OA 2024 Issue 05

The original version of this article – Collector interview: fragments of our medieval past – was first published on antiquestradegazette.com. Reproduced here with permission.


MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPTS ROBERT WEAVER Robert Weaver, Keeper of the Fellows’ Library at Dulwich College, recently spoke to the Antiques Trade Gazette about the medieval manuscript fragments that he has been collecting for close to 50 years.

In the summer we hosted an evening of Opera in the stunning Orchard Gardens of Dulwich College, thanks to WildArts. The OA Muslim Network was founded last year after Uzair Malida (10–17) approached the Alumni & Development team with the idea. It has since attracted members from several different year groups, with some even expressing an interest in helping to organise future events and support

SERVICE LEADERSHIP AWARDS This year the Old Alleynian Association launched a new set of Service Leadership awards which are given to students who have shown outstanding contributions in the fields of Selflessness, Sustainability and Inclusion. The first set of prizes went to four students who had shown dedication to and vision in a number of projects that stretched across the whole College community.

planned to buy it and split all the pages up for profit. It was highly decorated with 50 leaves and had already been split into three parts; I knew that it was the sort of thing that breakers buy. What is one great discovery you’ve made? A 16th-century printed medical text owned, according to an in- scription, by a Venetian doctor practising in Croatia, then a colony. I bought it on a hunch from a dealer specialising in racing books. Bound around it was a tatty sheet using an extraordinarily weird alphabet on vellum. The script turned out to be in Glagolitic, a cross between Cyrillic, Hebrew and other alphabets with loads of invent- ed box-type letters. At that time, it was banned by Venetian over- lords. The doctor clearly ripped the leaf from its parent manuscript in Croatia and took the newly bound book back to Venice, where it was taken as booty by Napoleon and landed up in Vienna at a Fran- ciscan Friary which was secularised in 1805. After that its history is obscure. Only four such items have been recorded at auction in Britain in the last 200 years, so its rarity is undoubted.

How did you get the collecting bug? I’ve always had it, starting with stamps and then moving onto second-hand books. I am an acquisitor by nature in the ‘hunter gatherer’ tradition. Why medieval manuscripts? I took a student intern job at the British Museum some 50 years ago and got hooked on their large displays of medieval complete manu- scripts in the Grenville Library. It was love at first sight. What is your focus within the field? Fragments. It started when I realised that I could afford to buy the single leaves and scraps from dealers and auction houses. When I was 22, I learnt that Sotheby’s had a department of medieval manuscripts where Christopher de Hamel was the expert, and my collection was started. Christopher, now a friend of mine, brings his guests to my house as a sort of museum piece and often says: ‘Everything in your house is cracked, Robert, even the owner.’ What was the first thing you bought? A Victorian scrapbook of cuttings from Italian choir books bought from Sotheby’s for £120 in 1977. A Victorian child had cut up a man- uscript (which of course is terrible but it’s what they did). I saved up to buy it and it’s still buried somewhere in my house. How many items are in your collection today and what sort of manuscripts are represented? I own around 200 leaves with three complete-ish books, including two 13th-century Psalters and a Book of Hours c.1400. Because of expense, I was originally confined to church stuff. Nonreligious me- dieval material is quite rare, but much was made for church services and for people to own a book of prayers. Most of mine are in Latin,

The Selflessness award went to Elyab Berhanu (16–23) for his work with the College’s Community Action programme. He was applauded for being a diligent, reliable and visionary Senior Prefect who sought out opportunities to develop our current provision in practical as well as theoretical ways. He was constant in his enthusiasm to be involved in our programme. The prize for Sustainability was awarded jointly to Alvaro de Calonje Carderera (18–23) and Max Meyohas (14–23). Alvaro was noted

the Islamic Society at the College. As a college community, from Junior School to Upper School, teaching and operational staff, we stood in silence, together – as one – for the annual Service of Remembrance to mark Armistice Day. The sense of community and the shared contemplative stillness were acutely poignant and deeply meaningful. In preparations for this day, all pupils from Years 3 to 13 had the pleasure of listening to Major Zach Faja (07–14) at their various remembrance assemblies. Major Faja spoke about values and sacrifice in the context of serving in the armed forces. Graham Ward CBE (63–70) began his year as President of the Old Alleynian Association on Thursday 9 November at the OAA dinner, when he was presented with the presidential chain by past president Nick Rundle (69–76). Nick had graciously agreed to step in for Will Lewis (54–65), who sadly could not be there to participate in the handover.

Do you ever sell items on? Not often. An occasional prune of material at the lower end is timely, but there again every fragment, however humble, has its own history uniting us back to a very different world.

for his energetic leadership on the Sustainability agenda, delivering thoughtful assemblies to DUCKS and the Junior School and working quietly with key stakeholders to make Eco Week a great success. Max was praised for his role as dynamic Vice President of the Climate Change Society. He had supported the sustainability agenda since early in Year 12 and worked with the Senior Prefect team to deliver assemblies to the Junior School and DUCKS for Eco Week 2023. Matthew Wu (19–23), who received the Inclusion award, was dynamic in leading the College’s Diversity and Inclusion programme, especially on LGBTQ+ but also across all strands and the further nine protected characteristics. Matthew ensured that good ideas were actioned and followed through with a clear strategy, ambition and compassion. A good listener and communicator, Matthew endeavoured to bring people with him as he co-ordinated and led multiple meetings and events, including the D&I Forum and school assemblies.

How does collecting inform your work? After a teaching career, my current role is to curate the antiquarian books at Dulwich College. I relish doing show-and-tell sessions for students, staff and the interested public, and frequently bring in relevant material from my collections to illustrate the history of writing. Collecting can be a secretive business for some, but I enjoy sharing what I am lucky enough to possess. What are your plans for the collection? Fragments are quite difficult to bequeath to institutions and mine aren’t really ‘special’. I suspect I’m going to do what’s called a Gon- court. The Goncourt brothers said, ‘all our wonderful

some are in French and Hebrew. They are mainly single leaves on vellum from 12th- to 15th-century church service books, which fell foul of the Reformation. I’m drawn to their gothic scripts and their fantastic scribal illumination. I’ve now got savings that I can put into buying a whole book of decorative material, but it’s nice to have a wide range of examples instead

collections in Paris are going to go back on the market to give everyone the pleasure of buying them again as we did’.

of just one.

Over the years it has been a common practice for dealers to take full works and split them up to make them more saleable. Given your interest in fragments is this something you support? No. Sadly, because of the Reformation and later because of dealers splitting them, many works have been cut up. For ethical reasons, I try not to buy if something has been cut up recently to my knowl- edge. I’ve got one 13th-century book that I saved from a dealer who

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