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Fifty Treasures from Glasgow University Library

treasures in chronological order

  Third to Tenth Centuries

Papyrus Fragment of St John's Gospel Third Century MS Gen 1026/13

These fragments were excavated from the rubbish heaps of the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus in Egypt in 1903-04. Inscribed on only one side, they were originally part of a papyrus roll containing the Gospel of St John which was produced some time in the late third century. The paper is made from the papyrus reed; it owes its survival to the dry climate of Egypt where it was buried for so long. Written in two columns in Greek in an upright informal hand of medium size, the text is of part of chapters fifteen and sixteen from John's Gospel. In this section, Christ teaches the disciples, including the advice to 'Ask and ye shall receive'. Extremely interesting in offering variants from the standard Greek text, certain words support readings found in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. It is cited as P22 in the critical apparatus of all modern editions of the Greek text. 

Eighth or Ninth Century manuscript of medical writings MS Hunter 96 (T.4.13)
Apart from a fragmentary palimpsest in the National Library, this is the earliest western manuscript in Scotland. Written in a pre-Carolingian script, it was probably produced in north Italy in the late eighth or early ninth century. Beginning with a list of some thousand drugs and plants, it contains a working handbook of medical conditions, both acute and non-acute, with remedies. Included are Galen's Treatise on acute ailments and On the examination of urines, and Hippocrates' Epistle. Decoration takes the form of coloured capitals at the beginning of each major section. This capital M is in plaited strapwork. The edge of a flayhole is visible in this opening: such imperfections in vellum are not unusual in early books intended for vernacular use.

  Eleventh Century

Eleventh Century manuscript of the Greek Gospels Byzantium MS Hunter 475 (V.7.2)
This eleventh century manuscript of the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John in Greek is completed by a late twelfth century copy of Matthew. Each is prefaced with a full page author portrait. Saint John is shown here dictating his Gospel to his disciple Prochoros. Prochoros was the reputed author of the Acta Joannis which contains a detailed account of the writing of the fourth Gospel. Here, St John is making the Orthodox sign of the cross over his head; rays symbolic of inspiration proceed from his forefinger. A good example of provincial Byzantine art, the form of the body is clearly articulated through the fall of the draperies and the flesh is modelled with a multiplicity of hues. This style exercised a profound influence on the art of the Romanesque period. The manuscript contains other liturgical and theological texts and was bought by William Hunter in 1776 for £9.10s at the sale of  Caesar de Missy, a German New Testament scholar and chaplain to George III.

  Twelfth Century

Hunterian Psalter England: c.1170 MS Hunter 229 (U.3.2)
One of a small group of elaborately illuminated twelfth century English psalters, this book is regarded as the greatest treasure of Dr William Hunter's magnificent eighteenth century library.  The text of the manuscript is preceded by a sequence of thirteen richly illuminated full page scenes from both the Old and New Testaments. The style is a mixture of Byzantine modelling and English linear pattern. A splendid example of Romanesque art, the pages retain their original brilliance and vivid colours. This image of the entombment and bodily assumption of the Virgin borne aloft by fourteen angels is unparalleled in any other iconographical source. The question as to whether she was assumed bodily and reunited with her soul in heaven or body and soul together was a subject of theological debate in the twelfth century. This image, which unambiguously depicts the bearing aloft of a corpse, may form part of the polemic. The identity of the undoubtedly wealthy patron who commissioned the manuscript's production is unknown, although it may possibly have been Roger de Mowbray (d.1188), from one of the greatest Anglo-Norman families of the twelfth century;  having been a crusader, he had a knowledge of the sacred sites of the Holy Land and also founded the Augustinian houses of Byland and Newburgh near to his castle in Thirsk. Given the number of northern saints commemorated in the calendar, it is likely that its first owner resided in a Northern Diocese while three commemoration of St Augustine points to a connection with the Augustinian Canons.

  Fourteenth Century

Manuscript of Al-Qur’ân (Surahs 1-3) Spain?:c.1300-1399 MS Hunter 479 (V.7.6)
Written on vellum in Andalusi script, this is a manuscript of part one of Al-Qur’ân (the Koran). Possibly created on the Iberian peninsula, it was almost certainly composed prior to the Expulsion of 1492, and may even date from the fourteenth century. Its writing is decorated throughout, with vocalisation in red and other orthographical marks in blue. The page depicted shows the end of the second Surah, Surat al-Baqarah, 'The Cow', and the beginning of the third, Surat A-Li ‘Imrân, 'The family of Imrân'. The heading for each surah or chapter is in an ornamental western kufic script using gold ink. The whole Qur'an comprises 114 chapters of unequal length. This manuscript contains chapters 1-3 from al-Juz al-awwal (the first section). William Hunter acquired it from Joseph Ames, the antiquary and bibliographer, whose name is stamped on the binding.

Fragment of a Gradual England: c1350-1450 MS Gen 999
The Gradual was the book containing the complete collection of chants for the Mass. They are amongst the largest books made in the Middle Ages, for they had to be capable of being read at a distance by members of the choir grouped round a single copy. Only ten leaves of this late fourteenth or early fifteenth century insular manuscript have survived. It is likely that the rest of the volume was cut up and used in bindings of newer manuscripts or printed books, the common fate of many medieval manuscripts. The naive but charming marginal drawing depicts the scene of Christ's entry into Jerusalem, illustrating a phrase in the text immediately above. Some of the bottom of the drawing was lost when the original volume was trimmed by a binder, which suggests that the drawing was added close to te time of the writing of the manuscript. The men in the olive trees wield instruments specifically designed for shredding newly sprouted shoots for animal fodder.

Boethius' On the Consolation of Philosophy Italy?: 1385 MS Hunter 374 (V.1.11)
Each of the five books in this copy of Boethius's celebrated work on philosophy is introduced by a beautifully floreated and gilt initial. This exquisite initial 'C' incorporates a vignette of Boethius instructing his students. The artist demonstrates an interest in perspective and space, and a painterly concern for volume and surface texture. Another of the illuminations depicts Boethius in prison. The beautifully written manuscript is signed in two places by the scribe Brother Amadeus, who possibly worked for Giangaleazzo Visconti. Probably of northern Italian origin, it was written for Gregorius of Genoa, whose name, preceded by a gold cross indicating an ecclesiastical position, appears in gold in the decoration of the first opening, with the date of 1385. The most famous of Boethius's works, the text takes the form of a dialogue between the writer and Philosophy, the latter teaching the mutability of all things save virtue. It became one of the most widely read books in the Middle Ages after the Vulgate Bible.

  Fifteenth Century

Golden Legend Flanders: c.1400-1410 MS Gen.1111
The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine was probably the most popular non-liturgical work of the late Middle Ages. A collection of saints' lives, it was used for regular devotional readings in Chapter houses and refectories of monastic institutions. This is an exceptional copy with an expanded text of sixty-nine extra chapters, including saints who lived or were canonized after the author's death; amongst these, emphasis is given to a group of South Netherlandic saints such as Bavo, Livinius, Walburga, Bonifatius, Eligius and Donatianus. The mansucript contains 102 illuminated miniatures. The largest portrays the mounted soldier-saint Antoninus of Piacenza and it is likely that the volume was commissioned by a religious house in Piacenza in Italy; Italian annotations indicate that it was still in Italy in the seventeenth century. Made in Flanders in the early fifteenth century, three Flemish artists working in a closely related style have been identified in the manuscript: the Litany Master, the Deacon Master and the Helen Master. The artists' work is marked by their concern for the natural appearance of people and for the minutiae of their daily life. Also characteristic is the mitred frame surrounding each of the miniatures creating the effect of a real picture frame. The manuscript was presented by the Earl of Roseberry in 1918, then Chancellor of the University.

John of Arderne The Practice of surgery England: c.1425-1450 MS Hunter 251 (U.4.9)
John of Arderne (1307-1476), the author of this treatise on surgery, was the leading English surgeon of the fourteenth century; surgeon to the royal household and to the army,  he may have developed his skills on active service with the armies during the Hundred Years' War. He was remarkably successful, avoiding the corrosive after-care treatment used by other practitioners. Like other medieval doctors, he practised astrology in diagnosing illnesses and treating his patients. This drawing illustrates the twelve Signs of the Zodiac influencing the various areas of the body, from Aries for the head and face to Pisces for the feet. Zodiac men are likely to date from at least the time of Roman Egypt and are found in hundreds of medical manuscripts;  this is a particularly skilful example. It was commonly believed to be dangerous to operate or let blood when the moon was in the house influencing the affected part. This system of celestial domination seems to have been inherited from early Greek tradtions.

Blockbook Bible Netherlands: c1439-1460 Sp Coll Hunterian Ds.2.4
In a blockbook each page, generally containing both text and illustrations, is printed from a single wooden block cut in relief. This 'Biblia pauperum' was printed in the Netherlands in the mid fifteenth century and would have been designed as a handbook for the use of of poor clerics and friars.On each page scenes depicting allegorical connections between the Old and New Testaments occupy the centre tier of three; above and below, arched windows inhabited by the prophets form an architectural framework which is flanked by explanatory text. The figures are robust, realistic and depicted in settings filled with details of contemporary life. The left panel here shows Esau selling his birthright to Jacob in a domestic interior of the period, complete with fireplace, cooking pots and hams.

Chaucer The Romaunt of the Rose England: c.1440-1450 MS Hunter 409 (V.3.7) 
Originally composed in French in the thirteenth century by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, this poem on the art of love was one of the most popular of all poems in the Middle Ages. Probably written in the first half of the thirteenth century, it is an allegory of courtly love designed for the amusement of an aristocratic audience. Less than a third of Chaucer's Middle English translation of the poem has survived. This manuscript is extremely important in being the only extant copy and is itself incomplete. It has been demonstrated that this volume was used by William Thynne as the copy text for his 1532 edition of Chaucers' works. Although the question of the authorship of the translation has caused considerable argument, it has become generally accepted that Chaucer wrote the first section of what remains, to line 1705, and that this was completed before he left for Italy in 1372.  The manuscript was copied in an English vernacular script c.1440-1450, some decades after Chaucer's death in 1400. It was bought by William Hunter on 18 May 1774 at the sale of the antiquarian Thomas Martin of Palgrave. Elegantly decorated throughout with gilt letters and floral sprays, this opening shows a particularly ornate page with an abundance of floral designs, chiefly of Lords-and -Ladies or Cuckoo Pint. This flower is an appropriate accompaniment to a poem on love, and the artist has made exuberant play with its suggestive appearance.

*go to a digitised copy of this manuscript*

Livy History Books XXI-XXX Italy: c.1450 MS Hunter 370 (V.1.7)
This lavishly produced manuscript contains the ten books of Livy's History which deal with the Second Punic War. Each book is introduced by a  large historiated two-compartment initial set against an incised gold background. This initial 'I' opens Book Twenty-One which describes the beginning of the war. Hannibal's troublesome passage over the Alps into Italy en route to his victory against the Romans at Ticinus is shown in the top section; the cavalry battle of Trebia is depicted below. The artist is the Master of the Vitae Imperatorum, one of the foremost miniaturists working at the court of Milan in the early and mid fifteenth century. His highly detailed and animated illustrations are of exceptional quality. Laurentius Dolobella, the scribe who executed this volume, also wrote the spendidly illuminated Plutarch in the British Library.

Mirror of man's salvation Flanders: 1455 MS Hunter 60 (T.2.18)
The anonymous Speculum humanae salvationis was written in the early years of the fourteenth century. It was incredibly popular and survives in some 350 manuscripts, many of which are illustrated. This is a copy of the French translation by Jean Miélot which was made for Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in 1448; this version was produced in Bruges in 1455. Although the wording of this copy does not follow precisely that of the original paper draft of the translation, which still survives in Brussels, the frontispiece miniature shows the presentation of the volume to a patron, who may be the Duke. The pictures are important in giving visual emphasis to the relationship between the Old and New Testaments in the work's central concern with the doctrine of the Fall and the Redemption. In this copy, forty-two panels depict these typological connections. Each panel has a coloured scene from the New Testament and three scenes in grisaille showing prefigurations of it from the Old. The devil vanquished by the Virgin is depicted here, with prefigurations of Judth killing Holofernes, Jael killing Sisera, and Tomyris killing Cyrus. The paintings are possibly by the famous miniaturist William Vrelant.

Book of Hours Flanders: c.1460 MS Euing 4
This Book of Hours was made in French Flanders in c.1460. It is decorated by twelve miniatures which are the work of two artists. The Annunciation to the shepherds illustrated here (folio 45v) is in an early style; it was probably done by a miniaturist trained in the 1420s. Its important position introducing the Hours of the Virgin suggest that the artist was the workshop's master. The other ten miniatures are in the style developed by Simon Marmion in the 1450s; their landscapes are more sharply detailed, the painting more fluid, and the pose of the characters more dramatic. Extremely popular in England and France from the eleventh to sixteenth centuries, Books of Hours were designed as books of personal prayers for use by the laity. Entries in the Calendar of this example show that the manuscript was written for the use of Saint-Omer in North-east France: the saint's festival on 9 September and the feast of 'St Omer en fleurs' on 8 June are both marked in red.

Boccaccio  The Fall of Princes France: 1467 MS Hunter 371-2 (V.1.8-9)
Laurent de Premierfait, secretary to Jean, duc de Berry, made this translation of Boccaccio's perennially popular work in 1409. Large numbers of copies were made during the fifteenth century, many of them richly illustrated. This copy  was written in Paris in 1467 by Nicholas St. Homme of the Order of St. John; it was decorated there soon afterwards. In this opening picture, Boccacio is shown pointing to Dame Fortune and the victims by her wheel. It belongs to a group close to the Coëtivy Master and the figures within the composition have been carefully individualized. Unusual features include the setting in an open landscape and the presence of a woman on the wheel. The colour balance of the composition is carefully controlled, matching the colours used in the conventional flower and acanthus leaf borders. The large paintings introducing the other books are the work of a less skilful artist.

Les Cent nouvelles nouvelles France: c.1475-1500 MS Hunter 252 (U.4.10)
This copy is the only surviving manuscript of this collection of burlesque and licentious tales. Modelled on Boccaccio's Decameron, it was presented to Philip, Duke of Burgundy, at some time in the late 1460s. The tales are recounted by various members of the Burgundian court, but although their composition has been ascribed variously to Antoine de la Sale and also to the Duke's chamberlain, Philippe Pot, Seigneur de la Roche, their real authorship remains unknown. The one hundred miniatures in the volume, each introducing a tale, illustrate scenes of domestic and intimate life in provincial France. The artist is richly inventive, with a good eye for telling narrative detail and a lively sense of colour. The characters are depicted in the bath, listening to music, weaving, eating, receiving medical treatment, undressing or lying naked in bed, as was the habit of the time. Domestic interiors with their rich draperies are contrasted with public scenes in town streets or the countryside, as here. The artist has succeeded in imparting much of the full-blooded humour that made the tales themselves so popular.

Breviary printed in Venice by Nicolaus Jenson: 1478 Hunterian Bf.1.18
A Breviary is a book containing the divine office designed for use by the clergy. This sumptiously illustrated example is one of about twenty copies printed on vellum in Venice in 1478 by Nicolaus Jenson, one of the  foremost printers of early Venetian publishing. A typographic masterpiece, the book is printed throughout  in red and black using a splendid Gothic rotunda type. It has twelve pen and ink drawings of classical heads on the calendar pages and nine richly decorated folios with painted borders, miniatures and initials, all by an artist identified as 'Petrus V'. This same Venetian or Paduan artist painted the major pictures in a manuscript Breviary from Ferrara, now at Harvard. His inventiveness can be seen in the mix of Christian and Classical imagery in the Calendar and Psalms, while the magnificent full page illuminations revel in all the typical features of the period, with architectural borders, putti in the margins and  virtuoso illusionism. Here St Paul addresses Elijah while surrounded by elegantly attired Renaissance men. The book was probably produced as an important gift for Leonardo Botta, the Milanese ambassador to Venice from 1470-1480, whose initials are found by the shield to the right of the text. Botta had earlier acted for Jenson in investigating a presumed embezzlement of the printer's funds.

Euclid Elements of Geometry Printed by Erhard Ratdolt Venice:1482 Sp Coll BD7-c.5
The oldest textbook on geometry still in use today, the Greek mathematician Euclid compiled this work in c.300 BC. Its success can be attributed to its simple structure where each theorem follows logically from its predecessor. This first edition of 1482 is the first printed book to contain geometrical figures. Combined with the text are upwards of 420 carefully designed marginal diagrams. It was printed by Erhard Ratdolt, famous for his beautifully produced scientific books. A German settler in Venice, Ratdolt brought with him new techniques learned abroad. His books are deservedly famous for their gracefully designed title-borders. This title-page is enhanced by an elegant three-sided wooden block and a white-vine style woodcut initial. In this copy, the page has been partly coloured in by hand. An early 18th century Austrian ownership annotation marks the bottom of the page.

William Caxton The Myrrour of the world Westminster: c.1490 Sp Coll Hunterian Bv.2.30
This popular encyclopaedia of astronomy, geography and other sciences was the first illustrated English book. Originally published by William Caxton in 1481, this is a copy of the second edition which was printed in about 1490. Caxton is extremely important not only for introducing the art of printing to England, but also for his influence on the development of English literature in translating texts. The first edition was requested and paid for by Hugh Bryce, a mercer and alderman of the city of London, who intended to present the book to Lord Hastings. The work was translated from a prose version of the French L'image du monde; probably written by Walter of Metz, this was derived chiefly from the Imago mundi, attributed variously to Honorius Inclusus, James of Vitry, Alan of Lille, and others. Eleven woodcuts illustrate Caxton's text. This example depicts a seated scholar holding a globe on a stand. The cuts, which were probably executed by a native craftsman, are poor in quality: from 1486, Caxton had his woodblocks imported from the continent. On A2v of this copy there is an inscription stating that the book was bought at Shrewsbury in 1510 from John Trustanes, "scolar", by Thomas Botelar, "vicar of moch wenlok". 

Ludolf of Saxony The Life of Christ France:c.1490 MS Hunter 36 (T.1.4)
The Carthusian monk Ludolf of Saxony is famous for his pious and devotional account of the Life of Christ. Translated into French by Guillaume Le Ménard, this version is contained within four sumptious volumes and was written in Paris in the 1490s. The manuscript is decorated by a rich succession of some 140 miniatures.  In  the margins, the French royal insignia recur in a constantly changing series of decorated panels, indicating that these volumes were made for Charles VIII, King of France; the King is shown at prayer in the first of the six fully decorated pages in Volume One and again in Volume Four. The illustrations are chiefly the work of Jacques de Besançon, a thoroughly professional artist of considerable skill with a fine sense of colour and depth. The miracle of the wedding at Cana, where Christ transformed water into wine, is depicted here.

Chaucer Canterbury Tales London: 1493 Sp Coll Hunterian Bv.2.12
Richard Pynson leapt to fame with this illustrated edition of the Canterbury Tales which he printed in London in about 1493. A native of Normandy, Pynson probably learned his trade from Guillaume Le Talleur of Rouen, whose device he later adopted. He took over William of Machlinia's business in about 1490 and when he died in 1530 he had printed some four hundred works: he and Wynkyn de Worde dominated the world of printing for nearly forty years. Pynson's books are technically and typographically the finest specimens of English printing of their period. Although his main publishing interest lay in the field of law books, he also produced much popular work in English, and this work by Chaucer was one of his earliest issues. Simple and direct woodcuts portraying the pilgrims are used in the prologue and introduce each tale; this example depicts the knight in his armour. The cuts were copied from those of Caxton's 1483 edition of the tales. In the introduction, Pynson refers to Caxton as 'my worshipful master', a reference to his indebtedness to Caxton's edition of the poem, upon which this publication is based.

Breviary Flanders: 1494 MS Hunter 25 (S.2.15)
This beautiful Breviary was completed in Flanders in 1494. It is illuminated by an artist known as the Master of the First Prayer Book of Maxmilian, one of the foremost proponents of a new illusionistic style of decoration introduced in the mid 1470s. He was active at the Burgundian court from the late 1470s, and his career lasted for half a century. The Master's chief work in the volume is this movingly serene Annunciation. The Virgin occupies a central position in the design of the two page opening; its soft tonalities and delicate balance of colour accord with the contemplative nature of the scene. There are nine other folios which have small miniatures with borders of trompe-l'oeil decoration. The forms of absolution which end the Proper of the Saints suggest that its original owner may have been someone's confessor. The volume is also notable for its original blind-stamped binding, the work of Anthonious van Gavere of Bruges.

Guillaume Tardif Art of Falconry France: 1494 MS Hunter 269 (U.5.9)
Beautifully written and magnificently illustrated throughout by lifelike pictures of birds and dogs in the margins, this manuscript demonstrates the perfection of late fifteenth century French book design. Five full page decorations on gold painted backgrounds include acanthus-leaf scrolls in blue and red with sprays of naturalistic flowers which are amtched in other decorated initials; there is in addition a plentiful population of centaurs, mermen and monkeys. A falcon and its prey enliven this opening. The delicate use of colour indicates an artist of considerable sophistication. The presence of the arms of France and Jerusalem on the first leaf suggests that this copy was made for Charles VIII (King of France, 1470-1498), who commissioned Guillaume Tardif to write the compilation in around 1494. The text is of two treatises on the arts of falconry and hunting.

Francesco Colonna Hypnerotomachia Poliphili printed by Aldus Manutius Venice: 1499 Sp Coll Hunterian Bh.2.14
This book tells the story of Poliphilo's dream - a quest, through endless disappointments and illusory fulfilments, for a lost love; its labyrinthine plot and perplexing narrative reflect the unconscious and mysterious world of the dreamer. Published in 1499 by the renowned printer Aldus Manutius, this magnificently crafted volume is arguably the most beautiful book of the Venetian Renaissance. A typographical tour-de-force, its Bembo typeface became a standard for the next five hundred years. The 172 beautiful woodcuts by an unknown artist integrate harmoniously with the text, while design innovations - such as shaping the layout of  text to form goblets and the sequential double page illustrations - add a visual dimension to the progression of the narrative.  Another ingenuity hints at the identity of the author. The decorated initials of each of the thirty-eight chapters create the acrostic POLIAM FRATER FRANCISCUS COLONNA PERAMAVIT (Brother Francisco Colonna desperately loved Polia). Colonna, the 'secret' writer of this erotic fantasy, was a Dominican monk.

  Sixteenth Century

Manuscript of treatises on engines and weapons Italy: c.1510 MS Hunter 220 (U.2.11)
This early sixteenth century Italian manuscript contains six complete  treatises as well as other extracts, mostly concerned with siege warfare, by classical authors including Heron of Alexandria and Apollodorus of Damascus. The text is written in Greek. Italians of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries were fascinated by works on military machines, not only for their antiquarian interest but also as a source for modern inventions, to be used alongside such authorities as Valturio. The volume's pen and watercolour drawings are working diagrams designed to elucidate the text. The pictures show a skilful use of perspective in an artist well able to handle three-dimensional objects in a naturalistic way on a relatively small scale. The design for a siege engine illustrated here is from Athenaeus' Treatise on Engines

The Argonauticon by Gaius Valerius Flaccus Paris: 1519 Sp Coll Hunterian Bq.2.11
This copy of the Argonauticon was printed by Josse Bade in Paris in 1519. Emulating a manuscript, it is remarkable for being printed on vellum and for being so richly decorated. Each of its eight books is preceded by a delicately painted woodcut picture within a rich border of flowers and leaf scrolls on a gold ground. This picture illustrates the beginning of the epic which recounts Jason's quest for the golden fleece. The Argo is being built in the background, while Jason and the Greek heroes set sail, soothed by the music of Orpheus, in the foreground. Written in the latter part of 1 AD, little is known about the author Valerius Flaccus; the work is dedicated to the Emperor Vespasian and is in part intended to celebrate his achievements in establishing Roman rule in Britain. This copy was probably  made for Gilles de Maizières, Rector of the University of Paris, who wrote the commentary in this edition: his Latinized name appears on a scroll  on the title-page.

Petrarch Canzone France c.1525-1550 SMM2
This sixteenth century manuscript on vellum consists of twelve vivid watercolours illustrating the twelve stanzas, based upon Petrarch's Canzone, which Clément Marot published in 1533/34 under the title Visions de Pétrarque. Marot was court poet to Marguerite de Navarre and François I of France. The emblematic visions depict a succession of idylls being destroyed by the forces of nature, reflecting the melancholic preoccupation of the poetry with the fragility and transcience of the world. Each of the six visions is illustrated by two pictures, the first of each pair depicting the idyllic scene described in the first half of each vision, and the second showing its annihilation. Here a galleon is being wrecked in a storm. The artist has responded to the inherent drama of the poem in spirited drawings that dwell as much on uts moral as on its artistic possibilities. Probably commissioned as an elegant gift, the manuscript dates from no later than 1550. It has been demonstrated that its illustrations were the source for an anonymous set of woodcuts in Van der Noot’s Theatre for worldlings, published in 1568/69.

Alciato Emblematum liber Augsburg: 1531 SM18
The emblem is a woodcut or engraving representing pictorially a moral lesson, accompanied by a motto, epigram, verse or prose explanation. This is the first edition of the first emblem book, compiled by the Italian lawyer Andrea Alciati and published in Augsburg in 1531 by Heinrich Steyner. An instant success, about 170 further editions were printed.  This original edition contained ninety-eight woodcuts attributed to Jorg Breu; Alciati was displeased with these crudely executed illustrations. The emblem shown here depicts the prince ensuring the safety of his subjects. The anchor is a traditional sign of political stability, while the dolphin fixes the anchor more safely in the deepest seas. Emblem books were extremely popular in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This volume is from Sir William Stirling Maxwell's unrivalled collection of emblem and device literature which he assembled over a period of forty years.

Battista Agnese World maps Venice: 1542 MS Hunter 492 (V.7.19) 
There are nine high quality coloured navigation charts in this collection together with illuminated representations of a celestial sphere, signs of the zodiac, and the world with the twelve winds. The charts are the work of Battista Agnese; of Genoese origin, Agnese worked in Venice, the then centre of European trade, from 1535-1564. He produced maps of the whole of the known world and although a copyist (rather than an original cartographer) he was careful to keep his maps up to date. Most of his maps of America are based on Spanish models now lost and they are therefore siginificant for tracing the evolution of the Spanish discoveries in America. The maps at Glasgow are among the earliest to portray the California peninsula. Several of the maps are drawn in the traditional style of a portulan, or book of sailing directions. They show complete coasts and waterways and bear characteristic direction lines from the thirty-two points of the compass.  This opening charts the Atlantic: Scotland is shown separated from England by a considerable strait, a feature which remained in Agnese's work until 1553.

Nicolaus Copernicus De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium Nuremberg: 1543 Sp Coll Hunterian Cz.1.13
The 1543 publication On the revolution of the celestial spheres challenged the authority of antiquity with its revolutionary heliocentric theory of the universe in which the earth is shown to spin on its axis, circling the sun in common with the other planets. This famous sketch illustrates the concentric orbits of the planets. Copernicus (1473-1543)  studied at Cracow, Bologna, Rome, Padua and Ferrara, before settling in East Prussia where he was a canon of the cathedral at Frauenberg. He was reluctant to publish his work, fearing that it would be ridiculed. Now regarded as a landmark in human thought, its difficulty initally resulted in neglect and religious prejudice.Within a century, however,  its views were generally accepted by the leaders of science. This copy is distinguished by bearing the annotations, not only of Willebrord Snell - the seventeenth century Dutch astronomer and mathematician known for the law of refraction, - but also those of the famous cartographer Gerhard Mercator. At one point it was also a part of the library of the French statesman Jean Baptiste Colbert.

Andreas Vesalius Fabrica Basle: 1543 Sp Coll Hunterian Z.1.8
Andreas Vesalius published his major work De humani corporis fabrica (The structure of the human body) in Basle in 1543 at the age of twenty-nine. A landmark in scientific investigation and the first work to challenge Galenic orthodoxy, it is an encyclopaedic anatomical and physiological study of every part of the human body. Its magnificent series of plates set new technical standards for anatomical illustrations. These woodcuts were cut onto blocks of pearwood from drawings which have generally been ascribed to an artist of Titian's school. Shown is the first of the muscular system illustrations, referred to as muscle-men, which present progressively deeper dissections. Muscle morphology is accurately displayed, the pectoralis major (L) and the tibialis anterior (Z) being easily recognizable. Glasgow University Library also has a copy of the companion Epitome (Ce.1.18), intended as a brief and simple introduction to the Fabrica.

Hans Holbein Dance of Death Lyons:1549 Sp Coll Gemmell 1
Dances of Death became popular in fifteenth century Europe in an age of plague, famine and war. Their depiction of skeletons interspersed with figures from all stations in life symbolized the inevitability of death and the equality of all in the grave. Holbein's series of woodcuts is the most famous manifestation of the genre. Originally published in 1538, it was repeatedly reprinted, the number of plates swelling form the original complement of forty-one to fifty-eight by 1562. This is a copy of the 1549 edition, Simolachri, historie, e figure de la morte, published in Lyons by Jean Frellon with fifty-three plates. There has always been some doubt as to the authorship of the cuts, but it is now generally accepted that they are the designs of the young Hans Holbein, with Hans Lützelburger being responsible for the cutting of the woodblocks. These small exquisite cuts have a simplicity and clarity, portaying each death as a personal experience. Death is shown here sympathetically leading a weary old man to his doctor; the complacent doctor is mocked by the quote 'Physician, heal thyself'. This book comes from the collection of William Gemmell (1859-1919), the Glasgow physician and magistrate; he amassed some seventy-six editions of the Dance of Death and associated critical works.

Thomas Norton The Ordinall of Alchemy England: c.1550-1600 MS Ferguson 191
Norton's Ordinall was written as a handbook for increasing the riches of the poor, one of the main goals of alchemy being to transmute base metals into gold. The text describes the general alchemical processes of the fifteenth century. A Member of Parliament for Bristol and occasional emissary for Edward IV, Norton became a pupil of the renowned philosopher George Ripley, Canon of Bridlington, and devoted most of his life to the hermetic art of alchemy. The Ordinall was originally written in English verse c.1477, and this manuscript is a late sixteenth century copy. Works deemed too controversial to be printed circulated furtively in such manuscript copies: the work was not printed in English until 1652. This copy is illustrated by six illuminated miniatures painted on vellum interleaved with the paper of the text. They show alchemists at work and include diagrams of equipment. The volume is from a large collection on alchemy amassed by John Ferguson.

Diego Muñoz Camargo History of Tlaxcala Mexico:1585 MS Hunter 242 (U.3.15)
The Tlaxcalans were the fiercest enemies of the Aztecs; this is an official account of their submission by the Conquistadores and of their subsequent campaigns as allies of the Spanish. It was composed in New Spain by the Tlaxcalan mestizo Diego Muñoz Camargo between 1581 and 1583. As a native of Tlaxcala, the author was able to provide much useful information on the social conditions of Mexico at the time of the conquest by Cortés. The manuscript is divided into a textual and pictorial section, and its spirited pen and china ink line drawings are unique. The illustration shown here is from the part describing the battle of the Church against paganism; the punishment of the Indians is luridly evoked by the addition of red colouring to depict drops of blood. The manuscript was presented to Philip II of Spain in Madrid during the diplomatic mission of 1583-85. Intended to emphasise the Tlaxcalans' role in the conquest, the work is also sharply critical of Spanish destruction of Indian culture. 

  Seventeenth Century

Pietro da Cortona Anatomical drawings Rome: c.1618 MS Hunter 653 (Dl.1.29) 
This album of twenty anatomical drawings was intended to be used practically by the medical profession. Its vividly posed figures depicted within landscapes adorned with classical ruins are by Pietro Berrettini da Cortona (1596-1669), one of the most prominent artists of the Roman High Baroque. In the plate shown here, the thorax and abdomen have been opened up and the legs and arms dissected. The figure holds up a mirror - a favourite device in Baroque art - displaying his anatomised head in larger detail. The drawings are finished in brown ink and black chalk, washed with blue, sepia and grey; the nerves are highlighted with white paint. They were prepared from dissections made at the Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome in about 1618.

Euing Lute Book England: c.1620-1630 MS Euing 25
Only a small amount of English lute music of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth Centuries was published, and therefore surviving manuscripts are the principal sources of the repertoire. This important manuscript contains much of the best music in this repertoire. The volume is dated to some time in the 1620s and contains seventy-two dances for the lute written in tablature.  Included are some unique items, as well as works by Dowland, Holborne and Cutting. This opening shows John Dowland's celebrated piece, the solemn Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens. Such anthologies were compiled by professional lutenists for their own use; they would copy works by other composers as well as their own compositions into these personal anthologies.  The identity of the original compiler of this volume is not known. It is now usually referred to as the 'Euing Lute Book' after William Euing, the Glasgow insurance broker and bibliophile who owned it in the Nineteenth Century. 

Embroidered binding on Booke of psalms London: 1632 Sp Coll Euing De-m.8
This 1632 edition of the Whole booke of psalms is bound in white satin with a floral design of raised embroidery in metal thread of gold, silver and various other colours. Tiny circles of metal are sewn on to make a kind of semis background. A wide red ribbon is fastened to the front cover and wraps around the book when not in use. During the Tudor and Stuart periods covers embroidered in this way were very common, especially on devotional books. Most of them were made by professional embroiderers and set in place by bookbinders. The designs were taken from pattern books made especially for embroiderers. Canvas was used as a base material from the fourteenth century until the middle of the seventeenth century, but velvet was more common during the Tudor period and satin during the Stuart.

Bartoli Album of drawings after ancient Roman paintings Rome: 1674 MS Gen 1496
This lavish manuscript album contains 127 watercolour drawings based upon ancient Roman paintings and mosaics. Many of  the illustration were copied from originals found in the Tomb of the Nasonii which was excavated in Rome in 1674. This period saw a general revival of interest in classical antiquity, and the discovery of this tomb occasioned much excitement, not least because at first it was widely believed to be the tomb of the poet Ovid. Pietro Santi Bartoli (1635-1700), an engraver and draughtsman, was engaged by Cardinal Camillo Massimo to produce a record of the frescoes adorning the walls of the tomb in the very same year as its discovery. Regarded as one of the most elaborate examples of sepulchral art from the Roman era, painted around 150 AD, the  iconic programme of the tomb is complex, expressing a syncretistic view of the afterlife, drawing on mythology, Platonism and the mystery religions. This picture of Pegasus (the symbol of immortality) appeared on the back wall amongst other scenes referring to death and the underworld.

Map showing Scots settlement in Darien called New Caledonia London?: 1699 Spencer f18
Scotland tried to establish a trading colony in Darien on the isthmus of Panama in 1698. Organised by the specially set up Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies, two expeditions there ended in disasterous failure with the loss of over 2,000 lives. This map, based on an original draft made in 1699 by Herman Moll, shows the area settled by the emigrants, named New Caledonia after their homeland. Notes describe the difficulties of the terrain, but also praise the quality of the water and gold found. While impressed by their new country, the Scots were short of supplies and had no success trading with the Spanish who saw them as a threat. English colonies in the area also refused to help. The emigrants were forced to abandon Darien on 12 April 1700.

  Eighteenth Century

Red chalk drawings by Jan van Rymsdyk for William Hunter Gravid Uterus London: 1764  MS Hunter 658 (Az.1.4)
Published in 1774, William Hunter's The Anatomy of the human gravid uterus was the most famous and influential obstetrical atlas of its day. It represented the product of a quarter of a century of Hunter's work. Concerned with presenting this anatomical work accurately, the best artists were employed for its illustrations. The book owes much to the skill of the draughtmanship of the renowned Netherlandish artist Jan van Rymsdyk who was responsible for most of the original drawings, from which engravings were made for the book's thirty-four plates. This serene drawing in red chalk, dated 1764 by Rymsdyk, shows the foetus in the womb. All the drawings were made from dissections of women who died before birth; this example was from a subject who was eight months pregnant.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi Vedute di Roma Rome: c.1765 Sp Coll Hunterian Az.2.4
Piranesi was born in Venice and went to Rome in 1740 to work as a draftsman for the Venetian ambassador. His massively epic work of 135 views of Rome was produced primarily for the burgeoning eighteenth century tourist industry. His visions contributed much both to contemporary interest in classical archaeology and to the growth of the Neoclassical movement in art and architecture. Piranesi approached etching as if he were painting, producing rich textures and dramatic effects of light and depth by means of intricate, repeated bitings of the copperplate; taken from unexpected angles, his prints are imaginative and original, breaking away from the customary method of producing an objective image of Rome. The views cover a period of about thirty-five years and clearly record Piranesi's progress as an artist. The Villa d'Este at Tivoli here depicts the most typically Renaissance gardens of all Italy. Perhaps nowhere else have the basic principles of Italian garden design been so clearly demonstrated. 

Sir William Hamilton Campi Phlegraei Naples: 1776 Sp Coll Hunterian Bm.1.1-2
Sir William Hamilton, the diplomat and archaeologist, served as British envoy to the court of Naples from 1764-1800. It was at the end ofhis second year of residence in Naples that Vesuvius began a series of great volcanic eruptions, all of which he witnessed, in 1767, 1779 and 1794. He produced several treatises on earthquakes and volcanoes, including these observations on Vesuvius and Etna, published in 1776. The text - the first major contribution on volcanology since the Renaissance - is Hamilton's own, while the fifty-four hand-coloured plates which describe the activity of the volcanoes are the work of Pietro Fabris. A spectacular night view of the eruption of Vesuvius on 11 May 1771 is shown here, the lava forming a beautiful cascade of fire; Hamilton is depicted drawing the original in the lower left corner. Knighted in 1772, Hamilton was a notable collector. He aided his friend, William Hunter, the original owner of this volume, in acquiring coins and medals from Italy. He was also the husband of Emma, Lady Hamilton, the mistress of Admiral Horatio Nelson.

Mozart Letter to his wife Vienna: 1791 MS Farmer 271/5
Mozart is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers in the history of Western music. This penultimate letter of his was written in Vienna in October 1791 to his wife, Konstanze, who was away taking a cure at Baden. Describing the first performance of The Magic Flute, Mozart's puckish sense of humour is revealed as he relates how he confused the actor playing Papengo by leaping into the orchestra and performing the glockenspiel parts of his aria at the wrong points. Mozart writes to his dearest, best little wife in obvious high spirits and mentions that his appetite is very good. However, he was to die shortly afterwards. The letter was donated to Glasgow University by Wenceslas Zavertal, a friend of Mozart's son, Karl.

William Blake Europe: a prophecy Lambeth: 1794 RX132
Europe is one of only twelve known copies of the complete work. Consisting of seventeen plates relief etched and printed in brown ink, it was made when Blake's interest in colour printing was at its height. The colour is printed with additional tinting with watercolour and its range of textures combined with the sharp line and rich colour reveal the full mastery of Blake's technique and the intensity of his vision. The seventeen plates together recount the mythical history of Europe. The figure locked in chains by the scaly jailor in this plate is a recurrent motif in Blake's work. It illustrates the physical binding of man to the burden of the physical world.

Robert Thornton Temple of Flora London: 1799-1807 Sp Coll e23
The Temple of Flora, the third and final part of Thornton's New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus is probably the most sumptious and renowned of all great flower books. It contains thirty-one plates, produced by a variety of techniques including aquatint, mezzotint, stipple, and line engraving. The impressions were printed in colour and afterwards finished by hand. During production, most of the plates were altered or added to from time to time, producing a different 'state' in each case; consequently, some plates have as many as four different states. The artists who contributed to the volume included Peter Henderson, Philip Reinagle, Abraham Pether and Sydenham Edwards. Depcited here is a mezzotint of Night Blowing Cereus, named on account of its flowers opening after sunset. As Thornton insisted that all the plants should be seen in their natural habitats, it is given a moonlit setting. The expense in producing this monumental work was crippling. To stave off bankruptcy, Thornton was compelled to hold a lottery with the original paintings for the plates as first prize. Unfortunately, the tickets failed to sell well and Thornton died in 1837 almost destitute.

  Nineteenth Century

Birds of America by John James Audubon London: 1827-38 Sp Coll Hunterian Cd.1.1-4
This truly monumental work was published in eighty-seven parts between 1827 and 1838. Consisting of 435 plates in all, its huge format was dictated by Audubon's determination to depict life size all the known species of birds in North America. Born in the West Indies, Audubon was educated in France and early developed a taste for natural history and drawing; he moved to America in 1803. Although Audubon lacked formal artistic training, he studied birds in real life and built up his portfolio of brilliant drawings over a twenty year period. He eventually found a publisher for his great work in London and it was produced on demand by subscription. The white headed eagle is shown here. The plates are all engraved in aquatint and coloured by hand. Many of the birds are posed in attitudes anatomically impossible. Audubon later produced a five volume work entitled Ornithological biography as a text to accompany the atlas of drawings.

William Henry Fox Talbot The Pencil of Nature London:1844 Photo A18
This view from the Hotel de Douvres in Paris was taken by Fox Talbot in May 1843. The photograph is a salted paper print, made by the calotype process which was patented by Fox Talbot on 8 February 1841. The Pencil of Nature describes Fox Talbot's experiments in photography and was the first book with photographs to be published commercially. It contains twenty-four plates and was published serially in six parts between 29 June 1844 and 23 April 1846. Each plate is stamped on the back 'Patent Talbotypes or Sun Pictures'. Subjects range from still lifes of books and pineapples to the famous studies of a haystack and a barn at Laycock Abbey. The prints achieved good definition and a pleasant warm brown colour but they faded easily. The work is vital in understanding the emergence of the new art of photography.

Birds of Great Britain by John Gould London: 1862-1873 n2-a.7-11
The naturalist John Gould has been called the greatest figure in bird illustration after Audubon. A keen observer, he had an extraordinary faculty for quickly recording in a rough sketch the characteristics of any bird that he saw. It was from these sketches that his wife, and at a later date Edward Lear, H.C. Richter, and William Hart, made the beautiful finished drawings which were afterwards redrawn on stone. Over a fifty year period Gould published an unrivalled series of bird books containing almost 3000 plates. The popular five volume folio Birds of Great Britain was originally issued in London in twenty-five parts between 1863 and 1873; it boasts 367 coloured lithographs. Gould searched high and low for subjects. The vast majority of the plates were sketched from freshly killed specimens; drawings were then made at a later date to be redrawn on stone by Hart. The shy Purple Heron is shown here as an adult bird in breeding plumage.

Signed photograph of Whistler, 1879 Whistler PH1/98
The American born artist James McNeill Whistler is famous for his paintings of nocturnal London, his striking and stylistically advanced full-length portraits, and for his brilliant etchings and lithographs. A prominent public figure and dandy of Victorian London, this photograph was taken in January 1879 at a time when Whistler was facing bankruptcy after his ruinous libel case against Ruskin; he would shortly retreat to Venice to work on etchings. Beneath the autograph is Whistler's distinctive butterfly signature; this developed from the monogram 'JW'. The photograph comes from the major archive which was donated to Glasgow University by Miss Rosalind Birnie Philip, Whistler’s sister-in-law.

  Twentieth Century

Edwin Morgan Colour Poems Glasgow 1978 Sp Coll HX 132
Edwin Morgan (b.1920) is regarded by many as Scotland's greatest living poet. Glasgow's first poet laureate, Morgan studied at Glasgow University and taught in the Department of English Literature here until his retiral as titular Professor in 1980. Awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2000, Morgan's work has been praised for its sense of the comic and linguistic playfulness. His versatility is seen in his wide ranging output which includes such diverse material as translations, plays, poems for jazz settings and visual poems such as Bestiary and Colour Poems. Shown here is Mutation from the 1978 Colour Poems sequence. Printed on esparto paper, this is the second of fifty copies numbered and signed by the author from a limited edition of one hundred. The collection of Edwin Morgan related material at Glasgow University includes 1,000 holograph poems, together with 16 scrapbooks, correspondence and poetry reading notes. Professor Morgan continues to add recent material.

Captions by Julie Gardham