Glossar: Bildbeschrieb Cambridge

Bildbeschrieb Cambridge, Trinity Hall, MS 12

Cambridge Trinty Hall MS 12, 3v und 4r. Fotografie: Vera Kaspar

Christ’s Passion in a Trinity Hall manuscript

March 28, 2013 by Dominique Ruhlmann (Blog Trinity Hall)

One of the great treasures of the Old Library is a manuscript of Boethius’ “Consolation of Philosophy” translated into medieval French (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.12). This manuscript is illustrated throughout in a naive and lively style with images relating Boethius’ story.

These charming images provide a fascinating insight into the medieval mind and a unique view of the medieval world. Interspersed throughout the story are numerous full page illustrations of scenes from the Holy Scriptures and of the Chrisitan saints, including a number of images which tell the story of Christ’s Passion.

Christ’s entry into Jerusalem (MS.12, f. 14v). Image (c) Trinity Hall Cambridge

Although these holy images seem to have nothing to do with the “Consolation of Philosophy” there is in fact a strong connection. The medieval French scholar Professor Sylvia Huot has pointed out that earthly suffering is the theme of most of the holy images in the manuscript. Depictions of the suffering of Christ and the ordeals of the saints were included in order to reinforce the central theme of Boethius’s work.

Boethius was a senior government official who in 524AD, having offended the king, Theodoric the Great, was stripped of his wealth and offices, thrown into prison and condemned to death. Whilst awaiting execution he was visited in a dream by Lady Philosophy who dictated to him a treatise on the futility of pursuing worldly wealth and power.

The resurection (MS. 12, f. 34v). Image (c) Trinity Hall Cambridge

The central thesis of the Consolation of Philosophy is the assertion that lasting happiness is only to be found in a mind that is centred and philosophically recollected. The inclusion of images from the Scriptures in the Trinity Hall manuscript is in keeping with the medieval Christian interpretation of Boethius. These images of Christ and the saints are used to reinforce Boethius’s message of how to endure (and triumph over) the suffering of this world.

Christ at the right hand of God. Christ is depicted on the cross and is pointing to the wound in his side (MS.12 f. 98v). Image (c) Trinity Hall Cambridge

Boethius’s treatise was tremendously popular in medieval times and is still in print today. It was translated into many languages including into English by King Alfred the Great, Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth I amongst others.


The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius. (Penguin Books, 1999)

“The Chastelaine de Vergi at the crossroads of courtly, moral and devotional literature” by Sylvia Huot. Published in Philologies old and new, edited by J. Tasker Grimbert and C. J. Chase (Princeton, 2001)

Wikipedia for Boethius and the Consolation of Philosophy.


J. Keith Atkinson, “Miniatures as interpretation: Cambridge, Trinity Hall MS 12”, in: Parergon Volume 13, Number 2, January 1996 pp. 1-20 | 10.1353/pgn.1996.0013:

Miniatures as interpretation: Cambridge, Trinity Hall MS 12



The manuscript Cambridge, Trinity Hall 12 came to my attention while collecting information about the medieval French translations of Boethius’ Consolatio philosophiae, in preparation for establishing critical editions of those texts. This manuscript contains amongst other things a copy of the lengthy verse translation of the Consolatio, Translation X} a translation dating from the early 1380s in its original form, and dedicated to the young Charles VI. Translation X is itself a reworking of an earlier verse translation (IX) written by the Dominican, Renaut de Louhans. There are at least thirtyfive extant manuscript copies of X, dating from the late fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries, and at least two incunabula. Trinity Hall M S 12 is unlikely to play any major part in establishing a critical edition of this translation.2 Nevertheless, it has its own interest. This article is a series of brief reflections on Trinity Hall 12, not as it relates to the manuscript tradition, but in its o w nright,as an artefact of the early fifteenth century. The manuscript consists of eight quires of varying numbers of sheets, between four and thirteen per quire. Thefirstquire, ff. 1-8, is entirely in parchment, the other quires being a mixture of both paper and parchment; in general, a parchment sheet enfolds a varying number of paper sheets in each of the subsequent quires. A folio missing from the second quire has been * Full bibliographical details of these translations are to be found in N. H The Medieval Consolation of Philosophy: An Annotated Bibliography, New York and London, 1992. The system of numbering these translations that we have adopted is that of A. Thomas and M. Roques, ‘Traductions francaises de la Consolatio Philosophiae de Boece’, in Histoire litteraire de la France 37 (1938), 419-88, 54 47, rather than that of R. Dwyer, Boethian Fictions: Narratives in the Medieval French Versions ofthe Consolatio Philosophiae, Cambridge (Mass.), 1976. On their chronological sequence, see J. K. Atkinson, ‘Manuscript Context as a Guide to Generic Shift: Some Middle French Consolations’, in Medieval Codicology, Iconography, Literature and Translation. Studies for Keith Val Sinclair, Leide 1994, pp. 321-32. Critical editions of versions / (M. Bolton-Hall), / / (J. K. Atkinson) and IX (B. M. Atherton) are lodged as PhD theses at the University of Queensland Library. A n edition of V (J. K. Atkinson) should shortly appear in the series of the Beihefte ofZeitschriftfiir romanische Philologie. 2 A critical edition of the translation is being prepared by Marcel Noest as a doctoral dissertation at the University of Queensland; the Cambridge manuscript has been rejected as either a”base or a control manuscript. P A R E R G O N ns 13.2, January \996—Text, Scribe, Artefact 2 J. K. Atkinson inserted after the seventh quire, just after f. 106. The script is a quite rough hybrida currens of the fifteenth century; the ink is black and the texts are rubricated. The pages are ruled and the texts organised in ruled double columns varying in the number of lines per column from thirty-five to fiftytwo . At the end of virtually every verse, a pen line extends thefinalletter of the line to the edge of the column; usually this is with a simple straight line, but occasionally the lines are squiggled on alternate lines, leaving the intermediate lines with no fillers at all. Hence, for the first six lines of rubrics on f. lv b, there are three squiggled lines to six lines of rubrics, and for the final eight lines of rubrics on f. 2v a, there are four (Fig. I).3 The scribe, w h o signs himself simply as .G. at a couple of points in the manuscript and once as .G. dictus Lonielle, completed the transcription of the third and last text, La regale du monde or Le livre dez Mi. estas, on the Eve of the Purification or Candlemas, thefirstof February 1407 (new style). Judging by the script and some of the spelling features, the texts were all copied by the same scribe, w h o would appear to come from the eastern or north-eastern areas of France, Lorraine or the Wallon Region. […?]