Reconstructing the Earliest Illustrated Chronicle from the Medieval Latin West

Responsables du projet/Project leaders : Benjamin Pohl (

Établissements principaux/Main institutions : University of Cambridge

Projet en cours/Project in progress

Description :

My project will be the first to identify and analyse the evidence for an illuminated exemplar for London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero D viii. MS Cotton Nero D viii is an English manuscript produced during the second half of the twelfth century, perhaps at St. John’s Abbey, Colchester. The manuscript’s context of transmission before the later Middle Ages has so far remained largely unexplored. The implications of my analysis of the material features of MS Cotton Nero D viii, especially remnants of illustrative matter from its exemplar, would be transformative in informing our present knowledge about the manuscript’s use and prospective readership, as well as of medieval Latin manuscript culture in general. Indeed, to date, both MS Cotton Nero D viii and other Latin historical manuscripts from the period c.1000-1150 have been considered as lacking illustrative content beyond the level of decorated initials and litterae notabiliores. However, as my preliminary investigation of MS Cotton Nero D viii demonstrated, this manuscript almost certainly derives from an illustrated copy of Dudo of St. Quentin’s Historia Normannorum. Indeed, the research I propose here will establish that MS Cotton Nero D viii can also be related, via a shared exemplar, to another Norman manuscript (Rouen, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS 1173/Y11) which, albeit considered unillustrated by previous scholars, I was able to conclusively show contained traces of figurative illuminations in the form of pen line drawings (see my article B. Pohl, ‘Poems, Pictures and Purpose: New Perspectives on the Manuscripts of Dudo of St. Quentin’s Historia Normannorum’, Scriptorium 67 (2013), 229-58).

Despite sharing the same exemplar, MS Cotton Nero D viii and MS Rouen 1173/Y11 are not, however, completely identical. Whilst MS Rouen 1173 contains traces of pen line drawings which are absent in MS Cotton Nero D viii, the latter features – in precisely the same spaces reserved for illustrations in MS Rouen 1173 – a unique series of Latin metrical verses or tituli. These tituli, which cannot be found in any other surviving copy of the Historia Normannorum and have so far escaped the attention of scholars, are identifiable as precise metric renderings of the programme of illustration in MS Rouen 1173/Y11 – with each titulus corresponding to a specific illustration. Similar combinations of illustrations and verse tituli are known to exist in other historical manuscripts, all of which, however, are of a later date than Dudo’s Historia Normannorum. Relocating the phenomenon of illustrated chronicles into eleventh- and twelfth-century Normandy, I will draw upon existing research in order to explain the unique features in MS Cotton Nero D viii.

By reconstructing, on the basis of MS Cotton Nero D viii and MS Rouen 1173/Y11, the lost illustrated archetype of the Historia Normannorum, my project will be able to demonstrate that illustrated chronicles are not a phenomenon only of the later Middle Ages, but in fact date to as early as the turn of the first millennium, when Dudo’s Historia Normannorum was composed and its earliest copies were made. MS Cotton Nero D viii and MS Rouen 1173/Y11 will thus be presented as important witnesses to the earliest illustrated historical manuscript ever known to have been produced in medieval Western Europe.

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Rédaction (2016, 2 janvier). Reconstructing the Earliest Illustrated Chronicle from the Medieval Latin West. Mondes nordiques et normands médiévaux. Consulté le 13 juin 2024, à l’adresse

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