Wrongdoing in Spain 1800-1936


Read all about it! Wrongdoing is in the eyes of the beholder?

Not quite by accident, but largely because of an interest in ephemeral literature printed in Spain shown by Hispanists here in the early twentieth century, Cambridge University Library has an impressive and rich collection of what a French colleague has termed ‘no-books’. Usually referred to in English as chap-books, and in Spanish as sueltos, or pliegos sueltos (loose leaves or folded loose leaves), these predecessors of the yellow press provide a fascinating bird’s eye view of popular culture from the 18th century onwards. They show us, among other things, versions of how forms of wrongdoing (of different kinds, and of different degrees of severity) were perceived, or were presented to the populace as constructed forms of wrongdoing.

The AHRC-funded project ‘Wrongdoing in Spain 1800-1936: Realities, Representations, Reactions’ is now into its first year. The project is broad in scope, and the research of the PI, the Research Associate and the PhD student will focus on particular aspects of the cultural representation of wrongdoing and its relation (or lack of it) to historical realities at the time of production. The work of digitising the sueltos has a bearing on this, as they represent an important tranche of popular literature, and hence of the popular cultural representation of wrongdoing. The UL has a collection of nearly 2000 sueltos, including nearly 200 poster-sized aleluyas, which typically have 48 illustrations and accompanying text in couplets. The digitisation of this material began in May, and will be followed shortly by a similar digitisation project at the British Library. Eventually between the two collections we will have digitised close to 4500 items. Both here and at the BL, these collections have suffered in the past from a lack of attention from cataloguers, so that at present it is difficult for the researcher to scan the material for themes or characteristics. The consequences of digitising and cataloguing will open the way for a new wave of activity in relation to this material. Not only will digitisation of the sueltos be a significant contribution to the stewardship, conservation and enhanced accessibility of a body of cultural material (under an open license, it will be possible to see and use these fascinating items from all over the world, at any point where internet access is possible), but they will also be catalogued in a way that will make it much easier to work with these sources. An innovation is that the project will do this cataloguing not only for UL items, but for those of the BL also. Held in the Cambridge Digital Library, they will be available through a dedicated website, but also through the general catalogues of both libraries, making the material doubly available.

The cataloguing itself began shortly after the imaging. A regular rhythm of meetings between Sonia Morcillo, the UL’s expert Hispanic cataloguer, and Professor Alison Sinclair, the PI, has allowed for extensive discussion of how to flag up the subject-matter. More has been learned about the principles of librarianship by the PI than ever anticipated, not to mention being made aware of linguistic gaps through which concepts might fall, and the sheer range of wrongdoing and other related activity that the material covers. The vocabulary of wrongdoing in the two languages is a minefield. First of all, there is no word as such in Spanish for ‘wrongdoing’ (you can have crime, you can have sin, you can have transgression, but nothing like the collective implication of ‘wrongdoing’). The word ‘crimen’ itself usually refers to murder, or at least to violent crime (graphically referred to as a ‘delito de sangre’, or ‘crime of blood’). There are two distinct words for prison. There is no word for ‘elopement’ as such in Spanish, only ‘fuga’, which refers to general flight. And so the list goes on. A further complication is the preference of cataloguers for distinguishing between ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’. In the case of this type of crime-writing, the distinction is far from clear, as popular accounts in sueltos, as in their close cousin, gutter-journalism, amply demonstrate.

The material in itself is fascinating, whether in the portrayal of one killer whose weapon seemed to be a giant pair of scissors, or in the disturbingly recurrent motif of infants being chopped up, fried and offered to unsuspecting adults (shades here of Titus Andronicus….). This last alerts us to a further element: the resonances with classical culture that can be surprisingly present in this most popular of forms.

For further information about this project, please visit Professor Sinclair’s web page at http://www.mml.cam.ac.uk/spanish/staff/as49/

Cambridge University Library Incunabula Project


A unique leaf from the Legenda ad usum Sarum (Paris: Guillaume Maynyal for William Caxton, 1488), CUL Inc.2.D.1.18, sig r4 recto.

The Incunabula Cataloguing Project began in October 2009 and is scheduled to run until 2014. Generously funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, it will see the creation of a modern and comprehensive catalogue of  the University Library’s renowned collection of incunables (books printed in or before the year 1500).  Until the start of the project, access to this collection was only available via the printed short-title catalogue compiled by J.C.T. Oates and published in 1954. At the end of the project, detailed records for all incunable holdings will be available online via Newton, Copac and OCLC WorldCat.

The UL’s collection comprises some 4,650 separate works, collected over the 500-year course of the Library’s history, with books previously found in the libraries of the great collectors from Thomas Rotherham (1423–1500) to A.W Young (1852–1936) and beyond. The collection includes examples of some of the oldest, rarest and most beautiful incunables extant worldwide, with particular strengths in holdings from the presses of the low countries and England.

Dott. Laura Nuvoloni was appointed to the post of Research Associate in October 2009, and has already passed the 1000-catalogue-records mark.  The cataloguing work has revealed much new information about the books, spanning many book-historical fields:

  • The possible identification of the editio princeps of Cicero’s De finibus bonorum et malorum (CUL Inc.3.B.3.1b[1332]).
  • The identification of Felice Feliciano as the annotator of a copy of Roberto Valturio’s De re militari (SSS.4.14).
  • The discovery of an unknown edition of the Liber de intentionibus, a work by the 14th-century Dominican friar Franciscus de Prato, in an edition of Johannes Versoris’s Quaestiones librorum praedicabilium et praedicamentorum et posteriorum Aristotelis (Inc.5.B.7.10[4004]).
Roberto Valturio, De re militari (Verona, 1472), CUL SSS.4.14, sig r10 recto. Image of a war machine with captions added by Felice Feliciano.

The progress of the project is documented on the Incunabula Project blog, where you can find posts about new discoveries and unsolved mysteries.  Guest posts from those studying CUL incunabula are warmly welcomed: see, for example, Paul Needham’s reassessment of three editions by Laurentius Canotius of Padua.

The catalogue records created in this project include detailed information about the binding, illumination and decoration, provenance, and imperfections of the copies held by the Library.  Browsable indexes of institutional and personal ownership are now available on the project pages, and are continually updated as new records are added to the catalogue.

The books can be viewed in person by placing orders as normal in the Munby Rare Books Reading Room of Cambridge University Library.

Katie Birkwood

Rare Books Specialist, Cambridge University Library

The Fred Hoyle Collection at St John’s College Library


What do a pair of walking boots, five boxes of photographs, two ice axes, some dental X-rays, a telescope, ten large film reels and an unpublished opera have in common? They’re all part of the Fred Hoyle Collection of personal ‘papers’ held at St John’s College Library.

Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) was an astronomer and astrophysicist, a science-fiction author, a mountain climber, a populariser of science, and a famous radio personality.  He is famous as the man who in 1949 coined the phrase ‘big bang’ to describe the cosmological theory that had hitherto been known as the ‘hypothesis of the primeval atom’.  Hoyle himself didn’t actually support the big bang theory, and in a scientific career spanning seven decades he researched and wrote prolifically on a range of subjects — including stellar evolution, the origin of the chemical elements, the age and structure of the universe, the nature of gravity and of time, nuclear energy, evolution, and the origins of life–and was no stranger to controversy in the scientific and popular press.

Fred Hoyle in the 1950s. For permission to reproduce, please contact Kathryn McKee  km10007@cam.ac.uk

Hoyle came up to the University of Cambridge as an undergraduate at Emmanuel College in 1933, became a Fellow of St John’s College in 1939, and was the University’s Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy from 1958 to 1972.  In 1972 he resigned from the University and moved away from Cambridge to live in a remote corner of the Lake District, and later in Bournemouth, with his wife, Barbara.

After Hoyle’s death, his family donated his personal papers, books, photographs and some artefacts to St John’s College Library.  This generous donation arrived in ten large filing cabinets, later re-housed in 150 archival boxes, and is the largest collection of papers held by the Library.  The collection spans Hoyle’s lifetime and beyond, from family photographs taken in the late 1800s to biographical research notes donated by Hoyle’s biographer Simon Mitton.  As well as some of the more unusual artefacts mentioned above, it includes drafts of most of Hoyle’s articles and books, correspondence with many of the leading scientists, politicians and personalities of his day, and the minutiae of everyday family life.

It’s almost impossible to summarise the contents of the collection either systematically or comprehensively.  Hoyle was a man of many interests; he would move from topic to topic as inspiration struck and left behind him a trail of draft articles, talks, lectures and mathematical jottings, all written on endless Heffers writing pads, the tops of pages often numbered but the pads rarely dated.

The collection contains a wide variety of correspondence.  Hundreds of letters from members of the public were retained by his family.  Many of these were written in support of Hoyle’s ‘steady state’ theory, a now scientifically unfavoured alternative to the big bang theory, others in response to Hoyle’s radio and television appearances, and a small but significant number voicing the authors’ own scientific, religious and philosophical theories.  In his early career and during World War II he worked closely with Cambridge physicist Ray Lyttleton, and roughly seventy of Lyttleton’s letters, written in pencil and seldom dated, survive from this time.  Towards the end of his life Hoyle was collaborating with Geoffrey Burbidge in California and Jayant Narlikar in India, with whom he communicated primarily via fax.  Revised drafts of their articles and book zipped around the world several times and many copies remain in the collection.

Fred Hoyle’s walking boots, donated to St John’s College in 2002.

Ten boxes in the collection hold the drafts of thirty-or-so unpublished detective stories set in the fictional St Stephen’s College, Cambridge, written during the 1990s.  Several others contain science fiction novels and plays—Hoyle collaborated for a time with another famous Yorkshire man, J.B. Priestley, on a play called The astronauts that was never completed—mostly in Hoyle’s recognisable (and thankfully legible) handwriting, and sometimes in the hand of his son, Geoffrey (with whom he co-authored several books) or his wife Barbara.  Eighteen of Hoyle’s science fiction novels were published, beginning with The black cloud in 1957 (republished by Penguin in 2010) and ending with Comet Halley in 1986.  The manuscripts of many, though not all, of these survive; some were the victims of Hoyle’s frequent travel between Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology.  All of Hoyle’s published works are, however, represented in his own library of books, also held by St John’s College, which include author copies in myriad languages as well as some copies (in English) annotated by Hoyle in preparation for later editions.

And what of the exceptional items listed at the start? Hoyle was a keen mountain climber and hill walker; the walking boots and ice axes were donated in acknowledgement of that, along with several annotated Ordnance Survey maps, a  and Hoyle’s bright orange walking rucksack complete with compass in the top pocket.  The dental X-rays show Barbara Hoyle’s wisdom teeth in the 1940s: the dentist decided that they didn’t need any work for the time being.  The film reels show family recordings of Hoyle at Stonehenge, considering its possible astronomical uses.  The comic opera in three acts, The Alchemy of Love or the Daemon Servant’s Retribution, with libretto by Hoyle and music by American composer Leo Smit was never performed in full.  Another collaboration between Hoyle and Smit, Copernicus: Narrative and Credo, a ‘secular cantata’ about the life and work of the sixteenth-century Polish astronomer was premiered in 1973 and is available today both as a musical score and a CD recording.

From March 2008 to March 2011, the Hoyle Collection has been catalogued, and opened up to new audiences, as part of the Hoyle Project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, St John’s College, and the Friends of the Center for the History of Physics, American Institute of Physics.  A full catalogue of the papers is available upon request to the Library, and a summary list is available online.  More information about Hoyle including an online exhibition of the Collection is available on the Hoyle Project webpages.

The Hoyle Collection is only one of several significant collections of personal papers in St John’s College Library.  Full details of the Library’s holdings of papers, manuscripts and rare books are available on the Library’s website.

Katie Birkwood (St John’s)

Through a Glass Darkly: Collating Donne’s Sermons


This is a tale about mirrors. My plight is that of the Lady of Shalott: ‘moving through a mirror clear / That hangs before me all the year, / Shadows of the world appear’. My shadows are those of the rare books reading rooms in research libraries throughout the country, of readers and librarians moving in and out of view (or of a sunny day observed through two mirrors, through the glass of a window). But my focus, like the Lady’s on her loom, is firmly on the book in front of me: John Donne’s XXVI Sermons (1660/1).

To explain: as the Research Associate for The Oxford Edition of the Sermons of John Donne, I am collating as many copies as possible of all the early prints of Donne’s sermons. Donne’s autograph manuscripts that may have ended up as copy text in the print shop have disappeared without a trace, hence my job involves establishing the best possible text from print, taking account of each and every variant introduced throughout the long and laborious printing process of three large folios and various quarto books.

Collating happens with the help of ‘Hailey’s Comet’, a so-called optical collator. In short, this is a set of portable mirrors on anglepoised stands which allow me to see simultaneously a page in front of me (the actual book in question), and a reproduction on a laptop screen of another copy of the same book. By superimposing the two images (rather like using transparencies) by endlessly twisting and turning the mirrors, and by unlearning my dominant eye’s impulse to see one but not the other image, my brain finally marries both images, after which any variant on the page jumps out in full 3D. The experience is not unlike watching a 3D movie. The printed page gains real visual depth, and the vagaries of early modern printing practice (and XXVI Sermons is a terribly printed book) come sharply into focus. ‘Hailey’s Comet’, devised by Carter Hailey, is a miracle of invention, mostly due to its portability: whilst the very first Hinman collator (allowing Charles Hinman his groundbreaking observations about the composition of Shakespeare’s 1623 Folio) required a large room to house it, the Comet fits neatly into a backpack with room to spare for lunch.

Cambridge University Library is a particularly helpful place to work on Donne’s XXVI Sermons, since the library acquired, in 1982, the collection of Sir Geoffrey Keynes, famous surgeon and bibliographical scholar (see http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/deptserv/rarebooks/keynes.html). The Keynes collection comprises around 8,000 items, many of which are still kept in Keynes’s own bookcases at CUL, in what is now known as the Keynes room. Apart from many other influential works on English literature and bibliography, Keynes produced the authoritative bibliography of Donne, and owned a significant amount of early printed books by the author, including 4 copies of XVII Sermons. The book in question was issued with three variant title pages, and Keynes owned an example of all three. Keynes’s books made for extremely rich pickings for me as collator. We are fortunate to have the very exact number of XXVI Sermons that were printed, since this information is relayed by John Donne the younger, who saw the volume through the press:

Whether or not Donne the younger was simply fleecing money out the pockets of the seventeenth-century book buyer remains difficult to know for certain – XXVI Sermons is not remotely a ‘polished’ book and so Donne Jr was disingenuous on at least one count. Yet let us for the moment accept that 500 copies were indeed printed. From this print run I have managed to retrace around 50 copies, a very significant amount in light of the normal expected chances of survival for early printed books. Thus around 10% of the print run survives, 1% of which (5 copies) can be consulted side by side at CUL (and a further two, respectively, at King’s and Newnham Colleges) – an unrivalled opportunity to observe print variants and other bibliographical features of the book.

Collating renaissance printed books is an unsettling experience. Firstly comes the initial feeling of seasickness (I have also heard reports of migraines) when tricking your brain that you are seeing one, not two pages at once. But seasickness abates with practice. Physical discomforts overcome, for the intrepid collator the printed page will never give the same static impression of type upon page, as I used to see it. Rather, the early printed page becomes a living organism. Each single impression of each page in a copy of the Sermons is subtly, sometimes unsubtly, different: variously inked, occasionally with a hair caught between press and paper, sometimes with some type knocked out of place, sometimes with the furniture of a forme rearranged, and frequently, with the type reset to correct mistakes. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever edited anything from early print – but for the EEBO generation nurtured by the single digitised copies that are freely downloadable, this lesson must continually be taught. Collating books teaches one about the sheer physicality of the printing process, and about the fact that printed texts are not the stable entities they are purporting to be.

In early modern thinking the mirror features as a pervasive metaphor and poetic image, and also as a frequent object in, and subject for, scientific and theological enquiry. Examples abound, so I shall limit myself to one:

So speaks Donne, from his Easter sermon for St Paul’s, 1628 (on I Cor. 13.12, ‘For now we see through a glasse darkly, but then face to face; Now I know in part, but then I shall know, even as also I am knowne’). I will resist the temptation to wrench Donne’s carefully crafted prose out of context: for example, how the sermon text observed through the collator is ‘but a representation onely’; and how the sermon itself, dramatic performance piece par excellence, is only imperfectly present, as if by ‘reflected beams’, in the printed text; and how whatever Donne wrote in manuscript can only imperfectly be reconstructed from print, as if reading ‘through a glasse, darkly’.

Granted, in the already arcane field of textual criticism, the optical collator takes the prize for most unlikely contraption to take into a library. Yet renaissance readers loved mechanical reading aids (see Ramelli’s famous ‘Reading Wheel’; for a recent attempt to actually build this fantastical machine, see here: http://greg.org/archive/2010/09/20/on_the_making_of_the_lost_biennale_machines_of_daniel_libeskind.html#more).

We might not catch our glimpse of God, yet in light of such reading machines it feels curiously appropriate to examine the renaissance book through two collating mirrors.

Sebastiaan Verweij is the Research Associate for The Oxford Edition of the Sermons of John Donne (see http://www.cems-oxford.org/donne ). He previously worked on Scriptorium at Cambridge (http://scriptorium.english.cam.ac.uk/ ) and designed this CMT website, so this Gallery exhibit is his parting shot.

1. The Hinman Collator. Courtesy of http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/media_player?mets_filename=evm00000595mets.xml.

2. The Comet (and Sebastiaan) at work in the Cambridge University Library.

Sir John Cheke’s Greek Books


First published June 2010

James Harmer, St John’s College

Fig. 1 St John’s College, Cambridge, Aa.4.48. By permission of the Master and Fellows of St John's College, Cambridge.

A landmark donation made this year to the St John’s College Library by Brian Fenwick-Smith will help future generations of researchers to study the life and work of Sir John Cheke (1514-1557), a figure who, as humanist tutor, classical scholar and author occupies a central place in the history of the English Renaissance. Fenwick-Smith’s donation of three Aldine texts of Greek history that were owned and extensively annotated by Cheke sheds a fascinating light on the intimate Renaissance relationship between scholarship and statecraft.

John Cheke was born in Cambridge and entered St John’s in 1526. He was tutored principally by George Day, another important figure from the College’s early history who was helping to make St John’s a major centre of what is now known as Renaissance humanism. Humanism can be thought of as a programme of educational, cultural and religious reform which had its beginnings in Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries before spreading rapidly across Europe. Humanism’s chief focus was the study of the classical past – its history, languages, and thought – as a rich resource for the shaping of the whole person. Humanistic study taught one how to live both an examined private life and also a civic, public one. For humanists, scholarship and statecraft went hand in hand: what one found in the histories or poems or orations one studied could be applied directly to the way in which one lived one’s life and served one’s society. Someone with a humanist education could do all kinds of things: understand love, draft a law, write a poem, win a debate, interpret the Bible, and advise a prince. The acquisition of a volume such as this Aldine edition of Greek history – which comes in the wake of other recent donations by Brian Fenwick-Smith, including first editions of Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) and More’s Epigrammata (1521) – shows how much there is still simply to be unearthed, made available, and understood about the dynamic history of reading in this period. The role that continues to be played by College special collections in expanding and developing what resources are available is vital in enabling early modernists to do all kinds of things – pedagogical, bibliographical, conceptual – with those resources. In this sense, then, such donations and such libraries are very much legacies of the humanist project itself.

At St John’s, Cheke excelled at the study of the classical past and its languages, and he played a critical role in developing an understanding of the language at a time when the study of Greek was in its infancy in England. Cheke was admitted as a Fellow of St John’s in 1529 and took his BA in 1530. During the 1530s, Cheke concentrated on improving his Greek studies, and became in 1540 the University’s first Regius Professor of Greek. It was also during this period at St John’s that he taught a number of Johnians who would go on to have distinguished careers, including William Cecil (Elizabeth I’s principal minister) and Roger Ascham (tutor to Elizabeth I). Cheke’s public profile grew further when he was plucked from Cambridge and dropped into the very centre of court life. In 1544, he became tutor to Prince Edward, to whom he taught, in Greek, the works of Aristotle and Plato. The Prince became King Edward VI in 1547, and in 1553, having remained close to Edward throughout his short reign, Cheke was appointed his principal secretary. Yet 1553 also brought the death of the young King, and the staunchly Protestant Cheke was to spend his last years struggling with life in Queen Mary’s Catholic England, spending time in exile and in prison before his early death.

Fig.2 Title page showing ownership signature of John Cheke. By permission of the Master and Fellows of St John's College, Cambridge.

So there is a direct line to be drawn from humanist St John’s to the heart of the political and religious life of mid-Tudor England. Cheke’s work at Cambridge, and especially his distinctive study of ancient Greek texts, was what gave him the authority to advise a young King, help direct government policy, and play a prominent role in the English Protestant Reformation. The donation to the St John’s College Library of a book used by Cheke gives us a vital insight into this extraordinary Renaissance relationship between classical scholarship and the workings of society. The volume comprises three separate works of Greek history bound together in one folio volume: The Histories by Herodotus, The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, and the Hellenica of Xenophon. The first two works in this volume were printed by the Aldine press in Venice in 1502; the printing of the last work in the volume, the Hellenica, was delayed slightly until 1503 (Aldus was apparently nervous about not having enough manuscripts of Xenophon to work from). Together, these texts form a history of Greece that stretches from the Persian wars, through the Peloponnesian war, and which ends, with Xenophon picking up straight after Thucydides, in 362 BCE. The collation of this copy of Aldus’ edition is complete, its texts beautifully clean. The volume is bound in eighteenth-century English calf, and the pages have been cropped slightly by the binder: this affects some of the annotations in the margins of the Hellenica but leaves the marginalia pertaining to the other texts unaffected. The volume bears the bookplate of Sir George Osborn (1742-1818). Osborn was a descendent of Peter Osborne (1521-92), who was a close friend of Cheke’s and one of the executors of his will. Osborn was responsible for the education of Cheke’s son, Henry (c.1548-1586), and it is possible that some of the marginalia which appear in the volume are in the mid-Tudor hand of Henry Cheke. There are certainly two hands at work in the margins of the volume, and perhaps more: at this stage, however, it is at least clear that Cheke’s hand is a very extensive presence in those texts by Herodotus and Thucydides.

Fig. 3 St John’s College, Cambridge, Aa.4.48, sig. 2H6r. Cheke notes in the margin of the Histories of Herodotus that the Scythians made ‘conquests’, and then notes that the text is describing ‘The prizes the Scythians bear away’. By permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge.

Cheke’s ownership signature appears in Greek on the title page, and Cheke goes on to write down hundreds of individual Greek words and phrases in the margins. Just when he made these notes is a question that would benefit from further investigation, but judging by comparable samples of his hand and the arc of his teaching and study of Greek, it is reasonable to suppose that Cheke annotated the volume during the 1530s. Sometimes one can glimpse Cheke extending his Greek vocabulary: he notes the words for such things as a fawn, a small horse, a ferryman, a vessel for carrying water. At other, more significant moments, Cheke is interested in finding the word that best captures a passage of military action. Several times he comes across descriptions of battles where one side is being overwhelmed by the other: Cheke notes the Greek for being ‘squeezed’ or ‘crushed’ (see, e.g., Peloponnesian War, sig. G2r). Relatedly, in reading Thucydides, Cheke notes passages that describe a tactical retreat or negotiated alliance (Peloponnesian War, sigs A5r, K6r). In the Histories of Herodotus, Cheke notes that when they made a conquest, the Scythians would carry away prizes – the scalps and skins of their enemies (sig. 2H6r). He consistently has an eye for the detail that distills a passage, and makes a habit of finding in these texts a single Greek keyword which encapsulates a chunk of writing. Cheke picks out words that are moral, political, action-packed. Here is a passage from Herodotus about ‘retribution’ (Histories, sig. G5r); here another touching on the ‘barbaric’ (Histories, sig. 2S2r). Here is a passage in Thucydides about being ‘suspicious’ (Peloponnesian War, sigs B5r, L5r), here another about handling ‘grievances’ (Peloponnesian War, sig. L1r). And here – close by – is a good example of ‘wickedness’ (Peloponnesian War, sig. L1r). What Cheke is doing with these books is extracting examples of policy and conduct, and finding Greek words and meanings for those examples that can refine or enrich English words and deeds. This is the stuff, these are the textual activities, out of which good courtiers, good advisers, and good Kings are made.

Coincidence and Curiosity: A Tale of Discovery in the Old Library at Queens’ College


First published April 2010

Karen Begg, Librarian, Queens’ College

A happy coincidence of scholarship and curiosity resulted in the recent discovery of three masterpieces of 14th century Italian manuscript illumination that for many years lay forgotten in a plan chest in the Old Library of Queens’ College. In 2007, when working on another project, Dr Stella Panayotova, Keeper of Printed Books and Manuscripts at the Fitzwilliam Museum, identified the pieces as the work of Pacino di Bonaguida, a prolific and distinguished Florentine artist. Since their identification, the miniatures have travelled the globe in a unique collaboration between the College, the Fitzwilliam and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, to learn more about the artist, his world and his techniques. As College Librarian, I am delighted to recount the Cinderella-like tale of discovery that has enabled a few more pieces of the ‘Pacino jigsaw’ to be fitted together and to report on a future for our miniatures that promises more than a return to the Library’s plan chest.

Figure 1 Image of the Martyrdom of St James the Great, Queens' College MS 77D.

The story begins with Stella’s visit to examine Dutch material for inclusion in the first volume of the Cambridge Illuminations catalogues [1]. Stella kindly agreed to glance at some cuttings that we knew little about, but suspected were of North Italian, early Renaissance origin. Stella excitedly and immediately shared her suspicions that these were lost leaves from a Laudario painted in Pacino’s workshop that she, together with other art historians around the world, had been researching. A laudario is a manuscript comprising lauds, or songs of praise in Italian that were used by lay communities to celebrate religious feasts or Saints’ days. The Queens’ leaves depict the Martyrdoms of St Christopher, St James the Great and St Lucy. The Fitzwilliam had been given two comparable leaves early in the 20th century and, coincidentally, had recently found a third – all from the same Laudario. Stella’s subsequent scholarly article on the Queens’ and Fitzwilliam leaves [2] summarises much of what is known about the artist and this Laudario, Pacino’s most renowned work, which is believed to have been commissioned by wealthy patrons for the Compagnia di Sant’ Agnese in Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence [3]. Stella describes in detail the content and context of each leaf and the art historical relevance of its discovery.

Figure 2 Image of the Martyrdom of St Christopher, Queens' College MS 77B.

During the next year, other specialists, including two experts from the Getty Museum, viewed our leaves and confirmed Stella’s opinion. In early 2009, Queens’ was invited by the Getty to take part in scientific research, the findings of which would feature in an exhibition planned for 2012 entitled “Florentine Painting and Illumination in the Time of Giotto”. This offered a unique opportunity to contribute to a significant and interesting study, and the College’s Governing Body unhesitatingly agreed to allow our manuscripts to travel to the Getty Museum, where non-invasive analysis of pigments and structure could be undertaken.

Plans were made for me to accompany the miniatures to Los Angeles in summer 2009 and review the analytical procedures. The arrangements took the College into new realms of legal discussion, as insurance agreements between us and the Getty had to take account of many risks, including the potential for ownership disputes. At this stage, the lack of provenance data for the cuttings’ arrival in Queens’ presented something of a problem, and conjured visions ranging from straightforward theft to claims of Nazi seizure. Fortunately, however, records confirmed their presence in College far enough back to dim this risk. It is worth noting though, that such unattributed acquisitions, perhaps long forgotten gifts, may now be financially as well as historically valuable, and the importance of acquisition records cannot be overemphasized.

As planned, in July last year I took the miniatures to the Getty Museum, a stunning hilltop campus of gardens, galleries and terraces that commands panoramic views of Los Angeles and the North Pacific Ocean. I was welcomed by the curators, conservators and scientists of the Getty Museum and Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), who showed me around their conservation studio and laboratories, and demonstrated the state of the art equipment that would be used in the analyses. Their main objective was to “identify, characterize and compare the painting materials and techniques used by Pacino and his workshop” [4], particularly as previous investigation of the three Getty owned leaves had suggested the involvement of more than one artist’s hand, perhaps using a slightly different palette. This new study would widen the range of images studied, allowing direct comparison of nine of the 24 known surviving miniatures, and held the potential to reveal much about workshop practice of the 1340s. X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and Raman microspectroscopy would be used to identify pigments under drawings and techniques, without taking physical samples or touching document surfaces, and digital images would provide a visual record of findings.

The Cambridge leaves returned to the UK in September 2009 and the research findings, some of which were presented at a National Gallery symposium last autumn, will soon be published. The techniques used can be seen in the images below, which have been reproduced with kind permission of the GCI.

Figure 3. Image of X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy analysis of Queens' College MS 77B, showing the small air space between the object and the instrument. Photo: C. Patterson, GCI.

Figure 4. This image provides a view of the full Raman spectroscopy setup for the smaller leaves, showing the leaf on the sample stage of the microscope. The Raman instrument is visible behind the microscope, and the computer that controls the system is in the background. Photo: C. Patterson, GCI.

Figure 5. Image of the Raman setup for laser light excitation; the manuscript under analysis is Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 194. Image reproduced with kind permission of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. This image gives another view of the Raman spectroscopy setup, using 785nm laser light excitation. The manuscript is mounted on an easel, and the light is guided through the microscope and onto the leaf through the black arm. The entire configuration is non-contact.

Figure 6. Image of the Raman instrument and Getty staff members. GCI scientists and a Getty curator are discussing the analysis of Queens' MS 77D. Photo: K. Trentelman, GCI.

Figure 7. Another image of the Raman setup for laser light excitation; the manuscript under analysis is, again, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 194. Image reproduced with kind permission of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. This image provides a close-up Raman image of MS 194, showing the laser spot as a yellow dot on the manuscript.

Much more is expected to emerge from this collaboration between several quite different institutions. In addition to the publications in preparation, we look forward to taking part in the 2012 exhibition, for which the Cambridge miniatures will once again travel to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the three Queens’ College Pacinos will soon relinquish their plan chest for a new home in the Founder’s Library at the Fitzwilliam Museum. The generosity of a number of College alumnae has enabled Queens’ to offer them on long term loan to the Museum, where they will be accessible to scholars and available for public display in a way which is not possible in the College Library. The Fitzwilliam will be able to store them with their own Pacino leaves in an environment that celebrates their significance and beauty as early Renaissance works of art.


[1] Nigel Morgan and Stella Panayotova, A Catalogue of Western Book Illumination in the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Cambridge Colleges. Part 1, Vol.1. Harvey Miller Publishers, London 2009.

[2] Stella Panayotova, ‘New Miniatures by Pacino di Bonaguida in Cambridge’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. CLI, n. 1272, March 2009, pp. 144-147.

[3] R. Offner, A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting: The Fourteenth Century, Section 111, vol. VII, New York 1957.

[4] Unpublished Proposal for the Technical Analysis of Queens’ College, Cambridge MSS 77B, 77C, and 77D , submitted to Queens’ College by the J. Paul Getty Museum, March 2009.