The Posthumous Papers of the Manuscripts Club

by Christopher De Hamel

Hardcover, 2022



Call number



Allen Lane (2022), Edition: 1, 624 pages


The illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages are among the greatest works of European art and literature. We are dazzled by them and recognize their crucial role in the transmission of knowledge. But we generally think much less about the countless men and women who made, collected and preserved them through the centuries, and to whom they owe their existence. This work describes some of the extraordinary people who have spent their lives among illuminated manuscripts over the last thousand years.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Lukerik
Very much the counterpart of Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, and just as good. Here the focus is on twelve people who had some sort of connection to manuscripts, whether writing them or collecting them etc. These aren’t just potted biographies. Each essay has that little bit extra. He’s
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researched properly, gone to where they lived, studied their books. I think the secret here is imagination. He can conjure up a scene from the past from some jotting on a scrap of paper. Particularly nice are his imagined conversations with these people. In the one on St. Anselm he’s taken his side of the conversation of various places in his works and cobbled it together.

This is a particularly nicely made book, as it would have to be for £40 (I borrowed it from the library). Good quality paper and beautifully illustrated. Lots of the illustrations run to the edge of the page so you can see their strata if you look at the edges when the book is closed. So I wouldn’t want you to think I’m unappreciative of a beautiful book. There’s an illumination by Simon Bening on page 134 that at first glance I thought was some sort of 3D embroidery. I’ve seen a few Medieval manuscripts under glass. I’m not the kind of person who would ever be allowed to handle them – and rightly so. I like to go to churches with fragile medieval wall paintings and chat up the vicar until she trusts me. Then, when no-ones looking I like to climb up on the pews and poke the paintings all over. But I’ve handled some modern manuscripts and there’s a real thrill to know that what you hold in your hands is a totally unique object and no-one else can be reading another copy at the same time. However, if you put a Books of Hours in front of me I’d be bored in five minutes. There’s a particularly interesting bit in the essay on Theodor Mommsen where de Hamel is obviously nonplussed by his interest in manuscripts because of the text. Really I’m with Mommsen on this one. De Hamel is interested in manuscripts as art. One thing this book does is give a history of the place of manuscripts over time – from working tools in monasteries to over-priced status symbols for the wealthy.
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Original language


Physical description

624 p.; 9.41 inches


0241304377 / 9780241304372
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