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

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