Undigitized and unknown
By CATHARINE MORRIS
Two pieces in the TLS this year – one by A. S. G Edwards and the other by William Proctor Williams – have warned of the dangers associated with the digitization of books and manuscripts. But a recent exhibition at Senate House, organized by Cynthia Johnston of the Institute for English Studies, provided some striking examples (see some of them above and below) of the sorts of items that can languish unnoticed without its help.
Little attention has so far been paid to the fabulous collection of manuscripts, incunables and early printed books bequeathed in 1946 by R. E. Hart (a member of a philanthropic rope-manufacturing dynasty) to Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery – for the simple reason that few people are aware of its existence. When Johnston visited recently she was told that there had been three academic visitors in five years.
Johnston has called the Hart collection “just one example, although a rather fine one, of underfunded collections marooned by the gap between digital access and vanished funding”; she hopes that the money will, at some stage, be raised to get all Hart’s books online. How else can the museum stimulate international interest in a resource deemed by Johnston to be of “major importance to the study of bibliography, art and social history”?
(The following information is taken from the exhibition catalogue, edited by Johnston and Sarah J. Biggs, 978 0 9927257 0 9.)
Above: A page from the Peckover Psalter; France (Paris or eastern France?), c.1220–40. This is “one of the gems of the Hart collection”, a "lavish production of scholarly devotion and artistic skill". It contains ten miniatures showing scenes from the life of Christ painted against a vivid gold background, and two scenes of King David. Here he is shown playing the harp and (underneath) as a young man confronting Goliath.
Top: Book of Hours, Use of Rome; Northern Italy (probably Venice), c.1470-80. This Book of Hours contains sixteen large historiated initials and eleven full-page miniatures, including this arresting one in the tradition of memento mori.
Above: Book of Hours, Use of Sarum; England, c.1420–30. The historiated initials and complex borders show the influence of Hermann Scheere, whose work is found in some of the most luxurious manuscripts produced in London during the first quarter of the fifteenth century.
Book of Hours, Use of Sarum; England, c.1440. This English Book of Hours contains “not only a beautiful programme of illumination but also remarkable evidence of the aristocratic families that once owned and cherished it . . . . The workshop responsible for its illumination succeeded in creating a unique synthesis of English figural scenes with Flemish-style borders”. This synthesis can be observed in the Annunciation miniature above.
Above: Ars Moriendi; printed by Konrad Kachelofen at Leipzig, c.1495. Ars Moriendi was a popular fifteenth-century guide to dying well: “After conquering a series of spiritual temptations presented by a host of devils, Moriens, the dying man, triumphs over unbelief, despair, impatience, spiritual pride and avarice and is ultimately rewarded by salvation”. This volume is an example of the rarer, shorter version of the Ars Moriendi, which may have been intended for the semi-literate as well as the literate.
Above: Bernard von Breydenbach, Peregrinationes in Terram Sanctam; printed by Peter Drach, Speier, Germany, July 29, 1490. Peregrinationes in Terram Sanctam, first published in 1486, is an account of the nobleman Bernard von Breydenbach’s journey to the Holy Land in 1473. It became one of the best-selling books of its time. Part of its success came thanks to the illustrations by Erhard Reuwick, “the first such to be printed in any account of this kind. Places like Venice, Paris and Rhodes are shown in extraordinary detail, offering us vibrant glimpses of these towns in the late 15th century”. Reuwich’s panorama of Jerusalem is spread across six pages (this copy lacks two of them) centred on the Temple Mount.