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Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Christopher de Hamel

Illustrated manuscripts have held a deep fascination for me for some time, there is something I find compulsive about that densely packed and intricately arranged information that hints at a ‘finite’ and ancient world carefully observed and described.


I don’t come across them that often working in a bookshop devoted to contemporary visual culture but when I do I can’t stop myself looking at these miniature, illustrated and jewelled worlds, effortlessly combining image and text.


At the same time, lacking, as I am, a classical education, the texts are impenetrable to me – written in Latin(?) and with capitals rendered in such overblown ornature that it’s practically too much of a distraction to even begin to decipher. Nonetheless the pages seen together always suggest to me some sort of ‘perfect’ order, an ancient world viewable in its entirety across these richly and carefully produced volumes.


I’ve recently been reading Christopher de Hamel’s book on the subject ‘Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts’ in the hope that it will confirm what I have imagined these incredible books are about and how they relate to the culture we live in.


The book is pleasingly well illustrated throughout, though it in no way presents ‘facsimile’ pages - I have seen enough originals to know that - it still gives a very good sense of them. He is an academic but, happily, he hasn’t written an academic book in Meetings… Also happily, he has an irreverence for the ‘Holy’ nature of the 12 volumes his book covers (I think probably all are Christian in origin) and his writing is personal– he is an important librarian at one of the most highly regarded libraries – and manages to mix this with a deep understanding of ancient books and history whilst keeping me happy with humour and with reference to our contemporary world.