Medieval Materials in the Yale Center for British Art


The Yale Center for British Art has a number of pre-1500 manuscripts, printed books, and important fragments.  Below is only a partial list.

Liber acquisitionis Terre Sante de ultra mare. Vigevano, Guido da, ca. 1280-ca. 1350.

Cyprus, 1375

Manuscript copy of Guido Vigevano's Texaurus Regis Francie, with 16 illustrations in pen and brown ink. The manuscript, written in Latin, includes only the second the part of the Texaurus, that dealing with siege warcraft. According to the colophon, the text was copied by Martin of Aachen in the kingdom of Cyprus in the year 1375. Martin in fact claims to be the compiler (copulatus) of the work, but this is an exaggeration, as the present manuscript is an almost exact copy of Guido's treatise, the earliest complete manuscript copy of which is present in the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Ms Latin 11015, ca. 1340). The present version of the Texaurus was not copied from that in the BNF (see Hall).
The manuscript includes 16 full-page drawings in pen and brown ink, plus one smaller drawing of the author on p. [2], and a small number of interlinear diagrams, also in pen and brown ink. If the drawings are relatively rudimentary in technique, they do make an attempt to clearly articulate the mechanisms of the designs proposed by Guido.

Helmingham herbal and bestiary, circa 1500.

England (Suffolk), c. 1500

Manuscript herbal and bestiary, in an unidentified hand, completed circa 1500 at Helmingham, Suffolk. The volume comprises 95 drawings of flowers and trees and 49 drawings of animals and birds, giving a remarkable picture of English knowledge of natural history in the Tudor period. The herbal and bestiary are preceded by two scroll alphabets. There are generally four drawings on the recto and verso of each leaf. All drawings are neatly finished in gouache and watercolor, with pen and ink, on parchment throughout. Names of species are written directly above each drawing, in large textura letters in pen and black ink; the initial letter of each species name is written in Lombardic style, in pen and red ink.
In most cases, the plants or animals are not drawn from nature; they are depicted to varying degrees of realism. Where plants have been drawn in a stylized manner, it is in order to portray the essential useful characteristics of each plant. The 95 illustrations of flowers and trees are presented in approximate alphabetical order and depict common species in Britain. The 49 drawings of animals and birds in the bestiary are also in rough alphabetical order, and depict fabulous creatures such as the alde (a purple hound with three-pointed tail and yellow claws), bonacon (a pink horse with yellow horns), koketrice (half rooster, half serpent), and a honicorn (unicorn). Real animals, drawn either from direct observation or as imagined from traveler's reports (occasionally with imaginary attributes), include the ape, hyena, bear, badger, beaver, ibex, rat, and leopard.
The present manuscript has a variant twin at the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Bodleian Library. MS Ashmole 1504). The pair are studied together, with photographic facsimiles, in Nicholas Barker's Two East Anglian picture books : a facsimile of the Helmingham herbal and bestiary and Bodleian ms. Ashmole 1504. (London: Roxburghe Club, 1988). The two manuscripts share nearly identical pictures, with small differences in size, content, and organization. Both manuscripts are loosely connected to contemporary traditions--the Agnus Castus manuscripts in the case of the herbals, and the Hortus Sanitatis for the bestiaries--but there are significant differences in content and style. Barker speculates that they must have been copied from a common source, but the model is now lost or unknown. Printed images in Dürer's "St Eustace" and Cranach's "Adam and Eve" served as a model for some of the drawings in the Ashmole manuscript, but no image in the Helmingham herbal and bestiary is copied from those works. The Helmingham herbal and bestiary also lacks illustrations of household goods, present in the Ashmole manuscript. It is clear that the twin manuscripts were both produced in England in the early 16th century, and it is likely that both were at one time together at Helmingham Hall. The present manuscript probably predates Ashmole by about 20 years.
Barker proposes that the Helmingham herbal and bestiary may have been used as a pattern book for decorating Helmingham Hall in the early 16th century. In 1511, Lionel Tollemache began renovations to the hall (then called Creke Hall), in a traditional half-timbered style. The illustrations in the manuscript may have been used as models for a variety of decorative work, such as paneling, embroidery, or stained glass (although no such decoration has survived to confirm this hypothesis). Barker also suggests that the present manuscript (and Ashmole) may have functioned as an educational primer for children of the Tollemache family.

John Porter manuscript, circa 1450.

England, 1450

Collection of manuscript texts on a range of secular topics, predominantly copied circa 1450 by John Porter, Member of Parliament for the city of Worcester. It includes important early manuscript texts on hunting, heraldry, and chess, along with interesting texts on miscellaneous historical, biblical, and culinary subjects.
Pages 1r-36v, titled Tractatus de armis, comprise a treatise on heraldry, in Latin, by Johannes de Bado Aureo (i.e. John Trevor?), with blazons in French and nearly 200 colored shields. This is one of the earliest writings on heraldry to be composed in England, of which this is one of two surviving manuscripts. According to the other known copy (British Library, Additional MS 28791), the work was compiled in 1449, being derived partly from a similar work written at the instance of Queen Anne (1366-1394). To view a detailed catalog record for this portion of the manuscript, follow the link to Johannes de Bado Aureo's Tractatus de armis, offered herewith.
Pages 37r-40r, titled The craft of venery, comprise a treatise on hunting. This short text is one of two known Middle English translations (with alterations) of William Twiti's L'art de vénerie. As huntsman for King Edward II, Twiti wrote his treatise originally in Anglo-Norman French in the early 14th century. It is considered the first work on hunting to be written in England and an important source for later writers (parts of it appear in The boke of St. Albans, 1486). To view a detailed catalog record for this portion of the manuscript, follow the link to William Twiti's The craft of venery, offered herewith.
Pages 40v-43v are blank, except for William Dethick's brief notes on the rise and fall of families (41r).
Pages 44r-55v comprise very miscellaneous texts. These include, on pages 44r-45v, tables titled De vino deficientibus in vasis, showing the amount of liquid lacking in and contained in a tun (dolium) and a pipe of half-tun (pipa) when the liquid is so many inches below the top. Pages 46r and 46v contain two menus of city banquets, the first a Lenten breakfast (jantaculum) given by Richard Lee, one of the sheriffs of London, on 14 March 1453; the second "the sergeauntes feast" for the term of St. John Baptist in the same year. In addition to the two menus, this portion of the manuscript includes cooking recipes on pages 47r, 53r, and 54v. Pages 51r-52v contains notes in Latin of moral aphorisms from the Bible, from Proverbs to the Apocalypse. Pages 53v-54v contain a brief treatise on the preservation of health, of the Regimen Sanitatis type.
Pages 56r-60v comprise an untitled collection of forty chess problems, with a diagram for each problem and text (in English or Latin) for most. It is one of two known problem manuscripts with texts in Middle English and is believed to derive from an earlier collection with texts in Anglo-Norman. To view a detailed catalog record for the chess manuscript, follow the link offered herewith.
Pages 61r-68r comprise a brief chronicle of the history of England from 1066 to 1447, in Latin, beginning with a list of the kings of England since the Norman conquest. The entries are sparse until the final years (1431 to 1447). There are references to an insurrection of the Lollards at Ficatty Field near Tyburn in 1412, to the defeat of the Burgundian army besieging Calais in 1435, to the destruction by lightning of the bell-tower of Waltham Abbey in 1443 and of St. Paul's cathedral in 1444, and to a storm in 1446 which gave rise to the saying "wynter thonder bred muche wonder".
Pages 68r-70v consist again of very miscellaneous texts, probably in the hand of John Porter. These include a list of the counties of England (68r); a note of the number of parish churches in England (68r); lists of the ten commandments, five senses, seven mortal sins, etc. (68v); explanations of ecclesiastical ceremonies (69r-69v); and a text explaining the significance of the various parts of a church and of church furnishings (70r-70v).
The final text (pages 71r-72r) consists of a treatise on the plague, in English, ascribed to John of Bordeaux. It appears to be a summary of a longer work.

Fencing manual, circa 1450.

Bavaria, 1450

Manuscript fencing manual consisting of 77 watercolor drawings of two fencers in combat, with explanatory text, by an unknown author. Its elaborate illustration suggests that it may have been intended as an instruction manual for a Bavarian noble. The text has no connection with other well-known German fencing manuals of the period by Hans Thalhofer, Johannes Liechtenauer, and Paulus Kal. The present manuscript has 43 leaves, with the first three leaves almost certainly lacking.
The full-page illustrations depict two fencers in full armor, with closed helmets and flowing robes, all details drawn in ink, with washes of bright color, and small areas illuminated with touches of gold. Each scene depicts the combatants in an open space, without fences, on green fields or brown earth, with vague mountains in the background. On the ground in many of the illustrations is the Shield of St. George, with a narrow red cross on a white background (in 1392 the Society of the Shield of St. George was founded by Swabian noblemen).
Below each illustration there are 4 to 6 lines of explanatory text in German, instructing the pupil in fencing with the "spear" (lance), "short sword," and the dagger. There are also instructions on tricks of wrestling and in the holding down of an adversary. Based on peculiarities in the text, it is probable that the manuscript originated in the region comprising Bavaria and Austria, with Bavaria being the more likely choice.

Giordano Ruffo, Liber equorum.

Italy, 1420

"It is believed that this manuscript was written in Italy circa 1420. It seems that the Liber Equorum was written by Ruffus, also called Giordano Ruffo, between 1240 and 1250; there are numerous manuscripts of the work extant, most of them in Latin. Ruffo's treatise on the horse was the first printed in 1492, the editio princeps being in Italian. The text of the Mellon manuscript is in Latin. Morando's treatise on falconry apparently is known only in this particular copy, which is in Italian. Both works, Ruffo's and Morando's, are in the hand of the same scribe."--Podeschi.

Henri de Ferrières, Le livre du Roy Modus et de la Royne Racio, circa 1420.

Italy, 1420

Manuscript copy of Le livre du Roy Modus et de la Royne Racio, on vellum, copied circa 1420. The text is incomplete, with portions missing at the beginning and end (noted in detail below). Writing is pen and brown ink, two columns per page, in the hand of an early 15th-century scribe. The manuscript includes 134 watercolor illustrations throughout the text, together with ornamental initials.
The present copy comprises about two-thirds of the complete Livre du Roy Modus text, with large sections missing at the beginning and end. The manuscript begins on page 20, in mid-sentence, with "congnoistre," near the end of the chapter headed (in other versions) "Cy devise comme on doit courre les cerfs." The present manuscript also ends abruptly on page 131, with the word "premierement", near the end of the chapter headed "Cy devise comment on doit affetier esprevier et comment ils doivent estre mis en arroy." The text present (between pages 20 and 131) appears to be complete. See Podeschi for a full accounting; his conjecture is based on the text established by Elzéar Blaze from manuscripts of the work at the Bibliothèque Royale.
The 34 watercolor and gouache drawings (over pen and black ink) depict the hunting of deer, hare, boar, and birds by means of hounds, bows, traps, snares, and falcons. Most of the illustrations span two columns of text. The illustrations are invaluable as sources of information on the manners, customs, and costumes of the chase of the period. There are numerous, small, ornamental initial letters, all executed in blue, violet-pink, and gold.

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