Office of the Dead

June 26, 2009

 

Click o image for a link to the catalog record and higher resolutions.

Click o image for a link to the catalog record and higher resolutions.

 

Leaf from an antiphonary: Initial C with a funeral scene

Northern Italy, c. 1450

Script: Rotunda

Parchment with ink, paint, and gold

Notation: Square

 

This initial begins the first response of the first nocturn of Matins for the Office of the Dead, “Credo quod redemptor meus vivit …” (I believe that my redeemer liveth).  As a series of prayers recited to help speed the soul to heaven, the Office of the Dead was usually illustrated with scenes from contemporary medieval funerary practices.  In this initial, the priest sprinkles holy water with an aspergillum on the corpse as two mourners kneel beside the bed. 

The Office of the Dead consists of four hours: First Vespers or Placebo, Mass, Matins or Dirige (from which the term “dirge” is derived), and Lauds or Exultabunt.

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E M 68:14

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Click on image for a link to a higher resolution.

Click on image for a link to a higher resolution.

 

Calligraphy book bound in an antiphonal leaf

Italy, 1774

Script: Gothic

Parchment with ink and paint

Notation: Square

 

This book of calligraphy samples is bound in an antiphonal leaf inscribed with Psalm 85. Medieval music leaves were frequently used for scrap from the Middle Ages through the nineteenth century. Liturgical decisions would be made in a monastic community, rendering some parts of services useless and the pages would be used as binding and scrap material or even as scratch materials for jotting down recipes and the like. The person who used this book for calligraphic practice probably felt that the antiphonal leaf was attractive and chose to use it for the binding itself.

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 55

Click on image for a link to the catalog record and higher resolutions.

Click on image for a link to the catalog record and higher resolutions.

Initial F with St. Thomas Aquinas teaching a group of Dominicans      , March 7

Flanders, ca. 1325

Script: Gothic bookhand

Parchment with ink, paint, and gold

Notation: Square

This initial begins the first antiphon of first Vespers for the feast of the Dominican theologian St. Thomas Aquinas (Mar. 7), “Felix thomas doctor ecclesie lumen mundi splendor ytalie…” (Happy is Thomas, Doctor of the Church, light of the world, splendor of Italy).  Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) is considered one of the greatests theologians in the Church’s history.  He is most well-known for his work Summa Theologica, a manual of theology that summarizes the arguments for almost all points of the Catholic faith.

Musically, this leaf is more melismatic than a number of the leaves featured in this exhibition. A melisma is a group of more than five or six notes sung to a single syllable.The last word at the bottom of the page, for example, is “bravium”: there are fourteen notes on the syllable “bra-.” 

This leaf has a bas-de-page common in Flemish manuscripts of the first part of the fourteenth century.  The border is inhabited with birds and rabbits.

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E M 66:8

Click on image for a link to the catalog record and higher resolutions.

Click on image for a link to the catalog record and higher resolutions.

 

Single leaf from an antiphonary:

Initial H with the Nativity, December 25

Austria – Melk, ca. 1430-1440

Benedictine Use

Script: Gothic bookhand

Parchment with ink, paint, and gold

Notation: Square

 

This initial begins the first response of the first nocturn of Matins for the feast of the Nativity, “Hodie nobis caelorum Rex de Virgine nasci dignatus est, ut hominem perditum ad caelestia regna revocaret.” (On this day the King of heaven deigned to be born for us of a Virgin, in order to call fallen men home again to the heavenly kingdom). This leaf is one of many in the Free Library’s collection from a number of separate manuscripts from the scriptorium of the Benedictine monastery at Melk. Melk was famous for its calligraphy at the beginning of the 15th century: the abbey was reformed in 1418, at which time the abbot instituted a revival of learning and raised the bar for the quality of the scripts produced there.

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E M 65:7