In bed with a dragon: conception of Alexander by Nectanebus and Olympias, watched by Philip II (British Library, Burney 169, 1468-1475)
November 14, 2013 VIEW POST
October 4, 2013 VIEW POST
September 19, 2013 VIEW POST

Poking fun at knights
"Normal" folk in medieval times loved to make fun of those silly knights. At the centre of all this mocking were jousting tournaments, where knights in polished outfits pretended to fight one another under the shrieks of kings and maidens. And so the books of less violent readers were adorned with images like this one: two knights on rams attacking each other while wearing wicker armour. This medieval Yoda image is another great example of such mocking of the nobility. However, the real fun here is that the owner of this particular book was a cathedral’s dean - named John Colet. As it happens, members of the Church were in turn mocked in books owned by knights and other nobel readers (check out this image for example). And so everybody had a good laugh about everybody. Medieval book decoration as the ultimate stress relief.
Pic: London, British Library, Royal MS 1 E.v (early 16th century). More information about (and more shiny images from) this book here.
September 10, 2013 VIEW POST

Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 1156B, detail of f. 135r (man and woman gathering letters of the alphabet). Book of Hours, use of Rome (15th century)
September 2, 2013 VIEW POST
Galileo’s drawings of the Moon - 1609
Galileo Galilei produced this famous set of six watercolours of the Moon in its various phases as he observed the Earth’s satellite through a telescope in the autumn of 1609, in what is the autograph manuscript of Sidereus Nuncius, printed in 1610.They represent the first published telescopic depictions of the Moon.
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Ms. Gal. 48.
The whole manuscript is available here
August 29, 2013 VIEW POST


The first known globe to include the New World is engraved on an ostrich egg

August 20, 2013 VIEW POST
August 8, 2013 VIEW POST

Portrait of a lady
She is sitting quietly in the rubble of a heavily damaged leaf from a medieval book. The stains to her left are the remains of glue: the leaf had been pasted in a bookbinding for centuries, covering the inside of an oak board. The text she is accompanying is a medieval marriage law. Bound by glue, oak and the law she had no choice but to sit still and wait until she was liberated from her dark prison - which happened on a sunny afternoon some weeks ago.Thysia_ukw_msfrag_1b_detail_LR (13th century) by BibliothecaThysiana on Flickr. This is one of the dozens of fragments my students and I found in Bibliotheca Thysiana, a 17th-century library in Leiden (only 300 meters from my house). More about such medieval fragments in this blog.
August 3, 2013 VIEW POST

A love story hidden in a hat
You are looking at a medieval book from c. 1270, but it has a most unusual shape - and a most ironic story. In fact, you are looking at fragments of a such a book, which form a research passion of mine. In the early-modern period bookbinders cut up medieval manuscripts because the handwritten objects had become old-fashioned after the invention of printing. As a result, we encounter snippets of manuscripts on the inside of bookbindings, as I explain in this blog about such beautiful destruction - a more recent discovery is presented in this blog.
Occasionally the recycled parchment sheets were used for other purposes: the pages in this image form the lining of a bishop’s mitre - onto which the cloth was subsequently pasted. What’s remarkable about the hat is not just that the poor bishop had a bunch of hidden medieval pages on his head, but that they were cut from a Norwegian translation of Old French love poetry (so-called lais). Lovers were chasing each other through dark corridors, maidens were frolicking in the fields, knights were butchering each other over nothing. All the while the oblivious bishop was performing the rites of the Holy Mass. It’s a wonderful historical clash; as well as the mother of all irony.
Pic: Copenhagen, Den Arnamagnæanske Samling, MS AM 666 b 4to (c. 1270,  Strengleikar, Norse translation of Old French love poems). More information about this wicked item here.
July 19, 2013 VIEW POST