Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World

Penguin Pr. Oct. 2017. 640p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781594206115. $45; ebk. ISBN 9780698163386. HIST
OrangeReviewStarLibrarian de Hamel (Corpus Christi Coll., Cambridge Univ.; A History of Illuminated Manuscripts), a leading authority on medieval manuscripts, has produced a veritable feast for the mind, in this work that fleshes out the lives of 12 manuscripts. The works are organized in chronological order, beginning with the St. Augustine Gospels (sixth century) and concluding with the Spinola Hours (16th century). Content includes gospels (The Book of Kells), astrological works (The Leiden Aratea), music (Carmina Burana), and Canterbury Tales (The Hengwrt Chaucer). High culture flows from every page, as de Hamel interweaves the histories of these medieval artifacts with the lives of the people that intersected with them. The author also includes autobiographical details from his extensive experience with these rare and irreplaceable collections, including his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams. The writing style is delightfully tangential, leading readers through the episodes and turns of hand that led to each manuscript's preservation through the centuries. The many full-page color facsimiles of the items are simply stunning.
VERDICT Scholarly yet personal, this book treats medievalists, art historians, bibliophiles, and other interested parties to the closest equivalent of a seat in the great archives. A beautiful book about beautiful books.
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