Mystery Monday: A Manuscript Mona Lisa From the Huntington Library

When most people think of Renaissance portraits they picture a painting like Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa hanging in a frame on the wall of a museum.  We might expect to encounter the faces of people from the 15th and 16th staring at us from the walls of art galleries or the paneling of old family houses.  The portrait shown above sits in a frame, but a frame painted on the page of a book, not hung on wall.  Furthermore, it is a portrait from a book that fits easily into the palm of one’s hand:

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This enigmatic early modern lady was likely the original owner of the small manuscript codex her portrait appears in.  The manuscript is a 16th century Flemish book of prayers from the collection at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA.  (HM 1727).  The book itself measures just 3.9 x 2.75 inches. The small portrait of the unknown woman appears on the first leaf of the manuscript, with the words “Etatis 32”, likely refering to the woman’s age at the time the portrait was painted.  The pigment has worn away completely in the lower right hand corner (possibly because this would also be the part of the parchment most commonly handled as people turned the tiny pages).  However her face still shows clearly and is painted with such realism that it seems probable that someone who had seen this portrait could easily recognize the woman it was based on if she were still living.

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The reverse of the leaf with the portrait is another full page painting of a colorfully illuminated entwined monogram with two letters C and an I (or J), possibly the initials of the woman in the portrait or some other monogram associated with her or her family:

It is possible that the manuscript was a wedding gift, and the notes for the extensive record for this manuscript available at the Digital Scriptorium suggest that the fact that the woman holds a flower in her hand is a common sign of such a wedding portrait.

The manuscript is beautifully decorated throughout with an unusually ornate set of manicules.  Manicules are little drawings of pointing hands.  They are usually pen and ink drawings in the margins of a book that a former note taker drew to indicate a particularly interesting or important part of the text.  They often have exageratedly long pointing fingers, as in this example of a manicule from a book at Princeton University Libraries:

The manicules in the Huntington manuscript are unusually fancy.  For example, there are three on this page, ranging from a hand emerging from a cloud on the left-hand side to one with a fancy fur cuff near the bottom:


Another example of the elaborately painted pointing hands, which appear on nearly every other page of the manuscript:

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While there are plenty of hands pointing to interesting places in the text, there are very few clues pointing to the identity of the woman whose portrait appears at the start of the text.  An extensive inscription in a 16th century hand appears at the end of the manuscript, which the record for the manuscript identifies as additional prayers:

And the inscription “Anno 1478” appears on both the front and back endleaf, but it is unclear what the significance of the year is, given that the manuscript itself is identified as having been produced in the second quarter of the 16th century, well after 1478:

Do you have thoughts on who the mystery woman in the portrait might be?  Or thoughts about the other marks in this manuscript?  Comment here or on one of the pictures from this book on the POP Flickr Feed.







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Mystery Monday: Who signed the Newberry Library’s First Folio?

A few weeks ago I posted about a mystery inscription in a copy of Penn Libraries’ copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the first edition of Shakespeare’s works published in 1623.  Today’s Monday mystery comes from the title page of the copy of the First Folio at the Newberry Library, Chicago VAULT Case Oversize YS 01.  In this case a former owner has signed the title page just under the portrait of Shakespeare:

The inscription (shown larger at the top of this post) reads “Robert: Wynn: Bodescalian (or Bodescallan)”  but who Robert Wynn was, or what the word Bodescalian refers to remains unknown.  If you have ideas, post a comment to this blog or comment on the image of the inscription on the POP Flickr Feed.

We do know that the Newberry’s First Folio was owned by Louis H. Silver (1902-1963), a Chicago book collector who left a substantial part of his collection to the Newberry, and whose bookplate appears in the front of the book:

You can now see this and a starting group of other images from books at the Newberry Library on POP.  The Newberry is an independent research library in Chicago, with collections ranging from medieval and Renaissance books and manuscripts, to a rich collection of print history, to American  Literature and History, including one of the strongest collections of materials related to American Indians in the world.  Read more about the Newberry’s Core Collections here.  More about some of the provenance images in the Newberry’s collections to come in future posts.

 Update:  Several POP contributors have noted that this is likely the mark of a member of the Wynn family who owned Bodysgallen Hall in Wales, citing this Wikipedia article:  It seems that the Robert Wynn married to Katherine Wynn, whose initials are on the 1620 cornerstone of Bodysgallen would be a likely candidate for the person who made this inscription.  However, the Wikipedia article is slightly confusing in that the next section refers to the Hall having been owned by the Moyston family and passed to the Wynn Family with the marriage of Hugh Wyn (b. 1620) to Margaret Moysten.  This seems to potentially contradict the account of Richard and Katherine Wynn owning the hall c. 1620.

Does anyone have more information on Robert Wynn’s birth and death dates or other biographical details?  Or a clearer timeline of the ownership of Bodysgallen to improve Wikipedia’s account?




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Mystery Monday: Marks in Shakespeare’s First Folio

Often figuring out who owned a book before begins with researching the marks we can see on its pages.  However, in some cases the first challenge is to be able to see those marks at all.  As I wrote in a recent post, POP has recently begun including images of provenance marks from the Folger Shakespeare Library, including images from 8 of their 82 First Folios (more on the Folger First Folios coming up in a future guest post on the Folger’s blog, the Collation).  This made the POP team curious about the provenance in our First Folio at Penn Libraries (Folio PR2751 .A1).  There are some very faint traces just barely visible in some places in our copy of the book, but the pages had been washed by a previous owner, a process that left them looking, for the most part, pretty bare.    The few things that are visible still, like the inscription shown above, are very faint and hard to see.

POP assistant Ben Turnbull, Penn Post-Baccalaureate student in Classical Studies, recently applied his photoshop skills to making this and other marks in Penn’s First Folio easier to see.  Above is the same image now much easier to read.

Of course this version of the image makes the  inscription easier to read in one way, but not in others.  The first part likely says “for Brooksbank Jun[io]r…” or “Jos Brooksbank Jun[io]r…” and appears to be written in an 18th century hand.  However, the final part remains a mystery that we are looking to solve.  What the letters separated by the + sign are and what they signify is uncertain.  Is it an abbreviation of some kind?  A date?

Similarly, this inscription written in pencil has been made easier to see, but not necessarily easier to read, and what it says has not yet been transcribed:

Other things written in the book were almost completely invisible:

But thanks to Turnbull’s work are now much more visible:

A closer look at this and writing on other pages reveals that this and other similar writing on other pages is a list of characters from the play facing the page it is written on.  For example, here is a detail of a dramatis personae written opposite Coriolanus:

We’ve been able to uncover these casts of characters written opposite three of the plays in Penn’s First Folio:  King John, Coriolanus, and Macbeth.  Several plays in the First Folio are lacking a list of the cast of characters, so some previous reader wrote this information in.  It may have been a reader who was having trouble keeping track of the characters, or someone thinking about performing the play, or perhaps someone who simply wanted the text to be more complete based on a later edition that listed the characters.

While these character lists are not provenance inscriptions pointing to past owners, being able to see the marks that previous owners made does help us to understand more about the history of this book.  The fact that the marks were washed away to begin with is also, in and of itself, a part of the book’s history.  The pages were probably washed primarily because they were in very dirty condition.  There is evidence that the pages of this copy of the First Folio were covered in grime, crumpled and torn.  The margins of many of the pages were clearly damaged or cut off in some way and have been completed with segments of more modern paper, and a few pages have been pieced together from multiple fragments that had come apart with age and use. At the same time, washing the pages and thereby fading away the inscriptions they contained, also was making a statement about how a previous owner saw the book and its purpose.  Removing the evidence of previous owners attempts to restore a book like the First Folio to a state that is as close as possible to the way it may have looked near to the time of its printing, implying that some of its value lies in being able to envision it in a specific historic moment.  By contrast, many libraries and collectors today seek out books that contain the evidence of how they were marked and used by people in the past because of what we can learn from such marks, valuing the layers that we can see accumulated in the pages across time.  Making the marks of the past visible where they were once almost entirely erased provides the opportunity to solve new mysteries.

Update:  While there is no decided identification of what the dx  + oy inscription by the name Brooks Bank Jr. means, several people have suggested that it may be either a price code or some form of date. 

Do you have ideas about what one of the two inscriptions at the top of this page say?  Comment on the POP Flickr feed or on this blog.

Click here to see all the images from Penn’s copy of the First Folio on POP.

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The Folger Shakespeare Library Joins POP: Royal Provenance and Women Making Their Mark

The inscription above is a note to Henry VIII from wife number four of six, Anne of Cleves.  Written in a 1533 book of hours from the Folger Shakespeare Library (STC 15982), it reads:

I besiche your grace hu[m]b[ly]
when ye loke on this
remember me.
yo[u]r grace’s assured anne
the dowgher off cleues

There is some irony to Anne’s request that Henry remember her when he looks on this book, since Henry divorced her because he claimed that he could not bear to look at her.  Indeed, while it’s uncertain whether he was truly as repulsed by her at first sight as later accounts suggested, certainly by the time the divorce was going through Thomas Cromwell (testifying in an unsuccessful attempt to keep from being beheaded for arranging the marriage) quoted the king as having said that he could never consumate his marriage to Anne because “if his grace would…go about to have a do with her, his highness verily thinks that his nature would not consent thereto.”   Anne’s marriage to Henry was the shortest of  his marriages, lasting only from January 1540-July 1540.  This was probably a blessing in disguise, given that she avoided the fate of beheading that befell his second and fifth wives and, in fact, outlived all his wives.

It has not been established when this note from Anne to Henry was penned, but it almost certainly presents evidence of a moment in history before the king had determined to sever his ties with her.  Continue reading

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Mystery Monday: Unicorn “Friend of the Sea”

Update: Thanks to Anita Weaver, who tweeted a link to the Ritman library, which had identified the owner associated with this bookplate.  It is the bookplate of René Philipon (1870-1936), and the greek “Philos Pontou” is a pun on Philipon’s name. 

Today’s Mystery Monday post is an intriguing bookplate with an image of a unicorn swimming through ocean waves.  The Greek lettering above reads philos pontou (friend of the sea).  The name Joe Andrada, presumably the name of the engraver, and the year 1917 appear in the lower left-hand corner.

Penn Libraries call number: BV4011.J63 1599  All images from this book  Penn Libraries catalog record

Penn Libraries call number: BV4011.J63 1599
All images from this book
Penn Libraries catalog record

Continue reading

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Custom-made Provenance

People have long taken pleasure in adding some element of individual expression to the media they use to read.  This is apparent nearly everywhere on the computers and websites we use daily to access news, scholarship, social updates and more.  We customize our cover photos and profile pictures on sites like Facebook, adorn our laptop screens with “wallpaper, and choose artistic, blingy, or ironic covers to enclose our phones.  These are all not only statements intended to convey something about who we are to the people around us, but also serve as reminders to ourselves that we have something unique to contribute to the world every time we turn to read an online article or a text from a friend.  This universal desire to combine individual expression with the experience of reading and viewing material was the basis for a recent catchy MacBook ad in which a rapid succession of images shows the iconic apple logo on the case of a laptop adorned by various customized stickers, from hipster hats to Homer Simpson:  The ad is selling a product intended to act as a person’s gateway to the world’s information, and plays upon the concurrent need for the object offering that experience to give people an experience in common together, suggested by the apple logo that unites all MacBook owners as a group, while at the same time providing a distinctly personal experience, expressed by the imaginative stickers.

The image at the top of today’s blog post is, in many ways, an 18th century equivalent of our Facebook cover images and digital wallpaper.  It shows the spine of an embroidered binding covering a Book of Common Prayer bound with a Bible.  The book is located at the Library Company of Philadelphia (Am 1719 Eng Al 99 no. 218), but owned by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  Their collection boasts a rich range of material from documents related to regional and family histories from the 18th century to the present, to nationally important historical documents such as the first draft of the United States Constitution.   Several images from books owned by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and located at the Library Company have recently been added to POP. The title page of the book is like many other devotional 18th century printed texts of the period:

18716961932_82a34973cc_zA reader turning to it would receive the sort of message appropriate to the work it contains, a book of common prayer intended to be a reading experience in common between the pious reader and her social group.  Seemingly numberless 18th century households would have contained a similar bible or prayer book. However, this particular copy of a universalizing text has not only been adorned with the inscription of a past owner named Martyn Jervis but has, more spectacularly, been wrapped in the brilliant colors of a distinctly personal creation.  From across a room the beautifully preserved colors, worked in worsted wool in a a bold, flame stitch pattern, make an immediate statement that this is a book that was owned by someone with something to show the world.

A closer examination of the spine reveals a hand stitched provenance mark showing the name, Elizabeth Sandwith, and the date, 1759.

View on

View on

The owner, Elizabeth Sandwith, is better known by her married name, Elizabeth Drinker, and was a notable member of the early American Quaker community.  Her diary, which is also a part of the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Collection 1760), is a well known document of the experience of a Quaker woman in the revolutionary era.  It also contains a specific reference to this book.  In an entry dated January 15, 1759, when she was 24 years old, she writes: “Stayed home all day.  Began to work a large worsted bible cover.”  This brief note of the moment in time when Drinker (then Sandwith) began stitching the colorful book cover reinforces the sense, already evoked by the stitching itself, of the human fingers that crafted the pattern to show the world some glimmer of the human mind that read the prayers and verses printed in the pages between the covers.  This embroidery work, taken up by a woman in a quiet moment at home 256 years ago, today serves as a reminder to us that all we put our names to, all we add of our own selves to the world, and all the ways what we read, view, and watch are wrapped in the colors of our own individual experience.

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Mystery Monday: OFF Stamp from the Folger

Today’s Mystery Monday post is a pair of images contributed by researcher Claire M. L. Bourne, who came across two very similar stamps in two 17th century plays she was looking at in the collections at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The first stamp appears in a play by Aphra Behn called Abdelazer, or The Moor’s revenge from 1677 (Folger, B1715): 

The nearly identical stamp appears a play called Sophonisba, or Hannibal’s overthrow by Natheniel Lee in 1676 (Folger, L870):

The two plays were both printed in London for J. Magnes and R. Bentley in Russell St., London within a year of each other and both have been marked with the same distinctive round stamp bearing the letters OFF in the top half and the number 4 in the bottom half.

Anyone with ideas about what this stamp is and what it can tell us about who owned these plays before should either comment on this blog or post a comment under one of the images of the stamp here on POP.

There will be more images from the Folger joining POP in the next few weeks, including provenance marks from some of the Folger’s Shakespeare First Folios, so look for more interesting provenance from these collections soon.

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Ben Franklin’s Books: The Library Company of Philadelphia Joins POP

Yesterday the Provenance Online Project (POP) added the first provenance images to the POP Flickr feed from The Library Company of Philadelphia, with many more to be released in the weeks ahead.  This is the first exciting step in adding images outside Penn, and just the beginning of partnerships with several fellow libraries that will begin contributing images to the project with the long term goal of making POP a provenance resource joining images from collections all over the world.  Bringing images from the Library Company collections together with the images already represented from Penn on POP has also already resulted in some exciting research finds, including the new identification of a Benjamin Franklin autograph in a book from the Kislak Center at Penn Libraries (more on this find in a minute).  Continue reading

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Shakespeare’s Signature?

Today, April 23rd, is celebrated as Shakespeare’s birthday.  We don’t actually know the exact date of the bard of Stratford on Avon’s birth, but we do know that he was baptised on April 26th so, since baptism often occurred within about three days of birth, we can think of sometime between today and this Saturday as the day when one of the world’s most famous poets began life. It seems only appropriate, then, that today’s blog be dedicated to the “William Shakespeare” signature shown in the image above on the title page from an early quarto edition of  Hamlet at the Kislak Center (PR2750 .A07 1619).  This isn’t, in fact, an autograph by the original William Shakespeare.  A note on one of the front flyleaves of the Hamlet quarto verifies that it is, in fact, the work of one of literary history’s most famous forgers, William Henry Ireland (1775-1835).  Continue reading

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Mystery Monday: A question from Newfoundland

Update:  Shortly after posting this blog post some POP contributors found some resources that indicate an 18th century Prior Scipio, who may be the owner associated with this stamp.  View the links in the comments on Flickr here: and contribute your own comments if you can contribute more information. 

A recent reference request came my way from a librarian at the Mullock Library in Newfoundland.  He had found a stamp in several 18th century books that are a part of Jean Bolland’s Acta Sanctorum.  The stamp he had found had the words “Scipio Prior de Guglielmis” on it, and there was a note of a stamp with the same words for a copy of another ecclesiastical book, the Decisiones Patavinae ( S-33.4.7).


View on POP

An image of the Penn copy of the stamp (shown above) is now up on the POP Flickr feed, but there isn’t much known about the stamp itself, or who the Prior de Gugliemis might have been.  Like many examples of stamps, the Penn copy has parts missing where the stamp didn’t make full contact with the page, so being able to verify the exact words that are meant to appear by comparing it with the same stamp found in other libraries is very useful.  The imagery in the middle is unfamiliar to me.  It seems to be composed of a crown, a pair of fleur de lis, and some kind of triangular shape (drapery?) and a cross bar.

If anyone out there knows more about this stamp and can help identify this mystery provenance mark, respond to this blog or make a comment on the POP Flickr feed!

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