Objects: Plate 1.66 shows a c. 1626 portrait of Robert Cotton with two pages from the Cotton Genesis; Plates 1.67-1.68 presents twenty-one charred fragments from eighteen folios of the Cotton Genesis—an illuminated manuscript copy of the Book of Genesis dating to the 5th or 6th century that was badly damaged in a fire that occurred in 1731—collated with Lambert Bos’s 1709 edition of the Codex Vaticanus. The text on Plate 1.66 attributes the portrait to Paul van Somer (c.1577-1621), but Vertue suspected that it was painted by Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661); Vertue’s hunch was likely correct (Van Der Meer 1965, 6). The portrait was purchased by James West (1703-1772) from the collection of Edward Harley, second Earl of Oxford and Mortimer (1689-1741). Vertue’s engraving of the portrait adds an inscribed monumental base and moves the text that floats in the black background of the original portrait to the base. Of the twenty-three pages depicted on Plates 1.66-1.68 from the Cotton Genesis, eight are missing today and the remaining fifteen are nearly illegible. Vertue’s engravings remain an invaluable resource for scholars who are interested in the Cotton Genesis, one of the oldest illuminated biblical texts known to exist and one of the most-prized items in the British Library (Cotton MS Otho b vi f26v).
Plate 1.66, Top Banner: Rob. Cottonus EQ. et Baronet.
Plate 1.66, Lower Left: Willielmus Cotton, tempore Henrici sexti duxit uxorem / Mariam filiam et haeredem Roberti Wesenham ex Scotorum regibus oriundi.
Robertus Cotton miles et baronettus, cujus haec effigies.
Plate 1.66, Lower Right: Vera effigies viri optimi Roberti Cotton militis et baronetti, nati A.D. 1572 die Februarii 20, et annum nunc agentis 54.
Qui / Antiquitatum fuit restitutor,
Familiae suae gloria.
Plate 1.66, Bottom: Hanc sui imaginem, a celebri pictore Paulo Van Somer accurate expressam, vir illustris amico suo Simonds D Ewes, equiti et baronetto, donasse dicitur, qui grati animi causa elogium adscribendum curavit. Ab hujus autem posteris una cum bibliotheca ejus honoratissimus comes Oxoniensis nuper defunctus comparavit; unde in manus Jacobi West armigeri devenit, qui jam possidet. Codex, cui sinistram imponit, est liber Geneseos, literis capitalibus, ut vocant, ante M.D. annos in membranis scriptus figurisque pulcherrimis illuminatus, quem inter pretiosissima sita κεψήλεια ipse reposuit; ubi funesto tandem incendio, quo bibliotheca illius eximia anno MDCCXXXI correpta fuit, praeter schedas quasdam flammis misere vitiatas prorsus interiit. Tanti autem doctissimus Grabe codicem illum aestimavit, ut vel integrum seorsim, vel saltem collationes ejus, quas cum Romana editione fecerat, se in lucem daturum in Prolegoni ad vol.i VTGr.e.3.16 promiserit. Quanta vero diligentia eum excusserit qui collationes istas in bibliotheca Bodleiana adhuc conservatas cum iis, quae in Bibliis polyglottis exhibentur, comparet, facile videbit. Ceterum unde evenerit, ut in clausulis, quas continet pictura, cum tres varias lectiones vir clarissimus notavit, quarta, licet maxime insignis, ΠΡΩΤΟС scil. pro πρωτότοκος, in schedulis ejus non compareat, nullus jam exquirendi locus relinquitur. Item in voce ΠΡΕСΡΕΙΑ pro πρεσβεῖα, num litera R pro B pictori, an scriptori, tribui debeat, res incerta pariter manebit. Historiam autem codicis quam angusta aeris spatia capere inequeunt omittere hic necesse est. Societas Antiquaria Lond. Tabulam hanc aeri incisam antiquarii eximii posteris consecrat an. 1744. G. Vertue Lond.
Note for readers of this edition: The verses transcribed below are the ones in a typeface or hand similar to Claude Garamond’s Grecs du Roi typeface. The first iteration, prefaced by Roman numerals, shows the line breaks in the text as typeset and the underlined portions in the text. The underlined portions of the text are part of the critical apparatus in Vetusta Monumenta, leading the readers’ attention to the surviving fragments of text in the illuminated manuscript of the titular codex Cottonianus that is reproduced in engravings on these plates. The second iteration, with standard headings in Arabic numerals, replicates the verse without the paratextual apparatus as seen in Vetusta Monumenta.
Plate 1.67, Top: Fragmentorum codicis Cottoniani libri Geneseos TABULA I
Plate 1.67, Fragment I:
C. XL. v. 19 Ἔτι
ἀπὸ σοῦ καὶ
ἐπὶ ξύλου, καὶ
ὄρνεα τοῦ οὐρα-
νοῦ τὰς σάρκας
σου ἀπὸ σοῦ.
v. 20 Ἐγένετο
δὲ ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ
τῇ τρίτῃ, ἡμέρα
γενέσεως ἦν Φαραώ,
καὶ ἐποίει πότον πᾶσι
τοῖς παισὶν αὐτοῦ· καὶ
ἐμνήσθη τῆς ἀρχῆς τοῦ
οἰνοχόου, καὶ τῆς ἀρχῆς τοῦ
σιτοποιοῦ ἐν μέσῳ τῶν παίδων αὐτοῦ.
[Gen. 40:19] ἔτι τριῶν ἡμερῶν καὶ ἀφελεῖ Φαραὼ τὴν κεφαλήν σου ἀπὸ σοῦ καὶ κρεμάσει σε ἐπὶ ξύλου, καὶ φάγεται τὰ ὄρνεα τοῦ οὐρανοῦ τὰς σάρκας σου ἀπὸ σοῦ.
[Gen. 40: 20] ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ, ἡμέρα γενέσεως ἦν Φαραώ, καὶ ἐποίει πότον πᾶσι τοῖς παισὶν αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἐμνήσθη τῆς ἀρχῆς τοῦ οἰνοχόου καὶ τῆς ἀρχῆς τοῦ σιτοποιοῦ ἐν μέσῳ τῶν παίδων αὐτοῦ.
Plate 1.67, Fragment II:
C. V v.
το, ὅτι μετέθηκεν αὐτὸν ὁ Θεός.
Καὶ ἔζησε Μαθου-
σάλα ἑπτὰ ἔτη καὶ
ἑξήκοντα καὶ ἑκατὸν καὶ
ἐγέννησε τὸν Λάμεχ. καὶ ἔζησε
Μαθουσάλα μετὰ τὸ γεννῆσαι αὐτὸν τὸν Λάμεχ
δύο καὶ ὀκτακόσια ἔτη καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱοὺς καὶ θυγατέρας.
[Gen. 5:24] καὶ εὐηρέστησεν Ἐνὼχ τῷ Θεῷ καὶ οὐχ εὑρίσκετο, ὅτι μετέθηκεν αὐτὸν ὁ Θεός.
[Gen. 5:25] Καὶ ἔζησε Μαθουσάλα ἑπτὰ ἔτη καὶ ἑξήκοντα καὶ ἑκατὸν καὶ ἐγέννησε τὸν Λάμεχ.
[Gen. 5:26] καὶ ἔζησε Μαθουσάλα μετὰ τὸ γεννῆσαι αὐτὸν τὸν Λάμεχ δύο καὶ ὀκτακόσια ἔτη καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱοὺς καὶ θυγατέρας.
Plate 1.67, Fragment III:
C. V. v.27, 28, 29. καὶ
ἐγένοντο πᾶσαι αἱ ἡμέραι
Μαθουσάλα, ἃς ἔζησεν, ἐν-
νέα καὶ ἑξήκοντα καὶ ἐννα-
κόσια ἔτη, καὶ ἀπέθανε.
Καὶ ἔζησε Λάμεχ ὀκτὼ
Kαὶ ὀγδοήκοντα καὶ ἑκατὸν
ἔτη· καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱόν.
Kαὶ ἐπωνόμασε τὸ ὄνομα
αὐτοῦ Νῶε λέγων· οὗτος
διαναπαύσει ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ
τῶν ἔργων ἡμῶν, καὶ ἀ-
πὸ τῶν λυπῶν τῶν χει-
ρῶν ἡμῶν, καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς
γῆς, ἧς κατηράσατο
Κύριος ὁ Θεός.
[Gen. 5:27] καὶ ἐγένοντο πᾶσαι αἱ ἡμέραι Μαθουσάλα, ἃς ἔζησεν, ἐννέα καὶ ἑξήκοντα καὶ ἐννακόσια ἔτη, καὶ ἀπέθανε.
[Gen. 5:28] Καὶ ἔζησε Λάμεχ ὀκτὼ καὶ ὀγδοήκοντα καὶ ἑκατὸν ἔτη καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱόν.
[Gen. 5: 29] καὶ ἐπωνόμασε τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Νῶε λέγων· οὗτος διαναπαύσει ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων ἡμῶν καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν λυπῶν τῶν χειρῶν ἡμῶν καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς, ἧς κατηράσατο Κύριος ὁ Θεός.
Plate 1.67, Fragment IV:
C. XIX v. 11 Tοὺς δὲ ἄνδρας
τοὺς ὄντας ἐπὶ τῆς θύρας
τοῦ οἴκου ἐπάταξαν ἐν ἀο-
ρασίᾳ ἀπὸ μικροῦ ἕως
μεγάλου· καὶ παρελύθησαν
ζητοῦντες τὴν θύραν.
[Gen. 19:11] τοὺς δὲ ἄνδρας τοὺς ὄντας ἐπὶ τῆς θύρας τοῦ οἴκου ἐπάταξαν ἐν ἀορασίᾳ ἀπὸ μικροῦ ἕως μεγάλου, καὶ παρελύθησαν ζητοῦντες τὴν θύραν.
Plate 1.67, Fragment V:
C. XVIII v 15 'Hρνήσατο
δὲ Σάρρα λέγουσα, Οὐκ
ἐγέλασα· ἐφοβήθη γὰρ.
Kαὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ· οὐχί,
[Gen. 18:15] ἠρνήσατο δὲ Σάρρα λέγουσα· οὐκ ἐγέλασα· ἐφοβήθη γὰρ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ· οὐχί, ἀλλὰ ἐγέλασας.
Plate 1.67, Fragment VI:
v. 30, 31.
'Eταράχθη δὲ Ιωσηφ
γὰρ τὰ ἔγκατα
αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τῷ
ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ, καὶ
ἐζήτει κλαῦσαι· εἰσελθὼν δὲ εἰς τὸ
ταμιεῗον ἔκλαυσεν ἐκεῗ.
Kαὶ νιψάμενος τὸ πρόσωπον,
ἐξελθὼν ἐνεκρατεύσατο καὶ
εἶπεν, Παράθετε ἄρτους
[Gen 43:30] ἐταράχθη δὲ Ιωσηφ συνεστρέφετο γὰρ τὰ ἔντερα αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐζήτει κλαῦσαι εἰσελθὼν δὲ εἰς τὸ ταμιεῗον ἔκλαυσεν ἐκεῗ
[Gen 43:31] καὶ νιψάμενος τὸ πρόσωπον ἐξελθὼν ἐνεκρατεύσατο καὶ εἶπεν παράθετε ἄρτους
Plate 1.67, Fragment VII:
C. XLIII v. 13 14 Kαὶ
ὑμῶν λάβετε καὶ ἀνα-
στάντες κατάβητε πρὸς τὸν
ἄνθρωπον. ὁ δὲ Θεός μου δῴη
ὑμῖν χάριν ἐναντίον τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, καὶ
ἀποστείλαι τὸν ἀδελφὸν ὑμῶν τὸν ἕνα καὶ
τὸν Βενιαμίν· ἐγὼ μὲν γὰρ καθάπερ ἠτέκνωμαι, ἠτέκνωμαι.
[Gen. 43:13] καὶ τὸν ἀδελφὸν ὑμῶν λάβετε καὶ ἀναστάντες κατάβητε πρὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον.
[Gen 43: 14] ὁ δὲ Θεός μου δῴη ὑμῖν χάριν ἐναντίον τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, καὶ ἀποστείλαι τὸν ἀδελφὸν ὑμῶν τὸν ἕνα καὶ τὸν Βενιαμίν· ἐγὼ μὲν γὰρ καθάπερ ἠτέκνωμαι, ἠτέκνωμαι.
Plate 1.67, Fragment VIII:
C. IX v. 22 Kαὶ
εἶδε Χὰμ ὁ
τὴν γύμνωσιν τοῦ πατρὸς αὐ-
τοῦ, καὶ ἐξελ-
τοῖς δυσὶν ἀδελφοῖς
[Gen. 9:22] καὶ εἶδε Χὰμ ὁ πατὴρ Χαναὰν τὴν γύμνωσιν τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐξελθὼν ἀνήγγειλε τοῖς δυσὶν ἀδελφοῖς αὐτοῦ ἔξω
Plate 1.67, Fragment IX:
το ἐπὶ τὰ δύο
ὀπισθοφανῶς, καὶ συν-
εκάλυψαν τὴν γύμνωσιν
τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν· καὶ τὸ
πρόσωπον αὐτῶν ὀπισθοφανῶς,
καὶ τὴν γύμνωσιν τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν οὐκ εἶδον.
[Gen. 9:23] καὶ λαβόντες Σὴμ καὶ ᾿Ιάφεθ τὸ ἱμάτιον ἐπέθεντο ἐπὶ τὰ δύο νῶτα αὐτῶν καὶ ἐπορεύθησαν ὀπισθοφανῶς καὶ συνεκάλυψαν τὴν γύμνωσιν τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν, καὶ τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτῶν ὀπισθοφανῶς, καὶ τὴν γύμνωσιν τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν οὐκ εἶδον.
Plate 1.67, Fragment X:
C. VIII v. 10, 11
Kαὶ ἐπισχὼν ἔτι
ἡμέρας ἑπτὰ ἑτέ-
ρας, πάλιν ἐξαπέστει-
λε τὴν περιστερὰν ἐκ τῆς
κιβωτοῦ· καὶ ἀνέστρεψε πρὸς
αὐτὸν ἡ περιστερὰ τὸ πρὸς ἑσπέ-
ραν, καὶ εἶχε φύλλον ἐλαί-
ας κάρφος ἐν τῷ στόματι
αὐτῆς· καὶ ἔγνω Νῶε,
ὅτι κεκόπακε τὸ
ὕδωρ ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς.
[Gen. 8:10] καὶ ἐπισχὼν ἔτι ἡμέρας ἑπτὰ ἑτέρας, πάλιν ἐξαπέστειλε τὴν περιστερὰν ἐκ τῆς κιβωτοῦ·
[Gen. 8:11] καὶ ἀνέστρεψε πρὸς αὐτὸν ἡ περιστερὰ τὸ πρὸς ἑσπέραν, καὶ εἶχε φύλλον ἐλαίας κάρφος ἐν τῷ στόματι αὐτῆς, καὶ ἔγνω Νῶε ὅτι κεκόπακε τὸ ὕδωρ ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς.
Plate 1.67, Bottom: Sumptibus Soc: Antiqu: Lond: 1744.
Plate 1.68, Top: Fragmentorum codicis Cottoniani libri Geneseos Tabula II
Plate 1.68, Fragment I:
C. XVI v. 4.5. Kαὶ εἰσῆλθε
πρὸς Ἄγαρ, καὶ συνέλαβε· καὶ
εἶδεν, ὅτι ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχει,
καὶ ἠτιμάσθη ἡ κυρία
[Gen. 16:4] καὶ εἰσῆλθε πρὸς Ἄγαρ, καὶ συνέλαβε. καὶ εἶδεν ὅτι ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχει, καὶ ἠτιμάσθη ἡ κυρία ἐναντίον αὐτῆς.
[Gen. 16: 5] εἶπε δὲ Σάρα πρὸς Ἅβραμ· ἀδικοῦμαι ἐκ σοῦ· ἐγὼ δέδωκα τὴν παιδίσκην μου εἰς τὸν κόλπον σου, ἰδοῦσα δὲ ὅτι ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχει, ἠτιμάσθην ἐναντίον αὐτῆς· κρίναι ὁ Θεὸς ἀνὰ μέσον ἐμοῦ καὶ σοῦ.
Plate 1.68, Fragment II:
C. XV v 13 Kαὶ ἐρρέθη πρὸς
γνώσῃ, ὅτι πάροι-
κον ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα
σου ἐν γῇ οὐκ ἰδίᾳ· καὶ
δουλώσουσιν αὐτοὺς, καὶ
κακώσουσιν αὐτοὺς, καὶ ταπει-
νώσουσιν αὐτοὺς τετρακόσια ἔτη.
[Gen. 15:13] καὶ ἐρρέθη πρὸς Ἅβραμ· γινώσκων γνώσῃ ὅτι πάροικον ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου ἐν γῇ οὐκ ἰδίᾳ, καὶ δουλώσουσιν αὐτοὺς καὶ κακώσουσιν αὐτοὺς καὶ ταπεινώσουσιν αὐτοὺς τετρακόσια ἔτη.
Plate 1.68, Fragment III:
C. XI v. 15, 16, 17 Kαὶ ἔζησε
Σαλὰ μετὰ τὸ γεννῆσαι αὐτὸν
τὸν ῞Εβερ τριακόσια τριά-
κοντα ἔτη, καὶ ἐγέννη-
σεν υἱοὺς καὶ θυγατέ-
ρας· καὶ ἀπέθανε. Καὶ
ἔζησεν ῞Εβερ ἑκατὸν
ἔτη, καὶ ἐγέννη-
σε τὸν Φαλέγ.
σεν υἱοὺς καὶ θυγα-
τέρας· καὶ ἀπέθανε.
[Gen. 11:15] καὶ ἔζησε Σαλὰ μετὰ τὸ γεννῆσαι αὐτὸν τὸν ῞Εβερ τριακόσια τριάκοντα ἔτη καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱοὺς καὶ θυγατέρας καὶ ἀπέθανε.
[Gen. 11:16] Καὶ ἔζησεν ῞Εβερ ἑκατὸν τριάκοντα τέσσαρα ετη καὶ ἐγέννησε τὸν Φαλέγ.
[Gen. 11: 17] καί ἔζησεν ῞Εβερ μετὰ τὸ γεννῆσαι αὐτὸν τὸν Φαλὲγ ἔτη διακόσια ἑβδομήκοντα καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱοὺς καὶ θυγατέρας καὶ ἀπέθανε.
Plate 1.68, Fragment IV:
C. XI v 29, 30 Kαὶ ἔλαβον Ἅ-
βραμ καὶ Ναχὼρ ἑαυτοῖς
γυναῖκας· ὄνομα τῇ γυναι-
κὶ Ἅβραμ Σάρα· καὶ ὄνομα
τῇ γυναικὶ Ναχὼρ Μελχά,
θυγάτηρ Ἀρρὰν, καὶ
πατὴρ Μελχὰ, καὶ
πατὴρ Ἰεσχά. Kαὶ ἦν
Σάρα στεῖρα, καὶ
[Gen. 11:29] καὶ ἔλαβον Ἅβραμ καὶ Ναχὼρ ἑαυτοῖς γυναῖκας· ὄνομα τῇ γυναικὶ Ἅβραμ Σάρα, καὶ ὄνομα τῇ γυναικὶ Ναχὼρ Μελχά, θυγάτηρ Ἀρρὰν καὶ πατὴρ Μελχὰ καὶ πατὴρ ᾿Ιεσχά.
[Gen. 11:30] καὶ ἦν Σάρα στεῖρα καὶ οὐκ ἐτεκνοποίει.
Plate 1.68, Fragment V:
XV. v. 1, 2
βρῆ, οὗτοι λήψον-
σου· ὁ μι-
γει δὲ Ἅ-
ριε, τί μοι
ἐγὼ δὲ ἀπο-
ὁ δὲ υἱὸς
[Gen. 14:24] πλὴν ὧν ἔφαγον οἱ νεανίσκοι καὶ τῆς μερίδος τῶν ἀνδρῶν τῶν συμπορευθέντων μετ᾿ ἐμοῦ, Ἐσχώλ, Αὐνάν, Μαμβρῆ, οὗτοι λήψονται μερίδα.
[Gen. 15:1] μετὰ δὲ τὰ ρήματα ταῦτα ἐγενήθη ρῆμα Κυρίου πρὸς Ἅβραμ ἐν ὁράματι, λέγων· μὴ φοβοῦ Ἅβραμ, ἐγὼ ὑπερασπίζω σου· ὁ μισθός σου πολὺς ἔσται σφόδρα.  λέγει δὲ Ἅβραμ· δέσποτα Κύριε, τί μοι δώσεις; ἐγὼ δὲ ἀπολύομαι ἄτεκνος· ὁ δὲ υἱὸς Μασὲκ τῆς οἰκογενοῦς μου, οὗτος Δαμασκὸς Ἐλιέζερ.
Plate 1.68, Fragment VI:
C. XVI vers.
6, 7, 8. ῏Ειπε
δὲ Ἅβραμ πρὸς Σά-
ραν, Ἰδοὺ ἡ
σου ἐν ταῖς
ὡς ἄν σοι
ρα, καὶ ἀ-
τῆς. Εὗρε δὲ
Κυρίου ἐπὶ τῆς
πηγῆς τοῦ ὕδατος ἐν
τῇ ἐρήμῳ, ἐπὶ τῆς
πηγῆς ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ Σούρ.
Kαὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ ὁ ἄγγελος
Κυρίου, Ἄγαρ παιδίσκη Σά-
ρας, πόθεν ἔρχῃ καὶ ποῦ πο-
[Gen. 16:6] εἶπε δὲ Ἅβραμ πρὸς Σάραν· ἰδοὺ ἡ παιδίσκη σου ἐν ταῖς χερσί σου· χρῶ αὐτῇ ὡς ἄν σοι ἀρεστόν ᾖ. καὶ ἐκάκωσεν αὐτὴν Σάρα, καὶ ἀπέδρα ἀπὸ προσώπου αὐτῆς.
[Gen. 16:7] Εὗρε δὲ αὐτὴν ἄγγελος Κυρίου ἐπὶ τῆς πηγῆς τοῦ ὕδατος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, ἐπὶ τῆς πηγῆς ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ Σούρ.
[Gen. 16:8] καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ ὁ ἄγγελος Κυρίου. Ἄγαρ, παιδίσκη Σάρας, πόθεν ἔρχῃ καὶ ποῦ πορεύῃ;
Plate 1.68, Fragment VII:
C. XII v. 5, 6. Kαὶ ἔλαβεν Ἅβραμ Σάραν
τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὸν Λὼτ υἱὸν τοῦ
ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντα τὰ ὑπάρ-
χοντα αὐτῶν, ὅσα ἐκτήσαντο,
καὶ πᾶσαν ψυχήν, ἣν ἐκτή-
σαντο ἐκ Χαρράν, καὶ
ναι εἰς γῆν Χαναάν.
Ἅβραμ τὴν γῆν εἰς τὸ
Συχέμ, ἐπὶ τὴν
οἱ δὲ Χανα-
[Gen. 12:5] καὶ ἔλαβεν Ἅβραμ Σάραν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὸν Λὼτ υἱὸν τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντα τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτῶν, ὅσα ἐκτήσαντο, καὶ πᾶσαν ψυχήν, ἣν ἐκτήσαντο ἐκ Χαρράν, καὶ ἐξήλθοσαν πορευθῆναι εἰς γῆν Χαναάν.
[Gen. 12:6] καὶ διώδευσεν Ἅβραμ τὴν γῆν εἰς τὸ μῆκος αὐτῆς ἕως τοῦ τόπου Συχέμ, ἐπὶ τὴν δρῦν τὴν ὑψηλήν· οἱ δὲ Χαναναῖοι τότε κατῴκουν τὴν γῆν.
Plate 1.68, Fragment VIII:
C. XI. v. 8 Kαὶ διέ-
σπειρεν αὐτοὺς Κύ-
ριος ἐκεῖθεν ἐπὶ
τῆς γῆς, καὶ ἐπαύ-
τες τὴν πόλιν
καὶ τὸν πύρ-
[Gen. 11:8] καὶ διέσπειρεν αὐτοὺς Κύριος ἐκεῖθεν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον πάσης τῆς γῆς, καὶ ἐπαύσαντο οἰκοδομοῦντες τὴν πόλιν καὶ τὸν πύργον.
Plate 1.68, Fragment IX:
C. XI v. 12, 13. Καὶ ἔζησεν
Ἀρφαξὰδ ἑκατὸν τριάκον-
τα πέντε ἔτη, καὶ ἐγέννησε
τὸν Καϊνᾶν. καὶ ἔζησεν
Ἀρφαξὰδ μετὰ τὸ γεννῆ-
σαι αὐτὸν τὸν Καϊνᾶν
υἱοὺς καὶ θυγα-
τέρας· καὶ ἀπέ-
[Gen. 11:12] Καὶ ἔζησεν Ἀρφαξὰδ ἑκατὸν τριάκοντα πέντε ἔτη καὶ ἐγέννησε τὸν Καϊνᾶν.
[Gen. 11:13] καὶ ἔζησεν Ἀρφαξὰδ μετὰ τὸ γεννῆσαι αὐτὸν τὸν Καϊνᾶν ἔτη τετρακόσια καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱοὺς καὶ θυγατέρας καὶ ἀπέθανε.
Plate 1.68, Fragment X:
C. XIV. v. 15, 16
Kαὶ ἐπάταξεν αὐτοὺς καὶ
κατεδίωξεν αὐτοὺς ἕως Χοβά, ἥ
ἐστιν ἐν ἀριστερᾷ Δαμασκοῦ. Kαὶ ἀπέ-
στρεψε πᾶσαν τὴν ἵππον Σοδόμων, καὶ
Λὼτ τὸν ἀδελφιδοῦν αὐτοῦ ἀπέστρεψε, καὶ
πάντα τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ, καὶ τὰς γυναῖ-
κας καὶ τὸν λαόν.
[Gen. 14:15] καὶ ἐπάταξεν αὐτοὺς καὶ κατεδίωξεν αὐτοὺς ἕως Χοβά, ἥ ἐστιν ἐν ἀριστερᾷ Δαμασκοῦ.
[Gen. 14:16] καὶ ἀπέστρεψε πᾶσαν τὴν ἵππον Σοδόμων, καὶ Λὼτ τὸν ἀδελφιδοῦν αὐτοῦ ἀπέστρεψε καὶ πάντα τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ, καὶ τὰς γυναῖκας καὶ τὸν λαόν.
Plate 1.68, Fragment XI:
C. XIV. v. 17
ἀπὸ τῆς κο-
πῆς τοῦ Χο-
καὶ τῶν βα-
εἰς τὴν κοι-
λάδα τοῦ Σα-
βύ τοῦτο ἦν
[Gen. 14:17] Ἐξῆλθε δὲ βασιλεὺς Σοδόμων εἰς συνάντησιν αὐτῷ, μετὰ τὸ ὑποστρέψαι αὐτὸν ἀπὸ τῆς κοπῆς τοῦ Χοδολλογομὸρ, καὶ τῶν βασιλέων τῶν μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ, εἰς τὴν κοιλάδα τοῦ Σαβύ τοῦτο ἦν τὸ πεδίον τῶν βασιλέων.
Plate 1.68, Bottom: Sumptibus Soc: Antiqu: Lond: 1744.
Plate 1.66, Top Banner: Robert Cotton, Knight and Baronet
Plate 1.66, Lower Left: William Cotton, at the time of Henry the Sixth, married Mary, daughter and heir of Robert Wesenham, descended from the kings of the Scots.
Cotton – Knightlie
Cotton – Paris
Cotton – Harvie
Cotton – Shirlie
Robert Cotton soldier and baronet, whose likeness this is.
Plate 1.66, Lower Right: An accurate portrait of an exceptional man, Robert Cotton, soldier and baronet, born AD 1572, February 20 and now 54 years old, who was a restorer of antiquities, an example of humanity, a trove of knowledge, a glory to his family.
Plate 1.66, Bottom: The illustrious man is said to have given this portrait of himself, accurately rendered by the famous painter Paul van Somer, to his friend, the knight and baronet Simonds d’Ewes, who had an inscription added out of gratitude. The most noble Earl of Oxford, recently deceased, obtained [it] from [d’Ewes’s] descendants together with his library; then [the portrait] came into the hands of James West, Esquire, who now possesses it. The codex on which he lays his left hand is the book of Genesis, written on parchment in capital letters, as they call [them], one thousand five hundred years ago, and illuminated with the most beautiful pictures, which he himself kept among his most precious treasuries [sita κεψήλεια]; where, eventually, because of a fatal fire which swept through his exceptional library in 1731, it was utterly destroyed except for some pages sadly damaged by the flames. However, the most learned [John Ernest] Grabe judged that codex to be of such worth that he promised (in Prolegoni ad vol.i.V.T.Gr.e.3.16) to publish either the entire codex by itself or at least its collations, which he had made with the Roman edition1. Whoever compares [Grabe’s] collations still preserved in the Bodleian library with those which are shown in the Polyglot Bible will easily see how carefully he examined it. However, no space remains for an inquiry now into how it happened that when the most brilliant man noted three variant readings in the passages [clausulae] included in this portrait, a fourth, though especially conspicuous—that is, ΠΡΩΤΟС [protos, first], instead of πρωτότοκος [protokokos, first-born]—does not appear in his papers2. Likewise, in the case of the word ΠΡΕСΡΕΙΑ, [which is given] instead of πρεσβεῖα [presbeia, delegation], the matter will remain equally uncertain whether the letter R, [which is given] in place of a B, ought to be attributed to the painter or to the [ancient] scribe. Moreover, it is here necessary to forgo a history of the codex, which the narrow dimensions of the copper plate are unable to accommodate. The Society of Antiquaries of London dedicate this plate, engraved in copper in 1744, to the posterity of a remarkable antiquarian.
: The “Roman edition” is the 1587 text of another Septuagint manuscript, the Codex Vaticanus, published by Pope Sixtus V. in Rome. Ward goes on to reveal that members of the Society consulted Grabe’s Cotton/Vatican collations in manuscript, and they were eventually published in 1778 in an edition by Henry Owen. Grabe himself also edited the Codex Alexandrinus, another complete Septuagint manuscript located in London.
: Zoom in on the portrait (Plate 1.66) to see these words on the open pages of the book (at left).
Plate 1.67, Top: Fragments of the Book of Genesis in the Cottonian Codex, Table I
Plate 1.67, Fragment I:1 [Gen. 40:19] Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee.
[Gen. 40: 20] And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants.
Plate 1.67, Fragment II: [Gen. 5:24] And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.
[Gen. 5:25] And Methuselah lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech:
[Gen. 5:26] And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years, and begat sons and daughters:
Plate 1.67, Fragment III: [Gen. 5:27] And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died.
[Gen. 5:28] And Lamech lived an hundred eighty and two years, and begat a son:
[Gen. 5:29] And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD hath cursed.
Plate 1.67, Fragment IV: [Gen. 19:11] And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door.
Plate 1.67, Fragment V: [Gen. 18:15] Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.
Plate 1.67, Fragment VI: [Gen 43:30] And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there.
[Gen 43: 31] And he washed his face, and went out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread.
Plate 1.67, Fragment VII: [Gen. 43:13] Take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man:
[Gen 43: 14] And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.
Plate 1.67, Fragment VIII: [Gen. 9:22] And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
Plate 1.67, Fragment IX: [Gen. 9:23] And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness.
Plate 1.67, Fragment X: [Gen. 8:10] And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark;
[Gen. 8:11] And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.
Plate 1.68, Top: Fragments of the Book of Genesis in the Cottonian Codex, Table II
Plate 1.68, Fragment I: [Gen. 16:4] And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.
[Gen. 16:5] And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee.
Plate 1.68, Fragment II: [Gen. 15:13] And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
Plate 1.68, Fragment III: [Gen. 11:15] And Salah lived after he begat Eber four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters and he died.
[Gen. 11:16] And Eber lived four and thirty years, and begat Peleg:
[Gen. 11:17] And Eber lived after he begat Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters and he died.
Plate 1.68, Fragment IV: [Gen. 11:29] And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.
[Gen. 11:30] But Sarai was barren; she had no child.
Plate 1.68, Fragment V: [Gen. 14:24] Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.
[Gen. 15:1] After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
[Gen.15:2] But Abram said, Sovereign LORD, what will thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?
Plate 1.68, Fragment VI: [Gen. 16:6] But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.
[Gen. 16:7] And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur.
[Gen 16:8] And he said, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go?
Plate 1.68, Fragment VII: [Gen. 12:5] And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.
[Gen. 12:6] And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.
Plate 1.68, Fragment VIII: [Gen. 11:8] So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city and the tower.
Plate 1.68, Fragment IX: [Gen. 11:12] And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah:
[Gen. 11:13] And Arphaxad lived after he begat Salah four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters and he died.
Plate 1.68, Fragment X: [Gen. 14:15] And he smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus.
[Gen. 14:16] And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.
Plate 1.68, Fragment XI: [Gen. 14:17] And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale.
: All translations here are from the King James Version.
Original Explanatory Account: Click here to read the original explanatory account for Plate 1.66-1.68.
Preparatory Drawings: Click here to see the Preparatory Drawings for Plates 1.66-1.68.
Commentary by Crystal B. Lake and Benjamin Wiechmann: Sir Robert Bruce Cotton was well-known as one of the early luminaries in English antiquarianism, and he remains famous today for the collection of manuscripts he amassed throughout his lifetime. Like the other portraits of “modern” antiquaries included in Vetusta Monumenta (Plates 1.45, 2.3, and 2.28), the portrait of Cotton signals the overall interest the print series takes in crafting an august institutional history for the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL). This aspect of the print is enhanced by the following two plates that depict fragments from the manuscript now commonly referred to as the Cotton Genesis, an illuminated manuscript copy of the Book of Genesis written in Greek and thought to have been produced in Egypt sometime during the 5th or 6th century, one of the oldest illustrated biblical texts known to exist. Vertue's rendering of these manuscript fragments testifies to the antiquaries’ efforts to collect as well as to rescue ancient artifacts that were especially fragile and at risk of being lost forever.1
Plates 1.66-1.68 join Plates 1.21-1.26, 1.28-1.33, 1.62, and 2.6 of Vetusta Monumenta in the category of what we might now describe as manuscript facsimiles. Doubtless, fragments from the Cotton Genesis were selected for inclusion in the print series for several pragmatic reasons. They were depicted in the original portrait that Vertue copied for Plate 1.66; they were among the oldest manuscripts in Cotton’s collection; and they had been substantially damaged in the catastrophic Ashburnham House fire of 1731 that destroyed nearly twenty percent of Cotton’s collection. Although Andrew Prescott describes the Genesis manuscript as Cotton’s “pride and joy,” it was not necessarily considered to be the most important manuscript in Cotton’s Library in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (1997, 392). The choice to feature fragments from the Cotton Genesis in Vetusta Monumenta was therefore pragmatic—insofar as doing so made a manuscript that was largely of interest to specialists available for a wider public—but also savvy: a way of construing seventeenth-century antiquarianism as the unbiased collecting of archival sources and physical remains. Where Cotton’s Library had previously been understood as an archive of controversial political documents, Plates 1.66-1.68 rebranded Cotton as a rescuer of ancient monuments that were valuable because they were old and had widespread cultural significance. In so doing, these prints also celebrated those members of the eighteenth-century SAL who, like Cotton, cared for, preserved, and studied such treasures.
Constructing an Institutional History for the Society
Cotton began amassing his collection of manuscripts in the 1580’s, following in the footsteps of John Leland (c. 1503-1552), John Aubrey (1626-1697), Matthew Parker (1504-1575), and William Camden (1551-1623) in attempting to rescue the manuscripts that had been dispersed by Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Cotton was a student of Camden’s, and he joined Camden at the meetings of the first informal SAL that began in the late 1580s. After his father died, Cotton became a more active participant in the fledgling society, and he signed the petition sent to Elizabeth I (c. 1602) requesting that the society be formally recognized and that his own library be merged with the Queen’s to establish a national library.
Stuart Handley surmises that this petition went nowhere because it
The history of the SAL prepared by Richard Gough (1735-1809) for the first issue of Archaeologia confirms that such was the case. Gough reports that as soon as James I ascended the throne in 1603, he “dissolved” the nascent SAL because he was “alarmed for the arcana of his Government,” and although the antiquaries continued to meet and to collaborate, they did so informally (1770, xv).
seems probable that ministers realized the growing potential of antiquarian research to cause them political difficulties, especially in a parliament where debate was dominated by the use of precedent to decide the questions of the day. Similar fears among those in power may have hastened the demise of the Society of Antiquaries, the last recorded meeting of which took place in 1607. (2011)
Despite James I’s “alarm” over the threat that antiquaries like Cotton presented to his royal prerogative, Cotton—who was elected to parliament for Newton in 1601 and again for Huntingdonshire in 1604—aligned himself with the king’s favorite, Henry Howard, first Earl of Northampton, and used his archival collections to advance the king’s interests. James knighted Cotton in 1603 in recognition of these efforts. Throughout the next decade, Cotton continued to collect more manuscripts and make them available for antiquaries as well as politicians to consult. Between 1585 and 1631, he gathered what is “arguably the most important collection of manuscripts ever assembled in Britain by a private individual” (Wright 1997, i). Cotton himself produced a range of research during this period: on the Gunpowder Plot, on duels and their legality, on how to raise royal revenue by creating and selling baronetcies, and on the need to imprison Jesuits who had come to England in order to sow Catholic insurrection.
Cotton lost his bid for reelection to parliament in 1614, and in 1615 he was embroiled in a scandal at court. Accused of forging correspondence, Cotton was imprisoned in 1615 but released and pardoned in 1616. For the next several years, Cotton kept a low profile. In 1622, however, he moved himself and his Library to Cotton House, conveniently located next to the House of Commons. In 1627, two years after Charles I ascended the throne, an antiquarian tract that Cotton had written in 1614, A Short View of the Life and Reign of King Henry III, was published without his permission and embroiled him once again in scandal. Cotton’s Short View, which was based on research he’d done in his own collections, moralized about the dangers of kings who allowed favorites at court to make policy decisions. Cotton claimed that he’d had James I, and not Charles I, in mind as a foil for Henry III when he wrote the tract in 1614, but Charles I was taken to be the target of Cotton’s critique in 1627. Dismayed by the absolutism that had come to characterize the Stuart monarchy, Cotton published a new tract under his own name, also based on manuscripts in his Library: The Dangers Wherein the Kingdom Now Standeth (1628). That tract advised Charles to return to an earlier model of kingship, one in which the king enjoyed a friendlier, more collaborative relationship with parliament.
Charles I was displeased. In November 1629, Cotton was accused of stealing state papers and imprisoned. Charles ordered that Cotton’s Library be closed. As Handley puts it, Cotton “paid the price for allowing his collections to be used for the production of arguments and precedents deemed detrimental to royal interests” (2011). In 1630, Cotton was once again pardoned, but he was not allowed to access his library. Cotton died in 1631, purportedly from heartbreak over being kept from his manuscripts.
The portrait shown in Plate 1.66 was originally painted sometime around late 1625 or early 1626—right before Cotton’s Short View and The Dangers Wherein the Kingdom Now Standeth raised the ire of Charles I. On the print, Vertue attributes the painting to Paul van Somer, but Gay Van Der Meer has traced Vertue’s conflicting notes on the portrait (1965). At one point, Vertue suspected that it was by Cornelius Johnson, and Van Der Meer convincingly concludes that this was the correct attribution. Cotton presented the portrait to his friend, Sir Simonds d’Ewes (1602-1650), who had a eulogy added to the painting that helps to date it. The eulogy attests that Cotton was fifty-four years old when the portrait was painted, which means it would have had to have been done in 1625 or 1626, after van Somer had died (Van Der Meer 1965, 5-8). When d’Ewes died, his collections went to Edward Harley, the second Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, who was also a patron of Vertue’s. James West purchased the portrait from Harley’s estate, as Vertue’s inscription on the print records.
The portrait of Cotton is one of four engraved portraits of antiquaries included in Vetusta Monumenta (see also Plates 1.45, 2.3, and 2.28). Collectively, these four portraits register Vetusta Monumenta's investment in establishing an institutional history for the SAL alongside as well as through the ancient monuments that individual antiquaries collected, studied, and preserved. Whereas Vertue embellished his engravings of Thomas Tanner’s and George Holmes’s portraits with frames alluding to their antiquarian research (Plates 1.45 and 2.3, respectively), he reproduced Cotton’s portrait largely as it already existed (Van Der Meer 1965, 4).2 Vertue added the monumental base below the portrait and moved the eulogizing text there from its original location (on the left and the right around Cotton’s head). Vertue also combined Cotton’s coat of arms and his emblem into one icon and moved them from their original location (above the text around Cotton’s head) to the center of the monumental base.
By moving the text, coat of arms, and emblem from the background that surrounded Cotton’s head and shoulders in the painting, Vertue’s engraving emphasized Cotton’s face. Vertue’s engraving is remarkably more detailed than the original in its depiction of Cotton’s visage. On Plate 1.66, Cotton stares steadfastly at us from within an open field; he looks a little older and a little friendlier than he does in the original portrait. The placement of Cotton’s hands in Vertue’s print mirrors the placement of Cotton’s hands on the original, but Vertue’s redesigns highlight the placement of Cotton’s right hand on his chest as a gesture of sincerity. In the original portrait, Cotton’s left hand also rests on his copy of the Cotton Genesis, as it does here in Vertue’s engraving. In the painting, however, Cotton’s left hand seems to touch the manuscript, deep in shadow, more carelessly and unconsciously—as if his hand rests there almost by accident. In Plate 1.69, however, Cotton touches the brightly-lit Genesis with more confidence. He appears as he does in the original portrait, seeming to protect the manuscript by keeping just his fingertips on the document, but at the same time, Cotton also appears in the engraving for Vetusta Monumenta to be insisting on the monumental importance of the manuscript that he had acquired and preserved.
Notably, the other three portraits were occasioned by the deaths of the antiquaries that they commemorated; Thomas Tanner died in 1735, and Plate 1.45 was published that same year; George Holmes died in 1749, and Plate 2.3 was published in 1750; Charles Lyttelton died in 1768, and Plate 2.28 was published in 1770. The Cotton portrait stands as the only portrait of the four commemorating an antiquary who had been personally unknown to members of the SAL at the time of the print’s engraving. When the print was published in 1744, Cotton had been dead for more than a century. In Plate 1.66, Cotton is a sincere and accomplished antiquary, free from political scandals —and the print symbolically adopts Cotton as a founding father of the SAL and a hero for the cause of archival recovery and collecting.
The Sad Fate of the Cottonian Library
Plates 1.67-1.68 complement the narrative that the portrait on Plate 1.66 suggests—of Cotton as a heroic antiquary—by depicting the charred fragments of the medieval manuscript now commonly described as the Cotton Genesis that had been badly damaged in the Ashburnham House fire of 1731. The unsinged copy of the Cotton Genesis that appears in the portrait is inevitably juxtaposed with the twenty-one charred fragments that feature exclusively on the following two plates. Taken as a whole, the prints remind viewers that not only might such manuscripts have been lost if Cotton had not saved them in the first place but also that they remained endangered for the future in the eighteenth-century present.
At the time of Cotton’s death, his Library contained about 950 volumes of manuscripts. Most of these were state papers, Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, and biblical texts. Many were one of a kind, and today we remember Cotton for having preserved the Cotton Genesis, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and the only known copy of Beowulf. Cotton’s descendants continued to care for the Library throughout the English Civil Wars and the Restoration, and to allow it to be consulted by antiquaries and politicians alike. Cotton’s son, John Cotton, requested that the considerable expense of keeping up the Library be taken over by the state after his death. In 1701, an Act for the Better Settling and Preserving of the Library Kept In...Cotton-House...for the Benefit of the Publick was passed.
The Act declared that Cotton’s Library was “of great use and service for the knowledge and preservation of our constitution both in Church and State” and ensured that it would be cared for and maintained in the future by a Board of Trustees (1701, 1). Its situation remained tenuous, however, perhaps because it had been such a site of controversy during Cotton’s own lifetime (Lake 2020, 115-17). The House of Lords petitioned the Queen to renovate Cotton House in 1706; the room that housed the manuscripts “threatened at any moment to fall down” (Miller 1973, 32). Another report in 1707 said that the Library was now “ruinous” and that “very little [had] been done…to make the said Library useful to the Publick” since 1701 (quoted in Miller 1973, 33). The Library was moved from Cotton House to a rented house in Essex in 1722. The Library was moved again in 1730 to Ashburnham House—an unfortunate name if there ever was one—because the rent at Essex had been raised and some worried that it was a fire hazard.
Richard Bentley, the official keeper of the Library, had turned the daily care of the Cotton Library at Ashburnham House over to his son, the other Richard Bentley. Bentley was visiting his son at Ashburnham House on the evening of 23 October 1731; perhaps, he confessed, he had forgotten to turn off the “blower” on one of the stoves before he went to bed (Keynes 1996, 113). A chimney fire ignited, and the Bentleys were roused from their sleep by the smoke. Bentley famously ran back into the flames to save the Codex Alexandrinus.
As the subsequent report of the fire explained, 114 volumes of manuscripts were “totally destroyed” and another 98 were “considerably damaged” (Report 1732: 4). Prescott notes, however, that the damage was hard to quantify (1997, 392). Imperfect cataloguing before the fire has meant that we do not know, exactly, what was in the Library. Moreover, the 1732 report couldn’t anticipate the long-term damage that many of the manuscripts would sustain as they deteriorated from the damage they incurred not only from the fire and the smoke but also from the water used to put the fire out. Three years after the Cotton Library was moved to the British Museum in 1753, forming one of the museum’s core collections, Matthew Maty and Henry Rimius prepared another report on the conditions of Cotton’s manuscripts: “The great humidity” and the animal fat “which the fire extracted from the volumes wrote on vellum” had caused the “edges” of the manuscripts to curl up, “defaced” the writing on them, and “afforded both lodging and food to numberless shoals of worms and other insects” (quoted in Hooper 1777, xiv). In 1744, when Vertue engraved the Cotton Genesis for Vetusta Monumenta, the fire and the damage it had wrought were still on the minds of members of the SAL; they referred to the fire in the minutes documenting the process of drawing and engraving these prints (SAL Minutes IV.192), and when Vertue engraved these prints, he added text to the monumental base on Cotton’s portrait documenting the “fatal” Ashburnham House fire that had “utterly destroyed” the Cotton Genesis except for a few pages which were still, however, “sadly damaged by the flames.”
Finding and Saving the Cotton Genesis
The Cotton Genesis was one of the most badly damaged manuscripts in the Ashburnham House fire, and it has since continued to deteriorate. As Kurt Weitzmann and Herbert L. Kessler explain in their exhaustive history of the manuscript, “the Cotton Genesis must once have been one of the richest and most splendid biblical manuscripts in existence,” and “of all biblical manuscripts, none had exerted a wider influence during the Middle Ages than the Cotton Genesis” (1987 ix). The precise date that Cotton acquired the manuscript is unknown, and two competing accounts about who gave the manuscript to him exist in the historical record. One account—included in the flyleaf for the manuscript and written in the hand of Richard James, Cotton’s librarian after 1624—claimed that it was given to Cotton by the scholar and collector, John Fortescue, who got it from Elizabeth I.3James’s account on the flyleaf also maintains that the manuscript was originally a gift from two Greek bishops to Henry VIII and that the bishops said it had once upon a time been owned by the early and legendary Christian scholar, Origen.
This was the history of the manuscript known to the SAL and recorded in the explanatory account written for Plates 1.66-1.68 by John Ward.4 Ward’s essay reproduces James’s flyleaf history of the Cottton Genesis as it was transcribed in collations prepared by John Ernest Grabe (1666-1711) and goes to some pains to insist that Cotton’s Genesis was really old—at least as old as versions of the Septaguint known as the Vienna Genesis and the Codex Vaticanus.
However, another description of Cotton’s Genesis—this one from 1637 and written by Nicholas Claude Fabri de Peiresc—contradicted James’s flyleaf history of the manuscript and claimed that James I had given the manuscript to Cotton as a personal gift (Weitzmann and Kessler 1987, 4). This history of the manuscript is supported by a date, 1575, and the signature of Thomas Wakefield that can also be found on the back of the Cotton Genesis; as James Carley explains, Wakefield signed books that he owned, and it’s therefore likely that Wakefield gave or loaned the book to Henry VIII, which means that the book was never a gift from two mysterious bishops who had brought it to England from Greece (2002, 251). Weitzmann and Kessler conclude that there isn’t much that can be concluded about when, exactly, the manuscript was brought to England, why, or how Cotton acquired it.5 In any case, the assertion that the manuscript once belonged to Origen, repeated by Ward in the explanatory account, can now definitively be debunked. The manuscript isn’t old enough for that story to be true. All that scholars can say authoritatively is that the codex was in England by 1575 and that it was in Cotton’s collection by 1611, when a letter from Henry Savile to Cotton reports that Savile had borrowed the manuscript; in 1616, Cotton lent it out once again to Patrick Young (Carley 2002, 247).
In 1618, however, the Cotton Genesis went for a while to Paris. The French antiquary Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc sent a letter to Camden in 1617 begging him to ask Cotton if he would lend him the Genesis manuscript; Peiresc was then preparing to publish an edition of The Septuagint, the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew. Cotton, ever generous with his resources, sent the manuscript to Peiresc in Paris, where it remained from 1618 until 1622. Peiresc hatched a plan to publish a facsimile of the Cotton Genesis and hired an artist to begin making facsimile watercolors, but Cotton requested its return in 1622. Cotton had it back in hand by 1625/6, when the Genesis was depicted in the portrait reproduced here on Plate 1.66.
After Cotton found himself locked up and locked out of his Library in 1630, he arranged to have the Genesis sent to Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel. Weitzmann and Kessler speculate that this was a deliberate strategy to save the manuscript from being stolen or otherwise lost again to history during the English Civil Wars, but Cotton’s son had trouble getting the manuscript back after the dust had settled (1987, 3). When the Earl left England for Antwerp and then Italy with his family in 1642, the Cotton Genesis was presumed to have gone with him. Several years later William Dugdale (1605-1686) reported what he knew about the location of the “old Genesis” (Hamper 1827, 300). Dugdale had not seen it where he expected to find it, in the Countess of Arundel’s library at Antwerp, which he’d catalogued in 1644; he also had not seen the manuscript while rearranging the library twice after that—the last time in January 1654, several months before the Countess died. One of Dugdale’s correspondents describes how William, Viscount Stafford (the Earl’s youngest son) bragged that he had the manuscript in 1656, but he would not show it to anyone (Hamper 1827, 303).
In 1683, another of Dugdale’s correspondents, Gilbert Crouch, provided an update. He had been to see the widow Lady Stafford and inquired on John Cotton’s behalf about the Cotton Genesis. Crouch explained “ye whole business to her att lardge [sic], and made her as sensible as [he] coulde howe usefull friends Sr John Cotton and you might be to her, and her sonn, when a Parliament sate, and howe odd a thinge it is for p’sons of their honor to keep a booke in that manner, and to expect monyes for its delivery”—“but all [was] in vaine,” Crouch sighed (Hamper 1827, 433). Lady Stafford insisted that the Cotton Genesis was never Cotton’s book in the first place; it had been loaned, she maintained, to Cotton by the Earl of Arundel (never mind that Cotton’s coat of arms was stamped on the binding). However, she did agree to sell it to John Cotton for £40. Couch recommended that Dugdale encourage John Cotton to take the deal, as shameful as it was for him to have to pay to have his own property returned to him. John Cotton bought the Cotton Genesis back and returned it to its place in the Cottonian Library, where it has fatefully stayed ever since.
The Cotton Genesis was primarily interesting to biblical scholars in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, although it may also have been consulted when Henry VIII was eagerly searching for biblical precedents and language that would justify his intention to divorce Catharine of Aragon (Carley 2002, 255). As suggested by Ward in the explanatory account published alongside these prints, the manuscript increasingly came to be interesting as a specimen of early writing and illustration, and it would later attract the attention of the antiquary Thomas Astle (1735-1803) for just this reason.6
In 1703, Grabe (a biblical scholar) prepared a thorough collation of the codex. Some of the colleagues who had borrowed the Cotton Genesis had also prepared collations or piecemeal facsimiles. In 1889, J. J. Tikkanen showed that the Cotton Genesis had been the basis for the thirteenth-century mosaics in the atrium of the Basilica di San Marco in Venice. Basing their reconstruction on Tikkanen’s work along with the evidence in similar Septuagint manuscripts and in the collations and facsimiles that were produced before the Ashburnham House fire, Weitzmann and Kessler conclude that Cotton Genesis originally featured 221 folio leaves and 250 miniature illustrations (1987 8). When Grabe collated it in 1703, 166 folios were still in the codex. After the fire, David Casley reported that only sixty fragments remained (Prescott 1997, 394). As a consequence of the fire, the codex shrunk by about forty percent. Today, the largest remaining fragment measures just 17.4 x 14.9 cm, and Vertue’s engravings—along with the watercolors he prepared for those engravings—alone preserve pages of the codex that were both rendered illegible by the fire in 1731 and have since been lost (Weitzmann and Kessler 1987, 8).
Repairing the Cotton Genesis
The minutes of the SAL from 28 October 1742 report that West showed the portrait of Cotton to members of the Society, who agreed that Vertue should engrave it; they also “desired that such MS. Leaves of the ancient Greek MS Book of Genesis might be added to it, as could be had” (SAL Minutes IV.136v). On 4 November 1743, the SAL officially balloted to have Vertue draw, engrave, and print the portrait of Cotton plus “such Manuscript Leaves of the very ancient Book of Genesis left unconsumed by the Fire which happened…as could be had and made out” (SAL Minutes IV.137v). Vertue prepared watercolors of twenty-one of the sixty or so fragments that remained in the Cotton Library, which was kept at Westminster School following the fire until it was moved to the British Museum. The prints were completed by 28 February 1744, at which point they were distributed to members of the Society (SAL Minutes IV.220r).
Combined, Plates 1.66-1.68 represent twenty-three fragments from the Cotton Genesis. The portrait of Cotton that appears on Plate 1.66 preserves two pages from the manuscript. In the portrait on which the engraving is based, these pages are now largely illegible due to the aging tincture of the painting’s varnish. The recto from the Cotton Genesis as it appears in the portrait is now lost; the verso was badly damaged in the fire. These pages can, however, still be read in Vertue’s engraving where full lines of text are squeezed into the gaps between Cotton’s fingers. Vertue’s engraving alone preserves the pages’ legibility. Of the twenty-one fragments reproduced on Plates 1.67 and 1.68, only fourteen made their way into the British Museum after Vertue had prepared his watercolors and engraved his prints. Of those fourteen, five were given by Andrew Gifford (1700-1784) to the Bristol Baptist College in 1784; these were eventually returned to the British Museum in 1928 (Weitzmann and Kessler 1987, 6). Consequently, seven of the figures on Plate 1.67—figures I, II, III, V, VI, VII, and X—are the latest known copies of fragments from the Cotton Genesis that have been missing since the eighteenth century.7 Consequently, Vertue’s engraving stands as a critical record of these pages from the manuscript.
Plates 1.67-1.68 preserve the damage wrought by the fire while they also try to repair the damage in two ways: by rearranging the fragments in an attempt to put them back into chronological order, and by filling in the gaps in the codex that the fire had wrought with excerpts from Lambert Bos’s edition of the Codex Vaticanus published in 1709. Ward’s explanatory account also suggests that members of the SAL consulted Grabe’s 1703 collations as well as Peter Lambeck’s published commentary on the Vienna Genesis (1665-1671). Ward’s report suggests that the work was hard; he writes, “a decision was made to publish, arranged on a pair of plates, the best parts of those fragments, which were able to be recovered from the shipwreck, as it were" (2). Martin Folkes “agreed to perform the arduous task of collecting and arranging them and of deciphering the fading contours of their letters” (2). Having edited Isaac Newton’s biblical chronologies and familiar with classical Greek, Folkes was thought to be up to the task (Roos 2021, 189). Notably, however, as Anna Maria Roos points out in her biographical register entry for Folkes, William Stukeley (1687-1765) felt that Folkes had sacrificed the manuscript’s “beauty” for order by “croud[ing]” the fragments too closely together on the plates.
The inscription on the pedestal as well as Ward’s brief essay not only emphasize the damage done by the fire but also the antiquity of the manuscript, suggesting that its age may have been more important than other aspects of the manuscript, such as its “beauty” or significance for interpreting biblical history. The text on the pedestal on Plate 1.66 documents some inconsistencies that the antiquaries observed between known collations of the codex and the manuscript itself; Ward's account implicitly counters those who might question the Cotton Genesis’s antiquity based on such irregularities (3). As Ward’s account suggests, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century antiquaries were eager to determine which of the Greek translations of the Old Testament were the oldest and, implicitly, the closest to an “original” text. In the end, however, Ward’s account wraps the question of the age of the Cotton Genesis into the aesthetic pleasures afforded by Vertue’s engraving, despite Stukeley’s insistence on its failures. “[A]ll lovers of antiquity,” Ward declares, will be “gratified” by the manuscript’s “most agreeable appearance” both to their “eyes” as well as “minds” and conclude that other ancient versions of the Old Testaments are undoubtedly “inferior to the Cottonian ones in terms of elegance and proper conformity to the nature of things they have been designed to express” (2).
Plates 1.66-1.68 in Vetusta Monumenta, then, aspire to do several things at once. They commemorate one of the earliest, founding members of the SAL and emphasize Cotton’s reputation as Qui Antiqutatum fuit restitutor Humanitatis exemplar, Scientiae thesaurus, Familiae suae Gloria: “a restorer of antiquities, a model of humanity, a treasure of science, a glory to his family.” By documenting the damage done to Cotton’s Library in the Ashburnham House fire, Vertue's prints also make an urgent case for antiquaries' continued preservation and study of ancient monuments.
:The manuscript is also known as Otho B. Vi., an identifying title that reflects Cotton’s system of cataloging his manuscripts based on their location on shelves in cases topped with the busts of Roman emperors. In this instance, the Genesis manuscript was in the Otho case and was the sixth manuscript on shelf B.
:The engraved portrait of Charles Lyttelton (Plate 2.28) is also unembellished; as was the case with Cotton’s original portrait, the original portrait of Lyttelton depicted him holding a book.
: The flyleaf was destroyed in the Ashburnham House Fire, but a short version of this provenance history had been copied into one of the catalogues prepared for the Cotton Library in 1674 and a longer version of the same into Thomas Smith’s Catalogue of the Cotton Manuscripts (1696), which included an account of Cotton’s life and collecting activities. Smith’s Catalogue remained of interest to eighteenth-century antiquaries not only because it included valuable information about the Cotton Library but also because it contained a thorough history of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century antiquarianism (see Gough 1770).
: Nichols attributes the explanatory account for these prints as well as for Plate 1.70 to John Ward (1812, 525).
: Weitzmann and Kessler speculate that the manuscript may have been given as a gift to Henry VIII by Nicander of Corfu based on a variety of details. Nicander copied many ancient Greek manuscripts and had spent a lot of time in Venice, where the Genesis manuscript was also known to have been in the thirteenth century; the manuscript was the source for the mosaics at the Basilica di San Marco and for the fourteenth-century Vienna Histoire universelle and possibly also for a late sixteenth-century illuminated manuscript produced by Markos Bathas (Weitzmann and Kessler 1987, 20-21). Nicander traveled to England in 1545-46. Weitzmann and Kessler suggest that the Genesis was then noticed by Wakefield, the professor of Hebrew at Cambridge during the reign of Henry VIII, and next given to Cotton by either James I or Fortescue, Elizabeth I’s tutor, sometime before his death in 1607 (4-5). Carley argues that Henry VIII received the manuscript originally as a gift from Robert Wakefield, Thomas’s older brother (Carley 2002, 253).
: See Astle's The Origin and Progress of Writing (1784, 193-94).
: The figures in Vetusta Monumenta align with the following folios in the Cotton Genesis as collated by Weitzmann and Kessler. On Plate 1.67: Figure I (173v); Figure II (23r); Figure III (23 v); Figure IV (73v); Figure V (70r); Figure VI (193v); Figure VII (190r); Figure VIII (38v); Figure IX (38v); Figure X (33 r and 38v). On Plate 1.68: Figure I (62v); Figure II (60v); Figure III (44v); Figure IV (47r); Figure V (59r); Figure VI (64r); Figure VII (48v); Figure VIII (43r); Figure IX (43v); Figure X (57r); Figure XI (57v).
Act for the Better Settling and Preserving of the Library Kept In…Cotton-House…for the Benefit of the Publick. 1701. London.
Astle, Thomas. 1784. The Origin and Progress of Writing. London.
Carley, James. 2002. “Thomas Wakefield, Robert Wakefield and the Cotton Genesis.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 12, no. 2: 246-265.
Gough, Richard. 1770. “Introduction.” Archaeologia 1: i-xxxix.
Hamper, William. 1827. The Life, Diary, And Correspondence of Sir William Dugdale. London: Harding, Lepard, and Co.
Handley, Stuart. 2011. “Cotton, Sir Robert Bruce, first baronet (1571–1631), antiquary and politician." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hooper, Samuel. 1777. A Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Cottonian Library. London.
Lake, Crystal B. 2020. Artifacts: How We Think and Write about Found Objects. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Lambeck, Peter. 1665-1671. Commentariorum de Augustissima Bibliotheca Caesarea Vindobonensi Liber. 4 vols. Vienna.
Miller, Edward. 1973. That Noble Cabinet: A History of the British Museum. Athens: Ohio University Press.
Nichols, John. 1812. Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century. Vol. 5. London: Nichols, Son, and Bentley.
Owen, Henry, ed. 1778. Collatio codicis Cottoniani Geneseos cum Editione Romana. London.
Prescott, Andrew. 1997. “‘Their Present Miserable State of Cremation’: The Restoration of the Cotton Library.” In Sir Robert Cotton as Collector, edited by C. J. Wright, 391-454. London: The British Library.
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Roos, Anna Marie. 2021. Martin Folkes (1690-1754): Newtonian, Antiquary, Connoisseur. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tikkanen, Johan J. 1889. Die Genesismosaiken von S. Marco in Venedig und ihr Verhaltniss zu den Miniaturen der Cottonbibel. Helsinki.
Tischendorf, Constantine. 1857. Monumenta Sacra Inedita. Leipzig.
Van Der Meer, Gay. 1965. “Sir Robert Bruce Cotton and His Illuminated Genesis Manuscript.” Netherlands Yearbook for History of Art 16: 3-15.
Weitzmann, Kirt and Herbert Kessler. 1987. The Cotton Genesis: The Illustrations in the Manuscript of the Septuagint, Volume 1. British Library, Codex Cotton Otho B. Vi. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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