– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

conservation survey notes 5

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from Balliol MS 250 – the scribal hand (or another, but not a formal decorator) has added huge numbers of these informal but charming penwork illustrations, particularly to letters that extend up or down into the margins. Perhaps the text, Aristotle’s De historiis animalium, has some influence on the choice of decoration, but if so it’s not specific, as the bird drawings occur throughout but are the subject of only Book 6. In the illustration above, three birds are sitting in a tree or bush, probably intent on eating the berries represented in the middle part of the plant. Another creature is also trying to get in on the act – perhaps a rabbit, pig or dog. Birds eating grapes often turn up in much fancier illuminated borders. I’d like to see some proper research on the ornaments in this manuscript, but it looks to me as though the illustrator is drawing from figures and little compositions commonly found in much higher-status ornamentation, not only the birds eating grapes but rabbits munching on leaves, dogs chasing rabbits, grotesques and faces growing out of foliage – quasi-Green Men.

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Here, several clearly different species of bird going after berries. More from this charming manuscript soon, I hope!

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