The conference ‘New Perspectives on Flemish Illumination’ in Brussels accompanies an exhibition on Flemish miniatures at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek on show until 30 December; it will continue in Paris from March to July 2012. As my main work over the past year had been on the Alamire manuscripts which are illuminated by leading artists from the Ghent-Bruges school, the conference offered an ideal occasion to introduce the PRoMS project to an art-historical audience. The trip also offered me the opportunity for an in-depth study of three manuscripts which will be included in our case studies (Brussels, KB, Ms. 228 and Ms. 9126, as well as Mechelen, Stadsarchief, s.s.). I was also able to consult eight further manuscripts at the KB which will be included in the project database. Although high quality images of manuscripts allow an advanced study of the material, they cannot replace the consultation of the originals, especially for a thorough study of the illumination and the preparation of the page.
The conference was also an ideal occasion to discuss some of the stylistic problems in the Alamire group with Dr. Dagmar Thoss (Vienna), one of the few art historians who have worked in depth on these manuscripts. Furthermore, I met Erik Verroken who is transcribing account books in Flanders. His next project will be the transcription of the account books in Mechelen, and I hope very much he will come across the name ‘Jacques Scoon’ which is inscribed in one of the beautiful initials which decorate the Choirbook held in the Stadsarchief in Mechelen – which might give the name of the calligrapher.
New project, new challenges, and PRoMS provides me personally with an excellent reason for getting to grips with a slightly later group of sources than I have dealt with in the past, and new means of doing so, including the database currently being designed for us by the Department of Digital Humanities in the University of London. New colleagues, too, and being part of a larger team than I am accustomed to working with has also been highly stimulating. I am learning a great deal about the art-historical side of things from my colleague Mara Hofmann at the Warburg Institute, and about printed sources from ‘our’ PhD student, Sana Raninen, at Bangor University. Of course, working with original sources is both necessary for our project and at the same time a privilege, and highlights of my work so far have included a visit in April 2011 to Prague and (with the guidance of my friend Veronika Mráčková, a PhD student at Charles University) Hradec Králové in order to work on the Speciálník Codex (on which I am now preparing a conference paper) and other manuscripts. In February I went to Warsaw (as a guest of the Polish Academy of Sciences) and in September to Wrocław (as a delegate at the conference ‘The Musical Culture of Silesia Before 1742: New Contexts – New Perspectives’), and in both places I was also able to consult original materials on behalf of the project. I am most grateful to those who hosted my visits, including Lenka Mráčková (Prague), Paweł Gancarczyk and Agnieszka Leszczynska (Warsaw).
The annual Medieval and Renaissance Music conference took place in Barcelona this year, and we took this opportunity not only to enjoy the beautiful city and the outstanding hospitality of the organisers, Tess Knighton and Emilio Ros-Fabregas, at the Institut d’Estudis Catalans, but also to present PRoMS to a wider musicological audience. Thomas Schmidt-Beste gave a presentation on the project aims, with illustrations from two of the pilot manuscripts case studies – Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, ms. 9126, and Hradec Králové, Muzeum Východních Čech, Knihovna, MS II A 7 (the ‘Speciálník’ Codex) – based on work by Mara Hofmann and Ian Rumbold. The late hour of the day and the warm weather notwithstanding, the feedback from the audience was most encouraging, with many offers of collaboration and assistance.
The ‘Proms’ project has been running since last December now, and was formally inaugurated at a meeting of the full team and advisory board on 10 December 2010. The time has now finally come to start our blog. Much work has been going on behind the scenes: we set up our project database with the Department of Digital Humanities; we have been busily collecting information on our sources and acquiring reproductions (later this year, the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music (DIAMM) team will travel to Modena and photograph the polyphonic manuscripts at the Cathedral); and several pilot case studies of manuscripts and printed editions are in various stages of completion which has taught us a great deal about the difficulties of coming to terms (literally!) with our project aims. We hope to publish the first results on this website in the course of 2012.
In this blog, we will aim to keep interested parties informed about the activities and progress of the project, and we warmly invite feedback on all its aspects.