Posts by Helen Wüstefeld

  • An enigmatic interpretation? Two devices explained.

    A nautical staff known as balastella, fore-staff or Jacob's staff
    An enigmatic interpretation? Two devices explained.

    The fine humanist manuscript of Solinus' Collectectanea rerum memorabilium ('collection of memorable things') is most elegantly executed. When we were analyzing the book, the devices on the openings page of the text remained unexplained. Here we try to solve the enigma.

    The script of the book is attributed to Giovanni Marco Cinico, the highly appreciated royal copyist and librarian at the Aragonese court in Naples, who likely collaborated in this manuscript with Cola Rapicano, the official illuminator in Naples from 1451 to 1488. Without sparing material, the scribe and illuminator together created an extremely fine and beautiful book.

  • An astonishingly fine Bible

    Challenging images for a exigent commissioner
    An astonishingly fine Bible

    During the first half of the 13th century, Blanche of Castile (d. 1252), queen and queen mother of France, often resided in Paris. Her patronage of illuminated manuscripts was extensive and refined, for which she is called “the first important royal patron of the thirteenth century”. In overseeing the education of her children she exhibited a compelling concern for their spiritual welfare. Of the six of her children who survived childhood, Louis IX and Isabelle of France, reached sainthood. Her dedication as a mother and educator is recorded in various works of art. Presumably, the famous manuscripts of the Bible Moralisée were produced for the French royal family under her patronage. These were quite innovative works with a didactic function. As Queen of France and twice regent (the second time when Louis IX was on crusade, 1248-1254), it was through her extensive patronage of art that Blanche had lasting effect. The queen is also considered to have been patron to the design of the Sainte-Chapelle (1238-1248). In that royal chapel as well as in manuscript illumination, the fleur-de-lys symbol is omni-present.

    In the illuminations in our Parisian Bible (illuminated by an artist of the Royal Psalter Group), royal power is expressed in the fleur-de-lys at King Solomon (f. 139v), at Cyrus king of Persia ordering the building of the Temple (f. 152r), and in the image of King Artaxerxes (f. 155r).

  • Mythos: Antiquity forever, forever Antiquity - 2

    More common ground for Stephen Fry and Raphael de Mercatellis: the story of Yo and Argus
    Juno, Argus and Yo as depicted here, tells us the fate of mortals in the hand of the gods of Antiquity.
    Juno, Argus and Yo as depicted here, tells us the fate of mortals in the hand of the gods of Antiquity.

    Two miniatures in the manuscript made for Raphael de Mercatellis (see previous blog post) tell the mythological story of Yo and her warder Argus (a story told by Ovid [d. 17 CE], Metamorphoses I: 601-788). The illustrations show that after Jupiter fell in love with Yo, he turned her into a heifer to conceal her from the jealousy of his wife Juno. Juno then set the herdsman Argus, who had 100 eyes all over his body, to guard Yo.


    Stephen Fry also lets us follow Zeus-Jupiter in this example of one of his extra-marital escapades, when both he and his wife Hera-Juno bring about a terrible fate to the innocent protagonists Argus and Yo.  


    Argus was a loyal follower of Hera-Juno. He also possessed a very special gift, which made him a perfect guardian of Yo. He had a hundred eyes…. Obedient as ever to Hera's will, he stationed himself in the field, fixed fifty eyes on Yo and let the other fifty range independently around and up and down, on the lookout for marauders. … Zeus knew his limits of his own cunning, however, so he called upon the wiliest and most amoral rogue on Olympos to aid him. Hermes-Mercury understood right away what needed to be done…. For two hours he played (a set of pipes) and he sang. The music, the afternoon heat, the scent of the poppies, lavender and wild thyme, the soft lapping and purling of a nearby stream - slowly Argus's eyes started to close, one by one. ….  With Argus dead, Juno, who had seen what happened, sent down a gadfly which stung Yo so painfully and persistently that she bucked and screamed and galloped away, far from Zeus's reach. (Fry 2017, pp. 190-192).


  • Mythos: Antiquity forever, forever Antiquity - 1

    Common ground for Stephen Fry and Raphael de Mercatellis
    Birth of Pallas as illustrated for Raphael de Mercatellis, Bruges, ca. 1500
    Birth of Pallas as illustrated for Raphael de Mercatellis, Bruges, ca. 1500

    For centuries, books have been written to share knowledge, inspiration, and discoveries. What many of us may not realize is that the Middle Ages determined what texts were handed down from Antiquity onwards. Had it not been for the scribes and patrons of late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the entire literature of Greece and Rome would have perished. Medieval illuminated manuscripts gave stature to these ancient texts and thus contributed, to a large extent, to their preservation.



    Last November, Stephen Fry, the famous British comedian, actor, long-time quizmaster, as well as successful author, published a retelling of stories that the ancient Greeks invented about the birth of the universe, their gods, and the creation of humankind (Michael Joseph - Penguin Books 2017).

    As a child, Stephen Fry fell in love with these stories, which have never left him since. His lively, funny, and erudite book conveys this passion for Greek-Roman myths, which the author shares with numerous predecessors as well as contemporaries. One such a "predecessor" is the Flemish bibliophile, Raphael de Mercatellis, and here we present a medieval illustration from his library that attests to a myth also in Fry's book (we give here only the Latin names, not those in Greek).

  • Distinguished Patrons

    Duyst van Voorhout, founders of a dynasty
    Arms Duyst van Voorhout
    Arms Duyst van Voorhout

    Not often, unknown Dutch manuscripts turn up that can be identified by the coats of arms of their noble patrons.  A remarkable Book of Hours made in Delft, contains, on three pages, the coats of arms of Hendrick Nagel van Voorhout and Immesoet Duyst. Both husband and wife descend from old Delft families going back to the early 14th century. They are known as brewers, church master, aldermen, and burgomaster. Hendrick and Immesoet count as the founders of the Duyst van Voorhout family.








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