In 1968, the University of Missouri–Columbia Libraries purchased a 217-piece collection of manuscript leaves dating from the 8th to the 15th centuries. The origin of the Fragmenta Manuscripta Collection is somewhat enigmatic. The respected bookseller William Salloch who sold the collection to the university thought that the collection was started by Anglican Archbishop Thomas Tenison (1636–1715), who founded the first public library in London. After Tenison sold the books and manuscripts belonging to this library in 1861, the collection came into the possession of the manuscript collector Sir Thomas Phillipps. Compilation of the collection may in actuality have been done by the London bookseller John Bagford (1650–1716).
The earliest piece in this collection is from De Orthographia of the Venerable Bede, probably dating from the 8th century. It is an extremely interesting piece, its script being very close to that of the manuscript of the Magna Moralia of St. Gregory the Great, written by the Anglo-Saxon monk Peregrinus working in Freising.
One of the most beautiful pieces of this collection is a page of the Acts of the Apostles from the Canterbury Bible. It has very fine initials, one in blue and gold depicting two birds; the other on the verso has a very delicate illustration of the subject with the large initial "P" of the first chapter of the Acts narrating Christ's ascension into the heavens. Disciples flank the empty central space from which Christ ascends, and only his feet and ankles are visible below the frame around the initial.
Though the emphasis of the collection is on the development of the English manuscript hand—fragments can be attributed to the schools of Peterborough, Canterbury, and Bury—there are also specimens of continental origin.
A miniature painting of the early 14th century is most probably Italian. It depicts a very unusual group of four people: an older man sitting, a couple, and a young man with a sword. It is thought the subject is an allegory of the story of the expulsion from Paradise. This illustration is strongly influenced in style by Byzantine iconography.
The Roman de la Rose is a French manuscript of the second half of the 13th century. One of the finest leaves in the collection, it is from a codex on parchment, with three pen drawings. The delicately drawn figures and faces resemble the style of the great French miniaturists who illustrated L'Histoire du Graal in the Bibliothèque Nationale.
The Division of Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books of the Ellis Library is a participant in the Digital Scriptorium project coordinated by Columbia University. The Digital Scriptorium is a searchable database for the manuscript holdings of 29 cultural institutions across the United States and includes all 217 leaves in the Fragmenta Manuscripta Collection. Participants contribute research and images of their items in order to provide access via the Internet to these rare and fragile materials; all at no cost to the user. The Digital Scriptorium fosters scholarship and enriches the growing corpus of information about medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.
Collection Profile and Overview: Alla Barabtarlo, Michael Holland, Karen Witt
Illustrations: Kurt Kopp