de Hamel, Christopher (Frances Rivers) 1950-

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de HAMEL, Christopher (Frances Rivers) 1950-

PERSONAL: Born November 20, 1950, in London, England; son of Francis Alexander and Joan Littledale (Pollock) de Hamel; married first wife, 1978 (marriage dissolved); married Mette Tang Simpson (art conservator), 1993; children: (first marriage) two sons. Education: Otago University (New Zealand), B.A. (honors), 1971; Oxford University, D.Phil., 1979.

ADDRESSES: Office—Corpus Christi College, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RH, England.

CAREER: Sotheby's, London, England, cataloguer of medieval manuscripts, 1975-77, assistant director, 1977-82, director of Western illuminated manuscripts, 1982-2000; All Souls College, Oxford, England, visiting fellow, 1999-2000; Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England, Donnelly Fellow Librarian, 2000—. Lecturer and speaker on illuminated manuscripts.

MEMBER: Roxburghe Club, Grolier Club, Association Internationale de Bibliophile.

AWARDS, HONORS: Honorary Litt.D. from St. John's University (Minnesota), 1994; honorary doctorate in literature degree from Otago University, 2002.


Glossed Books of the Bible and the Origins of the Paris Book Trade, Boydell & Brewer (London, England), 1984, Woodbridge (Wolfeboro, NH), 1987.

A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, Phaidon (London, England), 1986.

Syon Abbey, the Library of the Bridgettine Nuns and Their Peregrinations after the Reformation, Roxburghe Club (London, England), 1991.

Scribes and Illuminators, British Museum Press (London, England), 1992.

The Book: A History of the Bible, Phaidon Press (London, England), 2001.

The British Library Guide to Manuscript Illumination: History and Techniques, British Library (London, England), 2001.

SIDELIGHTS: Christopher de Hamel, author and historian, was born in the United Kingdom but moved with his family to New Zealand when he was a young child. It was in New Zealand that he completed his bachelor's degree at the University of Otago, the same institution that would honor him as a distinguished alumnus thirty-one years later. His honorary doctorate degree in literature was bestowed upon him, according to a press release from the university, in recognition of his status as a "widely published international authority on medieval manuscripts and early printing." Over the past twenty years, de Hamel has authored six unique books, emphasizing his special interest of the history of the construction of books and the art of illumination of manuscripts created in Medieval times.

Two such works are his A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, first published in 1986, and Scribes and Illuminators, published in 1992. In A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, de Hamel not only delves into the book-making process in the seventh through the sixteenth centuries, he also discusses the culture that surrounded books-as-objects in these early centuries. For example, in his first chapter, de Hamel looks at the role of the printed manuscript as used by missionaries in the seventh century. This is followed by a reflection of the use of books by emperors, with a special emphasis on the life of Charlemagne (A.D. 742-814), a powerful ruler of the Roman Empire. De Hamel also covers what he refers to as the Golden Age of illuminated manuscripts, the twelfth century, when monks spent much of their days creating extensively decorated publications. He then follows the development of books as it takes on more significance as the demand for the printed word increases with the proliferation of universities in the thirteenth century. During the fifteenth century, a type of religious book, referred to generically as the Book of Hours, became very popular with the general public, thus spreading the use of books beyond the aristocracy, the universities, and the monasteries. De Hamel discusses why each of these different classes of books was created, where they were made, and all the various challenges that the creators of these manuscripts were forced to overcome. Both the art of text as well as the art of illustration are captured in a series of photographs contained in de Hamel's book.

It is in Scribes and Illuminators that de Hamel emphasizes the entire construction process of a medieval book. Here he examines all the trades involved in the creation of a manuscript, from the paper and parchment makers, the ink makers, the scribes who did the actual calligraphy, the artists who created the illustrations, to the binders and the booksellers. This book, like A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, is filled with color and black-and-white photographs of not only examples of illuminated books but also pictures of the scribes themselves at work.

Shortly after de Hamel published his study The Book: A History of the Bible in 2001, he was asked, as an authority on ancient manuscripts, to give a lecture at the Library of Congress on the famous, rare book that is referred to as the Giant Bible of Mainz. The occasion was meant to celebrate the 550th anniversary that a master scribe in Germany began his work on the huge, two-volume illuminated Bible, which was produced between 1452 and 1453. Who could offer a better history of this publication and the surrounding circumstances of its creation than de Hamel? His own book on the history of the Bible has been praised in a vast number of ways. Library Journal reviewer David Bourquin called it a "sumptuous feast for the eyes and mind"; while a reviewer for Publishers Weekly tried to capture the essence of de Hamel's work with words such as "most imaginative" and "startling."

De Hamel's The Book: A History of the Bible is not a religious study in any way. Rather, as Christopher Howse wrote for London's Daily Telegraph, de Hamel's book demonstrates that "the history of the Bible is the history of the book." In other words, in recounting the evolution of the printing of the Bible, one grasps the history of book publishing itself.

De Hamel's book is one of the first to follow the full history of the Christian Bible. He traces its publication through numerous countries and languages, including a translation into Natick, a dialect of the Algonquin people, a language for which speakers no longer exist. De Hamel, according to a review written by Gerald Hammond for the London Review of Books, has referred to this Natick translation of the Bible as "the most important unreadable book in the world." Also included are the development of both the Old and the New Testaments as written in Hebrew and Greek, as well as the Latin Vulgate translation of Saint Jerome down through the versions of the Bible as written by Martin Luther and other Protestant reformers and the modern translations of contemporary Bible-publishing industries.



Commonweal, September 27, 2002, Lawrence S. Cunningham, "Religion Booknotes," review of The Book: A History of the Bible, pp. 26-29.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), December 22, 2001, Christopher Howse, "The Older the Better," review of The Book.

History Today, April, 2002, Janet Backhouse, review of The Book, p. 61.

Library Journal, December, 2001, David Bourquin, review of The Book, p. 132.

London Review of Books, July 25, 2002, Gerald Hammond, "Saucy to Princes," review of The Book, pp. 19-20.

Publishers Weekly, November 12, 2001, "The Bible for Bibliophiles," review of The Book, p. 57.

Theology, May-June, 2002, Richard Coggins, review of The Book, p. 211.


University of Otago Web site, (April 22, 2002), "University of Otago to Award Two Honorary Degrees."

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de Hamel, Christopher (Frances Rivers) 1950-

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