Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The “Leabhar Cheanannais” or “Book of Kells”, 9th Century

The Book of Kells is probably the reason why I started this biblio-adventure blog. Was trying to obtain the complete digital facsimile of this medieval jewel, visiting virtual libraries and digitalization Projets around the world when I decided to start writing my personal book of books -somehow, an "archivistic projetc"-. A blog about ancient manuscripts and rare books was a good option...
This codex is considered one of Ireland's greatest treasures. The name "Book of Kells" is derived from the Abbey of Kells, County Meath, which was its home for much of the medieval period. The manuscript's date and place of production have been the subject of considerable debate and don’t want to continue here. For consideration only: there are at least five competing theories about the manuscript's place of origin and time of completion.
For me the most incredible mystery is how the book survived in that incredibly good condition to our present days, taking specially into account that Kells Abbey was plundered and pillaged by Vikings many times in the 10th century (the book remained in Kells until 1654). Another mistery is regarding its lavish and complex decorations. Some of them can only be fully seen with magnifying glasses, although lenses of the required power are not known to have been available until hundreds of years after the book's completion.
About its contents, The Book of Kells contains the text of the four Gospels, that’s all. It’s based on the Vulgata (a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible), but evidences suggests that when the scribes were writing the text they often depended on memory rather than on other copy. Probably because no other copy was available in the Abbey and they were just trying to save their own way of life (Vikings were continuously pillaging the coasts and inner lands of Hibernia, moors invading Hispania from north Africa, absolutely hard times for Christianity from 8th to 10th in Europe).

There're at least the following facsimile editions for the codex. I could obtain a high quality digital copy 3 years ago, but I think is not available anymore. If interested contact me (facsimilium AT gmail, dot com). Swiss publisher Urs Graf Verlag Bern produced the first facsimile in 1951, but black and white only. In 1974 and under license from the Board of Trinity College Dublin, Thames and Hudson produced a second facsimile in color. After that, Trinity College officials denied more reproductions, to avoid damage the Book due to the pass of pages process. But later in 1986, Faksimile-Verlag developed a process that used suction to straighten a page so that it could be photographed without touching it and so won permission to publish a new facsimile. There're other later partial reproductions but the base for the total facsimile, in which each page was photographed, was the 86 copy. With new digital techniques developed during this last decade, corrections have been applied to obtain the best facsimile, published in 2006 and also digitized in high quality pdf and jpg formats.

Google made an awesome doodle this year to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, clearly inspired in the Book of Kells. I recommend the link to the doodle creator, here... see doodle super close-ups

Technical description of the Book:
  • Written primarily in “insular majuscule” with some occurrences of minuscule letters (usually e or s).
  • Identified at least three scribes in this manuscript, as usual they were named as hand A, B and C. Hand A, for the most part, writes eighteen or nineteen lines per page in brown color. Hand B has a somewhat greater tendency to use minuscule and uses red, purple and black ink and a variable number of lines per page. Hand B is not constant as A, changes the number of lines per page, which is not normal in medieval manuscripts. And finally, hand C is found throughout the majority of the text, with a great tendence to use minuscule, at least in comparison with hand A.
  • Illuminations: There are ten surviving full-page illuminations including two evangelist portraits, three pages with the four evangelist symbols, a carpet page, a miniature of the Virgin and Child, a miniature of Christ enthroned, and miniatures of the Arrest of Jesus and the Temptation of Christ. 

And finally, my favorite anecdote of the amazing Book of Kells. There’s an error located at Matthew 10:34b. It should read "I came not to send peace, but a sword," but the manuscript reads gaudium ("joy") instead of gladium ("sword") and so translates as "I came not [only] to send peace, but joy”

An image of the Virgin and Child. This is the oldest existent image of the Virgin Mary in a European Western manuscript. The iconography of the miniature may derive from an Eastern or Coptic icon.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Variae architecturae formae, 17th Century

This architecture Book is all about perspective. Compiles engravings from Hieronymus Cock, Hans Vredeman de Vries (most of them published on his Book “Small architectural perspective views”) and Jan van Doetecam, published in 1601 by Theodor Galle as part of the 1st ed. of the present work. There’s a 2nd ed. by Theodor's son Jan (undated).
Engraves are about building interiors, courtyards, and city streets with canals placed within oval frames set in rectangles, corners are filled with ornament of various sorts.
Codex has no text or table of contents, no page numbers; and has been digitized by Getty Research Institute. 

-Updated on October 14th- The usual list of External links (recommended):
For a high resolution, pdf version of this manuscript, contact me (facsimilium AT gmail DOT com).

Monday, October 8, 2012

The "Saptasalokīgītāṭīkāvāle", or Veneration of Hindu deities (18th Century)

First hindu manuscript on facsimilium (they are hard to find!!): The "Saptasalokīgītāṭīkāvāle" is a richly illuminated collection of different texts of praise, unified as a popular pocket book, to be used in private or public veneration of various Hindu deities: Lord Ganesha, Lord Shiva, Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, Goddess Durga, Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess Saraswati, Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Radha and Krishna, Mata Shakti, Mata Tripori Sondari Devi, Shiva Bhagwati (Akingam, Anantnag), Sharda Mata Temple at Gushi (Kupwara)

Codex is structured as follows:
  • First two chapters are a selection of verses taken from different sections of the well known Bhagavadgītā with an extensive Hindi commentary in the first section. Both are presented as a discourse between the legendary figure Arjuna and the deity Krsna. The verses include discussion of themes regarding self-realization and mental focusand draws parallels between such knowledge and the knowledge of the Vedas.
  • Third section is dedicated to the ten Visnu avatāras and derived from different sections of the Mahābharata. A number of other praise (stotra) texts follows and includes a short collection of stotras attributed to the medieval philosopher Samkara. Text is incomplete, but ends with a set of praises and mantras directed at the deity Śiva. Regarding the term "Avatar", many denominations of Hinduism such as Vaishnavism and some schools of Saivism teach that occasionally a god comes to Earth as a human being to help humans in their struggle toward enlightenment and salvation (moksha). Such an incarnation of a god is called an avatar, or avatāra. Hinduism teaches that there have been multiple avatars throughout history and that there will be more.
The manuscript includes 13 painted illustrations, most of which are for the avatāras of Visnu.

Codex is hosted by Penn Libraries at Pennsylvania University (My favourite section is "Selected Manuscripts").

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Madrid Codex (13th-14th Century)

Maya warrior (upper half) and Deity on lower half

Also known as the Tro-Cortesianus Codex, this fascinating Maya Book is held by the Museo de America in Madrid, Spain. It mainly consists on almanacs, horoscopes, astronomical tables -and even a complete description of the New Year ceremony- used by Maya priests in the performance of their ceremonies and divinatory rituals.
The “bad part” of this codex is a complete description of how to proceed for a human sacrifice to invoke rainfall. It has been demonstrated that the Codex was written before the Spanish conquest and also proceeds from the Yucatán Peninsula. Some of the drawings are similar to the murals found at Chichen Itza, Mayapan and sites on the east coast such as Santa Rita, Tancah and Tulum. (Updated on October 9th: regarding human sacrifices on American precolombine cultures, I forgot to link this post with another codex we presented time ago: “History of Mexico” by Juan de Tovar, 17th Century, that included some rites and ceremonies of the Aztecs like the xocotl huetzi (xocotlhuetzi) ceremony, a human sacrifice...link to post here)
Technical characteristics: 56 sheets painted on both sides to produce a total of 112 pages, on amate paper, folded up in accordion style. It's delicated and not public shown in Spain, because Mayas used a extremely thin layer of fine stucco over the amate paper as painting surface that can be easily damaged (see white areas in the middle of the coloured images on the digitized pages below).

There are 3? additional Maya Codices that survived to our days: Codex Dresde, Codex Paris and Codex Grolier (recently discovered, in 1971; and still under study to determine if its original or false). I will probably complete this post -or create a new one- when I finally can obtain a complete digitized copy of Dresde Codex.

External links, articles and related information about Maya Codices:
  • Fundacion para el avance de los estudios mesoamericanos (Foundation to promote Mesoamerican Projects, english version not available). Best link for additional information & deep interest on this matter. They even have a PDF digitized version of the Madrid Codex at FAMSI, divided into 4 blocks... not tested, because I obtained the complete digital facsimil at thepiratebay as safe-verified torrent file (!).
  • Article, by Vékony, Atilla (1999). "Mayan Codex Facsimiles" (University of Arizona), link provided. Don't particularly agree with note regarding the "organized book-burnings of Franciscan missionaries"
  • Ciudad Ruiz, Andrés; and Alfonso Lacadena (1999). J.P. Laporte and H.L. Escobedo. ed. "El Códice Tro-Cortesiano de Madrid en el contexto de la tradición escrita Maya [The Tro-Cortesianus Codex of Madrid in the context of the Maya writing tradition]". Link to article (tested) here. Best article I could find on internet about this matter (but written in spanish).
  • In 1873 J. M. Melgar y Serrano, known for his descriptions of a monolithic Olmec colossal head, published an article which purported to translate a Maya manuscript belonging to Señor Miró. The article showed, somewhat poorly, a copy of an engraving of a drawing of what we now refer to as page 16 of the Madrid Codex, taken from La Ilustración de Madrid, Núm. 29 (March 15, 1871), link here.
For a high resolution, pdf version of this manuscript, contact me (facsimilium AT gmail DOT com).