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The development of books has perhaps done more to change our world than anything else: it gives us
the ability to record and share knowledge not only with contemporaries but also with following
When Rome fell and the barbarians swept across Europe the isolation of the monasteries preserved the
literature of the classical cultures. In the scriptoria the monks meticulously copied hundreds of
thousands of books. The Islamic libraries kept pace and we owe a debt to all the scribes and librarians
that played a part in preserving it for us.

Achilles sacrificing to Zeus from the Ambrosian Iliad, late 5th or early 6th century, on vellum. It is
one of the oldest surviving illustrated manuscripts.
More than anything else from these early periods, books survive,
hundreds of thousands of books. St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury,
considered the first English monastery, has been in ruins for
centuries, yet 250 books from it still survive.
The codex were written on vellum (from
calves) or parchment (from sheep).
Producing a codex as large as a bible
required between 200-300 sheep skins and
at the modern equivalent of $165 each, the
price would have been between $32,000
and 50,000.

A lead was used to rule margins and lines,

the page edges were punched in order to
keep the lines even from page to page, and
rulers and compasses were used to
measure and set out the page.
The ink was usually kept in a horn that the
scribe held in one hand while the other held
the quill. There was also a scraping knife to
correct mistakes.
After the text was copied it was checked by the corrector. Then
the rubricator did the more elaborate designs and added the
rich colors, rubrics and initials in the spaces that had been
initially marked out and left blank by the scribe. The binder
then made the quires, usually by folding the parchment
together in groups of four to make quires of eight leaves or
sixteen pages. These were then tied together and then bound
and covered. Usually leather was used for this or wood
covered in parchment or velvet.

Square Capital
The earliest example of this
script was used on a column
erected in Rome in 113.
Roman Half Uncial

This style was popular

for more than 500
years - from the 3rd to
the 9th century.
Irish Half Uncial

This script existed

between the 6th and 9th
centuries and was also
called Insular Majuscule or
Insular Miniscule. The
Book of Kells is an
excellent example of this
distinct and ornate script

This version of the Insular

Miniscule developed by the
Anglo-Saxons, who copied it
from Irish Monks who had set
up outposts in Northern
England, in the 6th century
Carolingian Miniscule

This script was developed to

be easily recognized
throughout the Charlemagne
Empire. From the 8th to the 12
century, it was used to produce
classical texts, religious books
and educational material. It is
considered a true renaissance
script but became obsolete in
the Gothic era.
Early Gothic Miniscule

This script was the most ornate

and was used between the
11th and 12th century.. Early
gothic was also penned "Littera
Moderna," or modern letters.
Batarde Miniscule

A This script was a derivative of

the Gothic Littera Bastarda,
found in France between the
14th and 16 century
Parts of an illuminated manuscript
gold leaf

decorated initial

miniature painting

decorated margins
This page from the Book of
Kells gives a genealogy of
Christ and is a good example
of the illumination being carried
into the text itself.
Some fine examples

The Book of Deer , 9th century gospel, is probably the oldest

Scottish manuscript. It is written on vellum in brown ink.
A portrait of St John from the
Book of Dimma, Ireland, 7th or
8th century
This miniature from a
manuscript of Pope
Gregory's Moralia in Job
depicts a scribe presenting
a copy of the work to the
Holy Roman Emperor. The
Pope himself is shown
writing in the upper left.
Text with placemarkers and
rubric; miniature of Samson
holding up columns from a
bible (1445)
Growing squash and Making pasta from Tacuinum Sanitatis, a
medieval health handbook published in the 10th century
The Bible of Saint Louis
published in the 13th
Canterbury Tales, probably a
version made during Chaucer’s
lifetime (mid-late 1300s)
This is actually a facsimile
of the Metz Codex that has
information about
astronomy and
mathematics. The original is
10th century and in the
Spanish National Library.
The rights to make a
facsimile for this codex and
many others are
presumably sold bt the
library to a private company
that then produces
historically acurate copies
that are available to buy. I
found several companies
selling these with prices for
smaller works starting at
about 500 euros.
This is a single leaf,
genuine not facsimile,
that is available online
for $8.900. It is French
late 13th century.
In1587 Leiden University Library opened.
This drawing is interesting for the book chains, categories listed on the stacks and dogs .
Ambrosian illiad. Retrieved February 13, 2008, from Hellenica Web site:
De Hamel, C (1994). A history of illuminated manuscripts . London: Phaidon
Diringer, D. (1967). The Illuminated Book: Its history and Production. New York:
Frederick A. Praeger.
J. Paul Getty Museum, Kren, T. (1997). Masterpieces of the J. Paul Getty
Museum.:Illuminated manuscripts.Los Angeles, CA: The museum.
Mentre, Mireille (1994). Illuminated manuscripts of medieval Spain. London:
Thames and Hudson, Ltd.
New York Public Library, (2007). Digital Gallery. Retrieved February 2, 2008,
from Manuscripts Web site:
University of California San Diego, (2007). Ambrosian illiad. Retrieved February
25, 2008, from Manuscripts Web site:
University of Victoria, (2007). Medieval Studies Course Union . Retrieved
February 11, 2008, from Florilegium Web site:
Watson, R (2003). Illuminated manuscripts and their makers / Rowan Watson..
London: V & A Publications.

Maura Walsh
LI 839
Spring 2008