BOOK OF EZECHIEL, glossed, in Latin, DECORATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
333 x 230mm. 130 leaves: 1-168, 172(of 4, iii and iv cancelled blanks), quires numbered in centre lower margin of final versos, some with painted surround, Book of Ezechiel of up to 19 lines written below top line and the gloss of up to 40 lines written above top line in black ink in a protogothic bookhand of two sizes on a common ruling of 40 horizontals and up to four pairs of verticals ruled in plummet, with extensions to the page-edge in brown ink for all the verticals and across the outer margin for six pairs of the horizontals, justification: 200 x 153mm, the gloss sometimes continuing into the margins, rubrics of red, initials in gloss and lemmata of red, blue or green with penwork of contrasting colour, chapter numbers of alternating red and blue roman numerals, marginal corrections, notes and alternate readings framed with penwork flourishing of blue and red, Prologue and Ezechiel each opening with a large flourished initial and incipit of red and blue (first five folios somewhat darkened and with a few wormholes and marginal stains, ink corrosion or flaking of letters affecting six leaves, folios 42 and 48 torn and lower corner lost, seven leaves with lower margin excised, one with side margin also removed, six of these with replacement margins from another 12th-century manuscript, many leaves with original defects to the parchment, some original patches lost including large area from final folio, one from f.67 detached). ORIGINAL TAWED SKIN OVER OAK BOARDS, remains of clasp on edge of front cover (rebacked and repaired, some scuffing and stains, resewn and with modern endbands, lacking bosses from upper cover).
1. Benedictine Abbey of Malmesbury: a suggested reconstruction of the partial explicit and ownership inscription on f.130 reads LIBE[R DOMUS BEATE MA]RIE [DE MALMESBU]RI[A]. Ker listed the manuscript as from Malmesbury in Medieval Libraries of Great Britain with a question mark. In fact the apparently imaginative expansion of the explicit and identification of the origin of the manuscript appears to be confirmed by contemporary marginal notes attesting to the correction or provision of alternate readings by comparison with Bibles of Stanton (for example on f.21v 'i[n] lib[ro] de stant. finis florentis ...') and Beverston (on f.46 'Ab hi[n]c em[en]dat[ur] est lib[er] s[i]n[e] biblioteca de Bev[e]stan'). There are a Beverston and a Stanton, both well established by the 11th century, within a few miles of Malmesbury.
Notwithstanding the known application of William of Malmesbury in collecting and copying books for his abbey library (R.M. Thompson, 'The "scriptorium" of William of Malmesbury', in Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts and Libraries: Essays presented to N.R. Ker, eds M.B. Parkes and A.G. Watson, 1978, pp.117-142) Ker listed only a score of manuscripts as once owned by Malmesbury: Medieval Libraries of Great Britain, 2nd edn 1964, pp.128-129. A further ten were added in A.G. Watson's Supplement (1987).
2. I. Thomkyns: name written in a late 16th-century hand in the upper margin of f.1
3. B. R.: initials beneath verse opening 'Reader accept, what Time and Fate, hath left me' in lower margin of f.1
4. George Dunn, Woolley Hall near Maidenhead: his bookplate inside upper cover, his notes and initials with the date 1902 on front endleaf, and lot 476 in the sale of his collection Sotheby's 11 February 1913
5. Davis and Ortioli: handwritten description with date April 1919
6. Sir R. Leicester Harmsworth: lot 1933 in the sale of the Harmsworth Trust Library, Sotheby's 15 October 1945
Book of Ezechiel with the glossa ordinaria, ff.1-130
The composition of a standard gloss for all the books of the Bible has been described as one of the supreme achievements of the cathedral schools of northern France. By the middle of the 12th century the process was complete and within another 25 years the integrated page layout that had first been developed in France, where Biblical text and gloss were accommodated side by side on a single ruled grid, was adopted throughout Europe. Each page was laid out individually, lemmata and gloss progressing together from page to page, with the biblical text written larger and on alternate lines of the ruling and with the gloss beside it. The format changed according to the relative length of gloss to text and a preference for there being no blank spaces.
This is the aesthetic behind the arrangement of the present manuscript but here it seems to be carried out with a particularly relaxed and varied approach. The resulting folios range from having a conventional and coherent appearance, with the larger central script flanked by single columms of gloss, to those where four columns of gloss -- in places interlocking and elsewhere eliding with one another -- crowd around an irregular block of Ezechiel. On others the gloss is relegated to the corners and triangular extensions in the lower margin. These ad hoc solutions suggest that the scribe was not duplicating the format of his textual model, and the judgement that he made on ruling each page, of the relative requirements of text and gloss, appears not to have been that of a seasoned compiler of glossed books. He clearly recognised the difficulty that some of the more complicated jigsaws of script would present to a reader and some of his marginal additions are instructions on how to use the gloss. In addition, as well as the customary tie-marks signalling the continuation from one column or segment of gloss to another, he drew a network of connecting lines snaking between gloss and the word or phrase it served. Coupled with the patterned and flourished surrounds of the marginalia and the text capitals of alternating red, green and blue this makes for a very lively, varied and attractive succsssion of pages.
The manuscript was very thoughtfully prepared and corrected. The original holes, crooked edges and thin areas of the parchment were carefully patched, although several of these have become detached, and many marginal notes offer alternative readings citing other books in Stanton and Beverston. The most fascinating of the side-notes, however, are those that make analogies with classical texts. On folio 6v the description of the eyes of the beasts seen by Ezechiel leads to a quotation of Ovid's description of Argos in Bk I of the Metamorphoses: on folio 44v a verse from Vergil's Eclogues illustrates a verbal usage in the gloss: on folio 69v chapter 37 of Pliny's Natural History is cited for a full discussion of porphyry. This is an unexpected manifestation of the expansion of interest in classical texts that was a feature of monastic life and learning in the 12th century.