On Tuesday 7 December, Bloomsbury Auctions are thrilled to present the auction of The History of Western Script: A further selection from The Schøyen Collection.
One could be forgiven, when looking at the website of the Schøyen Collection or surveying the catalogues of the sales in Sotheby’s on 10 July 2012, Christie’s on 10 July 2019 and in our rooms on 8 July 2020, of thinking of that collection as mainly composed of grand and now nearly-unobtainable examples of script and text, but nothing could be further from the truth. Over the last five and a half decades, Martin Schøyen has delighted in seeking out all and every manuscript that caught his fascination, and has devoted the same attention to each of them equally. Like Sir Thomas Phillipps before him, and innumerable other collectors, his is a consuming passion for every example of script from glittering medieval codices to the lowliest scrap of a single leaf.
This selection of items, in this fourth substantial sale from his collection, is taken almost entirely from his London library, and affords us the opportunity to showcase another sixty of the less well-known, but similarly fascinating, examples of script.
Lot 2 takes pride of place on the front cover of the sale catalogue. This is an Orphic poem, inscribed in iambic trimeters by one Agestratos, dedicating his traveller's staff to Apollo, most probably in Doric Greek, reverse-impressed into gold foil.
Some examples of script are so astonishingly rare that they appear to be unique and without comparable items for context, and these wait the recognition of some crucial piece of evidence by a scholar before we can securely place and date them. This gold foil is just such an item. Immediately before 2000, Dominic Montserrat identified it as a sixth-century BC. ephesia grammata (a mass produced form of popular magic amulet) invoking the god Phoebus Apollo. However, only in the last year or so has its inscription been recognised by G. Rocca and D.G. Muscianisi as a dedication of a traveller's staff to Apollo by one Agestratos, in a form closely paralleled by another inscription by one Leontianos in a rock-cut sanctuary to Apollo in Pisidia (modern Karabavli). The other inscription was thankfully recorded in 1888 by Sitlington Sterret (1851-1914), as it was damaged at some later point and its entire first half is now unreadable. Other than textual, there is no direct relationship between the two inscriptions, and graphical variations in the present example indicate that it had a lost record on papyrus as its exemplar.
The inscription reads in translation: "To you, O Phoebus Apollo, who are the master of this road, who always delight your heart with wayfarers' libations, I, Agestratos, a musical ship [= soul], dedicate my staff. So you, O blessed one, receive joyfully the prop of my hand and the support of my knees, my traveller's staff. This offering, which supports (my) hand through the paths, now free, will take a breath from its previous labours beside you, O Phoebus" (following Rocca and Muscianisi).
One aspect that the most recent study does not discuss is the fact that this is not an inscription in the purest sense, but was impressed or 'printed' from a reverse-mould into the soft surface of the gold lamella (see Brekle, 2010). This production process is known elsewhere in early Greek and Byzantine material from protective amulets, such as that with a third-century inscription in Greek to ward off leprosy now in the Getty Museum (their 80.AM.53), and earlier examples with generic Orphic or Bacchic inscriptions have been found in Greek tombs (the so-called Totenpässe). However, the method of production with the present artefact would appear to be at odds with the quality of the material here and the specific nature of its inscription. Moulds of any type are usually made to mass-produce goods, and comparison with inscriptions on contemporary Greek coins might suggest that the craftsmen who produced this went as far as producing a bronze die as if they were minting coins. However, the fact that the dedicatee is named here would render the resulting stamped lamella useless to anyone other than Agestratos himself (or a namesake). Much remains to be understood here, but perhaps the quality of the script produced by this method or a tradition of producing amuletic lamella in this format fixed the method of production here.
We then have Lot 5, a large cutting from a bifolium of a commentary on Matthew. This manuscript on parchment, is an important fragment containing a witness to the lost sections of the eighth-century theologian Frigulus; here in a hand, blending elements of Insular script with Carolingian minuscule.
The text here, as well as that of the sister-leaves now in Tokyo, was edited by Löfstedt in 1997, and that publication allowed Forte in 2004 to detect the close connections between Frigulus' commentary on Matthew and the text here. Frigulus' commentary survives in part only as quotations in later authors' works, and a single ninth-century Italian manuscript in Quedlinberg Gymnasium, Qu. Cod. 127 (Die Handschriften der ehemaligen Stifts-und Gymnasialbibliothek Quedlinburg in Halle, 1982, pp. 218-220; the text of that edited by Forte in Corpus Christianorum, 2018). Forte concluded that the present leaves and those in Tokyo are the last surviving part of a set of recensiones of Frigulus' commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, and fill sections of the text that are missing from the Quedlinberg manuscript (about a third of its original leaves are wanting). Thus, these are the last remaining record of this lost text.
Little is known of Frigulus. In the early ninth century, Smaragdus of St-Mihiel listed him as one of his sources in his Liber Comitis (see lot 4), and from that it has been surmised that he most probably lived and wrote in the late eighth century, most probably during the first flush of the Carolingian renaissance.
The hand here is a rare early form of Carolingian minuscule, retaining traces of Insular influence. Despite conforming to Carolingian script norms, the scribe occasionally lapses into Insular forms (note some of his open 'a's, and the form of his 'g' particularly in his ligatures) as well as using characteristically Insular abbreviations for "est", "con" and "enim".
Another highlight is Lot 9, a leaf from a Bible with Proverbs 29:15-30:20. It was copied as part of an impressive Bible manuscript, circa 1200, in Montecassino in central Italy, the grand foundation abbey of the entire Benedictine Order. It was later reused as the binding of accounts dated 1611-1619.
Much about the script on this handsome leaf suggests the second half of the twelfth century, but the pronounced angularity indicates that it was written in the opening years of the thirteenth century. An origin in Montecassino itself is indicated by the interrogative zigzag sign like a '2' placed in the last lines of the verso and answered with a similar symbol over two points at the end of each clause.
Continuing through the auction, we have Lot 26, a leaf from a monumental Martyrology, with parts of the Passion of St. Blasius, with a large finely decorated initial.
The large initial here is nearly identical in palette and design to those in a Gospel Lectionary produced in northern Italy and probably in Milan circa 1200, and associated with the Cistercian abbey of Santa Maria di Morimondo. Other parallels can be found in the initials of two fragmentary Bibles in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, MSS. B. 28, Inf. And B. 29, Inf., both dated to the very early thirteenth century.
However, the script of our leaf is some decades earlier than that of the Ludwig codex and the examples in the Ambrosiana.
Finally, we take a look here at Lot 34, a large miniature on a leaf from a manuscript of Gregory IX, Decretals, opening of Book III, De Vita et Honestate Clericorum, showing a priest during Mass and a bell-ringer. This early fourteenth century illuminated manuscript on parchment is most probably Italian, likely from the Ligurian coast or the vicinity.
While the script here is certainly Italian, the miniatures on this leaf and its sister leaf recently sold at Koller are disarming with their mix of Italian and French motifs. Of course, it was common for such volumes to be written in university centres of Italy, but have their miniatures and decoration added at the final destination of the volume, and the flux of students from across the whole Mediterranean in and out of the universities of Italy allowed for such volumes to be carried some distances. When it was in her collection, the art-historian Rosy Schilling identified the miniature here as Neopolitan in origin. When the leaf was sold at Sotheby's nearly thirty years ago that catalogue also allowed for a Spanish origin. However, the Koller description earlier this year pointed towards other possibilities: Avignon and most interestingly, the northern Ligurian coastline. Many of the individual aspects here do fit well into the art of northern Italy, and a location on the north-western Italian coastline and border with France. Wide painted frames also occur around fourteenth-century miniatures from the region, and close matches can be found for the quadrilobed coloured flowerheads of the frame here (albeit not arranged within lines of square tiles as here) in the frames of manuscripts from Pavia. The figures here are somewhat rustic in execution, but elements of them such as the hair defined internally by thick black brushstrokes also appears in a copy of Maurice de Sully, Sermons, attributed to either Milan or Genova and c. 1320-1330. The problem of solid attribution is perhaps one of lack of comparative material. So little survives from the Ligurian coastline and surrounding region, and our impression of the book production of northern Italy is focussed on the large centres of Milan and Pavia. If this leaf is from this region, then it adds significantly to our knowledge of book production and the book arts there in the fourteenth century.
Tuesday 7 December | 2pm GMT
Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2JE
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