Copy of 'Otho-Corpus Gospels' Before Being Burnt
Medium: Ink and pigments on paper
In 1731, Ashburnham House near Westminster burned, and with it were destroyed many rare manuscripts of Robert Cotton's collection which had been given to the British state. One of the manuscripts was part of a splendidly decorated early gospel book (now British Library, Cotton MS Otho C.v), probably made at Lindisfarne about 700. Thirty-six more pages of it (now Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 197B) belonged to another collection and escaped the fire. The London manuscript, however, was tragically burnt black and shrunken. Before the fire, this facsimile or copy of one of its pages was made in the 18th century for Thomas Astle, who published it in his book "The Origin and Progress of Writing" in 1784. Astle recorded that Edward, Earl of Oxford, paid for the copy to be made, but the name of the artist who made the copy is unknown. The facsimile is the only record of some of its decoration.
It is a copy of a page at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, which had parts of two of the standard prefaces to the gospel. The letters at the top are a special form (display capitals) used for titles and the beginnings of major divisions of books. More capitals appear in a different style near the centre of the page, on a ground of red dots which creates the effect of a panel. The first letter 'M' is decorated with animal heads and interlace which resemble decoration linked with Ireland and Northumbria in the late 7th and early 8th centuries. On the lower part of the page, the copyist created an alphabetical 'sampler' of the letter forms found in the manuscript, many of which suggest that the scribe knew the style of handwriting in the Lindisfarne Gospels.