I’ll just draw it for you

Sometimes I have no better excuse for a post than, “I found a shiny thing”, and this is definitely one of those. If I have a wider point, though, it lies in the way that the ongoing digitization of historical manuscript material means that pieces of historiographical potential that were once known to very few scholars are suddenly widely available. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they are widely known! Though there are many commendable efforts by libraries with such holdings to say to the online world, “Look at all our cool things”, there’s a degree of pre-selection involved even there; the things they will often think are worth displaying online are things they already know people are interested in, or things that have already been studied (because what library is willing to admit it doesn’t know about its own holdings? Though it can be done gracefully, as here). It’s all a bit “to him that hath it shall be given”. But the mechanism is still enabling, because for example if a scholar such as myself had happened to read about a really cool manuscript in Barcelona’s Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, and to now be aware that really quite a lot of their material is now online, he or she could go to the site of Spain’s PARES service, dig it out and then direct people to it on a blog, if he or she happened to have one, and thus it might take its first tentative steps from being a scholarly secret to being one of the famous ones. Because seriously, look at this.

Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, MS Ripoll 106, fo. 82r

Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, MS Ripoll 106, fo. 82r

Well, well, you may say, yes, it’s an architectonically-styled map of the Iberian Peninsula with the Atlantic full of truly huge fish and apparently palm trees in Galicia, I’ll give you that, but I’ve seen eight of those already today and not yet had lunch, why should I care? To which I say firstly, eat some lunch you foolish person, but also that there are a variety of scholarly reasons why you could care, such as that this manuscript, written in the early eleventh century and late of the monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll, contains a copy of Bede’s De arte metrica, showing you how far his work travelled, and is also loaded up with small texts on astronomy and computus, some indeed by Bede but others separated from him (weirdly) by St Augustine’s Soliloquies, bits of poetry, the supposed Disticha of Cato and an agricultural treatise called the Ars gromatica Gisemundi, among other things, and you might wonder why the compilers joined into what the catalogue rightly calls a “Miscelánea científico-religiosa” St Jerome’s commentary on Melchisedek and the Apocryphal Acta Pilati, as well as why in the twelfth-century someone else added a note about some blankets that had been given to one Agila… But! this would all in fact be missing the point unless you actually do history of science, because for anyone else the point should be, the scribe of most of this was quite concerned that it should all be easy to follow. And when he thought the text was perhaps a bit dense, apparently he would improvise diagrams, like that map, not exactly, well, exact, but presumably what he thought was illustrative, and they are great. Obviously a graphic learner at heart, even when what he was working with was either words or numbers (see below)… So having made all the points I have to make, I just want to show a few bits of his attempts to get these things across and invite your comments if you have any!

Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, MS Ripoll 106, fo. 77v

Different ways of laying out fields, I think, in the Ars gromatica (Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, MS Ripoll 106, fo. 77v)

Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, MS Ripoll 106, fo. 87v

Named geometrical shapes and a hole, in the same text (Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, MS Ripoll 106, fo. 87v)

Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, MS Ripoll 106, fo. 89v

Gratuitous acrostic hexameter added between texts (Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, MS Ripoll 106, fo. 89v)

Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, MS Ripoll 106, fo. 90r

An explanation of the different grammatical senses of numbers following St Augustine’s model… with tables (Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, MS Ripoll 106, fo. 90r)

And there’s still more. Why not amuse yourselves by having a further look? (Instructions on how to navigate PARES can be found here; you want MS Ripoll 106 this time, however.)

The manuscript is Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Colecciones: Manuscritos, Ripoll no. 106, and I read about it (and saw a snippet of the scribe’s drawing style) in M. A. Castiñeiras González, “La ilustración de manuscritos en Cataluña y su relación con centros europeos” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes del Románico (siglos IX y X) (Barcelona 1999), pp. 249-254, transl. as “Manuscript illumination in Catalonia and its relationship to other European centres”, ibid. pp. 543-546.

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24 responses to “I’ll just draw it for you

  1. I have no real comment except to thank you for posting this. The manuscripts are so clearly marked that even I can figure them out so they must have been intended for an audience with rudimentary reading ability!

    As an aside, the recent Bodleian-Vatican digitization project is fascinating. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s here. Then again, I have a fascination with just about anything having to do with the Vatican archives.

    • There’s scope for some very interesting things to come out of that. Like any library with that much history, it’s not so much that they have had a privileged selection of the materials—though actually this is the Vatican so that is also true—but that they’ve had uninterrupted time to accumulate them… Glad you liked the post, also!

  2. What a strange map! The names inside de peninsula seems to be mirrored est-westward. The names on the left, are mediterranean, not atlantic. It looks like:

    Wasconia palm-trees?=Pyrenees? Mare Tirreno
    Narbona ??ra???uifas
    Impurias Bracara??
    Ierunda Gadis
    Barchinona Terrachona Cartago


    Fantastic post indeed.

    • I should have noticed that straight off! You’re quite right. Ordinarily I’d expect that this was a digital error reversing the image, but the text precludes that in this case and in any case simple mirror-imaging wouldn’t fix it. How odd! I have no idea!

      • Meg Roland gave a paper at Kalamazoo that included a mirror-reversed map of Scotland.

        • That’s interesting: from what period? The weirdest map of Scotland I’m aware of is Ptolemy’s, which has a very strange eastward bend, but with the coastlines reshaped a bit everything would still be on the right side… And with that precursor I wonder how one would reach a solution any wronger?

          • The paper was on maps accompanying John Hardyng’s chronicle, so I suppose 15th c or later. I don’t have notes, unfortunately.
            And sorry to take so long to reply: first I didn’t realize you had a question, and when I discovered it I was away from home and hoped that I would have notes if I looked in the right place.

  3. highlyeccentric

    Oooh! A shiny thing!

  4. Cullen Chandler

    Greetings after a long absence from this venue!

    I’ve been looking at this exact picture for a very long time (since 2002, which counts as a very long time for me to have been looking at something, even if on and off).

    Are we sure it’s eleventh-century? I’m going back to look up some things.

    • I’m certainly not sure it’s eleventh-century! It’s no earlier than tenth, I’d say, from the script, but it could be later, and the catalogue says it’s eleventh-century so I thought it was best to go with the reference. The article I found it in, though, thinks it’s tenth-century! So I don’t know whom to believe, really.

  5. Cullen Chandler

    My reading of the catalog–through the PARES portal–says tenth century, but I’ve seen a piece (or two) by Luciano Tonneatto, who proposed what 106 would have looked like originally based on a close codicological study, that says late ninth. Maybe you know Tonneatto’s work. He says 106 was orginally two separate books and that the Ars Gisemundi is now out of order. I can’t now remember how he argues for an earlier date, but it’s really intriguing and would supply an appropriate context for the overall purpose of Gisemundus’ work, which is mostly dedicated to surveying. Would seem to me to fit in well with the settlement of the area around Sta Maria and St Joan under Guifre. That’s of course when the houses were founded, and the settlement continued thereafter.

    Personally, I’m kind of rooting for the late ninth/early tenth century dating. Palaeographically, 106 looks like others from the early tenth, but what’s 10 or 20 years worth in the first generation after the establishment of a new monastery? (That’s a real question. I’m no palaeographer. Maybe I should ask a good one I know to be in the vicinity at present.)

    • No, you’re quite right aren’t you, sorry, I misread the bit about there being eleventh-century (and indeed twelfth-century) additions. I don’t know Tonneatto’s work on this (or anything, I admit) but I could be pushed, with my limited palæographical skills, to an early tenth-century date for the Ars gromatica: it has the triangular `a’, the looped `g’ and some ligatures that aren’t really pure Caroline and that I wouldn’t expect later. But the abbreviation marks are standardised and consistent and it’s obviously a very well-trained scribe doing it, and it doesn’t seem likely for a new house to me. (I realise that Ripoll wasn’t new when it was renewed, what with the 880 donation to it as a monastery, but I’m figuring it wouldn’t have been producing nice Caroline manuscripts then either.) Vic and Girona both have ninth-century copies of Ado’s Martyrology supposedly made at Narbonne as part of the Carolingian rebuild of the Church here, and those look more regularly Frankish to me. I think this fits better with Ripoll shortly before say, 940, and of course they were taking quite a lot of land then too! In fact (as you might guess) I would argue that there’s not much evidence of new settlement going on in those valleys until the monasteries get their act together circa 900; it’s already out further south by then. Guifré set Sant Joan up by buying land from people who were already there, not by clearing land, no matter what Emma has people say in 913… But that’s a historical dating, not a palæographical one really, and I’d be interested in whatever a better-trained palæographer might have to say!

  6. Rosamond McKitterick

    It looks s.IX/X to me for what that is worth. The diagrams in the Agrimensores by the way have a long tradition – see the lovely set in the earliest codex, Wolfenbüttel Herzog-August Bibliothek Aug 2o.36.23, uncial s.VIin CLA IX, 1374, published in facsimile back in 1970 ed. Butzmann. See also L.D. Reynolds ed. Texts and Transmission, 1983.
    Ah, I have just looked it up, it is pp. 1-6 with the Ripoll MS mentioned on p. 5. and was pleased to find it also gives the date as s.IX/X.

    • The Agrimensores are a set of texts I know nothing of, so this is a very welcome adjustment to my information, thankyou! The scribe obviously liked drawing more generally but because of that I hadn’t thought that he might have models for some of it. Thankyou also for the palæographical dating and references, which for all that they don’t fit with my first guess in comments above look pretty good for Cullen’s argument!

  7. Cullen Chandler

    I am also pleased to see further support for an earlier dating. I will have to track down the references. I seem to recall them but have only faint memories at this point. Thanks to all for the discussion!

  8. These are wonderful, and I’ve been looking things like them for a while.
    That sort of map also appears in a slightly different context: Richard of St. Victor’s “In Visionem Ezechialis,” Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bod 494 has an excellent example of a schematic of the division of the Holy Land between the 12 tribes of Israel. I think it, and other versions like it can be traced back to eleventh-century Jewish manuscripts.

    • St-Victor has a lot to answer for in terms of esoterica, as I expect you know. One of the more perverse things about my current appointment (apart from the fact that the Bodleian manuscripts are not currently in the Bodleian…) is that there are all these fascinating medieval manuscripts available, all of which are nothing to do with my actual research…

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  11. Thinking about the reversed map — there is no reason to suppose that everyone in the Middle Ages looked at maps as we do, with north at the top. So if we switch our view from up=north to up=south, it’s not reversed at all. Barcelona winds up in the lower left (north-east). Then there is the question of the location of the fish, including to the north of Barcelona. I wonder if there was good fishing in the rivers north of Barcelona, as well as along the Mediterranean coast, and if the Rio Besos might have been the place in the artist’s mind where he put those eastward-trending fish.

    • It’s an interesting idea, not least because Arabic cartographers would have naturally put south at the top, but I think it runs into trouble in as much as it still implies Girona is south of Barcelona, which it isn’t, and Narbonne furthest south of all, whereas again, that isn’t the case. So even ignoring the rare Pyrenean Mountain Fish, I just don’t think it’s meant to be topographical in any direct way.

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