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The Burney collection of manuscripts in the British Library

Introduction Life and
character
Collection &
catalogue
Burney's purchases 'Membra
disiecta'
Further reading

Burney’s illuminated manuscripts

Finally let us return to the profile of the Burney collection, this time from the point of view of the scholar of illuminated manuscripts. Whereas the 1840 catalogue is a model in terms of its careful identification of texts – this is largely the result of the descriptions being those of Burney himself – it reveals almost nothing about the varied origin of the manuscripts. As I remarked earlier, many of the Burney manuscripts are humanistic copies of Latin classical authors. Yet, even within that grouping there is much variety. Not only are there fine examples of the regional varieties of white vine decoration; there are also such superb manuscripts as the Roman copy of Aulus Gellius from the library of Ludovico Maria Sforza, Duke of Bari (Burney 175) which features both fine script by Antonio Tophio and a beautifully illuminated frontispiece and many inhabited initials that have been attributed to Niccolò Polani. Other fine illuminations appear in a copy of Cicero’s speeches, written in the Veneto for a member of the Erizzo family (Burney 157) and afterwards owned by the bibliophile Cardinal Domenico Grimani. (Grimani was the proud owner of several magnificent illuminated manuscripts, including the famous Grimani Breviary in Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, lat. I, 99, and the Stuart de Rothesay Hours in the British Library, Additional 20927.) Less extravagant, but also interesting is an early sixteenth-century copy of the poems of Horace written in a fine chancery-type italic script and decorated with numerous beautiful initials (Burney 181).

The overall picture of Burney’s illuminated manuscripts is even richer. As a notable example of this broader scope of Burney’s collection take a manuscript of the Gospels written in Caroline minuscule that boasts painted canon tables, fine decorated initials and one unfinished Evangelist portrait (Burney 41). Also of note are two contrasting manuscripts of a glossed Gospel from the twelfth century, one from Italy (Burney 26), and the other from England, possibly the West Country (Burney 29). From a later date, but also interesting from the point of view of its fine pen-flourishing is a Spanish fifteenth-century copy of the letters of Seneca (Burney 252). Even later still is a handsome copy of Manuel Phile’s Greek Bestiary that was copied and illustrated in France in the middle of the sixteenth century (Burney 97 [see also above]). Finally, returning to Italy, but not to the humanistic arena, we find a rather charming Florentine Breviary of Vallumbrosan use, profusely illuminated in the style of Boccardino il Vecchio (Burney 333).

It is these riches and much more that the British Library’s online Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts reveals for the very first time.




Burney 175, f. 3
Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae, Italy, Central (Rome), c. 1465, 355 x 235 mm, Decorated initial and borders, including heraldic arms of Ludovico Maria Sforza
Burney 175, f. 3


Burney 157, f. 2
Cicero, Pseudo-Cicero, and others, Orationes, etc., Italy, N. E. (Venice), 2nd half of the 15th century, 320 x 220 mm, Decorated intial and borders, including heraldic arms of the Lan family of Treviso?
Burney 157, f. 2


Burney 181, f. 90
Horace, Odes, Epodes, and Carmen saeculare, Italy, 1st quarter of the 16th century, 165 x 105 mm, Decorated initial
Burney 181, f. 90


Burney 41, f. 19v
Gospels, Germany (Lotharingia?), last quarter of the 11th or 1st quarter of the 12th century, 390 x 295 mm, Canon table
Burney 41, f. 19v


Burney 26, f. 7v
Glossed Matthew with prologues, Italy, 1st half of the 12th century, 270 x 170 mm, Zoomorphic initial
Burney 26, f. 7v


Burney 29, f. 1v
Glossed Gospel of Luke, England, W.?, c. 1150 - c. 1180, 310 x 190 mm, Historiated initial with Zacharias?
Burney 29, f. 1v


Burney 252, f. 4v
Pseudo-Seneca, and others, Epistolae, etc., Spain, last quarter of the 15th century, 210 x 140 mm, Flourished puzzle initial
Burney 252, f. 4v


Burney 333, p. 199
Breviary for Vallumbrosan Use, Italy, Central (Florence), last quarter of the 15th century, 137 x 95 mm, Historiated initial with Andrew and border
Burney 333, p. 199


Introduction Life and
character
Collection &
catalogue
Burney's purchases 'Membra
disiecta'
Further reading
print Print this page
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site search Search British Library website
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