Biblioclasm & Digital Reconstruction: from a single leaf to the complete manuscript

Dismembered manuscripts brought back to life through the WayBack Recovery Method


Our main project envisages to digitally reconstruct dismembered manuscripts from around Europe, whose scattered leaves have been sold on the antiquarian book market during the last two centuries.

Eleven of the ongoing reconstructions are presented in the special issue of Theory and Criticism of Literature & Arts, freely accessible in Open Access. The WayBack Recovery Method (WBRM) is a procedure devised by Prof. Carla Rossi, based on a philological approach to fragmentology, that can restitute, in a new digital format, manuscripts thought to have been lost forever. 

by clicking on the images you will be redirected to the digital reconstruction of each manuscript

Use of Rome, illuminated manuscript in Latin and Italian, on parchment [southern Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1480]. 239 leaves, 14 lines, 96 by 70mm. On 13 July 2016, the manuscript was auctioned as Lot 115 at Christie's in London, remaining unsold and thus being returned to its owner. Christie's estimate at the time was between £30,000 and £50,000. On 6 July of the following year, it was put up for sale again by another British auction house, Dreweatts 1759 Fine Sales, and fetched only £27,000.  Produced for Maria Maddalena della Torre (Maria Magdalena von Thurn und Valsassina zu Kreuz), daughter of Phoebus and Lucia Arcoloniani, born in 1464 and married to Georg von Lamberg zu Ortenegg in 1480, the year of the possible production of the manuscript. The codex could be a wedding gift from Georg von Lamberg to his teenage wife (the woman depicted in the miniature miniature of the Resurrection of Lazarus), or in any case be related to the marriage (although not produced for a couple), the manuscript was made for an Italian client wealthy enough to order a book from an influential Flemish artist known as the Master of the Wodhull-Haberton Hours in the great centre of production in Bruges. At the time of the auction it still retained its old binding, with its cloth cover, on which was embroidered the Madruzzo family coat of arms.

Use of Rouen, in Latin and French. France (Rouen), late 15th or early 16th century. Consisting of only 79 leaves at the time of the auction (160 by 115 mm), 25 lines of text in angular Gothic bookhand. Auctioned at Skinner's in 2017 (Price realised: $24,600) and dismembered soon afterwards. It may well have been made for a Rouen layman, the forms of the prayers being all in the masculine. When the auction took place, the manuscript was already missing some miniatures, such as the initial one with the four Evangelists and the final one with the owner kneeling in front of the Virgin. The manuscript offers an outstanding example of the style of illumination attributed to the pupils of the Master of the Echevinage of Rouen, such as Robinet Boyvin and Jean Serpin, who after the death of the master (perhaps Boyvin's father-in-law) ran one of the most prolific workshops of the later fifteenth-century.

Books of Hours were usually illustrated with multiple miniatures, as many as the patron could afford. The presence of many full-page miniatures and richly illuminated borders in this manuscript suggests that it was produced for a high-ranking person. 

The manuscript was bound in an early 19th century blind- and gilt-tooled calfskin binding, with parchment pastedowns and fly leaves; ex libris Henry A. Whitney, with a gift inscription dated January 17, 1818.

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De Roucy Hours

The Rosenbaum Psalter-Hours

Use of Châlons-sur-Marne, illuminated manuscript in Latin and French [Troyes, 1480].

Originally consisting of over 200 leaves, measuring 145 by 100mm. 

Known as Courtanvaux-Elmhirst Hours, it was an illuminated manuscript on vellum, produced in 1480 for Louis de Roucy, the Marquis de Montmirail illegitimate son, for the liturgical use of Châlons-sur-Marne (his mother's home town). After an 18th century sale, this Book of Hours reappeared for the first time on the antiquarian book market at a Sotheby's auction, on 14 June 1954 (lot 32).

It was described as being already imperfect, with 31 miniatures reported, and the bookplate of Edward Mars Elmhirst (1915-1957), bound in old black morocco; some traces left on the leaves by the original 15th century cover suggested that this must have been burgundy red.

The manuscript, which in 1954 was still intact, was sold again at a Bloomsbury’s auction, in New York (3 April 2009, lot 15), after the death of its last owner, Harry A. Walton Jr (1918-2007), and was torn apart shortly afterwards. This manuscript was, however, already lacking several leaves before the auction.

Fol. 85v, detached from the manuscript in the early 20th century, now at the University Library of South Carolina, preserves the seal of François-Michel-César Le Tellier (Paris 18 February 1718 – 7 July 1781), Marquis de Montmirail by hereditary line, better known as Marquis de Courtanvaux. For this reason, the book was renamed after this 18th-century French owner, as Courtanvaux Hours.

It was illuminated by a pupil of the so-called Master of the Troyes Missal.

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De Ponthieu Hours

Use of Paris, 160 by 102mm, order of leaves altered, wanting single leaves with miniatures at the beginning of the Hours of the Cross and the Penitential Psalms.

Illuminated in Paris, by Jean Pichore and Jean Coene. Originally consisting of over two hundred leaves; 178 leaves when auctioned at Sotheby's in 2013 (unsold) and in 2014.

Page layout throughout the manuscript consists of 22 lines in a Gothic bookhand, some letters with ornamental cadels in upper border, capitals touched in yellow, rubrics in red or blue, one-line initials in gold on red and blue grounds. Only 14 full-page miniatures extant. Rectangular marginal blocks with acanthus leaf and foliage panels divided obliquely, gold leaf detailing; sloping blackletter hand with blue and red touches, gold leaf versals, red ruled layout lines.

We learn from a handwritten note in French at the end of the manuscript, written by a member of the De Ponthieu family, that it had already lost many leaves before 1605, when it was sent to Paris to be restored and rebound.

In the 18th century, some flyleaves joined the manuscript collection of John Percival (1683-1748), Earl of Egmont.

Dismembered in 2014, after being auctioned at Sotheby's for (only) GBP 20,000.

Psalter-Hours, written in Latin in a Gothic bookhand, on vellum.

Origin: currently still undetermined.

Date: second half of the 13th century.

Dimensions: single folia between 175–179 x 125–136 mm, bifolium: 178 x 266 mm. Written area: between 145–150 x 86–90 mm.

Description: All leaves imperfect, cut in the upper margin and along the right edge, sometimes cropping decorative elements with penwork drolleries. Twenty and twenty-one lines per page in a slightly irregular Gothic hand, black and red ink, plummet ruling, distributed in one or two columns. All recovered leaves written by the same hand in two types of writing. Modern pencil foliation and other notes on the recto and verso of some leaves.

Decoration: historiated, inhabited and uninhabited initials on a background of burnish gold leaf, in blue, red, orange, black, white, brown, beige, green colours, some of them with extensions in shape of humans, birds, and dragons often biting into the body of the letter.

Versal initials in burnished gold and blue with flourish penwork extensions in red and blue. Penwork line-fillers with non-figurative, linear, and floral elements, and dragons, monsters, human-headed monsters, birds, fish, bulls, dogs, lions and humans in full shape or only their head in blue, red, and gold, often with a red blob or ball in their mouth. Contents: Psalter – Canticles – Creeds – Litany – Collects – Hours of the Virgin – Office for the Dead. Provenance: Broken and widely dispersed in the 1960s, with leaves in the collection of Carl Richartz, Amsterdam by 1966.

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The Guyot Hours

Use of Nantes, in Latin and French, on vellum. Rouen, c.1485-1510.

194 ff. 120 x 80 mm. 15 lines (64 x 40 mm), bastard script.

Painted panel borders on most pages (decoration partially repainted after 1500, to conceal the original ownership). Complex mixture of contents and styles, mainly Nantes and Rouen.

Auctioned as a bound manuscript at Sotheby's, on 6 July 2006 lot 88. Sold as single leaves on eBay, from 2006.

Three miniatures auctioned at Bloomsbury, 601/2007, lots 17, 18, and 19.

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The Book of Hours of Catherine Guernier

Northern France (Paris), c.1475-85. 141 leaves (last blank, fol.89 mostly blank), 133mm. by 88mm., lacking a leaf after fol.137, else complete, collation: i12, ii-x8, xi5 [of 6, blank vi cancelled], xii-xvii8, xviii4 [of 6, lacking i, a further blank cancelled at end], with vertical or horizontal catchwords, 16 lines, ruled in very pale red ink, written-space 70mm. by 48mm., written in dark brown ink in two sizes of a fine lettre bâtarde, rubrics in dark red, Calendar in alternate lines of red and blue with major entries in burnished gold, capitals touched in yellow, one- and 2-line initials throughout in burnished gold on red and blue grounds with white tracery, a few larger initials in liquid gold on coloured grounds, approximately 138 panel borders, in the outer margins of every page with a 2-line initial, the borders c.70mm. by 18mm. formed of blue and gold acanthus leaves with coloured flowers and fruit and birds, grotesques, people, snails, insects, dragons, etc., thirty-three historiated initials with full borders, the initials 4 to 8 lines high, mostly 6-line, five large miniatures, one half-page (fol.39r), others in arched or pointed compartments above large initials and within full borders including one incorporating further historiated roundels (fol.21r), early additions at end, last blank slightly defective, stains probably from pilgrim badges offset onto first page, some rubbing and thumbing affecting outer corners of some borders, other minor wear and dust-staining at extreme edges, generally sound, seventeenth-century panelled calf, silver clasps and catches, edges gilt and gauffered, paper endleaves, binding scuffed and rebacked, in a fitted pale brown cloth case, title gilt.

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A Spanish Book of Hours illuminated by P. J. Ballester and his circle

Use of Rome, Valencia, around 1480.

Book of Hours produced in Valencia for a noble clientele.

Six extremely interesting illuminated leaves have recently re-emerged from a private collection. With Prof. Josefina Planas Badenas, Prof. Carla Rossi presented the discovery in the special issue of the journal Theory and Criticism of Literature & Arts.

We know for a fact that in 1886 the parent manuscript was already dismembered, and it is highly probable that Charles Brinsley Marlay, who bequeathed his two extraordinary miniatures to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1912, had no idea of the provenance of the leaves he had acquired. However, we would like to hope that, albeit subject to an act of vandalism, other leaves from this lavishly illuminated Book of Hours have survived and can be identified through further investigation.

If we consider that the intact Book of Hours illuminated by Ballester and his circle must have measured 140 x 105 mm, the writing space of each leaf corresponded on average to that of the miniatures, i.e. 130 x 93 mm, containing approximately 12 (max 14) text lines, with large decorated initials on the recto of the leaf juxtaposed to the main miniature. There must also have been a rich profusion of gold in the text. Other text leaves had to be simpler, but still quite recognisable today.

We would like to thank Dr. J. Günther Rare Books for kindly sending us the documentation on the four miniatures they sold.