"Our Tools of Learning" : George Arthur Plimpton's Gifts to Columbia University

Medieval World: Quadrivium > Page 1

BOETHIUS, CA. 480 – CA. 525

De institutione musica

Leaf on parchment

Germany, second half of the 12th century

Plimpton MS 045

This 12th century fragment contains text from book 4, chapters 6 to 8, of Boethius’s textbook on music, written in 5 books. It was preserved by being used in a binding, as can be seen from the glue staining and sewing holes. Although Boethius is best remembered today as the author of the Consolation of Philosophy, he appears in Reisch’s Tower of Knowledge as an arithmetician. In this textbook, he introduced the three classifications of music: Musica mundana (music of the spheres or of the world); Musica humana (harmony of the human body and spiritual harmony); and Musica instrumentalis (instrumental music, including that of the human voice).

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton

Gradual Manuscript leaf on parchment

Siena, Italy, mid 14th century

Plimpton MS 040i

The Adoration of the Magi adorns the opening of the mass for the Epiphany (6 January); it’s painted in a style similar to that of Lippo Vanni. The musical notation, overshadowed in our modern eyes by the splendor of the illumination, was to its original users so important that a specialized scribe was frequently hired to copy it. He was a practioner of the art, not a theoretician, so he may not have followed the formal course of the trivium and the quadrivium to learn his music. But as far back as the year 789, Charlemagne issued an edit ordering that only adults could work on the production of liturgical books, no young people, no beginners, to avoid mistakes that might impede our proper praying to God.

Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Francis T. P. Plimpton in 1995

Processional Manuscript book on parchment

Flanders, 1351

Plimpton MS 034

The size of this book was dictated by its function: to provide music and text while processing during church services. Written by the scribe Johannes de Havere, the volume was intended for use in a convent of Franciscan women, since Folio 18 contains a historiated initial of St. Clare and a hymn for St. Francis.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


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