Make Like a Manuscript and Leaf (Mmm… Marginalia #114)

I believe I’ve mentioned at least once before my new hobby, antiquing.* Well, whilst** haunting the local monthly antique show, I stumbled across a man selling manuscript leaves. Or, rather, he stumbled across me, as I was standing there helpfully pointing out to passers by that he’d completely mislabeled every single manuscript leaf he had for sale.***

Now, in general, leaves ripped from manuscripts and traded as framed art raise both my dander and my ire–cutting up old books completely destroys the manuscript’s provenance, rendering it mostly useless for scholarly work–but this guy clearly wasn’t cutting up manuscripts himself, just reselling leaves someone long ago cut up, so I cut him some slack and struck up a friendly conversation with him.****

To my surprise, the dealer was glad to have the corrected information on his wares and interested to know how this random guy in the Voltron tee-shirt***** knew so much about manuscripts. Indeed, once he knew my scholarly bonafides, I couldn’t shake the guy. Each step away from his booth brought to his mind some new stashed away treasure that I must be told about immediately. There’s a happy ending to the story though, as my feigned interest was replaced with the actual stuff when he trotted out this, a (presumably)****** late medieval Spanish liturgical******* manuscript decorated with marginal saints. I snapped a few pictures, a gallery of which I’ve attached to the end of this post.******** A couple of interesting high points first.

I’m always happy to see a marginal illuminator respecting that rule of page gravity I’m so often on about. Saintly they may be, these marginal guys still have to hold on to the letters and the ivy to avoid a game over:*********

And like the nun’s naked men of posts past, these creepy crawly saints don’t appear to have been part of the original plan of the manuscript. They were added later in the manuscript’s life, else the illuminator probably wouldn’t have gilded the part of the letter that’s covered by the climbing saint’s hand:

And finally, have no idea why the saints are fleeing into the margins, but it does put me in mind of the marginal fellow from an earlier liturgical manuscript once featured here.

If I wanted to tell a just-so story, I’d claim that the saints were added after the book was purchased from the church by a non-clerical book lover. The saints were meant to symbolize the resulting desanctification, fleeing the holy words of the liturgical ceremony for the wilds of the margins where anything goes. But probably the guys at the monastery got tired of looking at the same boring book each Sunday and, after a few years had passed, got someone to spice it up for them later–perhaps after they’d managed to secure a healthy donation from some poor sot with too much money and too many worries about the course of his soul through the afterlife.


  1. * A common hobby for the heartbroken, it seems. []
  2. ** Suck it, Coquette. []
  3. *** Bibles identified as secular works, books of hours identified as histories, Flemish manuscripts labeled Irish and Irish labeled Russian, and nearly everything pegged as two to three centuries older than it was. []
  4. **** Like when you run into the guy who delivers the girls to the happy ending massage place by the airport. It’s not like he’s the one who kidnapped and enslaved them. He’s just the middleman–and who doesn’t love a middleman? []
  5. ***** See footnote #2, Coquette, if you would. []
  6. ****** I say presumably as, for all my recently vaunted manuscript lore, I’m still but an amateur at manuscript identification. Weird eyes to me says Spanish, but I’m willing to be proven laughably wrong here, actual experts. *hint hint* []
  7. ******* See the immediately previous footnote, experts. []
  8. ******** For once, the only person to blame for the image quality is me. But I think these shots, snapped with my cell phone camera, are way nicer than nearly anything the Morgan Library is willing to offer the public. Thus, clearly, if you’re considering donating money to the Morgan to help pay for manuscript conservation, you might think about sending some my way instead. []
  9. ********* I do worry for the descending fellow, as the guy waiting to help him in the lower margin clearly suffers from that genetic condition that causes your fingers to never fully separate. []

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tom Vinson

    So is that guy in the top picture just directing traffic, or does the semaphore “L” indicate the first letter on the next page?

  • Shareddreams

    Any idea what chant this is? Can you decipher it?

  • Judy_S

    I’m struck by the fact that the saint in the green robe and the one in brown each appear twice–that is, the hairstyles go with the robes and suggest that we are seeing particular people depicted again. 

  • Got Medieval

    I’d say you’re right, Judy. If only we had the rest of the MS, we might see these two guys get up to all sorts of interesting things in the margins.

    Tom,  to me he looks more like he’s lying back in the ivy, all sprawly. But I suppose it’s possible he’s a time traveling semaphorist.

    Shareddreams, a little paleography assisted Googling leads me to conclude that it’s the liturgical business for the first Sunday after Easter, AKA White Sunday AKA (Dominica in Albis, etc.). The leisurely brown-clad monk is hanging out near the communion antiphon.

  • Anna

    The fact that the music is on a five-line staff, and not the usual four, also jives with it being Spanish, or at least that’s my understanding. 

  • Maureen O’Brien

    Green guy looks like he’s a choir director. But it doesn’t look to me like the chiro- stuff that was used to direct chant (not that I know much about it). Will post a link at place with chant people — but they’re probably all working away at the CMAA Symposium.

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  • Rose LaCroix

    I’d say it’s extremely likely this is Spanish! This is similar to leaves owned by my mother and grandmother, which my parents (not realizing the value of these psalters, since I was only a toddler and hadn’t studied medieval history yet) bought while in Spain in the 1980s from a man who was rather carelessly cutting them out. I’ve been trying to get photos/scans of these for a while. If you like get in touch with me and I’ll keep bugging Mom and Grandma, maybe we can begin a database of all the likely leaves by this workshop (for it appears to be from the exact same workshop if not the same manuscript). Perhaps enough of it can be located to catalogue.

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