On the Edges, and Locating Boccaccio in 2013 – John Ryland’s Library

After a very enjoyable tour of John Ryland’s Library a few weeks ago (which I blogged about here), I was looking forward to returning to learn more about the collection. Last week, Natasha and I attended two events, ‘On the Edges’ and ‘Locating Boccaccio in 2013’. Ryland’s run a fantastic programme of events which you can look at here.

The first event, ‘On the Edges’, was a talk from John Hodgson who is a manuscript specialist. The talk focused on the interesting things that can be found in the margins of books and manuscripts – the ‘marginalia’. Often what is written in the margins can be very revealing! The talk was really interesting, and I came away feeling that I had learnt a lot about the terminology associated with manuscripts and special collections.

We were shown a large variety of examples of marginalia, the oldest text we looked at was Bede’s Commentary on Acts from the 11th Century. It was interesting to see how a ‘manicule’ – a pointing finger – would often be drawn in great detail to point out a particular section of interest to the reader, much how we would put an arrow next to the text or perhaps use a highligher pen. These manicules would often be very fancy, drawn with detailed cuffs and nails. The amount of work and the time that went into creating each manuscript is amazing – they are works of art.

One of my favourite examples of marginalia was from a Persian manuscript, Dar ‘ilm-Musiki (science of music) c. 1760, which had images of musical instruments drawn all around the borders. Unfortunately over the years, manuscripts have often been bound and cropped by binders, which has led to decoration or text being lost.

After a break for lunch, we were given a tour of the Boccaccio exhibition with Dr Rhiannon Daniels. The exhibition is part of a wider project to mark the 700th anniversary of Boccaccio, with different events and also a conference happening this year. I’m afraid to say I previously knew quite little about Boccaccio – he is often over shadowed by prominent Tuscans such as Dante and Petrarch. Boccaccio is an interesting figure, I was interested to learn that women played a prominent role in many of his works and he was one of the first to give women their own voice in literature. As well as extremely old manuscripts and books, it was also great to see that the exhibition had commissioned artists to create their own works in response to Boccaccio. I would definitely recommend a trip to Ryland’s to have a closer look at the exhibition.

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