A treasure trove of medieval Latin manuscripts in the Library of Trinity College Dublin.
In the 1950s, Marvin 'Mark' Colker of the University of Virginia embarked on the Herculean task of creating the first comprehensive catalogue of the Library's medieval Latin manuscript collection.
Over the course of 30 years, Colker made regular visits to Dublin, spending long hours working tirelessly in the manuscripts reading room at TCD. His dedication resulted in what is fondly referred to as the 'Colker Catalogue'. Colker’s ground-breaking work is the cornerstone for any project or research based on the manuscripts.
By way of tribute, the exhibition will attempt to showcase the diversity of material made accessible to researchers through Colker’s commitment and expertise. Colker's work is also honoured in a special edition of Hermathena: a Trinity College Dublin Review, number 194, (Summer, 2013).
The remainder of the volume is decorated with delicate penwork. The full-page miniature (independent illustration) that precedes the four Gospels of the New Testament is perhaps the most eye-catching example of this elegant artwork. The Evangelist page features the four symbols of the Evangelists, creators of the Gospels.
Matthew is symbolised by a man (homo) while Mark, on the right, is represented by a lion (leo).
The West Dereham Bible is the second volume of a two-part bible thought to be produced at the Abbey of St Alban's, Hertfordshire. The book was produced for presentation to the canonry of West Dereham and came to the Trinity College Dublin in 1661 as part of James Ussher's Library. The folios pictured are from the Pauline Epistles.
The historiated initials depict scenes related to the text and usually appear at the beginning of each book. Here, Moses can be seen holding the Law of Moses while using his staff to strike a rock to release drinking water for his congregation. The initial appears at the beginning of the Book of Exodus in which Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.
Michael expresses particular concern for the character of peasants. He divulges what he regards as their failings which include, but are not limited to, boasting, dancing, fighting, superfluous drinking, cursing and superstitions.
The author expresses a distaste for gluttons who eat too quickly, men in curled wigs, women who indulge in cosmetics and listening to music that arouses lust.
Michael does display a humanitarian side, disparaging people for blocking their noses when they encounter paupers and discouraging physicians from selling medicine at a high cost.
The historiated Q shows a monk, presumably a portrait of the author of this text, standing at a lectern, writing a manuscript.
And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. (Revelation, 6:2)
The First Rider mounts a white horse and is commonly understood to represent Conquest or Victory. The Horseman carries a bow, and a crown, symbolic of conquering or righteousness.
And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. (Revelation, 6:4)
The Second Horseman appears mounted on a fiery-red horse, carrying a great sword symbolic of war. He is perhaps the most easily identifiable of the four.
This 14th century volume was probably an English family possession and is laden with intricate interlaced borders, colourful historiated initials and fantastical drolleries, including monkeys, serpentine monsters and other grotesque beasts.
Here the historiated initial from the Hours section of the manuscript depicts the Virgin Mary in conversation (in French) with a layperson.
This opening contains some marvelous examples of the manuscript’s vibrant decoration. The historiated initial on folio 23r, featured at the beginning of Psalm 20, depicts a king kneeling in prayer while the more comical figure of a man wearing a pair of bellows on his head can be seen on the opposing folio.
The existence of Psalters as personal possessions, rather than volumes for church and canon use, allowed for the creation of manuscripts that were varied in their design and character. This French Psalter was prepared for private devotions and contains a late-fourteenth century calendar (in French), the psalms, canticles, litany and prayers. The simplicity and neatness of the Gothic script may suggest that the book was intended for someone with limited literacy.
The historiated initial B, for Beatus (Blessed), on folio 14v features the crowned figure of King David, biblical composer of the psalms, writing in a manuscript. David is a common feature within psalm texts although he is perhaps more commonly depicted with an instrument, usually a harp or psaltery (a stringed instrument or harp).
Antiphonals are the musical components of Breviaries, containing the sung portions of the Divine Office. Regularly used in religious services, antiphonals were usually large in format so the entire choir could sing from a single volume. This manuscript was created for the Order of the Most Holy Saviour, also known as the Bridgettines, a monastic order of Augustinian nuns.
The Missal was one of the most important texts for a medieval priest, containing the essential texts for the performance of the Mass (including chants). This rubricated Missal was created for use in York and features the feasts of John of Beverley and William of York as well as passages for Yorkshire saints.
Genealogies were created as a means to legitimise a monarch's claim to the throne, sometimes tracing their lineage from biblical figures, like Noah in this instance.
The genealogical text tracing the lineage of English kings is accompanied by diagrams in which the names of those in the main line of descent run in circles down the central red line; other notable family members branch out along lines of blue, yellow and other colours.
Marvin L. Colker’s Trinity College Dublin Library: Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval and Renaissance Latin Manuscripts (Dublin, 1991) contains the first full description of this manuscript. Colker discovered that, rather than simply an account of poets and mythological figures, the text actually presented a kind of classical handbook for medieval readers. Through articles, diagrams and maps, the book accounts for multiple aspects of classical study including mythology, geography and history.
A Stoic philosopher, born in Spain and raised in Rome, Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c4BCE-65CE), wrote his Epistulae Morales Ad Lucilium (Moral Letters to Lucius) towards the end of his life. The letters muse on a variety of topics such as death and old age, the relativity of fame and the relationship between a master and slave.
Finally, this wonderful miniature of St Christopher holding the child Jesus appears in a 14th-century pocket book of British statutes. The illustration is the sole miniature within the 774-page volume and has been identified and described in detail by Colker. The catalogue entry is a perfect example of his meticulous work and how invaluable the 'Colker catalogue' is in making the treasures of the Latin manuscripts collection accessible and visible.
This exhibition was curated by Leanne Harrington (M&ARL), with technical support provided by Greg Sheaf.
Photography by Gill Whelan, Digital Resources and Imaging Services.
With special thanks to the M&ARL team, Estelle Gittins, Aisling Lockhart, Jane Maxwell, Ellen O'Flaherty, Felicity O'Mahony, Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin, Dáire Rooney, Martine Gleeson and Linda Montgomery, for their assistance and support.
Boynton, Susan, and Diane J. Reilly (eds.), 'The Practice of the Bible in the Middle Ages: Production, Reception, and Performance in Western Christianity', (New York, 2011).
Brown, Michelle P. 'Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms', (London, 1994).
Cleaver, Laura, and Helen Conrad O’Brien, 'Latin Psalter Manuscripts in Trinity College Dublin and the Chester Beatty Library', (Dublin, 2015).
Colker, Marvin L. 'A classical handbook from medieval England' in International Review of Manuscript Studies, Volume XLIII, (1989), 2;
- 'Trinity College Dublin Library: Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval and Renaissance Latin Manuscripts', (Dublin, 1991);
- 'Trinity College Dublin: Supplement One: Descriptive Catalogue of the Mediaeval and Renaissance Latin Manuscripts', (Dublin, 2001);
- 'Michael of Belluno on the production of books and documents' in International Review of Manuscript Studies, volume LVI, 2002, 2;
- 'Michael of Belluno and His Speculum Conscientie: The Unique Manuscript Recently Discovered' in Medievalia et Humanistica, Ser. NS, volume 29 (2003), pp. 103-119.
de Hamel, Christopher. 'A History of Illuminated Manuscripts', (London, 1986).
Fox, Peter (ed.). 'Treasures of the Library: Trinity College Dublin', (Dublin, 1986).
Lampe, G.W.H. (ed.). 'The Cambridge History of the Bible, Volume 2: The West from the Fathers to the Reformation', (Cambridge, 1969).
Maxwell, Jane. 'The “Colker Catalogue”' in Hermathena: a Trinity College Dublin Review, number 194, (Summer, 2013), pp. 11-21.
Sandler, L.F. 'Gothic Manuscripts 1285-1385, A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles' 5, (London, 1986).
Sharpe, John, and Kimberly van Kampen (eds.), 'The Bible as Book: The Manuscripts Tradition', (London, 1998).