Ter Duinen, c. 1200: Scribe and Artist, or Scribe as Artist? – by Jenneka Janzen, Leiden University
The immense growth of the Cistercian Order in the twelfth century must have resulted in a great need for books; as new houses cropped up across Europe, monks likely worked diligently, and perhaps collaboratively, to ensure their brethren had adequate materials to meet their daily liturgical, spiritual, and intellectual needs. Carved out of the dunes of the Flemish coast, Ter Duinen was one of the largest and wealthiest Cistercian houses.[i] Although the abbey itself is lost, a group of its books comprise a remarkable collection held in the Bruges Public Library, and in the historic library of the late Ter Duinen in Bruges (Grootseminarie).
Founded as a Benedictine hermitage in 1107, Ter Duinen became a Cistercian house under
Clairvaux’s tutelage in 1138. In 1139 it had 15 monks and 13 lay brothers. About a century later in 1253, Ter Duinen and its granges were home to 120 monks and 248 lay brothers. Such a large community demanded a considerable library: reading is an integral part of the daily life of a monk. While the lives of lay brothers revolved around manual labour, books were made at Ter Duinen for their spiritual education, such as this early thirteenth-century illustrated copy of Hugh of Foilloy’s De volucribus.[ii]
Ter Duinen’s large community made many of its own books, as well as occasional volumes for its daughter-houses, Ter Doest and Clairmarais.[iii] While it is difficult to identify many scribes whose hand appears in more than one book, there are some recurring hands working around the year 1200. Within this group collaboration may be evident between scribes, initial illustrators, and occasionally correctors.
An example of potential scribal collaboration is found in Bruges Public Library Mss 105, 109, 111, and 118. They each contain the same scribe, although written at a slightly different quality and with varying pens: Ms 105 is written a bit smaller and perhaps more carefully, while Ms 118 is shaped with a sharper-cut nib. Compare, for example, the way the scribe forms his g, &, and uncial d. He has a tendency to drag strokes into the margin, especially those of d and t, and his a often tips forward with a large, overhanging top compartment. He uses a majuscule NT ligature at line end in each manuscript, which is otherwise uncommon within contemporary books from Ter Duinen’s library.
Notably, however, this scribe copies alone; his is the only contemporary hand appearing in each of these texts, including in notes, running titles, and rubrication[iv]. These manuscripts are pricked and ruled to the same specifications – practices with limited consistency among contemporary books in this scriptorium – which suggests that scribes prepared their own quires according to personal preference.
Given these examples of solo writing, should we assume that contemporary scribes of Ter Duinen tended to work alone? Collaboration may be found in the initials: the same artist seemingly completes the initials in both Mss 109 and 111. Note particularly the clusters, ‘fan’-like foliage, and scallops placed around the knobs protruding from the initials’ bodies.
It may be the same artist working in Mss 105 and 118 as in Mss 109 and 111, although some design elements appear slightly different, such as dots, the way in which the scallops are placed around the knobs, and the use of yellow as a secondary colour in Mss 105 and 118.
This case highlights one of the difficulties inherent to this type of research; without external evidence of collaboration beyond the book itself, or a clear division of labour between various bookmaking roles (ex. scribe, illustrator, rubricator, corrector, etc.), a range of collaboration possibilities exist. Here, there are four such possibilities: 1) the scribe and illustrator of all four manuscripts is the same person, adapting his style slightly; 2) the scribe is the illustrator of Mss 109 and 111, but another illustrator completed Mss 105 and 118; 3) the opposite – the scribe is the illustrator of Mss 105 and 118, but another illustrator completed Mss 109 and 111; and 4) the scribe and illustrators are three different monks working together.
As these four manuscripts demonstrate, hints of collaboration might be found in various elements of the page. While there is no definitive answer as to whether the scribe of Bruges Public Library Mss 105, 109, 111, and 118 worked alone or with peers, this case suggests ways in which those working in a particular scriptoria could potentially divide the labour of bookmaking.
[i] Ter Duinen’s community rivalled those of Clairvaux, Fountains, and Rievaulx in the twelfth century, and likely had a greater community of lay brothers than any other institution by 1300. Louis J. Lekai, The Cistercians: Ideal and Reality (Kent State University Press, 1977), 44, 337.
[ii] For more on this specific manuscript, see the articles provided by the Historische Bronnen Brugge (in Dutch and French). For more on its use in the pastoral care of lay brothers, see W.B. Clark, The Medieval Book of Birds. Hugh of Fouilloy’s Aviarium. Edition, translation and commentary, Binghamton, New York, 1992 (Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, LXXX).
[iii] See, for example, L. Vandamme and N. Giernaert, “Cisterciënzerbibliotheken in het middeleeuwse Vlaanderen: handschriften uit de abdijen Ten Duinen, Ter Doest en Clairmarais” in L. Busine and L. Vandamme (eds.), Besloten Wereld, Open Boeken: Middeleeuwse handschriften in dialoog met actuele kunst. (Tielt: Lannoo, 2002), 62.
[iv] Bruges Public Library Ms 109 also contains a fifteenth-century text in its seventeenth-century binding.