Rare Book & Manuscript Library Exhibitions

Bibiliotheca Schoenbergensis
An Exhibition from the Collection of Lawrence J. Schoenberg

Books of Imagination

Speculum Historiale
Vincent of Beauvais, Paris, ca. 1400.

Drawing on many sources and encompassing every imaginable topic, the Speculum historiale was the greatest encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. This copy includes only Book 75 through part of Book 78, describing historical events from the reign of Charlemagne in the eighth and early ninth centuries through the twelfth. The provenance of this manuscript includes some of the most famous (and infamous) names in the history of book collecting. The blue and gold fleur-de-lys device in the borders is similar to that used in manuscripts created for King Charles V and the Duc de Berry, both noted fifteenth-century bibliophiles. Although this copy is not recorded as having been a part of the royal library, its lavish decoration identifies it as of probable aristocratic commission. In the nineteenth century, the book belonged to bibliophile and thief Guglielmo Libri. Sir Thomas Phillipps, perhaps the greatest book accumulator in history, also owned the manuscript. This page shows the opening of Book 76, set during the reign of Emperor Henry II (d. 1024). The elongated illuminated initial "H" begins the chapter, which recounts the life and deeds of the English Saint Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1005.

Parchment, 355 folios, 326 x 225 (212 x 153) mm, 2 columns, 37 lines, in French, written in Batarde script.

Hystoires anciennes jusqu'a Cesar
Bourges or Loire Valley, ca. 1470

This richly illustrated and carefully written manuscript records the history of the world from the Creation through the reign of Julius Caesar, recounting Biblical narratives alongside ancient history and mythology. The lively, though sometimes gory, text was quite popular in the fifteenth century. Although it is here ascribed to Eutropius, the Hystoires anciennes also borrows heavily from medieval as well as other classical authors. This particular copy was illuminated for Yves de Fou, whose arms appear on the first page. Because the arms were altered after his marriage to include those of his wife, Anne Mourande, it can be concluded that the manuscript was probably completed before their wedding in the early 1470s. The style of the miniatures, attributed to at least four different hands, localizes the production of the manuscript to Bourges or the Loire valley. The page shown describes and illustrates the battle between King Pyrrhus (the father of Achilles) and the ruler of the Amazons, Queen Penthesilea. On the left, the armored queen leads her army on horseback to the defense of the Trojans. The actual battle is depicted on the right--the two armies fight before a castle, soldiers dying beneath their horses' feet.

Parchment, 176 folios, 370 x 255 (254 x 155) mm, 2 columns (70 mm each), 47 lines, in Latin, written in Gothic cursive bookhand.

Guerino Meschino
Andrea da Barberino, Italy, 1472

The imaginative works of Andrea da Barberino (ca. 1370-1430s) represent a moment of transition from an older chanson de geste tradition of romance to the more adventurous and fantastic tales of the sixteenth century, popularized by Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso. Barberino's romances also reveal an important coming together of French and Italian literary traditions and the beginning of a more cosmopolitan, European style. The present manuscript underscores the ongoing importance of manuscripts in the age of the printed book since its text differs substantively from those of the first printed (1473) and later (1482) editions. The manuscript is also of interest because it has survived in its original binding of wooden boards held together by three exposed thongs which are sewn through the paper and pegged to the boards.

Paper, 214 leaves, 235 x 162 (236 x 163) mm, 32 lines, in Italian, written in a neat Humanist bookhand.