THE ‘GOSPELS OF QUEEN THEUTBERGA’ in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM [Lotharingia, perhaps Metz, c.825–850 (before 835?)].
285 x 190 mm. iv + 200 + iv leaves: COMPLETE in 25 gatherings of 8 leaves, foliated in the lower right corner of rectos, ruled in hardpoint for 27 lines of text written in dark brown ink by a single scribe in a handsome Carolingian minuscule with both bowls of ‘g’ open, ascenders slightly clubbed, uncial ‘d’ regularly used at the beginning of a word and sometimes in other positions, ‘et’ abbreviation regularly used for the ampersand and within words, ‘nt’ ligature frequent at ends of lines, written space: 177 x 108 mm, two-line initials throughout painted alternately red and green, FULL-PAGE TITLE AND SIXTEEN DECORATED AND ILLUSTRATED CANON PAGES (some natural flaws in the vellum, some areas discoloured, the edges of the last leaf repaired; on the whole IN EXCEPTIONAL CONDITION). Blind-tooled white pigskin by Douglas Cockerell, 1933, signed inside lower cover, replacing one by Francis Bedford, the spine tooled in gilt capitals ‘Quattuor / Evangelia // MS. Saec. IX.’, gilt edges.
(1) PROBABLY WRITTEN AT THE BENEDICTINE ABBEY AT METZ OR MURBACH, as suggested by Prof. Bernhard Bischoff on the basis of the script. An 18th-century note in French (f.iv verso) notes that the Feast of All Saints (1 November) is absent from the Capitulary; as it was made a day of obligation throughout the Frankish empire by Louis the Pious ‘at the instance of Pope Gregory IV and with the assent of all the bishops’ in the year 835, this could indicate a terminus ante quem for the writing of the manuscript.
(2) Doubtless owned or at least used by an extremely wealthy, even royal, abbess, as suggested by the late 9th-century addition of an Ritual for the Ordination of an Abbess (ff.198v-199), perhaps THE BENEDICTINE ABBEY OF STE-GLOSSINDE, in Metz, the royal capital of Lotharingia. It has long been suggested that the manuscript was used for or by QUEEN THEUTBERGA, WIFE OF LOTHAIRE II, KING OF LORRAINE (d.869), who before 867 became the abbess of Ste-Glossinde, where she was buried. It is likely that she would have bequeathed properties to the sisters upon her death: the present volume may have been among these.
(3) Acquired, possibly in the context of Pope Leo IX's patronage of nunneries in the wider Lotharingian and Vosges region, no later than the 11th century by the BENEDICTINE NUNNERY AT POUSSAY, about 60 miles south of Metz, as the added list of rents (ff.199v–200r) are apparently dues to Poussay; the convent was suppressed at the French Revolution.
(4) In a ‘BIBLIOTHÈQUE DES PÈRES DOMINICAINS’, according to a blue ink-stamp on a 19th-century description in French (f.iv verso).
(5) GUGLIELMO LIBRI (1802–1869), ‘scientist, patriot, scholar, journalist and thief’: his sale at Sotheby’s, 28 March 1859, lot 356 (with engraved illustration), to Tite. Libri called it: ‘ONE OF THE FINEST MANUSCRIPTS OF THE GOSPELS EVER OFFERED FOR SALE, QUITE COMPLETE, AND IN THE HIGHEST STATE OF PRESERVATION.’
(6) SIR WILLIAM TITE (1798–1873), M.P. and architect; his sale at Sotheby’s, 18 May 1874, lot 1040 'ONE OF THE MOST ANCIENT AND INTERESTING COPIES OF THE LATIN EVANGELISTS EVER OFFERED FOR SALE', to Quaritch for £89; Quaritch, Supplement 1875–77 to A General Catalogue of Books, 1877, p.3, no 10.
(7) ALEXANDER, FIRST LORD PECKOVER OF WISBECH (1830–1919); by descent to his daughter Elizabeth (d.1930), who in 1893 married James Doyle Penrose (d.1932); sold then jointly by their sons Alexander and Roland Penrose at Sotheby’s, 3 April 1933, lot 342 (with full-page folding plate), to Quaritch for £540.
(8) CHARLES HARRY ST JOHN HORNBY (1867–1946), his M90, re-bound for him in 1933; signed and dated at Chelsea the same year.
(9) MAJOR JOHN ROLAND ABBEY (1894–1969), with his bookplate, his JA.3229, bought from Hornby’s executors, 15 September 1946; cited in A.R.A. Hobson and A.N.L. Munby, in The Book Collector, X, 1961, p.42; Hornby-Abbey sale at Sotheby’s, 25 March 1975, lot 2939 (ill. with colour frontispiece and pl.I), to Breslauer.
(10) DR HELMUT BECK (1919–2001), his MS 2, with his embossed label on the spine of the box; his sale at Sotheby’s, 16 June 1997, lot 2 (with 6 full-page and two smaller colour reproductions), to the present owner.
The text is the standard text of a Carolingian Gospel Book, i.e. the Four Gospels, preceded by illuminated Canon Tables, prefaces, and summaries, and followed by the Roman Capitulary of Gospel Lessons for the liturgical year. While these individual features are standard, very few manuscripts have them all, and the order of the preliminary material is apparently unique. All four ‘Family A’ Gospel summaries are found in just four MSS studied by McGurk: Abbevillle 4; BL, Harley 2788; BnF, lat.17226; and Arsenal 599 (P. McGurk, Latin Gospel Books from A.D. 400 to A.D. 800, 1961, pp.110–11). The manner in which the present volume was constructed, with the presence of the Capitulary and the marginal notes referencing the Canon Tables throughout the text, points to an active interest in the manuscript for private and liturgical use.
In more detail, the contents are: Canon Tables I–X ff.1-8v; St Jerome’s preface to his translation of the Gospels ff.9-11; St Jerome’s preface to his Commentary on Matthew ff.11-13; the Letter of Eusebius explaining his Canon Tables ff.13r-v; a note on the Canon Tables, wrongly attributed to Jerome ff.13v-14 (these four items are Stegmüller nos 595, 596, 581, and 601; McGurk nos 1, 3, 4, and 2); the standard preface to Matthew (Stegmüller no.590, McGurk no 3) ff.14r-v; the standard summary of Matthew (McGurk no 7a, family A) ff.15-16v; the Gospel of Matthew ff.17-61; the standard preface to Mark (Stegmüller 607, McGurk no 6b) ff.61v-62; the summary of Mark, in 13 chapters (McGurk no 7b, family A) ff.62v-64; the Gospel of Mark ff.64v-93v; the standard preface to Luke (Stegmüller 620, McGurk no 6c) ff.94v-95; the summary of Luke, in 21 chapters (McGurk no 7c, family A) ff.95-99v; the Gospel of Luke ff.100-148; the standard preface to John (Stegmüller 624, McGurk no 6d) ff.148r-v; the summary of John, in 14 chapters (McGurk no 7d, family A) ff.148v-149v; the Gospel of John ff.150-186; Roman Capitulary of Gospel Lessons in the final pre-Carolingian form (T. Klauser, Die römische Capitulare evangeliorum, III, 1960, type S) ff.186v-197v, giving the station churches of Rome for the year from Christmas Day to the following Christmas Eve, ending ff.197v-198, with 23 lessons ‘de diversis causis’ (the texts agree especially closely with Paris, BnF, ms. 11958, a 9th-century Corbie book); forms for the institution of an abbess, a later 9th-century addition ff.198v-199v, with prayers including ‘Incipit oracio quando abbatissa ordinatur in monasterio, Cunctorum institutor deus, qui per moysen famulam tuam [...] hanc famulam tuam [...]’; a list of 65 rents or tithes, listing place names identi?able in the diocese of Toul, between the Rivers Meuse and Moselle, more-or-less in a circle around Poussay, late 10th- or early 11th-century addition ff.199v–200; the places named in this last item are marked on a late 19th-century map inserted at the back of the volume.
The decoration of this exceptional Carolingian Gospel Book consists of 16 pages of Canon Tables (ff.1–8v), a page filled by five lines alternately red and green of large capitals (f.17), lines of smaller red or green capitals or uncials on six other pages (ff.61v, 64v, 100, 148r, 148v, 150), a line of red uncials at the beginning of every chapter of the Gospel text and a large red or green initial at the beginning of every Ammonian Section (some pages have six or seven, others only one or two of these initials). The volume is complete and there is nothing to indicate that the manuscript ever contained Evangelist portraits or other material.
The Canon Tables are divided by columns painted in a great variety of colours. Blue and green predominate, some are plain, others are painted to simulate veined marble. The capitals, in similar colours, imitate stone capitals, mostly with foliate designs more or less closely derived from the Corinthian capital, a few with heads: triple human masks (f.5v), leonine masks (f.6v), tonsured human heads (f.7), crouching human ?gures supporting the arches (f.7v), bull’s heads (f.8v). The bases also imitate architecture; four crouching naked men support some columns (f.5v) and five robed men (one holding a book) sit at the bottom of others (f.7v); yet others end in claws (f.6v) or hooves (f.8v). The arches are decorated with bands of colour; foliate ornament is sometimes added above them (ff.1–2).
No known Gospel Book resembles the present manuscript particularly closely, but Nordenfalk and Bischoff pointed out that both its script and the ?gures used in the decoration of its Canon Tables have affinities with the important 9th-century astronomical manuscript in Madrid (Biblioteca Nacional 3307; reproduced in W. Koehler, Die karolingischen Miniaturen, III, 1960, pls.53–60).
THIS IS THE OLDEST WESTERN MANUSCRIPT OF THE GOSPELS IN PRIVATE HANDS, AND ONE OF THE BEST-PRESERVED NINTH-CENTURY MANUSCRIPTS IN EXISTENCE.