I was able to visit the Huntington Library on March 14 and see the Ellesmere Chaucer in person. The El MS is held in large library exhibition that holds other highly rare literary works like an original Shakespeare folio. The El is kept in a glass case directly next to a copy of the Gutenberg bible. The proximity of these two items (one printed and one hand written) allows viewers to make easy comparisons between the two books, both beautiful in their own right. It's interesting to note here that Gutenberg went out of his way to create printed books that shared many features of illuminated works. Artists were paid to add illumination after printing making Gutenberg's works resemble more costly illuminated items.
Seeing the El in person is wholly different than viewing pictures online or in text. I completed my research before viewing the El and I'm glad I did so. I was able to view the original manuscript and see many of the items that I had read about in the past month. Features like gold leafing, miniature portraits and border decorations were made obvious and much more detailed. It was incredibly cool to see a piece of work that is over 600 years old, and still in remarkable condition.
The Ellesmere is regarded as the most extravagant and beautiful versions of The Canterbury Tales in existence today for good reason. It is hard to imagine another version ever trumping the detail that the El exhibits. Produced in 1410, the El is also one of the final versions of a finely created illuminated book. In just a few short decades Gutenberg produces his printing press, and illuminated manuscripts start their decline. It is important to recognize the El not only as a fine piece of work in it's own respect, but also as one that posits itself as a lasting example of medieval craft and illumination.
The link below will take you to a short video tour of my visit to see the Ellesmere Chaucer in San Marino, California.