The Moving Word

By , 11 February 2014 12:00 pm


CUL MS Gg.1.1 f. 8r

Ralph of Linham writing his Comput (CUL MS Gg.1.1, f. 8r)

The Moving Word: French Medieval Manuscripts in Cambridge is the current exhibition in the Milstein Exhibition Centre, running until 17 April. On display are over fifty medieval manuscripts from the University Library, the Fitzwilliam Museum and several colleges (Christ’s, Corpus Christi, King’s, Peterhouse, St John’s and Trinity). The accompanying virtual exhibition contains additional items and video interviews with the curators. It will continue to be available after the physical exhibition closes. Continue reading 'The Moving Word'»

Cambridge Bibliographical Society talk, 12 February 2014

By , 5 February 2014 4:30 pm

Dr Anke Timmermann (Munby Fellow) will give a paper on ‘Pictorial transformations: alchemy and images in Cambridge manuscripts’.

The talk will take place on Wednesday, 12 February, 5:00 pm in the Milstein Seminar Rooms, Cambridge University Library. Non-members are welcome and there is no admission charge. Tea is served from 4.30 pm.

Details of this year’s programme are available on the CBS website:

Sandars Lectures 2013-14: Professor Nigel Morgan

By , 3 February 2014 9:00 am
CUL MS Add. 4105, f. 157r

A late fifteenth-century Italian Book of Hours bequeathed to the University Library by Samuel Sandars

The Sandars lectures for this year will be given by Professor Nigel Morgan, Emeritus Honorary Professor of the History of Art in the University of Cambridge.

The lectures were instituted in 1895 following a bequest from Samuel Sandars (1837-1894), a great bibliophile and benefactor to several Cambridge institutions. Sandars stipulated that there should be one or more lectures on ‘Bibliography, Palaeography, Typography, Bookbinding, Book Illustration, the science of Books and Manuscripts, and the Arts relating thereto’ and particularly desired these topics to be illustrated by examples from Cambridge libraries. Continue reading 'Sandars Lectures 2013-14: Professor Nigel Morgan'»

Charles I and the Eikon Basilike

By , 30 January 2014 10:45 am

The heavily symbolic frontispiece to Eikon Basilike. The crown in the upper right corner is ‘beatam & aeternam’ (blessed & eternal), which is to be contrasted with the temporal crown at the King’s foot, ‘splendidam & gravem’ (splendid & heavy). He holds the martyr’s crown of thorns, ‘asperam & levem’ (bitter & light). London: 1649 – CCD.8.9

At about 2pm on this day in 1649, King Charles I was beheaded outside the Banqueting House of Whitehall Palace.  The story of his downfall is soon told; his belief in the Divine Right of Kings and apparent Catholic sympathies led to unpopularity with the people and Parliament, the ultimate result of which was Civil War from 1642.  In 1645 he was imprisoned and refused to give in to the demands of his captors for a constitutional monarchy, and when Oliver Cromwell took control of the country in 1648, his fate was sealed.  The scene on that bitterly cold morning was set in the introduction to printed editions of the King’s speech:

About ten in the morning the King was brought from St. James’s, walking on foot through the park, with a regiment of foot, part before and part behinde him, with colours flying, drums beating…some of his gentlemen before, and some behinde bareheaded, Dr Juxon next behind him…”

When the moment came, the King made a short speech and prayed with Dr Juxon, Bishop of London.  The King said:

I go from a corruptible, to an incorruptible Crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the World.” [Dr Juxon replied] “You are exchanged from a Temporal to an eternal Crown; a good exchange.”

Dr Juxon’s comment echoes the sense of martyrdom felt by the King’s supporters; people who had witnessed his unpleasant end were said to have dipped their clothes in his blood, locks of his hair circulated, and items which had belonged to him took on the status of relics.  In 2010 a small exhibition of such relics was mounted, in the London jewellers Wartski (see their ‘Exhibitions & Events’ page), including the silver chalice from which the King took communion on the morning of his execution, the pearl earring he wore that day and locks of his hair.  The King’s words continued to be heard after his demise through a work purporting to be his spiritual autobiography, which may have been penned by John Gauden, Restoration Bishop of Exeter.  Whoever the author, Eikon Basilike (The Royal Portrait) was immensely popular, and appeared in many editions by the end of the year.  The Library holds over fifty copies of the text, in various languages, most of which are gathered together at the classmark CCA-E.8.  A description of the collection, on which this post is based, has recently been added to the Library’s webpages.

Continue reading 'Charles I and the Eikon Basilike'»

’Text and illustration in early books and manuscripts: A comparative study” conference report from Ed Potten and Laura Nuvoloni

By , 29 January 2014 12:20 pm

In December 2013, Ed Potten and Laura Nuvoloni travelled to Japan, at the invitation of Keio University, to participate in the international conference Text and illustration in early books and manuscripts: A comparative study. The conference, held on 13 and 14 December, was organised by Professor Takami Matsuda and Dr Satoko Tokunaga of the EIRI Project, with the collaboration of Dr Mayumi Ikeda, Postdoctoral Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.  Keio University and Cambridge University have long had close ties. Cambridge’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible was the first to be digitized by the HUMI Project team in November 1998, led by Professor Toshiyuki Takamiya, himself a long-standing friend of Cambridge University Library and member of the Library’s Visiting Committee.

Continue reading in the Incunabula Project Blog.

New exhibition: the Lewis-Gibson collection

By , 20 January 2014 11:32 am
A fragment from the Lewis-Gibson collection

Detail from a letter about a marital dispute, from the Lewis-Gibson Genizah collection. L-G Arabic 2.51

In August 2013 Cambridge University Library and the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, jointly acquired 1700 medieval Jewish manuscripts collected by the twin sisters Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson. The manuscripts were purchased by the intrepid ladies as they passed through Egypt on their visits to the monastery at St Catherine’s, Sinai, towards the end of the nineteenth century.

On their return to Cambridge, their friend Solomon Schechter identified one of their manuscripts as the lost Hebrew original of the book of Ben Sira (known in the Christian tradition as Ecclesiasticus), a sensational discovery. Schechter travelled to Cairo to find the source of the manuscripts, uncovering the remarkable hoard known as the Cairo Genizah and bringing 200,000 medieval Jewish fragments back to Cambridge University Library, the famous Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection.

The sisters’ own manuscripts, minus the leaf of Ecclesiasticus that they donated to the UL, were given to Westminster College, a theological college of the United Reformed Church, where they remained until recently. In 2012, Westminster decided to offer them for sale to the UL for £1.2 million. Since this was a considerable sum for one institution to find, Cambridge, for the first time, entered into a partnership to purchase the manuscripts jointly with Oxford. Following a successful public appeal the Lewis-Gibson Collection is now undergoing careful conservation and digitisation in Cambridge. A new exhibition in the Library Entrance Hall cases offers the first chance to see a selection of these fascinating manuscripts, along with materials relating to the fascinating story of their discovery. On display during Library opening hours from 20 January until 15 February.

New acquisition: The Gili Collection of Spanish & Catalan books

By , 16 January 2014 2:30 pm

Rusiñol: Oracions (Barcelona: 1897)

The University Library has recently acquired a collection of over 70 titles from the library of the late Jonathan Gili (1943-2004), a documentary film-maker, small-press publisher and collector of eclectic tastes, and his wife Phyllida.  His father was Joan Gili, a publisher and a translator of Lorca who co-founded the most celebrated Spanish bookshop in Britain: Dolphin Books.  Jonathan Gili was passionate about printed ephemera. He collected many first editions and unique examples of art deco style in print form. His poetic vision of the world is exemplified in this collection, mostly consisting of Catalan and Spanish material ranging in date from the 16th to the 20th centuries. There are also items in Portuguese and Mallorquín, with a smaller number of items in French, Latin or Provençal, all somehow connected with the Iberian peninsula. Keep reading …

Samuel Sandars the collector

By , 6 January 2014 3:15 pm

An example of Sandars’ fondness for beautiful bindings. An English gilt binding c.1600 on “Discorsi del molto r. padre d. Vitale Zuccolo sopra le cinquanta Conclusioni del sig. Torquato Tasso” (Bergamo: 1588) SSS.56.11

A few weeks ago, Cambridge University Library advertised this year’s competition for the 2014 Rose Book-Collecting Prize [entries due no later than Tuesday 14th January], which offers students the chance to win £500 by building their own book collections. It is advised that “the judges will make their decision based on the intelligence and originality of the collection, its coherence […], as well as the thought, creativity and persistence demonstrated by the collector and the condition of the books. The monetary value of the collections will not be a factor in determining the winning entry…”.  These qualities are perfectly demonstrated in the collections of two nineteenth-century collectors; John Couch Adams and Samuel Sandars, which I recently had the chance to explore. Both collections were bequeathed to the University Library in the 1890s, and both were built by proud Cambridge alumni, but they both illustrate different aspects of the qualities enumerated above.

Keep reading …

Royal Colonial Institute Photographic Portraits

By , 3 January 2014 9:37 am

RCI_1_2_110 Sir John A. Macdonald, Father of Canadian Confederation and first Prime Minister of Canada

RCI_2_1_281 Sarah Langstaff, founder of the American based philanthropic society Daughters of the British Empire

We are happy to report that a catalogue of the photographic portrait collection of the Royal Colonial Institute has recently been published on Janus, Cambridge University’s on-line archival portal. The Institute first began to collect photographs of its fellows in 1881 and the practice continued until the late 1920s. The vast majority of the prints are cabinet sized and were taken by London’s leading professionals, including Walery Limited, Photographer to Queen Victoria. Approximately 3,250 fellows sat for portraits. The collection represents a sort of visual ‘Who’s Who’ of those active in imperial affairs during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and will be a great interest to a wide range of academic and private researchers.

RCI_1_6_106 Lord Rosebery, British Prime Minister and author

RCI_1_6_3 Mojola Agbebi, Nigerian Baptist leader who championed indigenous leadership for African churches



The portraits provide an excellent source for a social history of the institute during its early years. Its officers and fellows included royal patrons, British and colonial politicians, explorers, settlers, colonial administrators, merchants, industrialists, soldiers, sailors, medics, missionaries, scientists, historians, and creative writers. Images of the institute’s first full women fellows begin to appear from 1922, reflecting the growing opportunities for women in public life following the granting of female Suffrage in 1918.



RCI_1_1_5 Dr John Rae, Arctic explorer who first discovered the fate of Sir John Franklin


RCI_2_1_481 Sir Bijoy Chand Mahtab, the Maharajadhiraja Bahadur of Bardhaman Raj

 The portraits also reflect the growth of the society outside the United Kingdom, with increasing numbers of non-resident fellows based in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, southern Africa and other parts of the Empire.  They also document the contribution of non-European fellows from India, Ceylon [Sri Lanka], Africa and the Caribbean. Genealogists will find the collection an important resource for identifying images of their ancestors.  Historians of fashion will be able to trace developments which marked the transition from the late Victorian to the Edwardian eras.

To consult the portrait catalogue please follow the link:

A Rare Books Advent Calendar: 25th December

By , 25 December 2013 8:30 am

With all good wishes for Christmas

“I had been watching a little solitary robin, as he hopped from bough to bough, when suddenly the bright, clear bells of the village church rang out their cheery invitation to the service”.
From The Christmas bells, by Alfred Miles; part of “The bright surprise for little eyes” series (London: [1884?]), classmark 1884.7.702