Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rochester (NY)’s Ninth-Century Saint

The Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester has a small but impressive collection, and one that, judging from the volume of visitors when I visited it in late 2011, is clearly held in affection by the town's citizens. Amongst the medieval holdings is - I believe - the museum’s single piece of early medieval art currently on public display: a roughly 10” x 10” painting of the head and upper torso of a saint, clearly detached at some point from a larger fresco. The present catalogue lists it as ‘Sicilian painting...on plaster',  leaving any visitor with an interest in early medieval art wishing to know more, and wondering in what wider company Rochester's holy man was once counted, and where. The current online catalogue  - viewable here - takes the saint’s provenance no further back than the sale of Joseph Brummer’s collection by Parke-Bernet in New York on May 11-14, 1949. The actual entry in the Parke-Bernet sale catalogue is, however, at least a little more forthcoming: 

   331. Siculo-Byzantine Painted Fresco Panel                                                                           IX Century
Head and shoulders of a lightly bearded saint with brown hair and sky blue robe, outlined against an ochre and red halo. Frame. From the Cathedral of Messina.  Note: An extract from a letter of Dr. Raimond von Marle to the former owner, dated May 21 1927, reads as follows: “I like your fresco fragment very much; it certainly dates from the 9th century. As you have my books you might compare it to fig. 51 of Vol. I, the fresco of Martino di Monti, Rome, of the year 844- 847, especially with the figure most to the right.”. Collection of Mrs. Caroline R. Hill. [It is not wholly clear, by the way, that this letter is addressed to her.]

The buyers for the museum were the Herdle sisters, the daughters of George L. Hurdle the initial director of the Memorial Art Gallery.  In 1922 he was succeeded by his 25 year old daughter, Gertrude, who became the youngest art museum director in the US at that time (perhaps ever?) who would oversee its fortunes until her retirement in 1962. According to Betsy Brayer, in a 1981 article on the Herdles in the University of Rochester’: ‘For the more important object of augmenting her on-the-job training, and for authenticating works of art up for consideration ... the youthful new director relied heavily on the noted art dealer and scholar Joseph Brummer.’  Tutor and trader both, Brummer was, in Brayer’s words ‘...a friend of the Gallery for many years before his sudden death in 1949 [recte: 1947] catapulted the last such notable and wide-ranging art collection onto the market.’
Joseph Brummer (1883-1947) was one of three brothers with interests in art and antiquities. As a young man he studied with Rodin and Matisse before turning towards dealing. Frères Brummer opened their first gallery in Paris in 1906. Through it they made numerous contacts with the contemporary art world, and with artists. Henri Rousseau painted  Joseph’s much-reproduced portrait in 1909. He introduced Guillaume Apollinaire to art collecting, sold Robert Bliss of Dumbarton Oaks his first Olmec figure, and was instrumental in introducing the Parisian avant-garde, including Picasso, to the ‘tribal’ arts of the non-western world. Following the First World War the Brummers moved their business interests to New York, opening a gallery (‘Joseph Brummer, Ancient Art’) and expanded into both ancient and medieval art. They seem to have become rapidly established as taste brokers and suppliers of art and antiquities to major private collectors  and established galleries all over the U.S., supplying, amongst others, the Walters and the Metropolitan Museum of Art with pieces for their collections, and playing a role in the assembly of the pieces for  ‘The Cloisters’ prior to its opening in 1928. Joseph Brummer was also the dealer who supplied the Walters with the so-called ‘Abucasem’ (after Tawfic Abucasem, its early owner) or Hama collection of liturgical silver in 1929. This collection, by the way, is now thought by some to have been made for the church of Sant Sergios, Kaper Koraon southeast of Antioch, now in northern Syria and discovered in the same hoard that contained the so-called ‘Antioch Chalice’ now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Unfortunately establishing the origins of pieces from the Brummer collections has proven difficult. ‘‘The laconic records from Joseph and Ernest Brummer’s galleries’, writes Jill Meredith, ‘galleries do not always supply the names of the European dealers from whom the works were purchased, and rarely do they mention a site of origin.’ Meredith was writing of items sold not in 1949 but 1976, as part of the sale of Ernest Brummer’s collection, but the sentiment would seem to hold good for our saint and for the earlier collection. The sale of Brummer’s collection was in three parts, each conducted over several days. The copy of the catalogue before me has ‘950 -’ ( $950?) written in the left hand margin. Rousseau’s portrait of Brummer himself, incidentally, would sell in 1993 for £2,971,500 ($4,421,592). More on Raimond von Marle's career as an art historian can be found here
Adding further puzzlement is the fact that the Cathedral at Messina was built in the twelfth century. (Evidence of what went before is proving hard to track down ...). It was extensively rebuilt in the wake of the 1908 earthquake, and underwent comparable rebuilding after Allied bombing in 1943. Messina itself was under Byzantine control until it was captured by Muslim armies already active elsewhere on the island in summer 842 - an episode in the longer narrative of expansion and conquest by forces from Aghlabid North Africa, sometimes working in tandem with groups from Umayyad Spain and, later, semi-independent groups in southern Italy. In certain respects (the bagging beneath the chestnut-brown gimlet eye, the lighter brown arc denoting the curve of the eyelid beneath the brow, the bow shaped mouth) there are - at least to a non-specialist - parallels with the frescoes from San Vincenzo Al Volturno, some 500 km or so north, as the crow (or sea gull) flies. 
On the Brummers and their medieval collections see W.R. Johnson, William and Henry Walters: the Reticent Collectors (Baltimore, 1999), pp. 213-4; Jill Meredith, ‘Romancing the Stone: Resolving Some Provenance Mysteries of the Brummer Collection at Duke University’, Gesta 33.1 (1994), pp. 38-46. For the Herdles, B. Brayer, ‘The Herdles Go A-Hunting" Rochester Review (1981), pp. 16-19, available here. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Patrick Wormald’s LRB Reviews

“My view of the world, that of a historian rather than a journalist, is that it is peopled by inadequates, not villains; people who misuse (much more often than abuse) power, precisely because they have no real clue what to do with it.” 
Patrick Wormald, in a letter to the LRB, 18 no. 19 (October, 1996) in response to Paul Foot’s review, in the previous issue, of Mark Peel’s The Land of Lost Content: The Biography of Anthony Chenevix-Trench (Pentland, 1996).

The authors of the bibliography that comprises the first chapter of S. Baxter, et al., Early Medieval Studies in Memory of Patrick Wormald (Aldershot, 2009) make no claim to completeness: ‘...no pretence is made to itemize all of his reviews or occasional pieces of journalism.’ (S. Foot with S. Baxter, ‘The Writings of Patrick Wormald’, Studies in Memory, pp. 1-9, at 1 n.1.)  As it stands the bibliography seems remarkably thorough, listing as it does all major publications and substantial reviews in academic journals and the TLS. Falling under the stated terms of exception - and consequently absent from the bibliography - is the sequence of 2000-4000 word essays published by Wormald in London Review of Books from the early 1980s until shortly before his death in September 2004. Opera minora these may very well be when considered in the context of his work as a whole, they are nevertheless worth reading and worth recording, not least as parts of one scholar’s broader engagement with the past and the business of thinking and writing about the past. In addition to the expected reviews of scholarly works on the early and high Midde Ages in the LRB we find Wormald on subjects and authors far from Anglo-Saxon England:  Stonehenge and Saladin; John Fowles, John Michell, and Aubrey Burl: 

“Mr Burl’s intellectual method is to take the archaeological evidence of ritual, where it sometimes seems that anything which is not entirely circular is a phallus and anything which is a mother-goddess...”

Archaeologists at the centre as much as on the fringes came in for criticism, couched in a way that the editor of the English Historical Review would have been unlikely to have waved through to the presses:

“Hodges has a dozen ‘paradigms’, half a dozen ‘parameters’, and more ‘models’ than Cliveden in its early Sixties heyday.”

Whilst still recognisably the same work as the author of articles such as ‘Lex scripta...’, ‘Bede, the Bretwaldas, and the Origins of the gens Anglorum’, ‘Bede, Beowulf and the Conversion’, these reviews are also often both broader in their range of reference and sharper in both tone and bite; at points far nearer to Hitchens (C.) than Maitland (F.). That said, these reviews contain no shortage of insights and epigrammatic judgments on the early medieval past and the methods of medievalists. Three examples: 

The history and historiography of Roman Britain abounds in paradoxes. The first and not the least of these is that one of the most obscure and geographically remote Roman provinces has attracted a literature that makes the history of Roman Greece or Syria seem peripheral by comparison.”

“In a Radio Times interview announcing Magnusson’s series, Peter Sawyer compared references to the gruesome Viking ritual of the Blood-Eagle, whereby, in honour of Odinn, a man’s lungs were draped across his shoulders like an eagle’s folded wings, to stories of Uhlans bayonetting babies. The difference is that First War German newspapers did not exult in spiked infants, whereas it is Scandinavian sources who fully describe the Blood-Eagle. Magnusson confidently assures us that ‘there is not a scrap of historical evidence that it ever happened outside the fevered imagination of saga-writers,’ which is presumably why it is not even mentioned in the other books. But it depends what one means by scraps.”

And, finally:

“A little over a century ago, the Battle of Hastings was the subject of a scholarly dispute of a virulence not seen again until the Storm over the Gentry or the Condition of England Question in the 1960s. One protagonist, the polymathic E.A. Freeman, echoed some famous words of Macaulay, celebrating the ‘cause for which Harold died on the field and Waltheof on the scaffold’ (Waltheof was the last survivor of the Old English aristocracy: he was executed for treason in 1076 after a rebellion which, according to the sources, was fomented by leading members of the Norman nobility). The other, the acid-penned J.H. Round, found the patronage denied to him by the academic circles that favoured his opponent by supplying the aristocracy with lineages going back to 1066. Soaring effortlessly above the mêlée, F.W. Maitland, a greater historian than either (or anyone then or since), asked to be updated on the progress of ‘the battle’ from his winter resort in the Canaries. We know more about what happened on the field of Hastings that October Saturday than about any battle anywhere since Ammianus Marcellinus chronicled the destruction of the East Roman army by the Goths nearly 700 years before. Yet the price paid for good sources at this stage of history is that they rarely agree.”

The complete LRB archive is accessible on line to individual and institutional subscribers. However, a free seven day full access subscription is currently available hereIn addition to Wormald’s reviews those by Stuart Airlie (on Karl Leyser and Maurice Keen), Peter Godman (on Tolkien), Jinty Nelson, and Tom Shippey, amongst others, are all accessible. The articles from which the quotations above come, together with all other contributions, are listed below in order of appearance:

“Year of the Viking." Review of The Vikings, by James Graham-Campbell and D. Kidd, The Viking World, edited by James Graham-Campbell, The Northern World, edited by David Wilson, Vikings!, by Magnus Magnusson, The Vikings, by Johannes Bronsted, Viking Age Sculpture, by Richard Bailey and The Viking Age in Denmark, by Klaus Randsborg. LRB, 2 no. 14 (1980) pp.  9-10.

“Everlasting Stone." Review of The Enigma of Stonehenge, by John Fowles and Barry Brukoff and British Cathedrals, by Paul Johnson, LRB 3 no. 9 (1981), pp. 20-21.

“Romanitas." Review of Roman Britain, by Peter Salway and Roman Britain, by Malcolm Todd, LRB 3 no. 21 (1981), pp. 21-22.

“The New Archaeology." Review of A Short History of Archaeology, by Glyn Daniel, A Social History of Archaeology, by Kenneth Hudson and Rites of the Gods, by Aubrey Burl, LRB 4 no. 5 (1982): 5-6.

"Hegemonies." Review of Dark Age Economics: The Origins of Towns and Trade, AD 600-1000, by Richard Hodges and Londinium: London in the Roman Empire, by John Morris, LRB, 4 no. 19 (1982), pp. 22-23.

"Robin’s Hoods." Review of Robin Hood, by J. C. Holt, The Early History of Glastonbury: An Edition, Translation and Study of William of Malmesbury’s ‘De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie’, by John Scott and Megalithomania, by John Michell, LRB, 5 no. 8 (1983), pp. 22-23.  

“Joseph Jobson." Review of Saladin in his Time, by P. H. Newby and Soldiers of the Faith: Crusaders and Moslems at War, by Ronald Finucane. LRB, 7 no. 7 (1985), p. 14.

Warrior Women." Review of Women in Anglo-Saxon England and the Impact of 1066, by Christine Fell, Cecily Clark and Elizabeth Williams, LRB, 8 no. 11 (1986), pp. 6-7.

“The West dishes it out." Review of The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonisation and Cultural Change 950-1350, by Robert Bartlett, LRB 16 no. 4 (1994), pp. 23-24. 

"Did Harold really get it in the eye?" Review of The Battle of Hastings, 1066, by M. K. Lawson, The Normans: The History of a Dynasty, by David Crouch and Domesday Book: A Complete Translation, edited by Ann Williams and G. H. Martin, LRB, 26 no. 11 (2004), pp. 30-32. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Philip Grierson (1910-2006) Interviewed

'A single example might suffice to underline Grierson's inspired use of numismatic evidence dramatically to resolve a major historical controversy. This was that which raged over the historian Henri Pirenne's long-standing explanation of the survival of gold coinage in the west until the early 9th century and its replacement by silver for the next 500 years. For Pirenne, the disappearance of gold was the last act of the decline of Rome in the west, and its cause was the depredations of Islam. In 1960, Grierson published a recondite article on the monetary reforms of Caliph Abd al Malik and their financial consequences, which showed that they included a decisive shift in the relative value of silver and gold in the Islamic world, bringing about the flight of silver to the west and gold to the east. In doing so, he illuminated a major factor in the rise of monometallism that endured for five centuries in western Christendom.
   Such work demanded a rare combination of skills involving mathematics, statistics, metallurgical analysis and an enviable range of languages and detailed historical knowledge. With such skills, Grierson could bring professional rigour to a world well supplied with enthusiastic amateurs, and an impressively wide range and perspective to a subject all too often studied on local lines. His scholarship gave rise, among much else, to the five volumes published by Dumbarton Oaks, and the 15 volumes planned for the Fitzwilliam Collection. These books justified his international reputation.' Neil McKendrick, obituary, The Guardian, 17th January, 2006. Full text here

A brief 2005 video interview with Philip Grierson can be found online here. (The full DVD version available from the Fitzwilliam itself.) 

The Museum's own appreciation of him - well worth reading - is downloadable here

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sutton Hoo in 1951

'In 1944, on its return to the British Museum from evacuation, the whole of Sutton Hoo, field records as well as excavated material, had gone into the Research Laboratory. The British Museum research Laboratory at that time was recognized as leading the world in the application of science and conservation techniques to antiquities. Here, under Harold Plenderleith, experiences craftsmen had been working on the Sutton Hoo material for more than a year before I came on the scene. They included Herbert Maryon FSA, retired metallurgist and sculptor, specially recruited by the trustees in November 1944 to deal full-time with the real headaches - notably the crushed shield, helmet and drinking horns. When I began work I was given the freedom of the laboratory, and spent many hours with the craftsmen in the workshops. I sat with Maryon while he took me through the material and with infectious enthusiasm, demonstrating what he was doing.’ Rupert Bruce-Mitford, ‘Early Thoughts on Sutton Hoo’ Saxon 10 (1989), available in full here

Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo was excavated in the heat of high summer, 1939. The work was begun by Basil Brown, a local Suffolk archaeologist who had been digging on the site since the previous year, earning 30 shillings a week from Mrs. Pretty, the land's owner. Once the extent of his discoveries became clear Charles Phillips and a team from Cambridge and the British Museum bumped Brown from the dig. Barely out of the ground for six months the artefacts were put into storage for the war’s duration in the London Underground, where they spent the next five years resting safely in the tunnels between Holborn and Aldwych, having travelled from the BM to the Strand in boxes on a horse-cart, hidden beneath tarpaulins. According to some accounts, several of the items were wrapped in damp moss to preserve their condition - it fell to a British Museum employee to water the moss everyday to keep it moist - an act of loyal stewardship Raedwald might have approved of. (If true, Holborn Tube deserves a plaque in his honour...) The objects were recovered in later 1944, before the war’s end but when the tide had decisively turned. As the passage above makes clear, a team of experienced conservators from the BM’s Department of British and Medieval Antiquities, together with selected specialists like Maryon, would subsequently work for several years under Rupert Bruce-Mitford’s direction. Bruce-Mitford, then Assistant Keeper under Thomas Kendrick, oversaw the first display of the find to the public in early 1946. The following year visitors could buy the first of many editions of his The Sutton Hoo Ship-burial: a Provisional Guide. Those eager to consult Bruce-Mitford’s full, official report would have to wait another 36 years for the publication of the final volume of  The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial in 1983. 
In 1951 Life magazine visited the British Museum. British royalty were prominent and popular in North America at the time: George VI’s failing health had meant that the Princess Elizabeth had taken his place on majors tours of both Canada and the US. In Washington DC she met with Harry Truman. Whether the glamour of live royalty, albeit a descendent of Cerdic, rubbed off on the (probably) Wuffing inhabitant of Mound I is an open question. Whatever the motive behind the coverage a four-page story, ‘King’s Tomb is Greatest Find in Archaeology of England’, ran in Life’s 16th July issue, with 2 half-tone pictures and four colour plates. It is clear, however, that the photographer from Life’s London bureau, Larry Burrows, had taken considerably more pictures than those selected for the brief piece. That several of these had been excluded may have been a cause for relief for the BM’s authorities, who might well have felt that the image of a British Research Laboratory technician, clad in brown warehouse coat with drooping, ash-heavy woodbine pondering the possibilities of a pair of scabbard bosses failed to send the image of the BM as a true world leader in conservation technology. (Our man in the warehouse coat is not, I believe, Harold Plenderleith, though Herbert Maryon is seen above, with the aurochs drinking horn, and Rupert Bruce-Mitford posed with various artefacts.)
Whilst the pictures of the initial 1939 excavation and the ghostly boat imprint are well-known, as are   other items such as the ubiquitous helmet, these mid-twentieth century images are far less familiar to students of Anglo-Saxon England in the age of Bede - hence their partial reproduction and the embedded links given below. To the twenty-first century eye some of these images appear undeniably - if mildly - comic; the representation of the British class system coded into some of the poses is reminiscent of the famous ‘Frost Report’ sketch featuring Cleese, Barker and Corbett (‘I am middle class...’). Beyond that, however, the overlay of historical moments, and the growing distance from today of the world of Bruce-Mitford and post-war, 1950s Britain, give these photographs a certain power, and a certain hauntological quality, to use a much overused term.

A core selection of Burrow’s 1951 archived photographs can be seen, zoomed in on, and downloaded (with some restrictions for re-use) here. The brief published article can be read here.

A further, far more sombre, stratum of history is present here, too.  Larry Burrows was a London-born photographer who began working for Life at the age of 16. He learnt his trade as a technician working with Robert Capa and would have been about 24 when he took these pictures. In 1962 he began covering the war in Vietnam, and continued to do so until his death. Several of his harrowing photographs became iconic, and can be viewed in an online tribute to his work here. Burrows was killed when the helicopter he and several other photojournalists were travelling in was shot down over Laos in 1971. In 2008 the remains of the four were recovered and interred at the base of the Journalists Memorial in the 'Newseum', a museum of news and journalism located in Washington D.C.

The (partial) reproduction of the two images above is done so in accordance with the Life/Google stated terms that they may be used for personal, non-commercial purposes.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ludwig Traube, Textgeschichte der Regula S. Benedicti (1898)

'The Quellen und Untersuchungen zur lateinischen Philologie des Mittelalters are not to be discontinued. Traube utilized them for the ‘opuscula’ of his pupils. His teeming brain provided an inexhaustible supply of subjects which he had not time to work out himself and which he handed over to others. In his O Roma Nobilis (Munich, 1891) he had shown how great was the influence of Sedulius Scottus on ninth century learning and how many MSS. were written by Sedulius himself or his Irish companions. This line of investigation has been followed out by Dr. Hellmann in the first volume of the series, Sedulius Scottus. The next volume deals with a kindred theme, Johannes Scottus, by Dr. Rand (now at Harvard). Traube’s wonderful edition of the Rule of St. Benedict, the ideal for every editor of a Latin text, brought in its train the third volume, Untersuchungen zur Überlieferungsgeschichte der ältesten lateinischen Mönchsregeln, by Dr. Plenkers. Another fruitful suggestion of the master, that the records of sixteenth century Latin scholars would throw light on the original home of many extant (and lost) MSS of Latin classics, led to Lehmann's Franciscus Modius, which is to be followed by other treatises of this kind by the same hand. The other volumes of the series which have appeared as yet are Dr. Becker's Textgeschichte Liudprands von Cremona, Dr. Lowe's Die ältesten Kalendarien aus Monte Cassino, Dr. Neff’s Die Gedichte des Paulus Diaconus. But there are almost as many more 'overflows' from Traube's flood of discovery which are outside this series. His detection of Lupus of Ferrieres as the corrector of the Berne MS. of Valerius Flaccus led to Schnetz's Ein Kritiker des Valerius Maximus im 9 Jahrhundert (Neuburg a. D., 1901). His projected edition of Ammianus Marcellinus, after his discovery of the text- tradition, was handed over to Dr. Clark. A hint of his on the lessons to be learnt from a comparison of an uncial archetype, the Puteaneus of Livy, with its minuscule transcript in the Vatican, led indirectly to Prof. Shipley's useful booklet on Certain Sources of Corruption in Latin Manuscripts (New York, 1904). I mention only a few instances, out of many. Other books of the kind are still to be published - Dr. Lowe’s account of Beneventan script, Dr. B. A. Mueller’s of the ‘subscriptiones’ in Latin MSS. (the traces of ancient editions), etc., etc. What a wonderful record for one who was an invalid for a great part of his life and who died in his forty-sixth year! As I stood some months ago outside his house at Munich I said to myself, 'How many paths have stretched out from this little garden, on this side and on that, into all quarters of the great world of learning!''  W.M. Lindsay, reviewing Traube's posthumously published  Vorlesungen und Abhandlungen. Erster Band. Zur Paläographie und Handschriftenkunde, Classical Quarterly 3.2 (1909), pp. 132-136 at 136.
Traube was born in 1861 into prominent Jewish family in Berlin. His father (also Ludwig) was a doctor and pathologist. The younger Traube suffered from agoraphobia as a young man. As a consequence he would often hold lectures and classes at home in his apartment. (In this he had been anticipated by Ludwig Snr., who himself had conducted some apparently path-breaking 'animal experiments' in his own Berlin apartment in the 1840s....). Traube's final years were blighted by the leukemia that would eventually kill him. Before then, however, was a brilliant and highly productive career in terms both of research published and pupils taught. Influenced by the example set by Delisle at the Ecole des Chartes Traube's own blend of palaeography, philology and historical insight was responsible for originating what was later to become known as the Munich school of palaeography. He received his doctorate in 1883 with a  dissertation as Macrobius' sources. His Habilitation, on Carolingian poetry, followed in 1888 and would be published in the same year as Karolingische Dichtungen. Ædelwulf, Alchuine, Angilbert, Rhythmen.  By 1897 Traube was a member of the central directorate of the  Monumenta Germaniae Historica. His extensive personal library would form a key component of the MGH's own collection in Munich. It was catalogued in 2008 - an act of institutional piety to a foundational figure - and the catalogue, all 833 pages of it, can be accessed as a PDF from the MGH's own site, here
Anecdotal evidence hints at youthful arrogance. A teacher's query about his preparation just prior to an examination led Traube supposedly to respond that it was his professors, rather than he, who really needed to revise. He seems to have outgrown such (possibly apocryphal) arrogance. His students, a circle that included Paul Lehmann, E.A. Lowe, E.K. Rand, C.H. Beeson, and Siegmund Hellmann, to name but a few, revered him: "Sein Name hatte einen seltsam reinen Klang, und wo man ihn aussprach, löste er ein unbegrenztes Gefühl der Verehrung aus." ("His name had a strange, pure ring to it, and whenever someone spoke it, it triggered a boundless feeling of reverence.") The overall impression is of  infectious intellectual energy. E.A. Lowe, for example, would recall 'the feverish gusto with which Traube devoured a newly arrived issue of the Revue Benedictine. The notes that it spurred him to make and throw off would start settling on the floor like a light snowfall.' As several of the names suggest, Traube's influence spanned the Atlantic, and was an important factor in the formation of early twentieth-century U.S. scholarship in post-classical Latin.  
Of his work on the Benedictine Rule his pupil, E.K. Rand, wrote: 'Completely reversing the methods of his predecessors, Schmidt and Wölfflin, Traube showed that the older extant MSS of the Benedictine rule represented a late and interpolated edition prepared, most probably by Simplicius the third abbot of Monte Cassino; certain younger MSS, on the other hand, descend almost immediately from the autograph of St. Benedict, of which a copy had been made by order of Charlemagne at the close of the eighth century. The best representative of this “normal text” is Codex Sangallensis 914 ('A') copied directly and most carefully from Charlemagne’s MS in 817 or soon after, for Reginbert of Reichenau.' [E.K. Rand reviewing Traube’s pupil, Heribert Plenkers’ Untersuchungen zur Uberlieferungsgeschichte der ältesten lateinischen Mönchsregeln. Quellen und Untersuchungen zur lateinischen Philologie des Mittelalters I.3 (Munich, 1906), Classical Philology 3 (1908), pp. 124-5.]

Ludwig Traube, Textgeschichte der Regula S. Benedicti (Berlin, 1898).

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Robert Curzon, A Short Account of Some of the Most Celebrated Libraries of Italy (1854)

“Robert Curzon was abnormally short, reaching five foot three inches at the age of sixteen. His physical undersize and his highly strung and intensely shy personality were a problem to his family, although they thought it was ‘nothing a good school with well-ventilated dormitories could not put right’. After a number of schools he ended up at Charterhouse ... and then after three years private tutoring went up to Christ Church, Oxford. He failed Responsions, and left without a degree in 1829 after four terms, because his Greek did not match his knowledge of Latin grammar, and because his tutor told him he was wasting his time.’ Robin Cormack, ‘Curzon’s Gentleman’s Book’, in R. Cormack and E. M. Jeffries, eds, Through the Looking Glass: Byzantium through British Eyes, SPBS 7 (Aldershot, 2000), pp. 147-59, at 150.

‘In 1833 he began those travels which have made his name renowned. Setting out with his close friend Walter Sneyd, Curzon travelled through Europe before visiting, with George Joseph Palmer, Egypt and the Holy Land in 1833–4, on a tour of research among the monastery libraries, gathering many valuable manuscripts. He returned to England in 1834, before setting out on a second tour in 1837–8, when he visited Mount Athos and bought five manuscripts from several monasteries there, before making further purchases in Egypt. His experiences are recorded in his Visit to the Monasteries in the Levant (1849). It immediately gained popularity, running to six editions by 1881.’ Stanley Lane-Poole, in. L. Stephens,  ed., Dictionary of National Biography (London, 1889) 13, col.  354.

It is doubtful that Robert Curzon’s works are very much read these days outside academic circles dedicated to the study of Victorian travel literature, Orientalism, and the cultures of colonial collecting. In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, however, Curzon’s Visit to the Monasteries in the Levant (1849), an account of his travels and acquisition of manuscripts in the eastern Mediterranean was a major best seller. Curzon followed his explorations in the Eastern Mediterranean with travels in Italy, with the same purpose in mind: the discovery of lost classical works. The resulting account was neither a best seller nor, strictly speaking, a book at all, but rather a long account published in the 1854 Miscellany of the Philobiblon Society. With hindsight Curzon’s Visit to...the Levant might be seen as an early example of that narrow tradition of peculiarly English travel writing - a tradition in which Robert Byron and Bruce Chatwin also stand - in which the road to Athos and Aleppo runs by way of Shepherd Market and Dover Street. By contrast, Curzon’s neglected Account of the Most Celebrated Libraries of Italy stands to day as a rare  - if slight - instance of an English contribution to the genre of the manuscript hunting humanist's travelogue  that runs from Poggio and Niccoli through the travels of Mabillon and de Montfaucon to the sommerreisen of Monumentists such as Bruno Krusch. Curzon's trip to Italy seems to have netted no new MSS, however, and little consequent opprobium. Published at a time when serious manuscript research and text editing was well under way at the MGH under Pertz's directorship, Curzon's entertaining account, with its ligatures and long s's,  is knowingly and intentionally antiquarian. And all the more engaging for it ...
  Robert Curzon, A Short Account of Some of the Most Celebrated Libraries of Italy’, Bibliographical and Historical Miscellanies of the Philobiblon Society (1854). 
The 'curious' Lombard law collection that Curzon saw, by the way, is the famous Codex Legum Langobardorum, La Cava, Archivio della Badia della Santissima Trinita, 4. L. Mattei-Cerasoli, Codices Cavenses I: Codices membranacei (Cava, 1935), pp. 22-5; G.H. Pertz, Archiv 5 (1824), 247-58. Images of the royal portraits in the MS as well as those of Odin and Freya can be found at various places on line. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why Gerwardus?

A brief word on the nature of this blog and its name. Gerwardus (814 x 860?) was Louis the Pious’ bibliothecarius palatii, and Einhard’s friend and dilectissimus frater (Ep. 52). It was Lupus who presented his dearest brother's biography of Charlemagne to Louis, prefacing it with some words of his own: ‘Know, prudent reader [Louis] magnificent Einhard wrote this gesta of great Charles’. A curator of the books of others and the presenter of others’ words, Gerwardus seems an appropriate figurehead and patron scholar for a site intended to perform the same tasks in the twenty-first century. All the posts here are to resources in the public domain, works whose owners, curators and/or authors have chosen to make open access, or copyright-expired materials of continued interest and use. In short, all are freely and legally available online.
Gerwardus himself would eventually quit the imperial court for Gannita (Ghent), perhaps around 840. There, Löwe suggested, to general scholarly agreement, he would write the earlier sections of the Xanten annals. He died in 860. Gerwardus' 27-volume library was left to the monastery of Lorsch. The titles, for those interested, can be accessed in Becker's 1885 edition. The library of Lorsch is itself in the process of being made available online. Gerwardus came from a family with ties of patronage to the monastery: he  had given land to it back in 814 when he was described as a clericus. It seems likely he had studied there before joining Louis’ court around 828, an appointment made possible, perhaps, through the offices of Lorsch’s well-connected abbot, Adalung. After death, Gerwardus would be remembered in Reichenau’s Liber confraternitatis
More on G.: P. Depreux, Prosopographie de l'entourage de Louis le Pieux (781-840) (Sigmaringen, 1997),  pp. 214-5. R. McKitterick, The Carolingians and the written word (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 187-90, 251-2; J. Crick, 'An Anglo-Saxon fragment of Justinus's Epitome’, ASE 16 (1987), pp 181-196, freely available online  via Exeter’s ‘Eric’ archive;  H. Löwe, ‘Studien zu den Annales Xantenses’, Deutsches Archiv  8 (1951), pp. 58-99. 

The Antiphonary of Charles the Bald (877)

Also known as the Hofschule or Compiègne Antiphonary, was prepared for Charles the Bald in the latter years of his reign. The dedication of the octagonal chapel of St Mary, part of the royal palace at Compiègne, on 5th May 877 seems to have been the likely occasion for its preparation. Compiègne may also have been the site of the manuscript's production, and perhaps therefore also the home of the atelier known as the so-called ‘Hofschule Karls des Kahlen’. Originally an independent bound volume, Michael Huglo has made the case for this Antiphonary being brought together with an accompanying -  but physically independent Gradual  - to produce the composite codex known today as BN lat. 17436. This act of aggregation seemingly occurred in the late eighteenth century. The manuscript holds an important place in the history of liturgical manuscripts: it is 'the sole witness to the official [i.e., Carolingian] character of the antiphonal', in the words of Eric Palazzo. No less elevated is its place in the study of on ninth-century art, royal patronage and religious reactions  to Viking attacks. Famously, folio 24r contains the frequently-cited neumed prayer ‘Summa pia ...’ with its request, ‘From the wild Norman people, deliver us ..’ (de gente fera Normannica nos libera). It should be noted that this is not contemporary with the main text,  but was added at a later date (Note: this is a correction to my initial version of this post). This page can be examined in considerable detail here. (Several translations and transcriptions are floating around online.) The Antiphonary also contains a complete office for the reception of a king, De susceptione regum, which can be read here. For the text of this royal liturgy see R.-J. Herbert, CAO, I, pp. 366-8. PL 78, cols. 827-8 offers an earlier, but perhaps more easily accessible, edition. 
Some recent studies on this manuscript: R. Jacobsson, ‘The Antiphoner of Compiègne’ in M. Fassler and R. A. Baltzer, eds, The Divine Office in the Latin Middle Ages. Methodology and Source Studies, Regional Developments, Hagiography. Written in Honor of Professor Ruth Steiner (Oxford, 2000), pp. 147-179 (cited above); M. Huglo, ‘Observations codicologiques sur l'antiphonaire de Compiègne (Paris, B. N. lat. 17436)’, in  P. Cahn et A.-K. Heimer, eds, De Musica et Cantu. Studien zur Geschichte der Kirchenmusik und der Oper (Hildesheim, 1993), pp. 117-129; I. Garipzanov, The symbolic language of authority in the Carolingian world (c. 751-877) (Leiden, 2008), p. 93; A. Hughes, ‘The Monarch as the Object of Liturgical Veneration’, in A. Duggan, ed., Kings and Kingship in Medieval Europe (London, 1993), pp. 375-424. Online access to BN lat. 17436 and the image reproduced above both come via Gallica, bibliothèque numérique, the extraordinary open access project of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Reproduction here accords with the BN's requirements of fair non-profit use. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Al-Tartushi, A Cordoban Traveller in the Ottonian World

“It is extraordinary that one can find at Mainz, at the extreme end of the West, perfumes and spices that only take their birth in the deepest end of the East ...”. Born into the Jewish community of Tortosa (Turtush) sometime in the second quarter of the tenth century, Ibrahim ibn Ya`qûb (al-Tartushi) has left us a rare account of journey he undertook in 961-2 through parts of western and central Europe. His original text does not survive. Fragments of it - themselves interpolated at points - are embedded in later texts, specifically those of Abu `Ubayd al-Bakri al-Andalusi in the fifth/eleventh century and Abu Yahya Zakariya' ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini in the seventh/thirteenth century. Whilst the former copied al-Tartushi’s account of his time in Slavic territories, the latter reproduced the accounts of West and East Francia, Hedeby and other western European centres. (The interpolations are interesting in their own right: not least, al-Udhri’s detailed account of Icelandic - or perhaps Irish - whaling techniques.)Al-Tartushi’s ‘original’ work was probably a report drafted for the Umayyad caliph of Spain, al-akam II (r. 961–976), following a visit to Germany as head of a delegation to Emperor Otto I. His interests in matters of trade and medicine have contributed to him being identified as both a merchant and a doctor. (Both are certainly plausible occupations for a tenth-century traveller, but his no less recurrent interest in buildings might lead to the conclusion on the evidence of the text that he might just as well have been a Cordoban builder or architect.. .)  The chronology of his meetings with Otto I remains contested. Many things caught al-Tartushi’s interest: animal sacrifice, infanticide, the relative empowerment of the women at Hedeby - they could divorce at will. He approved of the habit of both sexes wearing indelible eye-makeup. An appreciation of Scandinavian singing, however, was beyond him. It was worse than dogs howling, he reported. (Historians and theorists of Scandinavian black metal, take note...). Trading networks were a recurrent source of fascination for al-Tartushi. In Prague he noted dirham in circulation that had been minted in Samarqand decades earlier, around 913. In Augsburg it was the odd system of establishing prices that piqued his interest. The type of goods in circulation and local crops, diet  and novel creatures were noted. Of Francia ('Ifrandiya'), he observed: ‘the cold is very strong, and the climate harsh. Nevertheless the country is rich in cereals, fruits, crops, rivers ...’. Frankish armies were brave, though, and their soldiers' swords stronger than those available from India. (Our traveller seems to have been an inveterate comparative anthropologist.) Al-Tartushi was less impressed, however, by Frankish personal hygiene. Franks washed in old water once or twice a year; they wore their clothes until they fell apart (comments reminiscent both of Ibn Fadlan on the Rus and Liutprand on the Constantinopolitan court.) Al-Tartushi was told something of the miracles of St Martin and found Fulda particularly impressive: he described it as a large stone-built city  possessed of the largest church he had seen. Forbidden to women, he explained, Fulda was populated only by churchmen. Fulda's liturgical furnishings caught his eye, too, including a reliquary (of Boniface?) "an idol ... representing the martyr, his face turned to the west”, crucifixes, and church plate. Even for someone from wealthy Umayyad Spain Fulda's riches - or perhaps more accurately its concentration of them - seemed remarkable. The excerpts from al-Tartushi to be found in al-Bakri address Eastern Europe exclusively, and rely upon both first-hand experience and the reports of others: “On the West of the Rus there is a town of women. They possess land and slaves, and when one of them delivers a son they kill him. They ride horses, take the field in war in person, and possess courage and bravery. Says Ibn-Yaqub [al-Tartushi]: ‘The information about this town is true. I was told it by Huta (Otto), the king of the Romans'” A town of women, then, in contrast with Fulda, the holy city of men. (Female religious, incidentally, don't seem to be present in al-Tartushi's world view.) Al-Tartushi’s account harmonizes with Cosmas of Prague’s account of the Amazonian ‘city of girls’ called 'Devin' in Bohemia, part of his discussion of Prague’s foundation myth: Chronica Boemarum, ed., B. Berthold, Die Chronik der Böhmen des Cosmas von Prag, MGH SRG, n.s. II  (Berlin, 1923) , I.4. (For more on Cosmas'  text, without, I think, reference to this earlier report of it, see  P.J. Geary, Women at the Beginning. Origin myths from the Amazons to the Virgin Mary (Princeton, 2006), pp. 39-40; H. Wolfram, ‘Origo gentis’, RdGA 22 (2003), 174-8. Coherent and genuinely cross-cultural studies of such cross-cultural travel in the early Middle Ages remain rare; largely, one imagines, because of the range of linguistic competency required for the work to be undertaken properly. No full English translation and commentary of Al-Tartushi currently exists. The works below, however, do allow scholars of the Latin West some mediated access to an invaluable 'outside' perspective on tenth-century Europe. French translation of the passages on West and East Francia, Hedeby and Ireland (recte: Iceland, surely): A. Miquel, A.,  L'Europe occidentale dans la relation arabe d'Ibrahim b. Ya'qub (Xe siècle) Annales ESC 21(1966), pp.  1048-1064.German translation: George Jacob, 'Zwei arabische Reiseberichte über Deutschland aus der Zeit Kaisers Otto des Grossen', Studien in den arabischen Geographen 4 (1892), pp. 127-49. English translation of the passages on the Slavs: S. Rapoport, 'On the Early Slavs. The Narrative of Ibrahim-Ibn-Yakub',  Slavonic and East European Review, 8 (1929-1930), pp. 331-41, JSTOR required for full access.  Further (recent) studies: Ibrāhīmb.Yaʿḳūbal-Isrāʾīlī al-urūs̲h̲ī, Encylopedia of Islam, 2nd edition; N. Profantová, ‘Archeology and written sources on eighth- to tenth- century Bohemia',  Early Medieval Europe 17 (2009), pp. 286–310; P. Charvat and J. Prosecky, eds, Ibrahim ibn Ya'qub at-Turtushi: Christianity, Islam and Judaism meet in East-Central Europe, c.800-1300 A.D. Proceedings of the international colloquy 25-29 april 1994 (Prague, 1996); P. Engels, ‘Der Reisebericht des Ibrahim ibn Ya'qub (961/966)’, in A. Von Euw and P. Schreiner, eds, Kaiserin Theophanu. Begegnung des Ostens und Westens um die Wende des ersten Jahrtausends. Gedenkschrift des Kölner Schnütgen-Museums zum 1000. Todesjahr der Kaiserin (Cologne, 1991), pp. 413-422; F. Sezgin with M. Amawi, Studies on Ibrāhīm ibn Yaʿqūb (2nd half 10th century) and on his account of Eastern Europe. Publications of the Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science. Islamic Geography 159 (Frankfurt-am -Main, 1994).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


‘Widsith spoke, unlocked his wordhoard ...’. Travel and knowledge come together in a very different way from that found in Masudi’s work in the Anglo-Saxon poem known as Widsith (‘wide-traveller’). Widsith is simultaneously travelogue, ethnographic catalogue, and an argument for the scop’s importance to society. ‘Widsith’ himself, and some of the groups ‘he’ mentions, are evident fictions, and quite scholarly ones at that. An early date for the poem was once more widely accepted than it is now. Relatively recently John Niles (Old English Heroic Poems and the Social Life of Texts, Brepols, 2007) has made a strong case for it being seen as a product of a tenth-century cultural context, a reading that also serves to move its date of composition nearer the date of the manuscript in which it survives, the Exeter Book. Coincidentally, this also serves to render the poem contemporary with Masudi’s Meadows, the subject of the previous post. 
 For all the excellent recent work on the poem, R.W. Chamber’s Widsith, a Study in Old English Heroic Legend (Cambridge, 1912) remains the starting point. Of it, C.J. Sisson writes, in his  PBA obituary of Chambers: “His first published book under his own name was his well-known and fundamental study of Widsith, which appeared in 1912. Chamber’s text and commentary ... and his treatment in this volume of old Germanic heroic poetry and saga in general, established his reputation at once, and gave new life to Anglo-Saxon studies in England... .” ‘Raymond Wilson Chambers, 1874-1942’, Proceedings of the British Academy 30 (1944). 
R.W. Chambers, Widsith, a Study in Old English Heroic Legend (Cambridge, 1912)