One book…

Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 208r (detail)

Jehan de Grise’s note marking the date when the illuminations were completed.

Although we now think of Bodley 264 as a single book with one name, it is actually made up of three pieces, made in different places more than 60 years apart.  It began life as a copy of the long French poem about Alexander the Great, called the Roman d’Alexandre.  We can tell from the style of the illustrations that this was made in Tournai, now in the eastern part of Belgium, but then part of the Kingdom of France.  We can also date this part of the manuscript to 1344, the date when an illuminator (?) called Jehan de Grise wrote a note to say ‘Che liure fu perfais de le enluminure / au xviii jour. dauryl . per iehan de / grise.. lan  de grace. m. ccc. xliiii.’ [‘This book was completed with its illuminations by Jehan de Grise on the 18thday of April in the year of grace 1344’]

The original owner hasn’t left any signs of their ownership, so we can’t tell who it was made for, although it is probable that such a de luxe product was made to commission for a wealthy and aristocratic owner.

A few decades later, with a new owner, the book began to grow.

Click for more on: scribes owners • manuscripts linked to particular places

(Images reproduced by kind permission of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Illustrating The Past

Opening illumination of Bodley 264

Exquisite artwork is a hallmark of this manuscript.

The picture on the right is from one of the most beautiful manuscripts to be found in late medieval England, and which is now kept in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, where it is called MS Bodley 264.  Yet the extraordinary detail and craftsmanship of its illumination is only the beginning of the story it has to tell, for this is a book made in two countries, in two centuries, and in two languages.

Looking closely at this one survivor from the past is like looking through a window into how books were made, used and re-used in the Middle Ages, and how their ideas of what a ‘book’ or an ‘author’ was differed from, and also helped to shape, our own understandings of the same words.  We can also find tantalising traces of the many individuals – craftsmen, scribes and owners – who each played their part in the life-story of the manuscript, through the marks they have left on it.

But is this one book or several?

(Images reproduced by kind permission of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford