The Manuscripts Club: The People Behind a Thousand Years of Medieval Manuscripts

Synopsis

The Manuscripts Club: The acclaimed author of Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts introduces us to the extraordinary keepers and companions of medieval manuscripts over a thousand years of history

The illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages are among the greatest works of European art and literature. We are dazzled by them, and we recognize their crucial role in the transmission of knowledge. However, 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 captivating book describes some of the extraordinary people who have spent their lives among illuminated manuscripts over the last thousand years: a monk in Normandy, a prince of France, a Florentine bookseller, an English antiquary, a rabbi from central Europe, a French priest, a keeper at the British Museum, a Greek forger, a German polymath, a British connoisseur, and the woman who created the most spectacular library in America—all of them members of what Christopher de Hamel calls the Manuscripts Club.

This exhilarating fraternity and the fellow enthusiasts who come with it shed new light on how manuscripts have survived and been used by very different kinds of people in many different circumstances. Christopher de Hamel’s unexpected connections and discoveries reveal a passion that crosses the boundaries of time. We understand the manuscripts themselves better by knowing who their keepers and companions have been.

In 1850 (or thereabouts), John Ruskin bought his first manuscript “at a bookseller’s in a back alley.” This was his reaction: “The new worlds which every leaf of this book opened to me and the joy I had in counting their letters and unraveling their arabesques as if they had all been of beaten gold—as many of them were—cannot be told.” The members of de Hamel’s club share many such wonders, which he brings us with scholarship, style, and a lifetime’s experience.

Editorial Review

In “The Manuscripts Club: The People Behind a Thousand Years of Medieval Manuscripts,” acclaimed author Christopher de Hamel masterfully introduces readers to the unsung heroes of history—the custodians of culture and knowledge who have diligently preserved medieval manuscripts for over a millennium. This book isn’t just about the manuscripts themselves, though they are undeniably the stars; it’s about the people who have been their keepers and companions.

De Hamel, a renowned expert in his field, brings to life a diverse cast of characters, from a monk in Normandy to a prince of France, a Florentine bookseller, and even a rabbi from central Europe. Each personality is vividly portrayed, revealing their unique connection to these treasured works. The narrative transcends mere historical recounting, immersing readers in a world where each manuscript tells a broader story of human endeavor, passion, and creativity.

The book does more than catalog the biographies of these manuscript enthusiasts; it offers a window into a world where art, literature, and history intertwine. De Hamel’s scholarly rigor and engaging style illuminate the paths these manuscripts have traveled through time, often against great odds. His expertise shines in the way he connects these historical dots, revealing a tapestry of human experience bound by a shared love for these medieval masterpieces.

A highlight of the book is its exploration of how these manuscripts have been used and interpreted differently over the centuries. This perspective is particularly intriguing, offering insights into the evolving understanding and appreciation of these works. De Hamel’s passion for the subject is infectious, and his ability to convey complex historical contexts in an accessible and engaging manner is remarkable.

The narrative is further enriched by anecdotes, such as John Ruskin’s purchase of his first manuscript, which add a personal touch and demonstrate the enduring allure of these artifacts. The book is not just a scholarly work but a tribute to the enduring power of manuscripts in shaping our understanding of the past.

In conclusion, “The Manuscripts Club” is a compelling journey through time, led by a guide who is both an expert and an enthusiast. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in medieval manuscripts, art history, or the human stories behind historical artifacts. De Hamel has once again proven his mastery in bringing the past to life, offering both scholarly insight and a captivating narrative.

Other Editorial Reviews

“Exceptional in expertise, graceful in style and illustrated as vividly as its subject, this book is a masterpiece.” Dominic Green, Wall Street Journal
 
“Crack the spine of any volume by de Hamel and you will step into a world of bookish wonderment. One of the most eminent living scholars and catalogers of medieval European manuscripts, de Hamel is also their greatest champion, having devoted his career to revealing their treasures and mysteries . . . makers and collectors and preservers, the people who have been responsible for helping to perpetuate one of the great cultural legacies of the pre-modern world . . . de Hamel sets aside his posture of well-earned expertise to gaze with the reader in ingenuous wonder at the work arrayed before him . . . an invitation all but the most churlish readers will gratefully accept.” Bruce Holsinger, New York Times Book Review

“A love story. [De Hamel’s] interest is with community: with the passion for art, for learning, for nerdy minutiae, for history still living and breathing on the page, that brings manuscript lovers together. If you can imagine shedding tears because a manuscript is so exquisite, then this is a book about your people.” Elyse Graham, Public Books

“Lively . . . De Hamel’s encyclopedic knowledge and irrepressible enthusiasm for his subject animate the whole.” Booklist

“Expansive . . . De Hamel’s fascination with rare manuscripts shines throughout . . . sure to entertain.” Publishers Weekly

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The Manuscripts Club: The People Behind a Thousand Years of Medieval Manuscripts by Christopher De Hamel
4.7/5
Genre: Non-Fiction
Age Range: Adult
Start Rating: 4.7 stars
Publication Date: November 14, 2023
ISBN13:978-0525559412

Author: Christopher de Hamel

Christopher de Hamel

Christopher de Hamel

Christopher de Hamel is a renowned scholar and author in the field of manuscript studies, particularly medieval manuscripts. He was born on November 20, 1950, in London, England. De Hamel holds a doctorate from Oxford University, where he studied under the tutelage of Richard Hunt, the famous medievalist.

His professional career has been marked by significant contributions to the world of medieval manuscripts. He spent a substantial part of his career at Sotheby’s, one of the world’s largest brokers of fine and decorative art, where he was responsible for cataloging, valuing, and researching medieval manuscripts. This role gave him unparalleled access to some of the most important and rare manuscripts in existence, further enhancing his expertise in the field.

De Hamel is perhaps best known for his book “Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts,” which won the Duff Cooper Prize and was a finalist for the Wolfson History Prize. This work is celebrated for making the often esoteric world of medieval manuscripts accessible and engaging to a broader audience. His writing style blends detailed scholarly insight with a narrative approach that brings the historical context of these manuscripts to life.

Throughout his career, de Hamel has been a prolific writer and lecturer. He has written numerous books and articles on medieval manuscripts, each marked by his deep knowledge and passion for the subject. His works are not only valuable resources for scholars but also captivating for general readers interested in medieval history and art.

In addition to his writing, de Hamel has held academic positions, including the prestigious post of Fellow and Librarian at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Here, he managed the Parker Library, which holds a significant collection of medieval manuscripts.

Christopher de Hamel’s contributions have had a lasting impact on the study and appreciation of medieval manuscripts, making him a respected and influential figure in the field. His work continues to inspire new generations of historians, scholars, and enthusiasts in the rich and fascinating world of medieval history and manuscript studies.

Sources

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, December 30). Christopher de Hamel. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_de_Hamel

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