Archive for the ‘Medieval’ Category

Sumptuous Aztec offerings found at Templo Mayor

Monday, March 25th, 2019

The excavation at the foot of the steps of the sixth stage of the Templo Mayor in Mexico City that discovered the remains of a sacrificed child last year has unearthed a new trove of rich sacrificial offerings including jaguar bones, a set of flint knives, copal bars, shells and starfish.

The jaguar bones were found in a rectangular stone box that is so large Archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have barely scratched the surface so far.

Only about one-tenth of the box’s contents has been excavated, but already a wide array of artefacts has been found near the top, including a spear thrower and a carved wooden disk placed on the feline’s back that was the emblem of the Aztec patron deity Huitzilopochtli, the war and sun god.

A layer of aquatic offerings placed on top of the west-facing jaguar have also been identified, including a large amount of shells, bright red starfish and coral that likely represented the watery underworld the Aztecs believed the sun travelled through at night before emerging in the east to begin a new day.

A roseate spoonbill, a pink bird from the flamingo family, has also been found in the offering. It was associated with warriors and rulers, and thought to represent their spirits in their descent into the underworld.

A second stone box was discovered next to the jaguar box. It contains a top layer of copal bars, a type of tree resin burned by Aztec priests like frankincense and sea shells. It has only been partially excavated thus far. A third stone box next to it contains 21 flint knives that, like the remains of the jaguar and the young boy, were decorated with the regalia of warriors complete with a mother of pearl war god disc, a miniature spear thrower and a shield.

The ongoing discoveries of ritually significant offerings at the site while exciting in and of themselves also tender hope that this spot could indeed be the tomb of Aztec king Ahuízotl. According to Spanish chronicles, cinerary remains of three Aztec kings of Tenochtitlan — brothers Axayacatl (1469–1481), Tizoc (1481–1486) and Ahuízotl (1486-1502) — were deposited along with copious offerings and the hearts of sacrificial victims under or near the Cuauhxicalco, a circular platform at the foot of the steps of the Templo Mayor. This is where the pit containing the remains of the sacrificed boy and now the rectangular box have been found.

The cylindrical burial pit is unique among the 204 tombs unearthed at the Templo Mayor, and with the exceptional density of sacrificial offerings that have already been found in the stone box, archaeologists are hoping that they may have indeed found the burial site of the kings described by the Spanish. The construction phase of the temple dates to the reign of Ahuízotl, so all the pieces seem to fit. If the archaeologists’ hopes come to fruition, this would be the first tomb of an Aztec ruler that has ever been found.

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$100 garage sale Buddhist deity sells for $2 million

Sunday, March 24th, 2019

A gilded bronze figure of a Buddhist deity that was bought at a garage sale in Kirkwood, Missouri two decades ago for less than 100 bucks sold at auction Wednesday for $2.1 million.

The deity depicted in the statuette is Avalokiteshvara, also known as Guanyin among many other appellations and forms. One of those forms, Cintamanicakra, is traditionally depicted holding the wish-granting jewel cintamani in front of his chest as he is here. He sits in the royal rajalilasana posture, his head resting on one of his three right hands. His elaborate updo is embraced by a high diadem trailing long ribbons. He wears beaded necklaces and his chest is crossed by draped and knotted robes. He holds a lotus stem in a left hand at the hip and the dharma wheel in a raised palm. A mala (a string of beads used in meditation) is in another hand. His sixth hand supports the body, planted on the lotus-form seat.

The seller brought the piece to Antiques Roadshow in St. Louis two years ago to find out what it was and how much it was worth.

“I almost didn’t have a chance to acquire it, because I was having 15 people for lunch,” she told appraiser Robert Waterhouse on the show. “There was a local person who was a colorful character in Kirkwood, so I really wanted to get to his garage sale (so) I rushed out.”

She added that she paid “probably between $75 and $100, which was a lot for me. It was about 20 years ago.” […]

Local antiques dealers completely missed the hidden gem in the sale, the owner told “Antiques Roadshow.” “The dealers had been there for two days before, so I thought everything good would be gone,” she said. The figurine had lost almost all its gilt and was missing an arm, “I thought it was so beautiful, I just grabbed it… I didn’t mind the damage.”

She was shocked when Waterhouse told her the gilt-bronze figurine was of such high quality that it was likely of imperial provenance. His conservative estimate for a retail price was $100,000–125,000. He thought it might date to the 15th century Ming Dynasty. Later researcher put the date far further back to the late Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) or early (907-979 A.D.) Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period and.

Sotheby’s auction estimate was even more conservative than Waterhouse’s at $60,000-80,000, but with the market for Chinese antiquities being molten hot, I suspect there was little doubt the piece would far exceed the estimate. Indeed, bidding was fierce and fast, driving the price into the millions. Seven minutes later, the hammer fell at $2,060,000.

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800 medieval illuminated manuscripts digitized

Saturday, March 16th, 2019

England and France may have had one or two little issues with each other in the Middle Ages, but all is forgiven now and 800 medieval illuminated manuscripts have been digitized and made available to the public on the websites of the British Library and Bibliothèque Nationale de France. The BL and BnF have the largest collections of medieval illuminated manuscripts in the world. To make some of these masterpieces accessible to the general public, both libraries worked together with funding from the Polonsky Foundation, a charitable organization that focuses on preserving and sharing cultural heritage primarily through the digitizing of important collections.

The carefully curated collection features works created in Medieval England and France between 700 and 1200 A.D.

The manuscripts have been selected for their historical significance in terms of relations between France and England during the Middle Ages. They are also of unique artistic, historical or literary interest. Produced between the eighth and the end of the twelfth century, they cover a wide range of subjects, illustrating intellectual production during the early middle ages and the Roman period. Among these manuscripts are a few precious, sumptuously illuminated examples such as the Benedictional of Winchester around the year 1000, the Bible de Chartres around 1140 or the Great Canterbury Anglo-Catalan Psalter produced circa 1200.

With this corpus being of undisputable scientific interest, the programme is also characterised by several manuscript recovery operations: digitisation, online dissemination, restoration, scientific description and even mediation.

The BnF portal provides access to all 800 manuscripts. They are grouped according to themes, authors, places and centuries for ease of navigation and can be searched in English, French and Italian. The technical tools are downright nifty. Manuscripts can be viewed side-by-side for comparison. They can be annotated online and the annotations downloaded as json files for sharing. Manuscript pages can be downloaded as individual images or the entire manuscript can be download as a PDF.

The BL portal presents a selection of manuscripts. Articles on subjects like medieval legal, medical and musical writing place the works in their historical context and significance. There are also pieces on the wider background of illumination, book-making, science and learning in the Middle Ages. A few of the manuscripts in the collection have been highlighted here, and boy are they showstoppers — lavish illustrations, intricately carved ivory and precious metal covers, hymnals, psalters and a phenomenal bestiary.

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Medieval Irish Avicenna fragment found in English book

Monday, March 4th, 2019

A fragment of a medieval manuscript used in the binding of a printed book has been identified as a unique Irish-language translation of a medical compendium by the great Islamic philosopher and physician Avicenna. Written on vellum in the 15th century, the fragment was part of a manuscript of Book 1 of The Canon of Medicine, a five-volume overview of medical knowledge in the Islamic world written in 1025 by Persian physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna in the Latinized version). The fragment is small, consisting of parts of descriptions of the physiology of the jaws, nose and back. It is an Irish translation of the Latin version of the text translated from the Arabic by Gerard of Cremona in the 13th century. This fragment is the only known example of Avicenna’s Canon in Irish.

The ‘Canon of Medicine’ was a great medical encyclopedia which, through translation into Latin (from which the Irish text itself is translated), achieved great popularity in Europe, where state-of-the-art medical theory and practice in medieval times had their origins in the Muslim world. The Irish fragment contains parts of the opening chapters on the physiology of the jaws, the nose and the back. The existence of this text was not hitherto known in Ireland.

Medical scholarship in medieval Gaelic Ireland was on a par with that practised on the Continent and was the most outward-looking of all the native branches of learning. There is evidence of Irish scholars travelling to European medical schools, and bringing their learning back to the medical schools of Ireland.

A century later, a sheet of the manuscript was heavily trimmed along the top and sides, sheering off a significant portion of the text, and folded four times to be used as a bifolium cover of a printed book. The book, a Latin manual of local administration, was printed and bound in London between 1534 and 1536. Since that time, it has been in the possession of a single English family, amazingly enough.

Professor Pádraig Ó Macháin of the University College Cork found about the existence of this volume and as an Irish professor, was intrigued by the Irish language sheet.

“The use of parchment cut from old manuscripts as a binding for later books is not unusual in the European tradition,” says Ó Macháin, “but this is the first time that a case has come to light of such a clear example of the practice in a Gaelic context.” From photographs of the binding supplied by the owners, Prof. Ó Macháin established that the Irish text was a medical one. “A quarter of what survives of late-medieval manuscripts in the Irish language is medical in content,” says Ó Macháin, “an indication of the practical purpose of these books in Ireland of the time.”

Professor Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, who bears the indisputably awesome distinction of being “the only living expert on medieval Irish medicine,” identified it as Avicenna’s classic tome. Persuaded by its unique importance in the history of Irish philology, books and medicine, the owners of the book agreed to allow the vellum sheet to be removed and the book rebound sans its priceless structural captive.

John Gillis of Trinity College Dublin removed the manuscript fragment from the binding, flattened the folds and conserved it as a single sheet. The fragment has been digitized and uploaded to the Irish Script on Screen website.

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12th c. triple toilet seat goes on display

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Move over, Vindolanda with your single-ass toilet seat. Medieval London is giving you three times the run for your money. A unique three-seater wooden toilet seat from the 12th century is going on display at the Museum of London Docklands. The rough hewn oak plank was preserved for centuries in the waterlogged environment of the Fleet River, one of the tributaries of the Thames that were “lost” to the development of the London sewage system in the Victorian era. It was unearthed in excavations near Ludgate Hill in the 1980s but the discovery wasn’t announced before because the money ran out before the thousands of artifacts from what was then the largest archaeological dig in London history could be published. (Besides, even experts didn’t appreciate scatological archaeology three decades ago as much as we do now.)

The communal toilet seat was once perched over a cesspit that emptied into the Fleet. It served the needs of people who lived and worked in on what was then a small island. Archaeologists even know its name, amazingly enough.

Remarkably, archaeologists have even been able to identify the owners of the building, which was known at the time as Helle: a capmaker called John de Flete and his wife, Cassandra. “So what I love about this is that we know the names of the people whose bottoms probably sat on it,” said Kate Sumnall, the curator of archaeology for the exhibition.

They would probably have shared the facilities with shopkeepers and potentially other families who lived and worked in the modest tenement block, she said. “This is a really rare survival. We don’t have many of these in existence at all.”

The toilet seat will be part of an exhibition dedicated to London’s lost rivers: Effra, Fleet, Neckinger, Lea, Wandle, Tyburn, Walbrook and Westbourne. Remains preserved in the loving embrace of the city’s rivers will go on display alongside the seat exemplifying how said rivers were used by Londoners as open sewers before they were diverted into culverts to be used as closed ones today. Bronze Age weapons deposited in the Thames as ritual offerings, a dog collar, animal skulls, discarded porcelain will represent the archaeology of the rivers while photographs, paintings, poems and film represent its history. Secret Rivers runs from May 24th through October 27th. Admittance is free, and just in case seeing the toilet seat isn’t worth the ticket price, a plastic replica will be available for visitors to perch upon. That’s a group selfie opportunity not to be missed.

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Restorative deboning at iconic Czech bone chapel

Monday, February 25th, 2019

The Sedlec Abbey ossuary in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, is known worldwide for its extravagant towers, massive central chandelier and decorative flourishes constructed of human bone. The Sedlec Ossuary is one of the greatest tourist draws in the Czech Republic, attracting a half million visitors a year.

The church was originally built around 1400 after the monastery’s cemetery became a major regional draw due to its having been sprinkled with soil from Golgotha in the 13th century. Death’s rich harvest during the Bubonic Plague of the mid-14th century and the Hussite Wars 50 years later gave the cemetery more business than it could handle, and the church included an ossuary on the lower level so bones could be stored to make room for new graves.

For hundreds of years monks collected bones in stacks in the ossuary, but the artistic bone structures as they exist today were created by woodcarver Frantisek Rint in 1870. (He signed his work, yes, in bone.) It’s estimated that the skeletons of 40,000-70,000 individuals, 60,000 or so skulls and 450,000 long bones, were used to create four large pyramidal mounds in each corner of the chapel and the other decorations in the nave and on the walls.

Now those famous pyramids are being dismantled as part of a major restoration project to repair structural issues of the mounds and of the church building itself. Without dismantling the pyramids, it’s not possible to repair plaster walls, floors and windows and dehumidify the space.

Restorers began to dismantle the first of the four pyramids in November. The bones are being placed in paper boxes one at a time and removed to a conservation laboratory where each bone will be surface cleaned, soaked in a weak lime solution and dried. They won’t be scoured or even cleaned as thoroughly as restorers cleaned the hanging elements like the chandelier and the Schwarzenberg coat of arms

The biggest concern is that over time the pyramids have suffered damage at the base. The deformation of the lower layers poses a danger to the entire structure and the deconstruction will hopefully help identify the root cause of the problem. It could largely be a matter of weight, the towers being too massive for the bones on the bottom to bear. Endemic mold and moisture also play a part.

It’s already clear that some of the bones have been irreparably damaged by moisture and will have to be replaced. What material will be used is undetermined at this juncture. Bones from a neighboring church with a small ossuary could be borrowed, or copies could be made out of mineral materials.

In order to rebuild the pyramids so they look exactly the same as they used to, experts will have to replace and shore up damaged parts in ways that do not alter the original design. The firm Nase Historie has been engaged to scan the bone towers using photogrammetry, thousands of high-resolution images mapped and stitched together to create an extremely accurate 3D model.

Conservators estimate that it will take at least four months to dismantle each tower, but that’s speculative at this point. Nobody really knows what’s in these pyramids, the real number of bones, whether there is any debris or osseous material shoring up the intact bones. Being able to count precisely how many bones were used to create these towers is another unique opportunity afforded by the restoration project.

As restorers work on the towers, visitors continue to be allowed access to the chapel. A dust-proof barrier separates the pyramids and chapel, but there are windows in it to give people a chance to see the reconstruction.

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Unique deviant burial found in Sicily

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

The remains of an adult male were discovered in 2013 in Piazza Armerina, a medieval village in central Sicily that was built over the ruins of a Roman latifundia, one of the immense agricultural estates that Sicily was largely divided into by the 2nd century. The body was isolated, not part of a cemetery or burial ground. As a matter of fact, the remains weren’t even in or near a settlement as they date to the between the first and second half of the 11th century, a time when the area was still unpopulated. The village’s first appearance on the historical record dates to 1122.

The skeleton was buried face down in a shallow grave in a southwest to northeast orientation. The right arm was extended along the side of the body. The left arm was extended over the back; the ulna was found resting on the left pelvis. The feet were so close together that it’s highly likely they were tied. There were no funerary objects found in the pit.

The isolation, orientation and position of the body mark it as a deviant or atypical burial that it not in concert with Christian, Jewish or Muslim funerary practices. The skeleton is almost complete and in excellent condition, allowing researchers to study this unique burial in detail using a combination of osteoarchaeological analysis, forensic anthropology techniques and technology to study the remains.

They identified six stab wounds on the sternum with the shape of the blade tip impressed on the bone. The weapon appears to have been a single-edged knife or dagger, a close-combat blade that nonetheless managed to pierce the thorax and penetrate the posterior sternum from entry points on the victim’s back. A large bone fragment on the right side of the sternum was dislodged when the blade was twisted with significant force.

To get an accurate picture of the dynamics of this fatal stabbing, researchers used 3D modeling technology. They created a virtual model of the chest, the entry points and angles of penetration. They were steep, indicating the assailant was standing behind the kneeling victim. As the blade went through the thorax into the breastbone, it probably punctured his lung and heart, killing him quickly.

The injury pattern is unique. There is nothing like it known in the archaeological record. It is not the result of hand-to-hand combat. There is no evidence of contact anywhere else on the victim’s chest, which almost certainly would have been present during the chaos of a fight.

There was no evidence of other injuries on the man’s vertebrae or ribs that would suggest that the man was involved in some kind of “uncontrolled” fight, said lead author Roberto Miccichè, an archaeologist at the University of Palermo in Italy.

The goal of the man’s killer, it seems, was to attack the victim in a “very effective and rapid way,” Miccichè said; in addition, the assailant likely knew human anatomy “very well.” In fact, the cuts were so clean and smooth, that the man may have been immobilized, perhaps with binding, Miccichè said.

The clear, deep stab wounds, the lack of defensive, uncontrolled action, the evidence of binding, particularly in the closeness of the feet, and the relative positions of aggressor and victim indicate this was an execution.

It is also the first thoroughly documented, archaeologically excavated deviant burial found in Sicily. A number of atypical burials have been recorded by archaeologists on the Italian mainland, but only one appears in the scientific literature for Sicily and it was not well-documented. Atypical burials are believed to have been employed for religious or magical reasons — like to prevent the dead from rising to harm the living — or as a form of post-mortem ostracism, a reflection of the deceased’s marginal position in the social order.

Researchers believe this death occurred in the aftermath of the Norman conquest of Sicily in 1061. It was a period of turmoil, of social and political realignment as the island transitioned from Islamic to Norman rule.

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When a nun faked her own death to escape the convent

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

Sixteen heavy tomes that document 425 years of official business by the archbishops of York are being thoroughly read, translated and indexed for the first time. From the 13th century through the 17th, the registers of the archbishops were carried around wherever they traveled and clerks recorded every act, letter and order in them. After the English Civil War, they were stored in London and ignored until the late 18th century when they were returned to the Diocesan Registry in York Minster.

They are now in the care of the University of York where researchers have been able to publish a few parts of them, but only sporadically and only in Latin. Thanks to an ambitious new project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, medieval historians from the University of York and The National Archives (UK) will transcribe and translate every word in every volume. The entries will be indexed and uploaded to an online database freely accessible to anyone who is interested.

Already fascinating stories are emerging from the records. The register from August 11th, 1318, records a monition, a formal admonishment from the archbishop, to one Joan of Leeds. Archbishop William Melton, future Lord Treasurer of England, warns said Joan, “lately nun of the house of St Clement by York, that she should return to her house” which she had departed in deliciously dramatic fashion.

Melton, writing to inform the Dean of Beverley about the “scandalous rumour” he had heard about the arrival of the Benedictine nun Joan, claimed that Joan had “impudently cast aside the propriety of religion and the modesty of her sex”, and “out of a malicious mind simulating a bodily illness, she pretended to be dead, not dreading for the health of her soul, and with the help of numerous of her accomplices, evildoers, with malice aforethought, crafted a dummy in the likeness of her body in order to mislead the devoted faithful and she had no shame in procuring its burial in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place”.

After faking her own death, he continued, “and, in a cunning, nefarious manner … having turned her back on decency and the good of religion, seduced by indecency, she involved herself irreverently and perverted her path of life arrogantly to the way of carnal lust and away from poverty and obedience, and, having broken her vows and discarded the religious habit, she now wanders at large to the notorious peril to her soul and to the scandal of all of her order.”

There is no follow-up in the register as to whether Joan opted to return to her life of poverty and obedience or stuck with the carnal lust, but given all the Count of Monte Cristo shenanigans she had to go through to free herself of the former, I’d wager she went for the latter. I also can’t help but wonder whether all her sisthren really were deceived by whatever rudimentary dummy Joan could possibly have manufactured. Surely the ones who had direct contact with the non-body had to be willing conspirators.

The logs from Melton’s term as archbishop from his consecration in 1317 until his death in 1340 occupy an impressive five volumes, just shy of a third of the extant registers. He carried them with him as he went about the complex business of archbishopping, lord treasuring and tending to his enormous personal estates and riches. He played an important role in the wars of Scottish independence too, thanks to York’s strategic position on the northern border. In 1319, with England’s fighting men engaged in the Siege of Berwick, Melton mustered priests, clerics and civilians to fight Scottish men-at-arms at Myton on the river Swale. It was a slaughter, needless to say, with thousands of these amateurs either slain by professional fighters or drowned in the Swale. The archbishop barely fled with his life. Researchers hope to find out more about The White Battle, so named because of the high number of clergy, in the registers.

The records will be available via York’s Archbishops Registers Revealed, which currently provides free access to a database of 20,000 images of the registers from 1225 to 1650. So far more than 3700 entries have been indexed and are searchable by keyword, but there are no full transcripts or translations, just summaries. When the digitization project is complete, all of the registers, invaluable records of political, religious, military and family life in medieval York, will be fully searchable and readable for those of us who can barely make out the letters of British Church Latin of the Middle Ages, never mind read any of it.

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State bed of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York restored

Sunday, February 10th, 2019

An age-blackened four-poster bed from the Tudor era that evidence strongly suggests is the first state bed of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York has been restored nine years after it was discovered in shambles.

The Bed of Roses is the only surviving English medieval royal bed and the only known surviving piece of furniture from the Tudor-era Palace of Westminster. Tudor-era royal furnishings suffered wide-scale destruction during the English Civil War. It was made for the wedding of Henry VII (1485-1509) and Elizabeth of York (1485-1503) held at Westminster Abbey on January 18th, 1486.

The bed was dismantled and dumped in a parking lot for the garbage collectors to pick up, only to be rescued and sold at auction in Chester as a “profusely carved Victorian four poster bed with armorial shields.” It was bought online for £2200 by dealer Ian Coulson, owner of the Langley Collection of rare historic furniture. He thought it was a fine example of Arts and Crafts style furniture, but when he picked it up and took his first in-person look at it, he realized the oak parts were far older than 150 years. There were marks of hand tools and numerous repairs done over the course of many more years than

DNA testing of the wood identified it as European oak of a type that grows from southern France to Belarus. This oak was top of the line in the Middle Ages. Unlike the knotty oak native to England, this subspecies was regular enough that it could be sawed on power mills, producing beautiful even boards that were highly sought after by the crowned heads who could afford them. Edward III’s 1360 bed, for example, was made out of Latvian old-growth oak boards. The European oak was uniformly used across the whole bed, and the boards were treated with the same paint. If the frame were a composite made from salvaged elements, there would be inconsistencies that do not exist in this bed frame.

Coal primer was found under the varnish and fragments of what was once a colorful paint job . The remains of that paint were tested and found to include ultramarine, the pigment made from lapis lazuli that was more expensive than gold in the Tudor era.

The bed’s original residents did not have their initials carved onto the bed. No HR to make Henry’s ownership clear. However, the iconography does strongly point to him and his bride. There are single roses, representing the red of rose of Lancaster for Henry VII and the white rose of York for Elizabeth. Only they would use them and only for a few months. The double Tudor rose that would replace the single roses was created in April of 1486. There are also four lion finials and coats of arms of England and France on the headboard and footboard.

The headboard has a central panel showing Adam and Eve facing each other. Between them is a cockatrice (a beaked serpent) and under their feet are a dragon and a lion.Their faces resemble extant portraiture of Henry and Elizabeth, and even with demons and dangers between them and below them, still the serene figures triumph together. They are redemptive, symbols of salvation and the mystical union of God and Mary. The comparison of the King and Queen to saviors from evil were common in the Tudor era, especially so for Henry VII and the union of the warring houses.

The ceremonial bedchamber of Westminster Palace where Henry and Elizabeth would have gotten to work producing an heir to the throne was known as the Painted Chamber after the murals depicting religious royalty themes. In 1819, the mural on the north wall — the coronation of Edward the Confessor — was rediscovered. It burned 25 years later, but records of it indicate the shape of the bed and posts match the arcade at the center of the mural exactly. Symbols of fertility are appropriately present for a state bed. There’s an acorn, a bunch of grapes and a strawberry.

The royal coat of arms, the cross of Edward the Confessor, the roses, the Biblical references, the top-quality craftsmanship, expensive imported wood and insanely expensive ultramarine pigment all strongly indicate that this is the royal letto matrimoniale, but the one fact that would come closest to fully confirming its identity as the marriage bed of Henry and Elizabeth has thus far been impossible to ascertain. All attempts to radiocarbon date the wood have failed due to the layers of varnish. Dendrochronology results have been all over the place. Still, the odds of such an exceptional piece laden with the qualities and symbolism of the royal union that put paid to the Wars of the Roses being any other bed are slim to none.

Owned by the Langley Collection, the Bed of Roses is often loaned or exhibited in museums. Most recently it was displayed at the Victoria & Albert Museum where it was the subject of a symposium on research into the bed’s history.

Ian Coulson had made a documentary about the research into the bed and the restoration process. It’s fantastic. I only wish it were longer.

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Dublin Apocalypse goes online

Friday, February 8th, 2019

The Dublin Apocalypse, a 14th century illuminated manuscript of the Book of Revelation, is one of the greatest medieval treasures in the collection of Trinity College Dublin. It is also one of the least seen. Now the whole world can see it in high resolution thanks to a digitization initiative.

In medieval Europe illuminated manuscripts containing the Book of Revelation were hugely popular among royalty and the wealthy elite. These devotional aids were designed to help the faithful understand one of the most dramatic and difficult Christian texts.

The beautiful Dublin Apocalypse manuscript represents one of the most lavish examples of this tradition and is among the finest illuminated volumes in the Library of Trinity College Dublin. The 14th-century Latin manuscript of the Book of Revelation is accompanied by exquisite illustrations in gold and vivid colours and depicts scenes of the horsemen of the Apocalypse, battles with many-headed beasts and the heavenly Jerusalem for its readers to enjoy.

The Dublin Apocalypse was produced in East Anglia in the early 1300s, likely by an illuminator known as the Ormesby Master. His highly individual style is characterized by intricate geometries in the borders, backgrounds and architectural features, complex compositions with remarkably soft flesh tones and a palette rich with pinks, blues, greens and greys applied in multiple layers of translucent washes. The illuminations in the Dublin Apocalypse are particularly stellar examples of his talents because unlike other Apocalypses of the period which have half-page illustrations, the Dublin manuscript’s illuminations take up almost the entire page.

Most of its history is unknown. Sometime in the early 19th century it was acquired by Franc Sadleir, Triny College fellow, professor and librarian, and he gave it to the university in 1837 in exchange for a bunch of uncatalogued annuals. A rather unbalanced deal, it would seem, but de gustibus non est disputandum and all that.

Anyway his loss is our gain. Peruse the digitized Dublin Apocalypse here. You can leaf through the manuscript page by page, using the viewer to zoom in on the details, or you can open each page as a jpg and examine the whole thing at maximum resolution. There’s also an open as pdf function, but I got an error when I attempted to use it. In the upper left is a “Click for more information” link which explains the scene and verses of Revelation it depicts. The scans are wonderfully high in resolution so you can dig deep into the intricate illuminations.

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