Browse Exhibits (13 total)

Clarissan Death in Brussels: The Burial Ritual in Plimpton MS 034

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A fourteenth-century processional for a house of Rich Clares in Brussels, Plimpton MS 034 (New York, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library) contains a detailed service for a deceased woman. The other services contained in the manuscript are those for the Feast of the Purification, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, the Feasts of Saint Francis and Saint Clare and Corpus Christi. The burial ritual does, however, take up significantly more space in the manuscript than the other services.

This exhibit aims to reconstruct the full text of the death ritual at the Clarissan convent in Brussels and to examine the manuscript in the context of what is known about the convent as well as about contemporary attitudes on the body, dying, and burial.

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Gallery of Plimpton MS 034

Gallery of all the images from Plimpton MS 034

How to Date and Place a Medieval Manuscript


This exhibit aims to provide researchers with tools and methods for determining the probable date and geographical origin of a medieval liturgical manuscript. The manuscript used here as a case study, Western MS 097 (housed in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University), is a gradual containing music notation. However, most of the methods discussed in the exhibit are applicable to any liturgical manuscript.

Each page in the exhibit will lead us down an investigatory avenue: musical analysis, paleographical analysis, andparticularly useful for Western MS 097exploration of marginalia. 

The pages in this exhibit are intended to be read in sequence.

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Franciscan and Clarissan Chants in Plimpton MS 034

Plimpton MS 034, a processional copied in the fourteenth century for the Brussels Covent of Saint Clare, contains the procession for the feasts of Saint Francis and Saint Clare written in a double text format. Uncommonly found in fourteenth-century processionals, this text underlay allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the liturgical practice in the Brussels Covent and of the significance of the relationship between the Franciscan and the Clarissan orders. This exhibit offers a discussion of the manuscript folia that include the Franciscan/Clarissan chants, music recordings of these chants along with transcriptions, and the complete Latin text and English translation.

Living Letters: Decorated Initials in Plimpton MS 034


This exhibit displays the decorated initials in Plimpton MS 034, a processional copied in 1351 for the Brussels convent of St. Clare. The aim is not so much to find a one-to-one correspondence between the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic letters and the chant texts, but rather to explore the types of figures portrayed in these initials and tentatively suggest some possible meanings. Since there is no evidence of a division of labor, I assume in this exhibit that Johannes de Havere was both the scribe and artist for this manuscript.

A note on the images: by hovering the mouse over each image, you can view the folio number. When you click on the image, you will be taken to the web page corresponding to the entire leaf.

Franciscan Iconography in Barnard 1

Within Barnard 1 manuscript are four historiated illuminations of initials attributed to Niccolò di Ser Sozzo (fl. 1334-63), alongside several painted initials that are not historiated. Those historiated are:

  • The Elevation of the Host (189)
  • The Death of Francis (211)
  • The Stigmata of Francis (220)
  • Saint Anthony of Padua (253)

The aim of this exhibition is to explore these four illuminations, their historical and liturgical contexts, and compare them to a brief selection of contemporary 13th and 14th century artistic depictions of their narratives.

Exhibit by Aleksandr Butovetskiy - Fall 2021

Conservation of a Fourteenth-Century Liturgical Manuscript

This project considers issues of conservation with Barnard MS 01, a fourteenth-century antiphonal currently held at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University. Although Barnard 1 is relatively well-preserved, there are nonetheless areas which have experienced degradation and decay, as would be expected of any 700-year old object.

Exhibit by Grant Woods - Fall 2021

Barnard 1: From Siena to New York City

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Barnard 1: From Siena to New York City follows the manuscript as it journeys from its place of origin at one of the Franciscan houses of Siena, on to the library of Adrian and Mary E. Larkin Joline, and ultimately to the collections of Barnard College.

WordPress Exhibit by Alina Shubina and Claire Dwyer

Vertical Lines in Barnard MS1

This website discusses the presence and role of vertical lines in Barnard MS 1, a manuscript in Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library. I focus on two feasts, the Common of the Apostles and Corpus Christi, and comparisons with other contemporary Franciscan manuscripts.

WordPress Exhibit by Gareth Cordery

To Err is Human: Scribal Mistakes in Western MS 097

This exhibit explores the textual errors found in the thirteenth-century Dominican gradual Western MS 097.

Issues of Page Layout in Western MS 097

This exhibit explores peculiarities of page layout, or mise-en-page, in Western MS 097, a tiny Dominican gradual produced between 1276 and 1298 that likely belonged to a convent in Strasbourg by the fifteenth century. Decisions of page layout, both the initial choices made by the scribe and those made by later modifiers of the manuscript, can provide hints both to the context in which the manuscript was produced, and to the expectations that the people who made and owned the manuscript had for how and by whom the manuscript would be used. The highly unusual decisions of page layout made in Western MS 097, which are frequently spatially inefficient and often result from planning errors, may suggest that the manuscript was produced by an inexpert scribe. At the same time, the ambiguities in the sequence of the text that result from the unusual page layout of the manuscript suggest an expectation that users of the manuscript would have strong enough memory of the proper liturgy to recite the correct chants in the correct order even when this order was not clearly conveyed by the arrangement of the text. Later owners of the manuscript may not always have been willing or able to meet this expectation; at at least one point, a later user modified the manuscript to make the ambiguous organization of the chants clearer. 

Reassembling Dispersed Leaves of a multi-volume Gradual


This exhibition offers an overview of a research project which aimed to identify and reassemble related leaves deriving from a multi-volume gradual. Western MS 080, held in the collection of Columbia's RBML, provided the impetus for the project, which has now expanded to leaves held in Houghton Library Harvard University, the Boston Public Library, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and leaves sold at auctions over the past century. Through an analysis of the contents, script, ruling, and illuminations, this project has revealed at least three volumes in this set: two dedicated to the sanctorale (the first spanning from advent until pentecost and the second covering post-pentecost through advent) and at least one dedicated to the temporale. 

See fragmentarium virtual reconstruction:

Fun in the Margins: Line Fillers in Western MS 097

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In the study of medieval art of book-writing, the term "line-filler" refers to decorative strings that fill out or extend truncated lines of text. Line-fillers were widely used in liturgical manuscripts, and a broad range of functions can be ascribed to this seemingly simple unit of visual language. In addition to their decorative purpose of adding color and vibrancy to plain rows of ink, line fillers can be mobilized to balance out lines of text of variying lengths, thereby conjuring up an experince of  cosmic balance and harmony. Besides these obvious aesthetic and practical merits, line fillers might have offerred a vast set of benefits that escape the eye of the moderns. After all, as remarked by Christopher de Hamel, "People in the Middle Ages loved to see order and patterns in things, and readers of manuscripts were probably more visual than we are" (28).

This exhibit explores the line-fillers found in the thirteenth-century Dominican gradual Western MS 097, located in Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library. More specifically, it aims to group the many examples that appear across the pages of the Domenican manuscript into several discrete categories based on visual kinship. Helixes, flowers, hybrid combinations, and other "unclassified" or "miscellaneous" instances emerged as the major categories that can consolidate the overwhelming omnipresence of line-fillers in the gradual. 

The surprisingly low number of categories that emerged in this analysis suggests that line-fillers do not represent a product of free improvisation or uninhibited creativity. While within individual classes one can note a certain degree of freedom and deviation, it still appears that most line-fillers closely followed a particular schemata. Accordingly, the fascinating field of line-filling can be understood as a language with its own unique rules of grammar and syntax. Just like in verbal languages, the potential for diversity is situated not in individual elements, but in the great degree of combinatorial possibilities and inflections. Thus, while the scribe stayed faithful to a modest repertoire of forms, he could reorient them, turn them upside down, and connect them in unexpected ways. 

The points addressed so far are mostly concerned with the question of what (and how) does a line-filler do? In addition to the problem of functions and mechanism, this exhibition attempts to probe a much more difficult question of what is it that a line-fillers means. Through several brief observations and superficial comparisons, the examples in the following pages will suggest the ability of line-fillers to grapple with complex meanings of mortality, Mariology, and laziness. 

de Hamel, Cristopher. The British Library Guide to Manuscript Illumination: History and Techniques. London: British Library, 2001.