- The Making and Meaning of the Liber Floridus: A Study of the Original Manuscript, Ghent, University Library MS 92 by Albert Derolez
The Liber Floridus (now Ghent, University Library MS 92) has inspired powerful fascination in the Middle Ages and our own day. Compiled by Lambert of Saint-Omer, canon of the Church of Our Lady in the Flemish city, in the period 1111–21, this encyclopedia is preeminent for its remarkable illustrations, some of which are masterpieces of Romanesque drawing. But it is also unique for its proliferation of maps and circular diagrams and the considerable space it accords to poetry and literary narrative. The latter may surprise, given Lambert’s own limitations as a Latinist, and that is just one mystery among many. What was the codex’s original structure, before illustrations and even whole quires disappeared? The question is complicated by the fact that Lambert’s organizational logic is nothing like what we find in antique or scholastic encyclopedias, and he himself altered its structure more than once in the course of his work. Finally, what was Lambert’s relation to the great abbey of Saint-Bertin in the same town? Why would a canon at a neighboring church not have access to essential encyclopedic texts, present in the abbey’s library, until he had already worked on his own encyclopedia for years? Why, if any of the monks did take interest in his work, would he be so poorly supplied with writing materials that he would be obliged to compile an encyclopedia on unevenly [End Page 569] sized pieces of parchment and disused leaves from other books—and to make of his first draft his only fair copy?
No scholar working today knows the book as well or has come as close to answering these questions as Albert Derolez, who was for many years the curator of manuscripts and rare books at the Ghent University Library. Derolez’s 1968 edition (semi-diplomatic, semi-facsimile), and his dissertation, published in Dutch in 1978 and in English in 1998 (The Autograph Manuscript of the Liber Floridus: A Key to the Encyclopedia of Lambert of Saint-Omer, Corpus Christianorum, Autographa Medii Aevi, 4 [Turnhout: Brepols]), have until now provided the best access to the Liber Floridus. But the copies of the in-folio edition have themselves become rare books, and Derolez’s dissertation demanded from readers a high degree of prior familiarity with codicology before they could follow his argument about Lambert’s stages of compilation and revision.
Fortunately, the new millennium has brought three great contributions to Liber Floridus scholarship and teaching. The Ghent University Library has digitized the entire codex and made it available online, while an attractive affiliated site offers helpful introductory blurbs in Dutch, French, and English on the genre, the author, and the historical and intellectual context (www.liberfloridus.be/index_eng.html). The library has also made the 1968 edition available for download. Now, Derolez has published a new study, The Making and Meaning of the Liber Floridus, based on his dissertation but updated to reflect the latest scholarship and expanded with new notes providing the incipit of every text, 120 photographic plates, and extensive tables and indices.
Derolez has worked very hard to make this new book accessible. It begins with a selective bibliography. This is followed by two pages of “Preliminary Notes and Definitions,” a primer on quire structure and codicological terminology that also shows readers how to understand the diagrams he will use throughout the book, thus preparing students and general readers for what will follow. The introduction is divided into ten sections, beginning with a survey of scholarship and proceeding to treat Lambert, the autograph manuscript, its parchment, quire structure, layout, script, and illumination, and the text, its sources, structure, and table of contents. All this is dispatched in...