri primi expositionis in libro numerorum.
Ex. Expliciunt capitula.

3. Book I, ff. 1v-18v
Inc. Incipit liber commentariorum Rabani mauri in libro numerorum.
Ex. Explicit liber primus.

4. Contents of Book II, f. 18v
Inc. Incipiunt capitula libri secundi.
Ex. Expliciunt capitula.

5. Book II, ff. 18v-41r
Inc. Incipit liber secundus. Locutus est dominus ad moysen in deserto synai.
Ex. Explicit liber secundus.

6. Contents of Book III, f. 41
Inc. Incipiunt capitula libri tercij.
Ex. Expliciunt capitula.

7. Book III, ff. 41v-63r
Inc. Incipit liber III, capitulum I. Misit interea nuntios moyses de cades ad regem edom.
Ex. Explicit liber tercius.

8. Contents of Book IV, f. 63r
Inc. Incipiunt capitula libri quarti.
Ex. Expliciunt capitula.

9. Book IV, ff. 63r-85r
Inc. Incipit liber quartus. Dixit que dominus ad moysen.
Ex. Explicit liber quartus commentariorum Rabbani mauri in uolumine numerorum.

This text is a commentary on the Book of Numbers by German teacher and theologian Rabanus Maurus (776-856). The authorship of the text is divulged in three places within the text. The scribe denoted the author as Rabanus Maurus in the phrase that begins the preface, the phrase that begins Book I and the phrase that ends Book IV (see list of contents above).

Rabanus Maurus was born of French parents in Mainz in 776. He completed his studies at Fulda and became deacon there in 801. In 802 he traveled to Tours and studied under the famous Alcuin. Rabanus became well-known for his successful teaching and drew many pupils around him as head of the convent school at Fulda. In 822 he was consecrated abbot of Fulda. In 847 he was drawn out of retirement to become archbishop of Mainz. He died on 4 February 856. In addition to successful teaching of literature, science and theology, Rabanus was an erudite Biblical scholar. He wrote commentaries on all of the books of the New and Old Testaments and many of the Apocryphal ones. (McClintock and Strong, p. 1)

MS 9 contains commentary on all 36 chapters of the Book of Numbers. The text is divided into four books. Each book is divided into a number of chapters (17, 25, 12 and 12, respectively). However, these chapters and book divisions do not match up with the actual chapter divisions of the Book of Numbers. As a remedy to this problem, another scribe marked the true biblical chapters at the top of the recto and verso of each leaf.

B. Script

The text was written in the tradition of the Protogothic System of scripts. Generally, this system corresponds with the Romanesque period of art and architecture. Protogothic script encompasses the transition from Caroline Minuscule to Gothic Minuscule. It was prevalent in areas under Norman and Angevin rule from the end of the eleventh century to the mid-thirteenth century. The system comprised three different types of script: Continental Protogothic Book Script, English Protogothic Book Script and Protogothic Documentary Script. (Brown, Western Historical Scripts, pp. 72-9) Despite the fact that current provenance information identifies this script as French (see section IX below), MS 9 is clearly written in English Protogothic Book Script. Michelle Brown has noted that the application of feet and serifs "remains the best criterion for distinguishing between English and Continental examples [of Protogothic script]." English Protogothic Book Script contains "formally applied feet and serifs," while Continental Protogothic Book Script contains simple feet "which generally consist of an upwards turn of the pen." (Brown, Western Historical Scripts, p. 73) The scribe applied sloping feet to most of the minims of this text. He also applied formal slab serifs (usually sloping) to the ascenders of b, d, h, i, j, k and l and the descenders of p and q. (Compare MS 9 to Brown, Western Historical Scripts, plates 25, 26) In addition, the presence on the letter x of the extended, left-handed, lower stroke that curls around the preceding letter denotes an English script. Likewise, the wavy stroke on the top dot of the double-dotted abbreviation mark is a predominantly English characteristic. (See Brown, Western Historical Scripts, plate 26)

The text also contains calligraphic lengthening of the letter v in two places. The v in librvm (f. 1r, column 1, line 6) and the v in numerorvm (f. 1v, column 1, line 10) have both been lengthened. Michelle Brown has noted that such calligraphic lengthening is an English feature that originated in Insular scripts of the late seventh century. (Brown, Western Historical Scripts, pp. 76; see, for example, the calligraphic lengthening of R and N in plate 26, lines 2-3)

MS 9 may have been written by more than one scribe. The text of the preface and all four books are in the same hand. However, the content listings before each book may be in a different hand. The script of the content listings is more horizontally compressed than the other script. Also, the script of the content listing of Book I contains lengthened ascenders and descenders, which, according to Brown, were a cheap way to elaborate a script. (Brown, Western Historical Scripts, pp. 78-9) Thus, it may have been that the scribe was simply changing his style slightly in order to differentiate between the contents and the book itself.

V. Decoration

VII. Binding

A. Initials

MS 9 contains three large and two small illuminated initials and 57 smaller initials. The preface and the first two books begin with large illuminated initials, while books III and IV begin with small illuminated initials. The preface begins with an initial that spans 15 lines. A green N is painted on a red background. The initial is framed in blue on the top and on each side. Green, red and blue vines emanate from two coiled dragons. The diagonal cross-stroke of the N is interlaced in the middle with a blue square. This is reminiscent of early Celtic illumination. (See, for example, De Hamel, plates 14-16) Book I begins with an initial that spans 15 lines and extends into the upper margin. A silver L is outlined in blue. A geometric design of interlocking lateral Ls, not uncommon in English manuscript illumination, is set on a blue background running down the middle of the ascender of the initial. (Compare MS 9 with Marks and Morgan, plate 8) The foot of the initial is comprised of a green dragon with a green vine and blue flower emanating from its tail. Green vines and red flowers emanate from the top of the ascender. Book II begins with an initial that spans 35 lines and extends into the upper margin. A blue L is outlined in red. Geometric designs similar to those in the previous initial fill the ascender of this initial. The foot of the L is shortened, presumably because of a lack of space. The foot is comprised of a blue dragon with blue vines and flowers emanating from its mouth. A large slab serif has been placed at the top of the ascender in the form of a blue vine with a green flower emanating from it.

Book III begins with an initial that spans 5.5 lines. A blue M is painted on a dark and light red background. The area within the legs of the M is painted dark red, while the outer area is painted light red. Geometric designs comprised of alternating blue and white concentric circles fill each of the three legs. Two blue dragons fill the spaces between the legs of the M. Book IV begins with an initial that spans 5 lines. A blue D is filled with geometric designs similar to those in the previous initial. A green, white and yellow griffin with a blue head has been painted on a dark red background inside the D. The outer background is painted light red. White and yellow flowers emanate from blue vines at the top and bottom left of the initial.

57 smaller initials can be found throughout the text. They are alternately painted in blue with red pen-work flourishes and red with blue pen-work flourishes. Elfrida Saunders has noted that such initials are a regular feature of Gothic Illumination during the thirteenth century. However, they did occasionally appear during the mid to late-twelfth century transition from Romanesque to Gothic manuscript production. (Saunders, p. 51)

B. Paragraph Signs

This manuscript contains no paragraph signs.

C. Line Endings

Line endings appear in only two places in MS 9. At the end of the phrases introducing the preface and Book I, a pattern comprising multiple minims appears in red pen-work. The first line ending contains 8 minims separated by a left-handed calligraphic lengthening of the first and sixth minim. The second line ending contains 9 minims with a left-handed calligraphic lengthening of the first minim and a right handed calligraphic lengthening of the last minim. Saunders has noted that such colored pen-work line endings began to be seen in the above mentioned transition period of the mid to late-twelfth century. They became regular features of thirteenth century manuscript illumination. (Saunders, p. 51)

D. Border Decorations

This manuscript contains no border decorations.

VI. Illustration

This manuscript contains no illustrations.

VII. Binding

There are no remnants of the original binding. MS 9 was re-bound in half calf by Bretherton in 1849. On the backstrip, "RABANUS MAURUS, IN NUMEROS, 3724."

VIII. Additions to Manuscript

A. Back of front cover, upper left corner: BRETHERTON, ligavit, 1849 (black typescript on label).

B. Back of front cover, upper left corner: 16, 9, 211/17, about 1160-70, Hrabanus (in pencil).

C. Back of front cover, lower left corner: 245 (in pencil).

D. Back of front cover, middle: Phillipps MS 3724 (in black ink).

E. Front flyleaf, upper left corner: 1931 Cat/90 (in pencil).

F. Front flyleaf, upper right corner: Burgess xMs. 9 (in pencil).

G. Front flyleaf, middle: French Works XII Cent. (in pencil).

H. Folio 1r, upper left corner: 3724 MSS Phillipps (in black ink).

I. Folio 1r, upper middle: 144 (brown or black ink).

J. Various underlining, e.g., f. 3v.

K. Various erasing, correcting and adding of text throughout (in brown ink).

L. Chapter headings on top of leaves (in brown ink).

M. Various annotations in the inner and outer margins on nearly every leaf (in brown ink).

N. Page numbers are marked in the upper right corner on the recto of each leaf (in pencil).

O. Odd page numbers are marked at the bottom-middle on the recto of each leaf. One even page number (170) is marked at the bottom-middle on the verso of the last leaf (in pencil).

IX. Provenance

MS 9 was owned by the Cistercian abbey of Pontigny near Auxerre (about 100 miles southeast of Paris). Gibson has noted that MS 9 formed part of a series of Biblical commentaries of Rabanus Maurus held by the abbey. (Gibson, p. 36) Sir Thomas Phillipps purchased the manuscript from Abbé Allard of the Abbey of Pontigny. The Phillipps Manuscript Catalogue corroborates this. (Phillipps, p. 48) The manuscript was then purchased by Bernard Quaritch at Sotheby's. Edward Sanford Burgess then acquired the manuscript from Quaritch. (Unfortunately, the exact date of purchase is not known.) It was part of the collection of manuscripts inherited by Julia Burgess in 1935, and subsequently given to (and partly purchased by) the University of Oregon Libraries. (JB, box 6, folder 14; Faye and Bond, p. 431)

The fact that MS 9 once belonged to a French abbey does not mean it originated there. Indeed, MS 9 contains much evidence that supports an English origin. For example, as noted in section I, the manuscript contains leaves of thick, suede-like vellum with little hair/flesh contrast. Michelle Brown has noted that such vellum was a distinctive feature of Insular manuscript production. In contrast, continental vellum was thinner, with a marked hair/flesh contrast. (Brown, p. 49) In addition, the many features of the script of MS 9 (Protogothic English Book Script) seem to indicate an English origin. (See section IV, B above)

Furthermore, David Diringer has noted that "the Consuetudines (1134) of the Cistercian Order forbade illuminated initials in manuscripts." (Diringer, p. 377) As noted above, MS 9 originated after this date and contains illuminated initials. Thus, it is quite possible that MS 9 did not originate in a Cistercian monastery.

Despite the evidence noted above, it is impossible to know for sure whether MS 9 originated in England or France. Diringer has noted that art contacts between England and the continent were well-maintained throughout the Romanesque and Gothic periods. (Diringer, pp. 252, 262) Thus, manuscript illumination of England and northern France was often so similar that experts cannot distinguish between them without the existence of other clues in the text or on the binding.


Unpublished Source

Julia Burgess Papers. Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. UO Coll. 209, 9 boxes and 9 separate volumes. [Referred to above as JB.]

Published Sources

Last revision: 10/30/06 by N. Helmer
Created by Ian Rush for Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries